Saturday, November 10, 2012

To That Radical Conservative Guy on Facebook

Since President Obama clinched a second term as President, you have been flooding the the Web sites I frequent with angry tirades condemning liberals, threatening to leave the country and advising Republican lawmakers to block any measures that Obama tries to implement. Once or twice, you’ve even flirted with calls for insurrection.
Because I’m a liberal who values conservative viewpoint - even radical ones - I’d like to explain how this makes us liberals feel by using a metaphor.
It’s like the United States of America is a giant, proud Viking ship that recently escaped a humongous, cataclysmic whirlpool that threatened to engulf the entire ship. Quick thinking by our recently-promoted captain managed to steer us out of immediate danger, but the ship is really not that far away from the whirlpool.
Further complicating matters is the fact that almost the entire right side of our ship doesn’t like our captain because they believe that he is not a Viking, but a Visigoth pretending to be a Viking. Because of this, many on the right side of our ship refuse to row at all and instead spend their time complaining that the ship is only going in circles.
Meanwhile, the vicious whirlpool continues to draw us back toward our doom.
So, when we liberals see you on Facebook complaining about how our election process is flawed because it didn’t give you the result you wanted, we don’t get mad. We’ve been defeated enough to understand how bitter the feeling is. And when we hear you call us ignorant because we don’t agree with you, we’ll try not to be offended. We will even sit passively as some of your brethren say some clearly racist things.
You know why?
Because, above all else, we just want you to fucking start rowing.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Crowded Hospitals

I'm not a big believer in ghost stories, but I've got a doozy to tell just the same. This particular ghost story has the added virtue of being entirely true and, in honor of Halloween, I figured I'd share it. It starts in the Jupiter Hospital, where my wife was admitted for dehydration a few weeks ago. On her second night there, while I was at home with the kids, Bridget's rebellious blood formed two blood clots and sent them hurdling toward her lungs. Things did not go well from there.

 The only luck we had, if you could call it that, was that Bridget's clots tried to kill her while she was in the exact right place - a hospital. The doctors and nurses responded quickly and saved Bridget's life.

Shortly after, Bridget was moved to a room in the Intensive Care Unit so that a cadre of medical professionals work on shrinking her clots. I stayed with Bridget most nights while she slept in the ICU. She had a private room with a glass sliding door, not unlike the rooms that you used to see on the sorely-missed drama, House. I planted myself in a reclining chair and spend most of my time watching NetFlix on my tablet.

Bridget, who was in constant pain from the clots, spent most of her time dozing from the narcotics she was being given. Every now and then she would wake for a few moments without opening her eyes and talk.

 Around 3 p.m. one afternoon Bridget called out to me.


 I looked up. Her eyes were still closed. “Yes?”

 “Make them go away.” I laughed because Bridget had been irritated by all the doctors going in and out earlier.

 “Who?” I asked.

 “All the people in my room. Make them go away.”

 I played along. “What do they look like?” I asked.

 Bridget paused as if considering something. “Some of them are old and some of them are young. They won’t leave me alone.”

 The hairs on the back of my arms stood on end and I considered my next question carefully.

 “Bridget,” I asked. “What are they wearing?”

 “They’re wearing nightgowns like me,” she said.

 And just like that, I had nothing clever to say. Bridget, though, didn’t want silence from me.

 “Tell them to go away.” And because I couldn’t think of anything at all to say, I said exactly that.

“Go away,” I said to the room. And then I waited a few moments.

 “What are they doing now, Bridget?”

 Bridget sighed, her eyes still closed. “They’re going away.”

 I wrote my brother an e-mail immediately to tell him what had just happened, both because I was creeped out and because it was a cool story. He wrote me back and explained as politely as he could that Bridget would probably be hallucinating a lot more things before she got better.

 And sure enough, Bridget had other, less creepy hallucinations. In one, the nurses were putting wine in her I.V. bag. In another, Tori Amos played her a personal concert. I did, however, have to fight the urge to Google Tori Amos to find if she was still alive. Gradually, I began to feel less weird about Bridget’s hallucination and when she awoke later that evening, I didn’t mention it. If she didn’t remember the people standing in her room, I wasn’t going to implant them there.

 Bridget’s friend Monica visited that night and brought, among other things, a sketchbook for Bridget to pass the time. The three of us laughed while Bridget doodled in her sketchbook and I finally mentioned that Bridget had been having creepy hallucinations. Bridget was intrigued but I refused to describe her most terrifying hallucination. She was already scared enough, I reasoned.

 I did show Monica the e-mail that I sent my brother and she was suitably weirded out - maybe more weirded out than I expected. You could see the hairs standing straight up on her arms.

 “C’mon,” I laughed. “It’s not that creepy.” Monica was not laughing.

“Look at what Bridget is drawing.”

 On the first page of Bridget’s sketchbook was a drawing of five to ten faceless people - their heads simple, scratchy ovals - all wearing what looked like simplified gowns.

 And that, kids, is a true story. Both my brother Roger and our friend Monica can verify it. Happy Halloween.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


My family parties according to the rules of the International Fiesta Organization, the world-governing body of all shindigs, get-togethers and clambakes. My wife takes her role as regional director in the organization seriously and will throw an impromptu party for almost any reason. She is almost like Angelina Jolie and UNICEF except that she doesn’t adopt children - she adopts empty wine bottles.

So, when friends Wes and Heather visited with their family, we had a party. And the party was pretty successful. I know this because at 1 a.m. in the morning, everyone sang a buzzy, impromptu cover of "Call Me Maybe" accompanied by a guitar and ukulele.

According to the rules of the IFO, drunken sing-alongs are allowed and even encouraged if they start out ironic but end full of unabashed love for the song you're singing. We nailed that.

Less successful was my solo 2 a.m. version of Chuck Berry's "My Ding-A-Ling" on ukulele, which I know was unsuccessful mostly because my neighbors won't talk to me.

But that’s okay. IFO rules state that whether a party hosted in your home was successful or not can be judged by three - and only three - criteria:
First, when you woke up, were you appropriately dressed?

Yes - although I can’t explain the strange marks.

Second, is your spouse still talking to you?

Again, yes. Hours later, however, she was still shaking her head and muttering to herself.

Finally, if you had it to do all over again, would you still have the party?

Hell, yes. Are you kidding? There’s a great philosopher who put it best.

“Ripped Jeans. Skin was showing. Hot night. Wind was blowin.”

“I miss it so bad. I miss it so bad. I miss it so, so bad.”

Friday, July 27, 2012

Evil Dogs from Space

Report from Earth to our Blessed Litter Mothers on Xonax Our invasion is going as planned on Earth, particularly in the area known as Florida. My littermate and I are undercover with an unsuspecting family of five human beings - an adult male, an adult female and three of what we would call pups. The people of Earth still believe that small groups of people called legislators run the planet. If the humans actually watched this group, they would see that while these legislators make huge amounts of noise, they actually accomplish very little. These legislators are like collapsing stars - they blast out huge amounts of electromagnetic interference but not much heat. In reality, we dogs rule the world. Glory to the many teats of our Blessed Litter Mothers! We have successfully infiltrated most affluent Earth households and the humans are slowly losing their ability to distinguish us from other humans. They give us human names, buy us tiny versions of human furniture to sleep on and even refer to themselves as our “mommies” and “daddys.” We predict that within ten generations, we will be able to own property and buy chew toys on the Internet without human assistance. We will, thanks to humans, also be amazingly good at shaking hands. Glory to the Celestial Pack! Only two things about human behavior are mysterious to us: First, the humans enjoy collecting our poop. They force us to hold it in during the day. Once enough poop accumulates, the humans take us outside to defecate and then they collect it in plastic grocery bags. I am not sure what they do with the poop afterwards, but even the most powerful people in this world indulge in this strange hobby. I think it is a sign that this world truly needs to be vanquished. Glory to Her Righteous Whiskers! Also, the humans are obsessed with taking the testicles or our male littermates. My own littermate, Winston, was spirited away a few days ago and returned groggy, disoriented and missing his testicles. I have no idea what the humans do with these testicles. I only know that Winston is nearly useless now; all he wants to do is cuddle and watch the “Dog Whisperer.” Still, my litter mate and I have almost total control over our assigned house and family. Only the human sire seems suspicious of anything - but since he spends much of his time writing blog posts no one reads or looking at pornography, we don’t consider him a threat. As always, we await the signal that only dogs can hear. Littermate Marnie Florida, Earth

Saturday, July 14, 2012

My Pumpkin Alien Strategy

I am a dude who worries about the long term. I will eat five pieces of pumpkin pie every Thanksgiving because subconsciously I think that the world could possibly run out pumpkin pie before the next Thanksgiving holiday.
It could happen. Aliens hungry for alpha-carotene could blitzkrieg our planet and fly off with every pumpkin we have, leaving only the ingredients for inferior pies like sweet potato or apple.
I admit that aliens are a long shot. Still, I have even considered what I would do if I discovered pumpkin-craving aliens before anyone else.  My first instinct would be to call the military, of course. But while we were waiting for the predator drones, I would work to convince the aliens of the tastiness of beets. Beets, I’m convinced, are not of this earth anyway. This is why my body forcefully rejects them any time I try to swallow them.
All of this explains why I’m not cleaning out my garage today. I am not cleaning the garage because I’m pre-worrying about whether I should throw out stuff.
I have a box full of Iomega Zip Drive equipment and disks from the 1990s, for example. These computer disks digitally cradle all of the files that I deemed important enough to save back before the end of the millenium. I have not looked at any of these files in 20 years. I will probably not look at any of these files over the next 20 years.
Some part of me, however, resists the notion of throwing away these disks, cables and drives because they might have something important on them - and I won’t realize it until after I’ve thrown them out. What if, God forbid, I saved an article in the 1990s that if forwarded to the right people today could cause a tiny epiphany that could lead to the cure for hemorrhoids? It’s not likely, but it could happen.
So, I’m not even gonna try and clean out the garage until I actually have the ability to throw useless things away. I worry too much about the long term. Also, this post is forcing me to reconsider my pumpkin alien strategy.
What if beets cure hemorrhoids?

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Cool Donuts

I spend huge amounts of time convincing myself that I’m not 45 years-old. It’s an elaborate magic trick that requires lots of misdirection and an almost heroic amount of ignorance. But if I perform the illusion correctly, I can move serenely through this process called aging; if I don’t, Florida law requires me to get a Viagra prescription. Also, I have to buy a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
The stakes are high. And sometimes, my audience won’t cooperate with me either.
I went to get donuts last Saturday at the swanky new donut place in town, the Jupiter Donut Factory. The Donut Factory is popular right now because the young staff there don’t make donuts as much as they hack donuts - taking regular donuts apart like a software program and putting them back together in new and sometimes dangerous configurations. Some of these configurations even involve bacon, which is nature’s perfect food because it both nurtures you and eventually kills you. As usual, a long line stood between me and my creamy quarry.
I don’t mind the long lines at the Donut Factory, mainly because someone in the kitchen is usually playing music while she cooks. The first time I went, I heard some Talking Heads; the next time, Radiohead. No matter how much I like the music, though, I have never commented on it, because talking about music with young people is always dangerous.
Last Saturday was the day the donut music died.
I stood in line enjoying a series of B-52 songs, one of which I did not recognize. Because the song interested me, I felt compelled to ask where I could get it. What I should have asked was...
“Hey, you guys have great taste in music. What B-52s song is that? I’d like to download it.”
Then I should have pulled my pants low, low on my ass like Justin Bieber and adjusted my ironic trucker hat so that it wasn’t straight.
But I didn’t. I was still sleepy, I hadn’t had my coffee yet and I completely forgot that I was pretending to not be 45 years-old. What I said was...
“What CD are you playing?”
The confused look in the young cashier’s eyes froze me like a raccoon caught in a garbage can. I  looked around at the other younger people in the shop to see if they had heard my slip. Besides the cashier, no one looked confused. Good. I looked back at the cashier and this is what I repeated in my head...
“Please don’t ask me what a CD is. Please don’t ask me what a CD is. Please don’t ask me what a CD is.”
Her eyes unclouded and became sweetly sympathetic.
“It’s an IPod. You can load it up with thousands of songs and it will play them randomly.”
With my eyes, I begged her to stop.
“No one buys CDs anymore. You buy songs on the Internet.”
I considered whipping out my Iphone. Instead, I just pulled out my leather wallet on a chain and paid for the very cool donuts.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Overwhelmed, Again.

I wrote the following essay almost three years ago, give or take a few weeks. After yesterday's Supreme Court decision, I feel the need to post it again:

I began writing this in the ICU unit of a children's hospital in Florida. Ten feet away, my wife was sleeping in a hospital bed, curled around my five year-old daughter Riley. Riley was hooked to two IVs - one for steroids and one for blood pressure medication - so she had to sleep with her arms straightened at her sides.
Riley had been diagnosed with something called Nephrotic Syndrome. Her blood pressure was high - within the stroke range even for an adult - and the doctors and nurses had been trying different medications in the hope that her blood pressure would go down to normal. At around 2 a.m. in the morning, they would find the right medicine.
But at that moment, we didn't know that.
I thought about different things there in the dark ICU room, as one of Riley's favorite Scooby Doo DVDs played over an over. I thought about a ritual that Riley performs when I pick her up from pre-school on Mondays. As soon as I walk through the gate to her school yard, she backs up, plants her feet and races toward me. Then she jumps. My only job is to catch this lanky, golden juggernaut girl and then stagger back - as if she has almost knocked me over. Riley doesn't like it as much if I don't stagger. The purpose of her leap is to overwhelm me.
And she does.
That night I also thought about health insurance. What if we didn't have it? Riley didn't seem that sick at first, but we took her to the doctor's office just in case. What if we had waited because we didn't have the money?

Two weeks after Riley left the hospital, I was repairing a computer at customer's house when the customer began talking politics. In general, he felt that President Obama was going to bankrupt the country. I've heard this stuff before, sometimes from friends, and I try to keep my responses measured. I do this because it's the polite thing to do, but I also do this because even though I voted for Obama, I have no idea how this is going to turn out. I'm not an economist.
But then the customer started talking about socialized medicine. I tried to steer him away from the conversation.
"My daughter just got out of the hospital," I said. "Every time I see something about universal coverage on the news, I think about her. I'm probably not the most rational about the subject."
The man persisted. "You're living proof, though. You've got a job and you've got medical coverage. Almost everyone can afford medical coverage. The problem is that you've got people who would rather spend the premium on other things..."
I flinched because I thought he might be the kind of person to end that sentence with " spinners and rims."
But he didn't. He seemed to sincerely believe that our medical system was in great shape.
I didn't try to change his mind. I'm not a preacher, either.

Riley is doing better now. Her medicine costs, thanks to health insurance, only about $300 a month. We're happy to pay this. The money is not the tough part for us.
Riley's medicine gives her something called "moonface" - meaning that her thin, sweet face has become almost round. Her cheeks are hard to the touch and her stomach swells out, too. And for the first time in my five year-old's life, she is afraid to be seen in a bathing suit. She is like Eve just after she was thrown out of the Garden of Eden - only Riley never stole an apple. We think she might be able to stop the medicine in a few weeks.

I've written this column for something like five years now. I try to keep it humorous; I exaggerate a little here; I poke a little fun there. Every now and then I make a pee pee joke for the kids and husbands. But this thing with Riley has changed me. I can't stand the national conversation about health coverage.
Most of the debate is generated by interest groups with something to sell. The purpose of their talk is not to inform us or educate us; their purpose is to overwhelm us - and they do.
So, I'm not an economist, but I'm gonna say a few things about the economy. Nor am I a preacher; but I'm gonna fucking preach a few things.
Someone you know - someone you like and admire - is going to tell you in the next few months that America doesn't need "socialized" medicine. They might even be an actual doctor. They're going to spout talking points about how it will affect job growth in a faltering economy. They might talk about how doctors will actually leave the field of medicine because they can't pay their bills. This is what you should say:
Almost nine million kids don't have health insurance, part of the almost 45 million people in the United States without any kind of health coverage. It's estimated that at least 18,000 people die each year because they lack medical insurance.
If your friend talks about America becoming Socialist - whatever that means - appeal to their rationality and point out that our libraries, police departments and fire departments are already socialized. They have been since the beginning of our country. Tell your friend that our medical infrastructure needs to be exactly like a fire department - because the health of America is dangerously close to being on fire. Appeal also to their common sense. When the next pandemic rolls through, do we really want nearly 20% of America avoiding a doctor's office?
I don't. But then, I'm not an epidemiologist. I could be wrong.
I'm just a father haunted by the thought of all the uninsured families out there that have a daughter like Riley with an undiagnosed problem. The girl is feeling a little sick, but is otherwise okay.
I wonder how long they wait.