Monday, June 29, 2009

Eye Rolling

    There is a huge population of retired people in Florida. I am, of course, being politically correct when I say "retired people". I'm actually mean that Florida has a huge population of old, wrinkly people who will sometimes forget that they're driving - even though they're in the middle of of an intersection and have just run over a Guatemalan guy on a bicycle.
    But here's the advantage to this skewed surplus of wrinkly people in Florida: being 40 years-old in Florida is like being 20 anywhere else. And we middle-aged people take full advantage of that down here. We drive around listening to Ting Tings songs way too loud. We drink like college freshmen and we curse the old people who just don't "get us."
    The only thing that spoils the illusion is when we run into actual young people in Florida. A few weeks ago,for instance, I was driving through the supermarket parking lot when I locked eyes with a young woman with tan skin.
    Because I'm married to an easily-riled woman with a formidable right hook, I am unusually good at not noticing women. When I'm with my wife, in fact, I could walk past a naked Monica Bellucci and never move my gaze from the floor.
    But my natural instincts were overcome at the supermarket for a few reasons. First, this particular woman sported what car enthusiasts might refer to as "aftermarket parts". If I make take the euphemism further, someone had mistakenly ordered truck parts for the young woman's sub-compact chassis.
    Further, thieves had clearly stolen this woman's clothes and replaced them with tiny, midget versions that did not properly cover the delicate, tasteful tattoo that graced the small of her back. Also, I was looking for a parking space, so my guard was down.
    In any case, I locked eyes with the twenty-something woman. A little embarrassed, I smiled, which was intended to say, "Excuse me for staring. My eyes are just passing through". Or something to effect.
    I expected her to smile back and shrug. Instead, she gave me an eye roll. This, in turn, gave me an unwanted epiphany which caused me to hit the brakes.
    "Oh, just freakin' terrific," I said. "I'm a creepy old guy."
    My wife off-handedly confirmed this a few days ago, while my family munched on donuts at a table outside of a Dunkin' Donuts.
    "Did you notice," I said as I sipped decaf coffee, "that our cashier looked exactly like Phoebe Cates? The resemblance was amazing. I almost asked her if anyone else had mentioned that before."
    "You mean Phoebe Cates, the actress from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High?," my said wife answered. "Yeah, I wouldn't do that."
    "Why?" I asked. "She might find it flattering."
    "Hmmm. She might find it flattering that she reminds you, a guy twenty-five years her senior, of an actress whose most famous scene involves playing an underage high school student who walks in on an older guy masturbating to the image of her in a bathing suit?"
    "You make an excellent point," I conceded.
    "She's probably never heard of Phoebe Cates. That would be like a senior citizen coming up to me and saying that I remind him of Bette Davis or Lana Turner. It's just creepy."
    "Enough," I said. "You can stop making sense anytime now."
    And yet, the reminders of my newly-discovered creepiness keep coming.
    Yesterday, I sat in my car at a stoplight. I looked out the passenger window, lost in thought, when a car rolled up next me and stopped exactly in my sight line. The blonde driver turned to her left, saw me staring in her direction and quickly eye-rolled me.
    I lost it.
    "Hey," I called. "I'm not looking at you. I was thinking about lunch. I thought I saw a french fry on our dashboard left over from a trip to McDonald's."
    She didn't turn around.
    "In fact," I yelled," I'm totally gay and completely uninterested in you. Seriously. I was checking out the hot guy on the other side of you. You're in the way of"
    The blonde did not look around. But my wife did turn around to face my kids in the backseat.
    "You know Dad's just joking right?"


Monday, June 22, 2009


I've been at peace with this whole social communications thing for a while now. I'm LinkedIn. I'm down with the MySpace. I get deviant on DeviantART. I'll sometimes even Twitter when no one is watching.
And I used to like Facebook. Lately, though, Facebook has evolved into something terrifying.
My wife is on Facebook now.
At work a few months ago, I sat with my co-workers and checked my Facebook account via my phone. On my "wall", my wife had posted this:
"Please stop at the store on the way home and buy some milk. Love Bridget."
"What the..!" I said
One of my co-workers looked over at my screen and shook his head.
"That's too bad," he said matter-of-factly.
"What's too bad?," I asked.
"Your wife just made you her Facebook bitch."
A few nights later, I sat in my office writing. By "office" I mean that I sat in the dark little bedroom closet where I keep my desk and computer. By "writing" I mean that I was surfing the Internet - which still officially counts as writing because there was no porn involved. I got a Facebook notification that someone had posted to my wall.
"Sweetie, come out on the porch...Marnie's doing something really cute."
Excellent. My wife, who sat fifty feet away on the porch, was using Facebook on her wireless laptop to send a message to the Facebook servers three thousand miles away in California, which in turn routed that message through seven or eight far-flung computers and back to me - all to command me to come out to the porch to watch our Boston Terrier do tricks.
My wife is one of those people who treats a dog exactly like a human, which leads to some pretty bizarre experiences. I am, for instance, not allowed to call the dog "stupid" in front of the dog. When people ask me how many kids I have in the family, Bridget forces me to include the dog in the count. Occasionally, Bridget even dresses the dog up.
I walked out to the porch.
"Bridget, you can't use Facebook to call me out to the porch to look at the dog."
I pointed at the dog for emphasis.
Bridget looked around at the tableau - me standing on the porch looking at the dog - and she bit her lip. Lip biting is one of the many reasons I love my wife.
"Look," I said. "You're new to Facebook, so you don't understand. Facebook is a dangerous place. Facebook is like the Old West, except gunslingers don't shoot you down. Instead, your friends judge you. When my friends see you sending me on errands for milk on Facebook, they assume that I'm a whipped husband."
"That's ridiculous," my wife answered. "Now look at Marnie. Isn't that cute?"
I could sense that my wife wasn't taking me seriously.
"Besides," she said. "How exactly is that different from exaggerating the foibles and eccentricities of your family to spice up a blog posting?"
This seemed like a good time to change the subject.
"Omigod. Is the dog using your Iphone? That's amazing."
A few weeks later, my wife learned the hard way after we spent an enjoyable Saturday night at a friend's party. The party had great food, little shots of some flavored alcohol and someone roving around with a camera. It was a recipe for disaster that was missing only one ingredient:
The following Monday, Bridget's friend Monica provided exactly that. I called Bridget at work.
"Hi, Sweetie," she said. "What's up?"
I tried not to sound panicked.
"Monica posted the party photos on Facebook."
"Oh, cool. I'll look at them a little later. Are they good?"
I said nothing for a moment and then jumped in.
"You know how they took that picture of you with your arms around Monica's shoulders? You're both smiling and you're wearing that sleeveless blouse?"
I continued. "Well, whoever took the picture kinda messed up the...I think it's called "depth of field" or something...and it makes your arms look...elephantine."
Bridget wasn't getting it.
"The photo makes your arms look like your Nana's arms."
I swear she screamed.

And a parting gift....

Lee Evans from "There's Something About Mary" and the Lee Evans Trio.

Monday, June 15, 2009


I began writing this in the ICU unit of 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.