Diagnosis: Insanity

There is being cautious in the time of danger, and there is complete overreaction. This is the latter. We have lost our collective minds.

We have had Ebola, SARS, Swine Flu, the regular flu, and Lord knows what else in my lifetime. There is a new, unknown threat every two years (conveniently consistent with election years.) This is the first one that has canceled events, shuttered businesses and locked everyone in their houses, wearing masks and hoarding toilet paper.

What has changed? A number of critical issues, which I believe over time have weakened society.

Overprotection is Bad

We’ve had a full generation that grew up over-protected, and now they’re freaking out.

Think back to when you grew up. Were you driven to a school that was three blocks from your house? I rode my bike or walked the mile to school until I switched to a school fifteen miles from my house and rode the school bus. Did you have to wear a helmet to ride a bike? I didn’t. Did you need knee pads to wear skates? Could you go beyond the end of the block without your parents reporting you missing or calling you on a walkie-talkie? Did you get told to “walk it off” at least once? Did you lose games?

If not, you were probably raised overprotected. We have an entire generation or more who never experienced the basic pains of childhood – which is not really that bad. It’s a learning experience. Fall down the spillway, you learn not to walk there. (I didn’t, I fell down twice – the second time, showing where I fell the first time.) Fall off a bike, you learn to pay better attention. Walk to school, you learn independence. Blow out a knee in soccer, you learn to play better. Get some stitches, have a cool scar to build a better story around in old age.

Common Sense is Missing

How have we gotten to the point where we have to tell people, “If you’re sick, stay home?” and “Wash your hands”? Really? Really? Didn’t your parents teach you that?

As an aside, I am basically an hourly worker at this point, even if I’m called an “employee”, so going to all the doctors appointments for my broken ankle and foot recovery, the two days in the hospital recovering from the failed nerve blocker after the surgery, and anything else I do during the day that is not in front of my computer costs me money. I’m pretty sure I’ve used up most of my earned vacation at this point, because I really don’t have sick time. So, I get it. Being sick costs money.

That said, if you’re sick, stay home is not about you. Its for the protection of others. That’s where we have completely failed as a society. We are more concerned about ourselves and our needs than the community at large. This is a major issue.

The other example of the “Me” society is hoarding … anything. You don’t need sixty rolls of toilet paper. You don’t need dozens of masks. You don’t. This is why ERs will be overrun with people who are not sick. Me. Me. Me.

Think It Through

All schools are closed. Except for meals.” DISD has decided to continue providing food to students in need. There will be more than 500 students in the school, but served in the classrooms so they are smaller groups. Uh, if they’re in the classrooms, why not teach them? If these children are from homes that can’t afford food, how are they affording high-speed WiFi to do homeschooling for the rest of the year?

I’m going into isolation. I will just call for food delivery.” Who delivers your food? Oh, yes, drivers on minimum wage and tips. Remember, “if you’re sick, stay home?” That would be the target group for that message.

I’ll wear a mask 24×7 to protect me.” A face mask is for people who are ill, not for people who are well. This is according to the CDC and WHO. Don’t wear a mask if you are well. You look like a putz and you’re keeping a mask from someone who needs it.

I need six hundred rolls of toilet paper.” Review the CDC’s advice on caring for a COVID-19 patient at home. Amazingly, it doesn’t ever say, “Wipe their ass every sixteen seconds.”

My kids are home from school. Guess we’ll go to the mall.” Do you understand what self-isolation means?

I heard garlic can prevent coronavirus.” Uh, Italy?

Keep It In Perspective

I am not saying the spread of COVID-19 is not bad. I’m just saying, there is worse. Visit https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/preliminary-in-season-estimates.htm and you will see there is an estimate of 22,000 to 55,000 deaths from seasonal flu in the US. This happens every year. Every fucking year. Just in the US. This is even with everyone able to get a flu shot at pretty much any corner drug store. COVID-19 has 4,613 deaths worldwide, per the WHO.

Why does the US not shut down for six months every year during seasonal flu season? We could save thousands of lives.

I have seen estimates that COVD-19 has about 80% mild cases. So, yes, if everyone in the US was infected, we would potentially lose 20% of our population. What are the chances of that actually happening?

If you are not in the high risk groups, much of the time, COVID-19 will be like a mild flu – stay at home and self-treat. The press never seems to mention most cases are “stay at home, self-treat.” You don’t need ICU time. You don’t need to be on a respirator. You need rest and chicken soup.

Information, Not Hysteria

Ever since CNN went on the air in 1980, there has been a need for constant news. When I was growing up, TV stations went off the air at night, and there was peace and quiet for a few hours. With CNN, there is no escape. Then, they got competition. Now, we have wall-to-wall coverage of crap we never would have known about years ago, as long as it fits their model and the biases of their owners and staff. It is relentless.

So, COVID-19, a disease with a very high survivability rate outside a few high-risk groups (which are generally high-risk for any respiratory disease), is suddenly a “deadly pandemic scourge which cannot be stopped.”

The annual flu is deadly. Car wrecks are deadly. Smoking is deadly. Chicago shootings are deadly. Most probably cause more deaths than COVID-19 has. Not a lot of coverage.

The World Health Organization has information. The CDC has information. Everything else is noise, and most of it is designed for ratings and not to actually help anyone. The more you panic, the higher the ratings. Just turn it off.

Proportionate Response

It’s a pandemic!” Once an epidemic (a rapid spread of a disease within a given population) occurs in multiple countries, it’s a pandemic. That’s the definition. It is a loaded word now, but it quite literally means as soon as there were cases in China, Italy and anywhere else, it was a pandemic. Don’t let a medical term panic you. AIDS is still a pandemic and you don’t hear a lot about it anymore, because it’s mainstream.

Our emergency rooms can’t handle everyone being sick!” This is probably true if everyone goes to the ER at the same time and needs constant care. Also, does everyone with seasonal flu go to the ER? There seems to be more of them.

People will be treated in the hallways!” Here’s a fun fact – that happened before COVID-19 ever erupted. My wife went to the ER in Pennsylvania with chest pains in 2018 and they had marked spaces in the hall for beds. They would bring a curtain when she changed or was examined. This was on a Monday. So, some ERs are already overrun on a regular basis. It’s not news. So, here’s a thought – if you have a cough or a runny nose, go to urgent care or better yet, your doctor. If you have a gunshot wound or a bone sticking out, go to the ER. If you don’t have symptoms, you might not really need a test on day one. Stay home and enjoy your mounds of toilet tissue.

One of the reasons The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was popular was because on the cover, it said “Don’t Panic.” Wise words.

Broken Dreams

This report has been a long time coming. Still, better late than never, I suppose.

On January 10th, I was going to let the dogs out for a pee break. I was annoyed, which is not a good way to be when traversing tight areas. I caught the corner of the dog ramp with my foot, and tripped. As I fell, I considered my options: fall on the wooden ramp itself, fall forward and hit a glass coffee table, fall sideways and hit a wire dog crate, fall right and hit a brick fireplace. Eventually, I just collapsed on the floor.

The first (sad) thing to admit is that I had tripped over this particular ramp before. Every time I did, my Spousal Unit mentioned we should get rid of it, but she never will. Even now, it’s just blocking the other side of the couch.

The second thing is that this time, it really hurt. I couldn’t even consider getting up for a couple of minutes. I just lay on the floor, wondering what to do, and thinking I could soon be the second person in this house Dallas Fire Rescue might have to come lift up (RIP my Mom-in-law.)

Finally, I got up and struggled back to the couch. I never twisted my ankle this badly, but I assumed I could “walk it off.” However, unlike other falls, it wasn’t getting better.

By morning, it was worse, so it was off to urgent care. I would have gone to the emergency room, but didn’t want to waste an entire day on a sprained ankle.

The urgent care by us said on the website that they did x-rays and handled minor broken bones. This was useful, even though I was sure it wasn’t broken, because I had never broken a bone in my life.

The website lied. They had the equipment but nobody there who could use it. The physician’s assistant on duty was useless, but she seemed to confirm it wasn’t a break, so I just figured “Suck it up, Buttercup” and get on with life. Since the PA was an idiot, we decided to just get an appointment with my orthopedic practice. We could have driven across town for a x-ray, but the specialists always do their own, even if you walk in with them, so why waste the time and money? Besides, the PA said it probably wasn’t broken (she didn’t see bones sticking out), so even though she was an idiot, that confirmed my lifelong failure to break a bone, so that was good enough.

On Monday, we managed to get an appointment on Wednesday to see the orthopedist. Those guys are busy. So, I just hopped around in the meantime. The PA didn’t think I needed a boot, so I just limped around in my flip-flops, since I couldn’t fit into a shoe.

Wednesday morning, we saw the orthopedist. They sent me for x-rays before he came in, so I got to limp the entire length of their offices to the x-ray room (and back.)

The doctor looked at the x-rays and said I had broken my foot … and my ankle.

Broken, I believe

He asked why we had waited to come in, and we said we went to urgent care on Saturday, and they didn’t think it was broken. “Didn’t they do x-rays?” So, that was that story, again. My wife is always happy to trash one practice to another. “They didn’t put you in a boot?” More trashing.

Urgent care’s care did not look good.

That afternoon, I had a CT scan which also said I had broken the crap out of both my foot and ankle. From tripping over a dog ramp.

As they got me a boot, we started discussing surgery options. It was January 15th. We had an anniversary cruise on February 9th. Nothing major, February 11th was just our 20th wedding anniversary. The doctor said we could go, no big deal, it I wasn’t like I was going to do any more damage, but the idea of a cruise on a new ship with no snorkeling, actually no beach time, and getting around on a scooter wasn’t very appealing.

We canceled the cruise in the 100% penalty period. Always buy insurance! The checks are in the mail.

We scheduled surgery for January 21st. I had to go to the hospital the day before for a surgical pre-check, since there wasn’t time for my family doctor to do it. Luckily, I passed.

Surgery was thankfully not at the crack of dawn. We got to the hospital (well, the day surgery facility) and got checked in. I got my bed and my gown. It almost fit.

The anesthesiologist came in and said he was going to administer two nerve blockers to help get ahead of the pain. After that, it was general anesthesia, as well.

The doctor came in and autographed my foot so he would remember that the one amazingly larger than the other was the broken one.

Off to the OR. I’m traditionally a good patient who has recovered faster than average. This was going to be my first set of metal plates. The doctor said he would probably leave the ankle alone unless he saw something he didn’t like. He saw it. So, one plate in the foot, one plate in the ankle.

I woke up in the recovery room in the worst pain I have ever experienced. I couldn’t focus, it was so bad. Apparently, my body has alternate nerve paths to my foot which didn’t get blocked.

Unfortunately, since I had the nerve blocker, I wasn’t given any painkillers after surgery. So, after I couldn’t cope, the staff gave me Fentanyl and not much happened. They gave me hydrocodone, and that started to help, but I couldn’t get ahead of the pain. They finally admitted me.

After a while in the room, somebody gave me morphine, and that knocked the pain down. After that, it was hydrocodone every four hours.

As usual, the doctors successfully downplayed the possible pain aspects of recovery. They managed to have me never consider what cutting my foot open and screwing stainless steel plates into multiple bones might feel like after I woke up. Well played.

Overnight, my wife discovered the order for hydrocodone was “as needed” and not “every four damn hours so he doesn’t die”, so I had a dose an hour late, and the pain came back. An hour or so after that, I asked for more morphine, and it settled back down. From then on, we asked for hydrocodone a bit early, just in case.

The whole “drugs working slowly” was new for me. A nurse would give me something, and say, “You’ll feel better in a half-hour or so.” It would take an hour or more. So, getting meds on time became critical.

Here’s a funny thing I learned – anesthesia can put your bladder to sleep. Then, you can’t pee. Joy. Of course, trying to pee off the side of a bed into a handheld urinal while two nurses and your wife are discussing your ability to pee three feet away is difficult, anyway.

So, now they had to manage my pain and try to awaken my bladder. Day two in the hospital – the day facility not really designed for overnight guests. You know you’ve overstayed your welcome when they stop comping you’re wife’s meals.

I do have to say, the staff was great. The nurses managed to keep my wife calm and me medicated. I can’t ask for more than that.

Here’s a fun way to start an unexpected day in the hospital – physical therapy. As a new cripple, I had to learn to transfer from bed to a walker, from a walker to a knee scooter and from either to a potty chair. The physical therapist was very insistent that I do this all within about twenty minutes. I was a heavily-drugged patient who had no sleep. It was interesting.

I did enough transferring to get the physical therapist to leave me alone, and tried to get some sleep. However, they still wanted my bladder awake.

Have you ever heard of a catheter? It’s a small tube that goes into your bladder to help drain urine when you can’t pee it out on your own.

Actually, it’s a glass rod a nurse inserts into a body part you had once promised to reserve for your wife. “Small” may be true, but the opening it is going into is even smaller. It hurts like hell, but then it’s in. Don’t move too much, and it’s fine. Well, less painful.

Here’s a tip – drain your bladder for all your worth when the catheter is inserted. Otherwise, the staff will decide you need a more permanent catheter, which means pulling one pipe out of your manhood and replacing it with another one.

You know, a nurse handling a guy’s business is a key part of a lot of porn films (I’ve heard.) I doubt the hot nurses in those movies had catheters in their other hand. That would be a horror movie.

Here’s the interesting part of having a catheter in – you pee without knowing it. At one point, the nurse asked me if I knew when I peed, and I said, “No.” She said, “You’re peeing now.” Three women’s (two nurses and a wife) heads all did the “puppy tilt” to watch the tube running out of me.

Thursday, I got the catheter removed. A while later, I finally peed. I transferred to the potty chair to do so, which made physical therapy happy. I’m pretty sure one motivation was avoiding having the catheter replaced. Since I successfully emptied my bladder on my own (they measured it), I was allowed to go home. I would have run for the door, but … broken foot and ankle.

In Tuesday, out Thursday. For day surgery. I’m losing my touch.

The hydrocodone continued for a few days after I got home. In truth, I would never get addicted to it, but I was afraid to stop taking it. I don’t want the pain back. I finally started dropping the dose, and then spreading them out, and then it was gone.

The main problem with losing a foot temporarily is learning to walk without it. The technical term is “non-weight-bearing.” In other words, I can’t let my right foot hit the ground. I could hop for six to eight weeks, but that’s probably not feasible.

The solution is reams of equipment. When my wife had Achilles surgery years ago, all the equipment was so expensive, you had to get the insurance company to find someone to provide it. Now, you get it from Amazon.

Here’s the foot support gear:

  • Wheel chair (rented)
  • Walker (hospital)
  • Boot (doctor’s office, pre-op)
  • Knee Scooter (Amazon, two tries, sent one back)
  • Potty chair (hospital)
  • Bath transfer bench (Amazon)
  • Bath chair (Amazon, as backup)

I have been living in my wife’s recliner since the operation. The dogs are very confused. If there is a laptop in front of me, I’m at work. If there’s food, I’m on a break. If I’m reclined all the way, I’m sleeping. It’s two shuffle steps to the bathroom, two shuffle steps back. I hate it. My wife lived in this chair after her shoulder surgeries and I don’t know how she did it.

The first two weeks after surgery, I was in a splint, waiting for the swelling to go down.

After two weeks, the splint was replaced by a cast. Before the cast went on, I had more x-rays. This time, I was taken in a wheelchair because it was broken. Then, the cast went on. My first cast.

My first cast (with Graham Gnome)

Three weeks later, the cast came off, and was replaced by the boot. The boot I was given the first day at the orthopedist, after they realized that urgent care didn’t give me one.

My last week in the cast, I moved back to bed at night, because I couldn’t take the recliner any longer. I vaguely remember “just going to bed.” Now, it’s getting the knee scooter to get down the hall, falling sideways into bed, moving the scooter so my wife can put the potty next to the bed, and then go to sleep. It’s still better than the recliner.

The longest challenge is taking a shower. I have a foot and ankle that can’t get wet. So, down the hall on the knee scooter into the bathroom. Do a 180 (harder than it sounds in a narrow room.) Slide onto the transfer bench. Scoot into the tub, sticking the boot out, so the boot can be replaced by a cast cover (waterproof, self-sealing). Into the shower. By this point, I’m exhausted. Luckily, it amuses the dogs. After the shower, everything is done in reverse, drying everything carefully to keep the foot and ankle dry.

I’m very glad I’m home-officed. I can work without much effort other than getting my laptop out and logging into the systems. My team is spread out all over the world, so time zones are a challenge but nobody is missing me in the office.

The only other concern is that the top of my foot isn’t healing as well as the doctor would like. So, he’s keeping an eye on it. Apparently, there’s not much skin on top of the foot. I’m a bit concerned they will be debriding it – which is a polite term for “cutting off a bunch of dead skin.”

It’s going to be an interesting scar. Well, scars.

On March 4th, I can put “some weight” on the foot. I need to ask what that really means. I’m thinking running a marathon is probably out.

On March 11 (a month after our anniversary), I may be able to walk again. Then, starts physical therapy. Two months or so since I tripped and couldn’t fall properly.

I’m hoping to be fully functional by my 60th birthday in April. Yes, this was going to be a year of landmarks without adding “first broken bone.”

Closing Globe Life Park

Billy Joel, the patron saint of closing baseball parks, closed out the Texas Rangers’ time at Globe Life Park in Arlington (aka “Dallas” which has to make the Arlington city officials insane – never have a city with one pro team is named after a neighboring city and another is named after the State) with a two-hour hits set. He offered the audience a choice of “deep cuts and album tracks” or “hits” early on, and the crowd chose “hits”, which seems predictable.

If you can’t close a park with World Series baseball, Billy Joel is a good second choice.

There are few artists left that can play two hours and all the songs are known by most (if not all) of the audience – and even fewer who are doing all their own work, and not also covering other bands they used to be in (I’m looking at you, Sir Paul.)

It would be interesting to compare this set list to the last time he played here, since he hasn’t had any new (rock) material since 1993 (or so.) He was one of the first artists to make a business out of rehashing old material (I’m looking at you, Jimmy Buffett, Rolling Stones et al), but he’s still one of the best.
For anyone that remembers him as a balladeer, listen to the encore. Loud.

Billy Joel is one of my few “just buy the tickets” artists for good reason. It’s a fun show, faithful to the records of my youth, with some surprises thrown in, just to keep people paying attention. There’s an unapologetic New York lens on much of his work, but this set is fairly universal. “They’re sharing a drink they call loneliness, but it’s better than drinking alone” is still the finest one-line summary of divorced guy business travel there ever was.

Billy Joel Setlist Globe Life Park in Arlington, Arlington, TX, USA 2019, Billy Joel In Concert

The Day from Hell

Last Monday was a Day from Hell which stretched into the Week from Hell, and so much of it is blamed on “Corporate America” and so much of it was preventable – not easily, perhaps, but it’s not like they didn’t see it coming. Even more chilling, it’s going to happen again.

Every year about this time, we have Spring storms. On Sunday afternoon, we had a Texas-sized Spring storm. Trees down all over the place, a crane fell on a building, you name it. It was pretty bad, even by our usual Spring storm standards. Also, it was fairly predictable that it would happen eventually.

So, just like every year when we have a Spring storm, the power went out. This is because all of our power lines are overhead and nobody trims back the trees which are going to fall during a Spring storm. Therefore, power lines come down.

Oncor

Also, just like every year, Oncor sends out a note “Power will be back tonight”, then moves it to “tomorrow” and then eventually just sets their voicemail to a self-congratulatory message about how hard their crews are working under such stressful conditions (it was beautiful out on Monday, the day after the storm, not that I could enjoy it), and how people from other States are coming in to help restore their patient customers’ power.

Here’s a thought, dumbasses – how about trying prevention, since your damn cure always takes days?

I hate Oncor. This is probably not a secret. When Texas deregulated electricity a few years ago, what they really did was create another set of middlemen that do the billing. They buy electricity in bulk and sell it to the consumer. Whoever can lower their costs, say, by having no customer service whatsoever or selling at various prices under different names, can provide the lowest price.

However, Oncor owns the lines, the generators and all the other components that fail every damn year during Spring storms. So, every “electric company” in my area of the State has a sign on their website that says, “Oh, yeah, when you have no power, don’t call us, call Oncor.”

Oncor is what happens when you have a monopoly. They just cash the checks and don’t really consider making real improvements to the infrastructure because that costs money. They just make repairs as needed, at whatever speed they can manage.

I was just in the Caribbean, on the island of St Maarten, which had been virtually wiped out by hurricanes a couple of years ago, and as they’re rebuilding their completely destroyed infrastructure, they’re burying their electrical wires, to help withstand a storm.

There’s a thought. If the lines were underground, trees would have a more difficult time falling on them. Dallas has their streets torn up constantly anyway, why not bury the damn power lines?

The real issue is that some bean counter at Oncor is looking at the statistics, and we had power 362 of the past 365 days (mostly.) So, we had a 99% uptime. That’s really good.

Here’s the problem – all those downtime statistics don’t recognize whether the downtime was all at once. If we had an hour here or there all year, that’s one thing. 72 hours in a row is when all the food goes bad, the dogs become more psychotic, and I end up in a hotel.

So, Oncor disappointed me, but didn’t surprise me.

The irony is that Oncor has their own weather people. Apparently, they can’t predict any bad weather, but they can recognize it after it hits. I can do that without a degree in meteorology – if you want to know if there was a Spring storm, look out and see if all the houses are dark in the middle of the afternoon. If you wait until evening, it’s even easier to diagnose.

Here’s why power is important to me. There are basically three things I do at home, besides cater to the dogs and appear to obey my wife. I eat, I work and I sleep. With Oncor’s courageous three to four-day repair cycle for a very predictable, almost annual occurrence, I can’t eat (we’ll be throwing out all the food in the refrigerator and the freezer), I can’t work (I need WiFi, which needs power – even though I’m pretty sure the phones are working because their lines are underground) and I can’t sleep (I use a C-PAP for my sleep apnea, and without it, I wake up constantly during the night. I spent Sunday night constantly dreaming I was drowning. It was not pleasant.)

So, I’m a wee bit bitchy as I’m starting to write this on Monday night, because the only way for me to get a decent night’s sleep – and get some work done in the morning, was to break down and get a hotel room. I am now at a work staycation, two miles from home, at $200 per night. The Spousal Unit is home with the dogs, who are freaking out about being in the dark all day.

I got the hotel room because a couple of other companies failed me. One I hadn’t dealt with in years, and one I deal with constantly.

Amazon

First, the one I deal with all the time – Amazon. How do you get around a dumbass power company? You purchase another independent power source. Amazon had a battery backup that other people used for their CPAPs, so that would be perfect. Sure, it’s $250 that Oncor should pay, but it would be delivered by Monday evening.

Wrong. Somewhere between hitting Enter and the first delivery update, the delivery day got changed to Friday. By Friday, even Oncor should have the power restored. (It actually arrived on Wednesday.)

So, great try, Amazon, but when I order something for same-day delivery, there’s a reason.

REI

When Amazon said “delivery on Friday”, it meant I could spend another sleepless night at home or find a generator or battery locally. We called everybody we could think about – and nobody had one, but then I remembered someone had mentioned “camping with my C-PAP”, so we went to REI. The one by our house was sold out (obviously, since I was not alone in this thought), but they found us one in Plano (which wasn’t affected by the storm), so we drove the 25 miles to the Plano store to pick it up.

We had selected this unit from the small list of units available specifically because it could be charged in the car – it has a 12-volt adapter. Since we have no working outlet to plug it in, we needed a backup power source without spending another $150 on a solar panel. This is partially on us, because we should have asked, but the 12-volt adapter is the one thing that is not included in the box.

We talked to Lee at the Plano store (who shouldn’t be at REI, he should be at Dick’s, because he is one) and his solution was to try to upsell me to the more expensive model because “those batteries come charged.” Then, he suggested just going to Walmart or McDonalds and plugging it in. Uh, I’m not going to spend eight hours in a McDonalds, Sparky. I’m on a low-carb diet.

So, Monday I bought two battery backup units in one day and one will be here Friday, and the other one could easily be charged in my home if Oncor restored the power – which was the problem in the first place.

So, REI Dallas, rock stars. REI Plano, not exactly helpful. (While Lee was trying to upsell me, Virginia called the Dallas store to see if they had the adapter, and they said “No.” She asked if they could see if any other store had one, and they said, “Sure, but the guy in Plano can do that.”

Then, it turned out the upgraded unit was available in Southlake, which is another 50 miles or so of driving, so we declined.

Sprint

The final culprit in my near-breakdown is Sprint, who must have lost some towers during the storm because our cell service was for crap yesterday. I couldn’t get anything done without being on WiFi. I couldn’t make calls, I couldn’t browse. If all I had was cell service, it wasn’t going to work.

By evening, the Sprint connections seemed to be improving, so maybe there is hope for humanity.

Actually, there is hope for humanity, because every dark cloud has a silver lining (or a lot of rain.)

Starbucks

Finally, some heroes, or at least companies that meet the challenge of a Spring storm in Dallas. Thanks to Starbucks for being open, having coffee, and having a web app, so I can walk in, see a line around the store, find a seat, log in and order my coffee, bypassing the line. By the time I explained to my boss online (over their free WiFi) that I was going to be out all afternoon with a doctor’s appointment and had no power or Internet at home, so I was taking the day off as vacation, my coffee was ready.

That was the final blow. I’m a contractor on my current project, so taking a day off basically means losing money. I really couldn’t see charging someone when I was probably going to be dozing off all day, and I was supposed to start a three-day medical test Monday afternoon – and was told to expect two hours to install the equipment.

So, I took a day off.

I got to the doctor’s office fifteen minutes early. They were closed for the day. The building had no power.

DoubleTree by Hilton

Every hotel around me was booked solid, because my neighbors were smart enough to avoid the four hours of touring the Metroplex while trying to find a generator and just moved out of their houses for a couple of days. By the time I conceded the fight and decided I needed a hotel to sleep and work, everything at a reasonable rate was taken.

I’m not saying DoubleTree is unreasonable, I’m just saying it’s a rate I’m used to paying with an expense account, not out of my own pocket. By the time I booked, what they had available was a Junior Suite. Not the most inexpensive room in the building, but if you’re going to suffer, suffer in style.

I love this place. I would stay here all the time, but it seems silly to stay in a hotel two miles from your house, and I can’t afford it all the time.

The staff is great, room service is fast and on-time in the mornings, the WiFi works, and I have a view of East Dallas out my floor-to-ceiling windows. Suffering should always been like this.

I had the room to myself most of the time, since my wife declared she “wasn’t leaving the dogs.” I’m not sure if this was to remind me of my place in the hierarchy or make me feel guilty, but it’s very hard to make me feel guilty when I’m looking out a 10th floor window and I already know where I rank.

She did spend afternoons at the hotel, which made working a wee bit difficult. I’m not used to the person in the next cubicle laughing at Facebook videos and memes. Well, I was at one point, but I’ve been home-officed for so long, those memories faded.

The hotel even had enough outlets so we could plug in the REI battery backup unit so my wife could have power for a reading lamp at home. She didn’t need it as badly as the dogs, who are apparently now afraid of the dark. (Actually, they’re afraid of the normal noises in the neighborhood they usually don’t hear – so much for dogs’ vaunted hearing ability – because the windows aren’t wide open to get a breeze in the house.)

We did not have the famous Doubletree cookies because my wife is minimizing carbs and she was watching me. After we got everything set up in the room and she went home because “she wasn’t leaving the dogs”, I forgot to go back downstairs and get one. Or six.

Epilogue

Just after I booked the hotel, Oncor texted me that the power was back. After just enough time for me to start cursing and reading through the cancellation policy, they texted and said it was out.

The Oncor auto-text messages went from a specific time estimate to “We are reviewing damage in your area.We will provide an update when your power will return.” which is the marketing version of “Beats the fuck out of us. Ask one of the power guys from another state. They seem to know what they’re doing.”

My favorite text from them is “Your power is restored. Please reply “N” if it is not.” Don’t you know?

The power finally came back Wednesday, so I went home after work that afternoon to help throw out all the food in the refrigerator and the freezer.

I spent one last night at the hotel so I could do my homework and because I didn’t have much faith the power would actually stay on. Also, it was a nonrefundable rate. (At one point, our power was back and the house across the street was still out.)

MR-Ay-yi-yi

I hate most medical procedures. Let’s just get that fact out of the way. No matter how cool the technology is, they never let you look at the screens, so what’s the point?

I haven’t even had my MRI yet and it’s already been a bad experience.

The only person who hates tests more than I do is my wife which is why I need to keep her about sixteen miles away from me before I have a procedure done because there is a very good chance she’s done it before and there is an absolute chance she will be filled with the need to share all the negative, horrible things about it.

Now, she’s a horrible patient, so I can take most of it with a grain of salt, but I had to have an MRI this week and she got into my head before the machine did.

I’ve had three MRIs. When she had to have one, I really didn’t understand the whining and gnashing of teeth – but then I realized hers was on her shoulder (head-first into the machine) and my first one had been on my knee (feet-first into the machine.) She needs tranquilizers. I think tranquilizers are for sissies.

I’m not usually claustrophobic – except in really, really crowded spaces, say, an elevator on a cruise ship right after muster drill and before drinks are available.

I had an MRI on my neck a couple of years ago when my doctor thought I might have a blockage (no, I did not.) It was loud. They give you headphones and play music, but you can’t necessarily hear much other than the machine. The operator asked what I wanted to hear and I said, “Adele” which got a strange look, but my wife had been listening to her a lot and all her songs seemed about five minutes long, so I figured that would be a good way to estimate time in the tunnel. That assumed I could actually hear when one song ended and the next started. (That’s not a comment on Adele, it’s a comment on the noise level.)

I had an MRI on my brain last year when I was having a massive vertigo attack that people were hoping wasn’t a stroke, and it wasn’t pleasant, but it wasn’t that bad. It was loud. They put a cage around my head so I couldn’t move very much. That was very unpleasant. I kept suppressing the need to call out “Clarice”. I passed the time trying to guess what song was playing because it was much louder than the first one, and I just requested “Classic Rock”.

So, I had some trepidation about yesterday’s test, but it’s not like I haven’t survived it before. My wife had told them I needed a larger machine, but I didn’t really think it mattered much. I have a beer belly, not a beer head.

Ho ho ho.

The technician was very polite – he could have just said, “Wow. What a lardass. You’re never going to fit in here”, but he didn’t. He said, “They want me to give you an IV, but let’s just test this first and see how it goes.”

I got about two-thirds of the way in, and that was it. Wow. Panic attack. Claustrophobic attack. Give me some Valium. Stat.

He rolled me back out and said, “Yeah, you probably need the bigger machine. The front desk can get you scheduled at another facility that has one.”

So, here’s a question. You have some machines that are almost guaranteed to cause panic attacks in probably half the population, and larger machines everyone can use. Why do you still have small machines? (Yes, I know, they’re expensive, but still. If you’re not using them because prospective patients keep running [waddling] off in fear, you’re not making any income, anyway. Sell them cheap to a rival lab and get some Hungry-Man sized machines. Increase your business.)

Another question. Can’t you train the staff at the check-in desk (better yet, at the referring doctor’s office) to recognize the difference between, say, someone who enjoys food and a fashion model, and route them to the proper clinic?

I got the MRI rescheduled this morning for next Wednesday. Now, I have almost a week to remember I finally couldn’t handle an MRI. Almost a week to remember the Silence of the Lambs cage they put around my head. Almost a week of the wife saying, “Maybe you need Valium. Wait. They’re looking at brain function. Maybe you can’t have Valium. Wow. I really needed Valium for mine. It was horrible.” This may finally require drugs next time – and I swore I would never take drugs just for a stupid test.

I was originally rescheduled for Tuesday but then the scheduler noticed my neurologist wanted a 3T machine. There are 1.5T machines (T is Tesla, some weird unit of measurement) and 3T machines. 3T produce better images, faster. Why are the 1.5T machines still around? Can’t you sell them to the rival clinic and get the best ones? Can’t we speed up the depreciation? (Yes, I just passed my accounting class.)

So, I need the wide-bore 3T MRI machine. In layman’s terms, the lard-ass, high-quality machine.

So, I have a few days to think about getting rolled into a tube headfirst (with my head locked down) so they can shoot magnetic rays at me. Also, the same few days for my wife to remind me how horrifying an experience it is for her, and therefore, for the universe at large.

I may need Valium now.

Ashes to Ashes (A Progressive Wake)

Today is my 59th birthday. Happy Birthday to me. Last Saturday, I attended a funeral. It’s getting a little close to home.

The only way for me to deal with death is to laugh. I hate death. I hate sadness. I don’t like crying. I don’t like being in a room with lots of sad people. So, I want to prevent that at my funeral.

Now, some may say it’s unlikely there will be much sadness at my funeral, but I’m trying to be optimistic.

I don’t want a preacher with a couple of readings and a generic homily with my name stuck in a few places.

I don’t want a “Celebration of Life” since that just means “boring-ass funeral.”

So, I want my services to be fun (or at least different.)

One of the interesting (or bizarre) aspects of cremation is that the ashes don’t have to end up in only one container. More than one of the bereaved can receive a portion of the deceased as a memento (“souvenir” seemed crass.) For an extra fee, you can have ashes sealed in a locket, so you can match your relatives to your outfit.

This has been discussed twice now, coincidentally at two different Italian funerals. This is why so many Churches in Italy have so many pieces of so many Saints. Divide and conquer.

I am planning to be cremated when my time comes, and hopefully not before. Since I am not a small person, there may be an excess of ashes. So, this is my last request, which my wife predictably refuses to honor.

Wait for my wife to be acquitted of my murder on grounds of temporary (or permanent) insanity.

Cremate me. First, put some microwave popcorn in my pockets so I have a snack while crossing the River Styx, then cremate me.

Divide my ashes into ten urns. There aren’t ten people who care enough to want a piece of me – again, see the Italians: “You wanna piece of me?” – but they’re not for people, they’re for pubs. They’re the stops on my progressive wake. A progressive wake is a pub crawl to the Hereafter.

Mark the urns:

  1. Trinity Hall
  2. Dubliner
  3. The Ginger Man
  4. The Old Monk
  5. Adair’s Saloon
  6. Lakewood Landing
  7. Meddlesome Moth
  8. Hillside Tavern
  9. The Londoner
  10. Flying Saucer

Deliver each urn to the appropriate pub. (I didn’t choose any outside the Metroplex or on a cruise ship, so this should be doable on an afternoon.) The delivery person might want to wrap the urn in a box and address to me, with a good tip to the bartender and a promise that it will be picked up quickly. This would probably be more acceptable than to ask, “Can we leave a small jar of dead guy here for a few hours?”

Now, you (my mourners) are ready to hold the progressive wake.

At my memorial service, hand each of the five or six people that show up a map with all the pubs marked. You could also show them the map at the bottom of this discussion, or give them a link to this page.

Call an Uber or two for the participants (don’t drink and drive!)

  • Visit a listed pub.
  • Bonus points for calling “Bring out your dead!” as you enter.
  • Drink the suggested drink (see the map) – or whatever, it’s not like I’m there to judge. (Well, part of me is there, but I won’t judge.)
  • Tell an amusing story about me. After a few drinks, just make something up.
  • Collect the urn.
  • Tip the bartender.
  • Repeat.

Once all the pubs are visited and all the urns collected, return to the memorial service. Apologize to the hosts from the funeral home for the slight delay.

Record any eulogies that are given. If the participants followed the spirit(s) of the Progressive Wake, they may be good blackmail material or at least they will be funny.

Dump all the little urns into one big-ass urn. Have someone with allergies do this, so there will be some tears at the service, after all.

Bury me none on the lone prairie.

Progressive Wake

Murphy James Gilhooly, 2006-2019

Murphy James Gilhooly was my puppy for almost thirteen years. As much as Ripley was supposed to be my dog, Murphy was my dog. It is very difficult to say “goodbye.” However, today we had to do so.

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We met Murphy after an East Lake Pet Orphanage Advisory Board meeting in early 2006. He was at least a year old at that point, but we’ll never really know, since he was adopted. The rest of the board said there was a gorgeous Cocker we just had to meet.

This should have set off warning bells.

The rest of the board assumed we would love a Cocker since we already had one, and they knew we had adopted an additional dog already. Most of them were pet fanatics, so what’s the difference between two and three dogs?

So, we went down to the adoption area to meet Java. As the staff opened his crate, a brown blur rushed out, straight into a glass window, and bounced off.

Then, he did it again.

This should have set off warning bells.

What really happened is that I thought, “This dog is so stupid, he deserves to live with us.”

I didn’t like “Java” as a name, since Java was a computer programming language I fought with every day at work, but I liked having a name that reflected his coloring. (The staff picked “Java” to mean “coffee”.) My first thought was “Guinness”, but he wouldn’t pass as an Irish Setter, so I had to find another Irish Stout. Murphy’s Stout, founded by James Murphy. So, reverse the name, and Murphy James was ready to come home.

Virginia still blames me for the adoption since I had him named before we left for home. However, this is not true because I had to get home first to look up Murphy’s Stout.

Murphy and Katie doing laps
Doing laps with Katie

Murphy actually accumulated names over the years. I’m not sure how it started, but by the end, he was Murphy James Elliott Macintosh McIlhenny Molanaphy Gilhooly, Esq. Elliott is my sister-in-law’s cat (with a slightly different spelling.) Macintosh is what I am typing this on. McIlHenny is the maker of Tabasco, which Virginia requires for her eggs. Molanaphy was a classmate of mine in grade school. I think. However, Murphy was pretty sure his first name was “Dammit.”

Before the adoption could go through, we took Bubba over to meet his potential new brother and they got along fine, so we signed the paperwork and Java became Murphy. I’m still not sure Murphy ever knew Bubba was a different dog. I have a feeling he always thought Bubba was his reflection, just a different color and doing different things. Murphy was not a Rhodes scholar.

The Graduate

However, as much as Murphy’s intellegence has been questioned over the years, he is the only one of all of our dogs to graduate from puppy training. I’m still not sure how he did it, but he actually graduated. (They didn’t let him keep the hat.) He has a diploma (somewhere) to prove it.

Murphy drove my sister-in-law Mary crazy one visit while she was Mom and pet-sitting because he always wanted to be touching her. Most dogs want to be in proximity, but Murphy perferred direct contact. (He would sit pressed up to me on the couch.)

We had phone calls in France about “the brown one won’t stop touching me!”

That said, Murphy was the only one of our dogs Mary said she would take if something happened to us. So. maybe “annoying” eventually became “a certain charm.”

We’re not sure where Murphy actually came from – we know he began his rescue life abandoned and tied to a tree with his sister at the SPCA. He had chronic eye issues, so he was thought to be unadoptable. Luckily, East Lake Pet Orphanage took him and nursed him into shape, and then he met us – a couple who already had a dog with chronic eye issues. We knew how to do eye drops. Well, Virginia did.

Murphy had eye issues. He had allergies. He had bad skin. He blew out one of his ACLs before I blew out mine, then he blew out another one. He was basically the poster child for why breeders are often considered evil and why pure-breds are not always better. He had every issue Cockers were known to have. He had more specialists than I do, but he enjoyed car rides, and he loved his vets, no matter what they did to him.

His biggest problem was his food allergies, since it meant we couldn’t put his pills in bread or hot dogs or Pill Pockets, like normal dogs. His hunting instinct was pretty much useless on anything other than medications hidden in his food, and finding cookies in his eye doctor’s lab coat pockets. By the end, Virginia was making grilled chicken, grinding it up, and putting his pills in chicken. Maybe he wasn’t that dumb.

Peanut Butter

He also could not easily be distracted. One of the vets said that when we had to give him a allergy shot, we should just distract him with a spoonful of peanut butter. A normal dog would start licking the peanut butter off the spoon, and never notice the shot. Murphy would ignore the peanut butter until he had been given the shot, and then lick it off.

The one time I had to take him to visit one of his specialists alone, we were lead to an exam room and he immediately pooped on the floor. A lot. So, I asked, “Uh, did you guys need a stool sample today?” The vet tech said, “No”, so I said, “Then we need some paper towels. And a mop. And a gas mask.”

Murphy wrote our family Christmas newsletter before Rocky took over. It was vastly more popular than the ones I wrote. Murphy got a thank-you note from my Aunt. Hand-written. In the mail. The next year, Murphy wrote about how my sister-in-law was “cheap with the treats” and started a firestorm with my in-laws. Virginia had to remind them Murphy didn’t actually write the newsletter.

Murphy was a good dog, but they’re all good dogs. I’ve had some hesitations about adding dogs to our household with almost all of our dogs. My only hesitation with Murphy was I wasn’t going to call him “Java.”

Cocker Guards
Murphy and Bubba, guarding the yard

He was the happiest dog I have ever known.

Godspeed, Murph. We’ll see you on the other side. I hope Heaven doesn’t have a glass door.

around-the-far-curve_453034438_o

Unemployed Pirate

I have decided that I am an unemployed pirate. It is an interesting job. Well, it’s not really a job, if I’m unemployed. I suppose I’m an unemployed chef, as well, because I made fish sticks for lunch.

Unemployed Pirate
Ye Host, The Unemployed Pirate

Jimmy Buffet said, “Yes, I am a pirate … 200 years too late”, and I know the feeling. I want to be a pirate. However, the hours aren’t that good, there’s apparently lots of work, and you might get killed or imprisoned.

It seems much simpler (and safer) to just take a cruise, demand drinks and food from the cheerful staff, and say, “Thank ye, matey!” when your order is delivered. I’m pretty sure most pirate ships didn’t have room service.

Still, it seems like putting “Pirate” on a resume (or a business card) would stand out as a desired position, and then you would also have the advantage of writing off all your vacation cruises as job training. Tax piracy is still piracy, right?

So, take a GPS on your next cruise. There’s probably one built into your phone. Track your coordinates as you travel from port to port. Now, you’re a navigator. Sure, you probably need to know how to read paper charts and use a sextant, but that’s just if you forget to charge your phone.

Tell your mate to go get you a drink. If you get a drink, you’re the Captain. If you’re told to get your own damn drink, you’re probably just the First Mate. Just don’t ever both wear T-shirts with your “ranks.” It’s very non-pirate.

Yes, I am a pirate. I’m simply unemployed, and I would like a pirate job with decent hours, a medical plan more extensive than just an eye patch and a hook, room and board, and a good chance of advancement. I’d also like a retirement plan a bit more extravagant than a stud earring. Oh, and little chance for arrest.

How much is it worth?

Everyone has food memories from their childhood. Some even have happy food memories.
If you’re like me, and you’re living in the city where you grew up, you may still be able to relive your childhood memories. The only time you can’t is when the place closes. (I really miss Kip’s Big Boy, but I have Frisch’s Big Boy when I visit my grandkids in Ohio.)
I think food memories are hardest on people exiled from their childhood homes (sometimes by choice) where the food is still available, you just can’t get there from here. This is especially true if you are from a cultural background that reveres food.
The Spousal Unit is from Brooklyn and she is Brooklyn Italian. She is … opinionated about food. If you want to get her going, just call “pasta” “noodles” or tell her if she needs pizza, Dominos can be here in a half-hour, and if she really needs an Italian food fix, there’s always the Olive Garden.
Never mention Olive Garden – except to her sisters, who inexplicably like it.
This week, in earth-shaking news, DaVinci Pizzeria, the Spousal Unit’s favorite pizzeria in Brooklyn (and therefore in the world) started shipping their pizza. Shipping, as in having FedEx deliver pizza to anywhere they can reach in two days that is willing to pay the rather pricey shipping charges. (Frozen food requires two-day shipping, which is not cheap.) You can order online, which takes some of the fun out of calling for pizza, but it works. 
DaVinci has Sicilian pizza, which is not pizza. It’s a very thick crust, and you don’t get slices, you get squares. It reminds me of Chicago deep-dish pizza, but I don’t say that out loud, because I want to live.
So, while my wife was reveling in the pizza of her childhood arriving on her doorstep, a lot of other people are complaining directly to the pizzeria on their Facebook page about how much it costs.
These were my (slightly-edited) thoughts which I posted, but their page is wisely moderated, so we’ll see if they think it’s worth posting – it’s a defense of small business and a plea to just mind your own beeswax if you think someone has their priorities out of whack:
To everyone complaining about shipping costs, I feel your pain. As the husband of a Brooklyn expatriate, I have had 19+ years of “You don’t understand! You can’t get that here! I NEED IT.”
 
I’ve only been to DaVinci Pizza once – we were visiting my wife’s family and friends in the area, so we went for lunch. My wife was taking photos of all the food with her cell phone. One of the staff asked if she wanted a picture of the two of us. She said, “Why would I want that? I just need photos of the food.”
 
Any food shipped to Texas from New York is insanely expensive – but it’s mostly the shipping costs, with the possible exception of Junior’s Cheesecake – and they’re relatively famous, so they have volume in their favor. Pastosa Ravioli will ship, but the shipping costs more than the pasta. We tried to order cookies for my wife’s Aunt in Florida once, and decided we just didn’t love her that much. 
 
My only salvation is Jimmy’s Food Store  in East Dallas who has owners that import some critical Italian necessities (as in the aforementioned Pastosa Ravioli.) So, if you’re in Dallas, go to Jimmy’s. Tell them Kevin sent you. 
 
Here’s the issue that Mom and Pop businesses run into – the stores don’t set the shipping rates. They either absorb them which kills their profit or pass them on which annoys their potential customers. Sure, you can ship more slowly, but the food won’t arrive edible. I did think $80+ shipping to get $100 of pizza to Dallas was a bit insane, but it’s cheaper than us flying to Brooklyn and having my wife discover all the other stuff she needs to take home. (It’s also cheaper than a two-day UberEats delivery with the pie in the back of a random driver’s car.) 
 
So, I had really, really good Sicilian pizza last night and a calzone for lunch today, and my wife is happy (Happy wife, well, happy wife.) However, I know my late mom-in-law will put in a good word for me on Judgement Day because I got her favorite child (well, except for her Shih-Tzu) a real Brooklyn Sicilian pizza and I ate a proper calzone.
I didn’t really have much of a choice – I saw the announcement that they were shipping, and I told my wife, so it’s my fault, anyway. My only fear was adding up the costs, and wondering what would happen if it arrived and it sucked.
It didn’t suck.
It may be too expensive for some. However, if it brings someone’s childhood back, even for a moment, that’s worth it.