Sunday, November 30, 2014

Keeping Up With the Times

Michel Kors designer logo with attached belt.
Yesterday afternoon I braved the throngs at a shopping mall -- there are only two in all of Maine and one is half an hour's drive from my home-- during what has now become the "extended Black Friday weekend." A particular need triggered the rare family outing, but I was more than happy to go since I had a deep longing for one of those buttery, soft pretzels you can only find there. I never got one but still it was quite a trip, and as an added bonus, nobody got shot while we were there.

Besides the overwhelming array of affordable "goods" from Manila, Sri Lanka, China, Vietnam, Bangladesh and the Philippines, there was a lot of unaffordable stuff from New York designers. One in particular, Michael Kors, has taken the designer logo to the next level, with shoes, watches, belts and handbags adorned with his name in chunky brass letters almost as big as the item itself. (In Yiddish that is known as chutzpah.)

Passing through the cosmetics department of Macy's, a woman wearing six-inch heels, lots of jewelry and what looked like a doctor's white coat imprinted with the word CLINIQUE in bright red letters stopped me and asked if I had 30 minutes to spare for a "total skin makeover at no cost." I replied that what I really needed was a facelift and if she could do that in the same time frame I'd pay full price. She did not laugh and I kept going.

Over at the AT & T store the future was clearly in evidence. There were fully waterproof phones you could wear on your wrist, in case you need to check your email while doing the dishes. There were maxi-tablets and mini-tablets and several sizes in-between, and posters showing a computer you wear on your face like goggles, allowing you to see a movie or search the Internet and get a migraine at the same time. I asked to see that one but was told it's not here yet but would be coming from Samsung, a South Korean multinational conglomerate company headquartered in Seoul. "All the really cool stuff comes from Samsung," he said. Who knew?

Next time I am definitely getting one of those pretzels, one of the few things you can find at a mall without someone's name on it.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

'Tis the Season

Having survived Halloween, Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and except for Ferguson, Missouri, finding ourselves all in one piece, Americans and all those illegal aliens we can't count but know they're out there are gearing up for the final stretch. Christmas and New Year's loom, and so far all I have done is buy some holiday-themed postage stamps and stick a bottle of champagne in the fridge. Fearing I am not festive enough, I consider mailing Christmas cards to distant friends but it seems so old-fashioned. So once again I present my annual Christmas letter, a weird thing to do when you're a Jew but anyway:

Dear Friends:

This year was a toughie, what with a few fractured ribs wiping out February and a concussion all but obliterating the month of October. Despite all that, I can gratefully report that I am still alive and in possession of 100% original body parts. I can't remember too much about what happened in much of 2014, but I'm pretty sure it was good stuff. Mitch and I drank a lot of wine and continue to do so, which may account for some of those memory lapses. I remember a boat ride that may have been to Monhegan Island.

The good news is that while we had several plumbing emergencies last spring, all our pipes are currently in excellent shape. Our son is healthy, thank God for that. Both cats are alive and thriving, keeping me quite busy with scooping litter and putting their food on the floor and then picking it up and washing the dishes, giving them treats, taking them to the vet, etc. I am quite happy we no longer have a dog.

I opened and closed another lovely but unwanted art gallery, which was a whole lot of hooey for no reason. We took some trips that were way better than last year when we went to Barcelona and Mitch got food poisoning. Happily, this year neither one of us got food poisoning, and what's bad about that?

My dear friend Debra visited for a few days and that was a hoot. Ditto Mitch's cousins from New York who came for less than 24-hours and another Debby from Salt Lake who came for two days last summer. So much for Maine being America's Vacationland; besides those folks we haven't seen a soul from the Real World, unless you count our friends John and Carrie in Maryland. But they are truly other-worldly, and visiting them seems like a fantastic dream from long ago, even though I think it happened last April.
A recent snowstorm took out Mitch's garden fence, so I suppose we will have to put up a new one next planting season, unless we move into Portland which we might because living in Freeport is such a drag.

Merry Christmas to All, and a Happy New Year!

Friday, November 28, 2014

FILM REVIEW: "St. Vincent"

Cute kid who steals the show.
I usually don't review movies that have been in theaters for a while, but in this case anyone who saw "St. Vincent" has surely forgotten it by now so I feel emboldened to go on. It's a minor tearjerker that thinks it's funny and revolves around three truths:
1. Bill Murray is older than any of us wants to admit and is now going for pathos rather than laughs.
2. Melissa McCarthy is still extremely fat but competently handles the role of a normal person with no gross farting scenes.
3. A waif-like child actor is capable of stealing the show.

The child actor in question, Jaeden Lieberher, is adorable, endearing and the major cause of the tears. As the protagonist, maybe 11 or 12, his after-school babysitter is a cranky, unemployed, down on his luck neighbor (Murray) hired by his struggling single mother (McCarthy). She is in the midst of a custody battle with her mean, successful, ex-husband who is of course a lawyer, and goes off to work each day to fight the good blue-collar fight. Bill takes the kid under his damaged, drunken, foul-mouthed wing and teaches him the bitter truths of Life, all with love of course.

Also on hand is Naomi Watts, who seems to be in every movie lately and must have gotten a new agent. She is more than capable as a pregnant prostitute with a heart of gold and a strange foreign accent who Bill pays for sex and companionship. They end up seemingly together, so naturally we wonder if the baby is his.

Bill is the saint of the title, a fact that stems from the Medal of Honor he won in Vietnam, his weekly visits to his wife in a nursing home-- he has done her laundry for the past eight years--and caring for the neighbor's kid for 12 bucks an hour. Who knew laundry leads to sainthood? (If that's true, I am clearly a saint several times over.)

The film has been marketed as a comedy but it's sad a lot of the time and downright depressing for the rest of it. And the closing credits are just stupid and silly; don't sit through them unless you want to hear Bob Dylan singing and watch Bill Murray trying for an Oscar he surely will not get. (It's embarrassing.)

White Friday

Today is Black Friday and all the things I want are not on sale anywhere. If they were I would pay full price for them: perfect vision and a cat that doesn't cry all night and the tree in my front yard that got broken in half in yesterday's snowstorm to be whole again. Instead all they have for you is socks and televisions and cell phones and washing machines and sweaters for 50% off.

I'm not going shopping, so it's just a normal Friday for me. In fact, if anything it is quite white due to all the snow and it being Maine.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Giving Better Thanks

Statement-making in a Brazilian shopping mall.
Tomorrow is a national holiday. According to law -- "On October 6, 1941, the House passed a joint resolution declaring the last Thursday in November to be the legal Thanksgiving Day. The Senate amended the resolution establishing the holiday as the fourth Thursday, which would take into account those years when November has five Thursdays. The House agreed to the amendment, and President Roosevelt signed the resolution on December 26, 1941, thus establishing the fourth Thursday in November as the Federal Thanksgiving Day holiday" -- we should all give thanks for our bounty, which supposedly we received during the year from God or Mother Nature.

The following day everyone is supposed to go out and get more bounty at places like BestBuy and Macy's and Sephora and Yankee Candle and Old Navy and all the other stores in the shopping malls across this great nation. We then are instructed to wrap up all the newly-purchased bounty and give it away to friends and family at another designated holiday in late December, when they will give us some in return. If we don't like the bounty we get we can return it, with proper identification and sometimes proof of purchase.

It's nuts, plain and simple, since there are so many people the world over with no bounty whatsoever. Instead of consuming, be it food or goods, all of us should spend tomorrow eating yogurt and oatmeal and writing checks to charities. I know that doesn't sound like much fun, but I'm betting it would be way more filling than all the turkey, stuffing and pie.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Trouble with Maine

Hardly anyone lives in Maine. This explains why there is no traffic, and almost no crime. It's quite relaxing. Of course, the flip side is that there are few professional standards, certainly not enough to go around. All the women look like moose and all the men smell like fish, so if you decide to move here you'd better already be hitched and have a job.

Besides those warnings, another one is that it's tough to buy a house here because none of the real estate agents have a lick of sense. They never answer their phones or return calls when you leave a message. They are rarely available to show properties. It's sad, really, for all concerned.

Today I was scheduled to see a house at 12:30. It was a firm appointment I made with an agent two days ago. He knew I would be driving some distance to meet him, and yet when I arrived, the house was dark with no sign of life. I had given the agent my phone number in case of any emergency, but he did not call. Finally, after waiting long enough for a college professor were I in college, I called his cell and he answered--a fact that is important for the story--and said he had spent the morning "out in the sticks with no cell service" and couldn't call to cancel, and could I meet him tomorrow instead?

I then asked if he was still out in those same sticks and he said yes. I asked why he was out in the sticks when he had an appointment in the city and he said he wasn't sure. I asked if he had cell service yet and he said "probably not."


Monday, November 24, 2014

Blah, Blah Ferguson

The word on the street, amplified by the media, is that apparently whatever decision comes down, the good folks of Ferguson, Missouri plan to riot. Thanks to Al Sharpton, a.k.a. the Flame-Fanner-in-Chief, and his sidekick POTUS, the Commander-in-Chief, black citizens everywhere are convinced that the white policeman involved deliberately shot an innocent child in the back for absolutely no reason! This is of course crazy talk, since the "innocent child," roughly the size and stature of Smokey the Bear, had just robbed a convenience store, an act caught on surveillance video. But crazy talk gets ratings, and so everyone who earns a living by blabbing about what other people are doing are blabbing about that. So I'll stop.

Ain't No Sunshine

Here in Maine, today never arrived. While the calendar says Monday, November 24, it just never showed up. Instead, we had daylong dusk, heavy to ridiculously heavy rain, and dense fog like in Hitchcok's "Dial M for Murder," or whichever one it was where Doris Day was being followed by Rex Harrison, or possibly Ray Milland. (It might have been Grace Kelly.)

My point is that from six in the morning, which is when I got up, until right now at 4:17 in the afternoon, the sun was not involved. It was downright scary, and this is from someone who always finds those bright, sunny days annoyingly pushy, sort of like that spinster aunt who's always nagging you to go outside and get some fresh air. Still, without even a hint of the sun--whether hidden behind clouds or reflected off of something somewhere far away-- it might as well be night, except it's day. The world takes on a science-fiction quality that is quite disturbing, giving rise to spooky fantasies about off-the-charts global warming a thousand years from now.

We all take the sun rising each morning for granted, but after one of these days, I will kiss the hem of its garment the next time I see it. (I love mixing metaphors.)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Things Could Be Worse

Lately I have been in what can modestly be called "a funk." I'm not sure what started it, but a variety of thorny health issues have certainly not helped. All I know for sure is that being depressed is, well, depressing. That's the worst part about it. Weight loss is the one positive, and that's only if you're tubby to begin with. (Fortunately I was.)

Anyway, this morning I read an article in the Wall Street Journal that jolted me out of my funk, reminding me of why it's good to read the paper. It was all about a terrible situation regarding medical errors and how many women have died because of a bad practice involving a device called a morcellator that actually spreads uterine cancer while purporting to cure it. Reading the sad tale of a woman in the prime of her life who was basically murdered by her well-meaning gynecologist made me happy that things in my life are not worse, admittedly a state of affairs less desirable than being happy because things are all the way to good, but I'll take it.

So now, newly de-funked, I am committed to making every day as good as it can be. I truly believe this is a mind-over-matter skill that is enhanced by staying busy and not thinking too much. And most of all, keeping one's interaction with the medical community to a bare minimum.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Just in Time for Christmas

It's so obvious I am surprised nobody has made the connection, but it seems to me that the terrible snowstorm in Buffalo which has thus far dumped six feet of snow on that beleaguered city and caused the deaths of at least 13 people is all Bill Cosby's fault. That would explain this timely print by artist Justin Hager entitled "Buffalo Bill Cosby." One of a limited edition of 20, it can be yours for just $40.00, and would make a perfect gift for a friend or loved one on your gift list who was sexually assaulted by the famed comic. (Surely someone was.)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

No Dead Bird

One week from today is the day we call Thanksgiving. Everyone who can afford to will eat the same meal, for some reason it's a roast turkey accompanied by all the usual suspects. But since this has been my year to rebel, and the first year that I did not purchase one lick of Halloween candy, I am going rogue. My husband and I reasoned that if we were going to eat thousands of calories worth of fattening foods, like gooey stuffing and gravy and yams and pie and all the rest, why not indulge in something we really crave and never enjoy? And so for our Thanksgiving dinner we shall have lasagna made with fresh pasta and grass-fed beef and organic cheeses of several varieties. And garlic bread, and lots of it. And cheesecake for dessert--screw the pumpkin pie.

Most important, there will be no dead bird on the table. I am pretty excited, and I bet I will be thankful too, since besides less guilt--there is still that grass-fed cow-- I won't have to spend half the day basting him and the other half dealing with his carcass.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

No News is Good News

                       Gordon Studer
There is a brief time first thing in the morning, before the rest of the world is revealed, when things are just fine. This is that time.

I have walked out to the end of the driveway for the newspaper but have not yet opened it. It's a brisk fall day, cold and bracing but with no precipitation and a fair amount of red and gold leaves still adorning the trees. I've had my first cup of steaming black coffee and am about to have my second. Like me, both my cats have made it through the night, including the 19-year-old who is apparently still healthy, greedily gobbling breakfast and meowing for more.

Soon enough everything else will come flooding in: the bombings, the protests, the natural disasters, the hatred. Death and destruction, Man tormenting Man -- it's all out there, just a click away. That little red button on the TV remote will bring it inside. But until then, there is only coffee brewing and cats stretched out by the fire. I think I'll keep it that way for a while.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Expert Advice Isn't Always

About a month ago I happened across a short article--I forget where-- about the fact that the driver's airbag in my beautiful  new "Volcano Red" Audi A4 had been found to be deficient and was being recalled for repair. This was somewhat alarming, but since I've been driving for 52 years without an accident I figured I'd be okay, at least for awhile.

I next heard about the airbag recall about a week later, this time on the radio while I was driving the tainted auto, and started to wonder if maybe I should do something about it. Then yesterday I received a letter in the mail from the Audi people telling me that yes indeed, my car has an airbag problem and I should call the dealer right away and schedule a fix, free of charge. So I called the salesman at the dealership who had sold me the car to advise me as to my next step. Alas, he knew nothing about it and was all the way to "surprised" and even a tad doubtful that I had the straight poop.

I am frankly confused as to how it's possible to sell Audis five days a week for 18 years and yet remain unaware of a much-publicized Audi recall. Exactly what goes on at those car dealerships besides blowing up all those balloons? Anyway, my car will be repaired next week but now I'm worried about my appointment later today with the ophthalmologist who will determine if I need cataract surgery. I hope he knows what he's doing.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Bill Cosby Strikes Again

I'm not 100% positive, but I think I may have been raped by Bill Cosby. It was almost 40 years ago so the memory is naturally a little fuzzy, but I'm pretty sure it was a black guy and he was very funny. It was at a bar in Greenwich Village and I can't remember if he actually raped me or if he just tried to get me to sleep with him, but I think maybe he forced me to dance with him. Then he bought me a drink and we talked a lot about TV sitcoms. I told him I loved his show, "I Spy," and he acted like he never heard of it before, but I think he was just being modest, or maybe trying to hide his true identity. Or maybe he wasn't Bill Cosby after all.

Anyway, I never told anyone this before but now since all those other women are brave enough to come forward, I thought I should too, and maybe see if I could help ruin the guy's career and get some pocket change while I'm at it. The thing is, it may or may not have happened the way I remember; possibly it was just a dream. Which is odd, because if I were going to dream about having sex with a black man, you'd think it would be with someone more attractive than Bill Cosby, like Denzel or Gregory Hines, neither of whom ever laid a hand on me, sadly.

 Oh well, no harm done. Just try to forget you read this.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

American Idle

Last night I watched six strangers bravely get up on a stage and put themselves out there to be judged. The event was the 4th Annual Maine Songwriter's Association Contest. Held in a tiny theater in the back of a local restaurant, the "sold-out" crowd of about 85 attendees seemed mostly to be the friends and family of the performers. My husband and I had found our way there looking for a movie but suspecting this might be more compelling than any of the current choices playing nearby. Turns out we were right.

There was a lot of talking before the singing, mostly about the Association and its board of directors and their website and how to join the group. It was then explained that each contestant would sing a "warm-up" song followed by the contest entry that would matter. The three judges were introduced, all apparently known to the audience and one of whom was last year's contest winner. They stood and waved, then sat down in the front row.

First up was a bearded, folksy sort wearing a jaunty cap. You knew right away he had listened to a lot of James Taylor growing up. You also knew he would not win. He played the guitar and sang something instantly forgettable. Next came the Joni Mitchell of the night, a pale, young woman with long blond hair and a warbly voice who was all but hidden behind her enormous guitar. She was accompanied by a man playing the violin who stood right next to her for both songs, yet she did not introduce him or acknowledge his presence in any way. For that I instantly disliked her and so wrote her off in my mind. (I'm pretty sure her parents were sitting right next to us and her mother may have heard me say something disparaging about her, but I wasn't sure. I hoped not.)

The third contestant was a bit older than the others and more polished. He spent considerable time tuning his guitar, which made him seem more professional. Channeling Jim Croce, he sang two good songs, one of which really grabbed the heartstrings. That clearly would be the winner. Following him was another standout who played the keyboard as well as Billy Joel and sang two witty songs equal to Randy Newman's standard fare. He deserved to win the night but likely would not because he was fat and didn't look the part. (Quick, think of a fat singer besides Burl Ives.) Still, he was endearing and had a distinctive voice you wanted to hear again. (I bought his CD at intermission.)

The fifth contestant was another female, this one more Linda Ronstadt than Joni Mitchell. Her voice was lovely but her song was silly, and she made the fatal mistake of asking the audience to "sing it with me!" WTF? How could we sing a song we had never heard before? And who was she to think that we would want to? I mean Jackson Browne and "Take It Easy" you understand, but this lady's la-de-dah? No way. She definitely lost points for that.

Last was an earnest and soulful man who was pretty great in a deep, Leonard Cohen sort of way. He might have fared better if he had come on earlier, but by then everyone was pretty much full up with tunes and eager to move along. When he finished, the judges retired to the "green room" to deliberate and the crowd dispersed, milling about the bar in the restaurant, visiting the restrooms or chatting with the contestants huddled around a bridge table displaying their CDs for sale.

Jim Croce won and gave an encore performance of his winning song, which he sang with a lot more feeling this time, boosted as he was by his victory. Randy Newman and Leonard Cohen came in second and third, and the three winners met onstage and had their pictures taken together. Sadly, nobody paid any attention to the three losing contestants. Gathering our things to leave, we looked over and saw that Joni Mitchell's parents were already gone.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Edible Body Parts

A gummy foot, brain and earlobe, obviously not to scale.
As is the custom here in South Freeport, in the days after Halloween the townsfolk unload their excess candy at the local post office. Free for the taking are all sorts of fun-sized goodies, including the usual Snickers, Whoppers, Tootsie Rolls and all the rest. This year there was a newcomer: Gummy Body Parts. A product of China distributed by a company in Philadelphia, I found them particularly gruesome and grabbed a few. Shown above are the most photogenic; I rejected an eyeball because of black dye leaking from the iris.

Thanksgiving Dinner for the Turkey Family?

I wonder which protein source is better for you.
Here we go again, slaughtering and gobbling up one species just for fun. There are plenty of choices, like free-range and organic and all-natural and the regular, shot-through-with-butter-and-hormones kind. This year I am saying "No," just like I said no to Halloween candy. Who knows, maybe I'll get into Heaven after all -- at least Turkey Heaven.

Friday, November 14, 2014

An Open Invitation

There is a new website, or social media platform, or whatever you call Facebook, out there trying to be the new Facebook. It is called Ello.

Yesterday I devoted a fair amount of my flagging energy to determining what the heck Ello is, because for a half of a nano-second I thought it was something new and interesting and different that might improve my world, and yours too. Alas, it is not. It is just another not-that.

Ello boasts that its membership is by "invitation only." Considering it took me about half an hour to wangle one, and then after I "got in," I was given scads of invitations to send my friends so they could get in too, I'm pretty sure it's not too exclusive. Basically, Ello wants you to get all your friends who live over at Facebook to move to their place. And the reason everyone should move is because it is "ad-free."

Big deal. Ads are everywhere. They hardly matter, nobody even sees them, it's a wonder the ad agencies keep churning them out. Who cares if there are ads on Facebook? Somebody's got to pay for it and I'm glad it's not me. As for Ello, as far as I could see it's just another one of those websites where people friend each other and self-promote and then ask other people to friend them. It's no different from Facebook except for not being Facebook. So relax, you are not missing anything.

I just deleted my Ello account. It was a wild ride.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Next Big Thing

Determined to keep up, I discovered ello
It's quite secretive, and you have to be invited or request an invitation. 
I did the latter, entering my email address. 
I was informed that they would "be in touch." 

I can't say more because I don't know more. 
It's just that it's the next big thing, or maybe just the next small thing. 
Everything else is rife with grandparents and Japanese cat videos. 

There must something more, something exclusive that none of us know about. 
So I guess it isn't ello after all, since here I am talking about it. 
If I hear anything I'll let you know.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Yoga Makes Me Nervous

Try as I do to get in and stay in, I am always out of the loop. For example, I am not sure when it happened or why, but I don't like yoga. To be honest, I don't even really like yogurt all that much, although I eat it once in a while with no ill effects. But yoga truly makes me sick. I know you don't eat it, but things you don't eat can still sicken you.

Just the other day I tried another yoga class, perhaps my 15th one during the last ten years. I keep trying since it's all the rage and friends say it's relaxing, and since I suffer from anxiety and high blood pressure I do what I can. This latest attempt was at a new yoga studio just three miles from my house, with freshly-painted peach-colored walls and lots of comfy pillows strewn about the polished, light wood floors. It was all very feminine, sort of like being in a Tampax commercial. Still, even though the teacher was supportive and the dozen or so other students were quite friendly in a serious and somber sort of way, I felt like a dumb cluck doing all those dog poses and sun salutations and whatever else.

"Relax the tongue. Relax the jaw." I hate all that forced relaxation shit. It just makes me tense. And I feel stupid in those tights and with everyone looking the same. (I was the only one wearing socks, and it caused a bit of a stir.)

It's that whole "cog-in-a-wheel" thing. Maybe when yoga falls out of fashion, I'll start going.

How Proud is Michelle Now?

In case you have been in a coma for the last few years, you know by now that our current president is an idiot. This is actually heartening news, since it means that A, idiots can go far in this life and B, he will soon be able to get the care he so desperately needs since his term is almost over. Here he is in China (see photo) one day ago, meeting with all the leaders of all the other countries, chewing gum, and with his mouth open no less. Reports are that the Chinese were "repulsed" by his adolescent behavior.

The poor guy. I hope he didn't drool into his soup at dinner.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

On Being a Doctah!

Not counting med school, being a doctor is easy. Once they finish all the book learning, those guys are pretty much set, especially if they become specialists, which says it all. Take the cardiologist I saw recently for five minutes after waiting 45. He arrived with no evidence of his trade whatsoever. He wasn't even wearing a white jacket, just a normal business suit straight off the Men's Wearhouse rack, or so it appeared. For all I knew he was a rep from a pharmaceutical company.

After our brief interview during which I recounted my symptoms he suggested a series of diagnostic tests and strode out of the room, leaving his assistant to fill out the required paperwork. At least she was dressed for the part, in one of those pink and purple doctor's-assistant tunics with stars and moons all over it.

A few days later, the assistant's assistant called to say that the doctor wanted me to take an additional blood test. All that was last week. Then today I called his office to see if anyone there could tell me if I'm still alive and got a recording saying they were "closed for the holiday." So, no results today. I went out for a walk while I still can.

Back from my walk, I returned to a message advising me that I need another test, this one an even bigger deal-- some kind of kidney MRI. So many tests! And I only saw the guy for five minutes! He must be really good.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Paging Doctor Stooge

Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, our labyrinthine medical system has seemingly nosedived into the lowest echelons of common sense, floundering there alongside our political system, our judicial system and the tenure-laced minefield known as academia.

One month ago I suffered a sudden and severe blood pressure emergency which hung around for two weeks and sent me to the ER twice for care beyond the little pills I was already taking. In frustration and hoping to find the cause, my family doctor suggested I see someone who knows more than he does on the subject and referred me to a cardiologist.

The cardiologist spent perhaps ten minutes with me and ordered five tests to help him determine the underlying cause of my affliction. Off I went to have blood drawn and pee examined and sonograms of this and that body part. Alas, after I completed them yet another blood test was needed, which I went and did this morning.

Finally all done with the poking and prodding and peeing, I have yet to receive treatment of any kind and remain not the least bit wiser about my condition than when I started. As of today, I cannot meet with the man who ordered all these tests until next year. Yes, that's right--next year. Or as his receptionist put it, "We are looking at January for scheduling." When I balked, flabbergasted, she said I could definitely meet with a nurse-practitioner who works in their office and would that be okay?

Thus far, the only beneficiaries of the cardiologist's greater knowledge are the several lab technicians and radiologists doing his dirty work. And that's what medical care is like in America in 2014.

Taking Care of the Little People

A cursory glance at the human race would indicate that there are children--those are the shorter people--who need looking after, and there are adults, usually taller, to do the looking. Sadly, this is not always true. Take, for example, the number of children who have ingested laundry detergent pods that look just like candy and are packaged and sold in what looks just like a big cookie jar. The selling and packaging are done by the adults, while the eating of the poison contained therein is done by the children.

A study just published in the medical journal Pediatrics reports that in 2012 and 2013, 17,230 children ingested some of that highly concentrated detergent in those cute little swirly blue and orange packets, like Proctor & Gamble's Tide Pods. Thankfully only one death occurred, although many children were hospitalized.

The manufacturers of these products are supposedly hard at work trying to amend the situation. They went so far as to put warning labels on the packages, and in some instances they even made the jars opaque so kids won't be able to see what's inside and be tempted to bite into one of the juicy packets, which then sends poison shooting down their gullets.

Hey, here's a good idea! In fact, two good ideas: First, they could stop making the pods altogether and sell detergent like the caveman did, in powder or liquid form and packaged in scary-looking boxes or bottles with a skull on the front and the word POISON in bold letters. Second, the people who buy the stuff, a.k.a. The Parents, could store it safely away from their kids, like on a high shelf or in locked in a closet, you know-- right next to their guns. I bet that would work.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

FILM REVIEW: "Birdman"

Here's what you need to know: "Birdman" is a great movie. See it and you will likely want to see it again. Michael Keaton gives a searing, Oscar-worthy performance as a mentally disturbed actor clinging to the last shreds of his fading career. Twenty years after achieving stardom as the title character in a series of vacuous blockbuster hits, he's producing and directing a play starring himself and a motley collection of fellow thespians. Edward Norton plays a big deal star who is next in line as craziest actor and potential Oscar-winner, brought in after someone else literally gets knocked out of the play.

Michael Keaton and Birdman out for a stroll.
Also on hand are Birdman's fragile, fresh-from-rehab daughter (Emma Stone) who apparently hates him, his ex-wife who still cares but not enough to save him from his manic self-hatred, and his best friend and straight man, the newly-slim Zach Galifianakis, who is just as good playing serious as he is playing the fool.

Only the audience hears the chastising voice in Birdman's head, the one telling him how much he sucks. And he's not alone: all the other poor souls who earn their livings as actors also suck. Each one of them is a quivering mass of insecurities, desperate for self-validation from an adoring audience and terrified of a bad review from an acerbic theater critic from the Times.

Although the subject matter is dark and dangerous, with suicide always an option, somehow it's all a blast. Neurotic actors--this one sleeping with that one and that one cheating on the other -- along with hysterical pregnancies, physical fisticuffs and venomous backstabbing add up to a rollicking good time for the viewer. The action takes place this minute, on Broadway, with a fascinating look at the world of the theater, both inside and out. The dim, narrow corridors, the glow of the footlights and the crowded dressing rooms suddenly give way to flights of fancy as Birdman reclaims his former super-persona and flies over Manhattan's taxi-clogged streets or struts through crowded Times Square in his underwear due to a slapstick mishap.

Yet another wild element adding to the party is the score: It's edgy and jumpy, jazzy and eclectic, keeping you moving in your seat like you just downed a double espresso. And every so often it's cheekily in your face, with one of the musicians, drums and all, stuck right in the middle of things. He's in the movie, not in the play, even though he's right there in the play. Don't ask what's real and what's imaginary, just sit back and have fun.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

FILM REVIEW: "Art and Craft"

Art forger Mark Landis
This engrossing but disturbing documentary shines a harsh spotlight on the damaged mind of a schizophrenic art forger who duped countless museums over his 30-year long career. Plying his so-called "philanthropy," Mark Landis used his artistic gifts to make exacting copies of the work of other artists. Then, posing as a priest or benefactor acting on behalf of a wealthy, dead relative, he traveled far and wide to donate the finished works to an impressive list of museums, ostensibly for the joy of doing something besides watching TV.

We see very little of Landis painting the masterpieces during "Art and Craft," which is too bad since the process is interesting the few times we do. Instead we watch Landis living his lonely, miserable existence, eating frozen Marie Callendar dinners in front of reruns of "I Love Lucy" and schlepping to his social worker appointments, where he is repeatedly asked, "Are you having suicidal thoughts? Have you been hearing voices?" He answers no, but at this point some members of the audience might start to.

A perky soundtrack and lively visits to several cities -- New York, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, somewhere in Mississippi-- keep the grim proceedings visually appealing. But then there we'd be again, back in Landis's borderline hoarder's apartment, his skinny 122-pound frame hunched over a TV tray, mumbling in a Truman Capote-ish whisper about his nervous breakdown at 17 when his father died or the tragic loss of his mother two years ago, and here come those tears again...

In the end Landis got caught through the unflagging diligence of one particular museum worker. Then his story exploded into the news, followed by a magazine article exposing all, an ensuing exhibition at a museum, and now this movie. His mental illness is never really addressed, and when the film ends he's still lost in his own world, except now he can't ply his trade anymore. But what else can he do?

Don't see this movie if you are feeling fragile. Instead, write a check to the American Psychiatric Association and hope for a cure.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

My Petty Crime

The hotel was nice enough, although not up to our expectations and certainly not worth the hefty room charge. Nevertheless, the pillows were perfect and we were having a grand time. After a busy afternoon outdoors we came back to rest up for a night out. Feeling a tad hungry, I checked the room's mini-bar and found an assortment of goodies, none of which were actually good for you: M & M's, gummy bears, chocolate-covered almonds, chocolate-chip cookies, jumbo cashews and something else I forget, but what I remember is that each choice cost $8.00 for a paltry amount wrapped in a fancy box and tied with a gossamer bow. That bow annoyed me.

I had started out hungry and a puff of pot made me hungrier, and mischievous, so I decided to open the carefully-packaged cookies and eat them, one by one, then close up the box just as carefully, bow and all, and return it to its little pillowed spot inside the mini-bar, empty. Mitch, a.k.a.Mother Teresa, thought this was a bad idea amounting to petty larceny. I said charging $2.00 per cookie for what essentially looked like supermarket-grade Chips Ahoys was highway robbery, and suggested he smoke a little pot and ease up. Besides, I was planning to come clean before we left and pay for the damn cookies anyway, only I forgot.

We checked out two days later and on the way home I remembered. I imagined the next occupants of that room opting for the cookies, opening the box and finding it empty, and then calling the front desk to complain: "There are no cookies in the box of cookies in the min-bar," they'd say. But who would believe them? Would they be charged the $8.00?

I have measurable guilt over this act until I remember that O.J. went free despite killing two innocent people and I gain some perspective on my crime. Still, I haven't forgotten it. I hope I do soon.

Monday, November 3, 2014

An Interesting Career Choice

Hey, that looks just like my kidney, or aorta, or something.....
The world of medicine is many things but never boring, which makes me regret not becoming a doctor or medical technician. Having received no advice from my parents beyond "get married" and "don't get fat," I never fully explored my career options and so became a designer because I was good at it. It's too late for me now, but maybe it's not for you.

This morning I underwent a few diagnostic tests ordered by a cardiologist to determine the underlying cause of my skyrocketing blood pressure. Naturally, since he's just an ordinary man in possession of neither psychic powers nor x-ray vision, to see inside my body he could do little else. But through interpreting the results of an echocardiogram and two vascular studies--a renal ultrasound and an abdominal aorta ultrasound--he might come up with an answer or even a cure. The entire process was much more interesting than anything else I might have done this morning, although having to forgo breakfast, and especially coffee, was a bummer. (Fasting is required so nothing obscures the view of the internal organs, like solids, liquid or gas.)

I learned a lot about the human body and met two very agreeable women who conducted the tests. The echocardiogram was straightforward, wherein three pieces of sticky tape with wires attached were applied to my chest, allowing the technician to move a wand with a camera inside it around my torso and photograph my insides using ultrasound waves, or something like that. Suddenly I could hear my heartbeat booming into the exam room as a series of wavy images radiated across the computer screen. I was comforted by all this as I could tell for sure that I was definitely still alive.

More interesting were the other tests, both of which also involved wands with cameras being moved over my torso.  Lying down on a table next to the computer, I could see pictures of my aorta and the arteries running from it to my kidneys. And there were my kidneys, both in working order. Somehow the technician understood all the beeping and flashing and colors jumping around the screen, looking for blockages and taking pictures of my kidneys doing their thing. It was all way beyond me, but since the tests lasted more than an hour I had ample time to learn about what was happening and how one prepares to do that for a living. Surprisingly it was not in medical school, but only a two-year program is required. Then you're all set to look at people's insides, and get paid to do so. It's like playing on computers but instead of pointless games signifying nothing, it's all about helping people live better lives.

I recommend it to anyone searching for a career. Regardless of what happens in the future, you can count on one thing: People will continue to get sick and either get better or worse. You'll always have a job no matter where you go, unless it's to Outer Space, but that seems to still be a ways away.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

How Soon is Too Soon?

          Gordon Studer
Those TV commercials for Viagra and Cialis and a few other drugs that promise to restore sexual vigor to men over the hill are quite intriguing. How do they work, I wonder. It's like some sort of magic trick. But they always end with the advice, "Seek medical attention right away for an erection lasting more than four hours," which I find alarming and downright confusing.

Does the seeking of medical attention "right away" start at exactly four hours, or should you start seeking it sooner, like maybe at three and a half so that you are getting the attention at four hours? What about after three hours -- are you still sitting around calmly like everything is fine, sipping wine and playing Scrabble? And does "right away" imply calling an ambulance, or just deciding to get in the car and drive to the emergency room? Not that I ever have been with anyone in that particular situation, but just in case, considering my age, it would be good to know. Sort of like the Heimlich Maneuver--you never know when it might come in handy.