Thursday, January 20, 2005

Another Section

Let's leap over time and space. Backwards, rather than over. It isn't long ago. 3 jobs in 4 years is a long time. My father's 'he is now a patient' stage can't be far. He spent long enough not being a patient, that the healthy 66 years or so have to count for something, so speaks my lizard, primal brain. Fathers get ill. They don't get mortally ill. It simply isn't done.

This must be from September 2002- the file is dated a few months after my father died, converted from PocketWord to .txt to Windows 2000 to an .mbx to...and so on. I don't know, chronologically, when. I know the dinner, however. I know that it didn't yet feel like an hourglass had been overturned, but I knew that it was, for want of a much, MUCH better term, game time. It was an activity. It was the raising of a curtain, the first few minutes on the road as it bends away from familiar territory.

The black humour hadn't kicked in. And it's overwritten (hard to remedy, admittedly). And raw. And came together then, read now.


My father spent 10 minutes sitting on an easy chair, bending forwards with his head resting on the footstool. I knew what he was doing. He was trying to stretch his back in such a way that the pain in the lower left region would, if not dissipate, at least spread out to feel reduced. So that the pain would spread thin rather than concentrating, the change being something close to a rest.

I could not imagine the pain, I only imagined the nausea, something I was intimately acquainted with from years of a bad stomach. So I sat across from him the couch, feeling nauseous. I had come to my parents house with my wife to make what I'd hoped was a treat for dinner, two small chickens stuffed with lemons and rubbed down with butter and thyme, baked and basted until juicy and infused with citrus. I thought the sharp lemon might even cut through his nausea, which eventually it did (for both of us). He ate well, surprising everyone, and I managed to get a few mouthfuls in myself.

It was an exception to recent history. If my father was too ill to eat, I didn't want to eat. I would if nothing else offer my own waistline as a show of support. I wanted to take nothing more than he could.

The good news of the month was that he did not have any tumours around his lower back, nothing attached to his organs or in the place where his cancerous kidney had once laid. The bad news was that the cancer had probably moved into the bone, in particular the public bone, causing severe pain in the lower waist and making sleeping, sitting and walking a difficult task. I thought of Terry Fox, losing a leg. One cannot lose a pelvis, simply.


This diagnosis, as it turned out, was almost optimistic. We were afraid of some kind of bone-related pelvic cancer, but at this point the X rays had not revealed the tumour at the base of my father's spine. We were still afraid of lung cancer- it was, statistically speaking, the most likely cancer to develop out of the trouble that had ocurred in his kidney. That never happened- although there was a cough and traces of chest pains and I believe a shadow across his lungs, later. Too later, as it happened, making it all moot. Any lung issues might have killed my father but did not do the job.

I didn't understand the ramifications of bone cancer, did tumours form within the marrow and cause pain due to pressure or did they simply infect the marrow, knock out the immune system and that was that?

I was trying to avoid the very thing all my instincts were telling me to do, which was to research the topic. I am a technical writer by trade, and excel at researching the different aspects of various topics. But I don't trust the whole process of self-diagnosis when it comes to medicine, and was relatively sure that if I started looking into bone cancer and hypocalcaemia, I would only succeed and upsetting myself. I'd wait until the Oncologist completed his blood tests for my father, and would take it from there.

People develop weird needs during times of crises. I was the kind of person who stopped eating while stressed, rather than overeating, so indulging in donuts or cheeseburgers wasn't an option. The idea simply nauseated me. I didn't drink enough to make life interesting, simply wine with dinner and a long exquisite shot of Scotch before bed (which, granted, I had grown to depend upon).

Since obesity or alcoholism were not threatening, my narcotic of choice was narrative. I became addicted to listening to old radio shows, easily acquired over the internet either as net radio or as mp3's. The CBS Mystery Theatre, The Great Gildersleeve, Suspense! and The Lives of Harry Lime were favourites, not for sentimental value or great artistic appreciation (at best, the shows can be referred to as being 'of their time') but simply for the fact they felt far away and accessible while still feeling alien. The form is dead, but they all tell stories and I needed the distraction.

2001 had been an unsure year- my job of seven years with a software firm began to shake as the dot-com bubble burst. My wing of the company was sold to the Japanese, who laid me off in November. My wife's handmade soap business had just entered the stage where it required capital for milk, lye, olive and essential oils, so money was going out but not coming in. We had wanted to start a family, or at least had tiptoed around the subject, but my unemployment made the idea seem far away. December to March were dead- one interview, a few teasing days with recruiters, nothing else. March brought good interviews, more and more every month, culminating in a position with the Ministry of Transportation in May (7 months after I first applied).

My father's incident was the fourth cancer-related scare in four years, always in autumn. My father had already lost a kidney and his prostate in two supposedly unrelated incidents. My mother had undergone platinum chemotherapy two years before after a malignant ovarian tumour burst suddenly (coincidentally, my aunt was being treated at the same time for the same condition, but did not have her tumour burst). My mother responded unusually well to chemo, hair loss notwithstanding. An interesting gamble- if it doesn't kill you, it'll kill the cancer.

My father did not appear to be doing as well, he'd developed chronic back pain over two months and could not sleep on a flat bed, instead having to sleep on his side, his back pushed into a hot pad resting on the firm back of the living room couch.

My mother had spent years as a palliative care nurse and was an old hand at cancer treatment. Unfortunately, she had the classic Oncologist's problem- she always lost her patients. Our family heard so many stories about Mr. Franken or Ms. Lee being a wonderful older person and specifically requesting my mother's care before slipping gently into that good night that we thought she might have become sort of a pleasant angel of death. Marilyn Monroe of the Mortuary. Tine Turner of the Terminal Ward. My advice to her at the time was, whatever she did, don't loan money.

Years later, having the Palliative care training, she was well equipped to deal with my father's illness in nursing terms. But there is no box around cancer in the early stages, it runs loose or hides and materializes at will. There is cold comfort in the black and white solidity of diagnosis, but it is at least solid, rather than thin, ice. As my father's back pain became worse and his weight slipped further, my mother's nursing resolve slipped and melted. It was not easy for her to not-know how to treat her husband for what was looking more and more like a palliative issue. And it was not easy to watch either of them.


Puruse, read, find, assimilate. Locate. Perhaps distill.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

What to do...

Dig if you will a picture... Let's call my friend Ellis. Let's say he works for one of those companies that owns everything. Well, not really everything, but let's say that they own a big part of something you use every day (not toilet paper).

He's not a fan of this company, although the pay is good and the benefits are, let's face it, benefits. But there are limits. This company just had a series of layoffs not because they were losing money but because they wanted to make more money. Ellis finds this borderline immoral. It's rather like telling somebody "You've made your numbers, but we've decided we want bigger numbers and we're taking it out of your job. Toodles."

This large company has a sales conference (2 or 3 day boozeup at a hotel) where individuals chosen from successful divisions get to party. And a few lucky souls win a free trip to sunnier climes. Ellis was invited to the conference in October, rolled his eyes at and declined. Who wants to join a back patting session for a company one does not respect?

In November, he gets invited again. Declines. In December, he gets a letter saying that the meeting is a mandatory party (sort of You WILL take of the dip and chips!) so he talks to his manager and once again politely declines the invitation, suggesting that perhaps somebody else from his division would enjoy it more. His manager says he will take care of it all.

In January his manager explains that Ellis is not being taken off the guest list since he has actually won the aforementioned trip to sunnier climes, and refusing the trip is a career-limiting move (which to him is rather like being told You might get tossed out of the Leper colony, young man, if you don't keep up your quota...). This might be a good hill to die on. But unemployment is never a treat, even when faced with the fact that accepting the trip would be unsavory to his moral being. So...

...what to do? He's trying to devise a mutually face-saving gesture; asking the company to donate the cost of his trip to the Red Cross. No top brass can be too pissed off with that. Ellis can play the 'selfless' card, and he looks good. And some good karma enters the equation in toto, sowhat can go wrong?

What indeed. I've worked for money-to-throw-around companies and we're-watching-the-pennies companies and we're-watching-the-pennies-but-looking-like-we've-got-bags-of-money-weighing-us-down companies (an interesting paradigm), but nobody's ever offered me a trip I didn't want to take. What can he do? Grit his teeth and enjoy a vacation? Get fired over declining a few days in the sun? Or try being decent and risk a backfire? Questions. Answers?

Monday, January 10, 2005

I don't believe this...

"Mikey, I know you're not the sort to air your dirty laundry in public so I'm disappointed and shocked that you'd remember one email a very long long time ago and bring it up for...embarassment's sake? I should have scanned the source or however you'd put it before mailing, but we can't all be you. I wonder why you'd mention the story so many years later and why, if you wanted to embarass me, you didn't just mention my name. X."

The above was a response, emailed to my home address, by somebody who I didn't know was reading my blog. Let's call them X. It was in response to the item about bloggers citing their sources. I'm flattered. This person appears to think I wrote that item a) to piss them off, b) to humiliate them or c) to work out some negative karma.

So, let's have it all out here. To X: Sigh. Alright. Here's the deal. I'll write you privately, or post in this public forum, whether or not I was citing something that happened with YOU some time ago. But there are some stipulations.

1. You have to write me a letter that says (in your own words, or you may cut and paste the following section) "Michael, I think that your vague comment about citing your sources in blogging was a direct reference to a mail that I sent you one time. I know that you've had several blogs, and most likely several mails, over the years. But I think this was a deliberate, out of the blue swipe at me. Please advise. Incidentally, the fact that you didn't know that I was even reading your blog has nothing to do with it- I still feel that you were aiming this three sentence story to make me look like a fool, and yes, even though my name is not mentioned, nor the exact context, nor the time, nor the story, I still think you're trying to hurt my feelings. So please answer in a black and white fashion, with a direct Yes or No answer as soon as possible so that I might evaluate my next move."

2. If you take the time and energy to work up a decent froth of true and unsolicited paranoia, I will give you a Yes or No answer. If you actually feel like you are the only person who I have traded emails with in the last 4 years since I have been keeping one kind of blog or another, I'll flip you an answer. Oh, and if you're the only person in this world who forwards stories from the Drudge Report, perhaps in error, than you're my guy.

3. So, yes, X, I will answer this question. But you're gonna have to work for it and ask in no uncertain terms and prove to me some plane...any of this actually means anything. And then I'll give you an answer.

4. Of course there's the option of 'Well, let's chalk this up to experience' and return to some other hobby, never mention this contretemps again and perhaps sending me a mail about the weather. Or lap-swimming, perhaps. In which case this entry is merely an amusing anecdote to one of the perhaps 12 people who know of this blog's existence.

To everyone else...uh...carry on. :)

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Rome is either burning, or there's just a fine fiddler

No further comment necessary, other than this interview is so weirdly worded that the subject is either oblivious or it's a plant. It's the NYT, so Jayson Blair jokes notwithstanding, I'm assuming that it's legit. But it reads like above-average 'Doonesbury'.

Favorite parts-

A 'little' international consulting firm
Hunter Hunt?
I'm not sure that they do benefit from them. Honouring service is what our theme is about.

For fans of 'keeping on message', enjoy.

It's the President's Party
Interview by DEBORAH SOLOMON (New York Times)
Published: January 2, 2005

As the chairwoman of the 55th Presidential Inaugural Committee, have you worked closely with President Bush in planning the nine official balls and other festivities surrounding his inauguration on Jan. 20?
I almost always work with the first lady. The meetings are usually in her office, or on the telephone. I just had a meeting with her this morning on the details.

Your friendship with the Bushes goes way back. You initially worked for the senior George Bush as a fund-raiser in Dallas.
I met him when I walked in off the street in 1979 and volunteered to help on his campaign against President Reagan. I think President 41 is the world's nicest man.

Is it true you canceled your wedding to plan a fund-raiser for him?
When I was getting married, in 1990, my friend Fred Meyer, who was then the chairman of the Texas Republican Party, called up and said: ''J.J., I have great news! President Bush himself is coming to Dallas on May 18.'' And I said: ''No, he can't! That's my wedding.'' I talked to my fiance, David, who is now my wonderful husband, and he said, ''Oh, sure, we can move the wedding for a week.'' It was a small wedding.

Your husband sounds flexible. Perhaps that's because he's a psychotherapist.
He is, and he also has a little international consulting firm.

Is everyone in Texas a consultant? You recently became a consultant to Hunt Oil.
I don't do lobbying. I work with Hunt Oil on some of their overseas projects, and I also help them with their charitable and political contribution planning.

Did Ray Hunt personally offer you the job?
Yes, he did, and his son Hunter.

I imagine such contacts prove useful when you are raising money for the inauguration. You are asking underwriters for $250,000 a pop.
We are raising the funds so that parade tickets stay at a price that anyone can afford. We need underwriters to help us.

I hear one of the balls will be reserved for troops who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Yes, the Commander-in-Chief Ball. That is new. It will be about 2,000 servicemen and their guests. And that should be a really fun event for them.

As an alternative way of honoring them, did you or the president ever discuss canceling the nine balls and using the $40 million inaugural budget to purchase better equipment for the troops?
I think we felt like we would have a traditional set of events and we would focus on honoring the people who are serving our country right now -- not just the people in the armed forces, but also the community volunteers, the firemen, the policemen, the teachers, the people who serve at, you know, the -- well, it's called the StewPot in Dallas, people who work with the homeless.

How do any of them benefit from the inaugural balls?
I'm not sure that they do benefit from them.

Then how, exactly, are you honoring them?
Honoring service is what our theme is about.

Do you think President Bush and the first lady like to dance?
I think that probably he enjoys a baseball game maybe a little bit more than dancing.

Does he have any favorite dishes?
The only thing I know he likes is peanut butter and jelly, and barbecue.

After the last inauguration, President Bush offered you a job as ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in Paris. What will you do after this inauguration?
The president has all of my phone numbers, so if he ever needs me to do something, he knows that the likely answer is yes.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Perspective, again.

I carry GOP-USA and AlterNet on my Palm Pilot. When I get sick of left-wing rhetoric (and it don't take long), I switch to GOP-USA to see what they're trying to pass off these days, and when my skin crawls (and again, it's quick), I flip back to AlterNet.

A few years ago, somebody in the Globe wrote a great piece about Planet Left and Planet Right, about how a dismissive "I don't do the mainstream media anymore" essentially tells you a lot about the person who said it. One could also say "I'm converted, and like being preached at, and returning the same" but it wouldn't sound as cooly dismissive at a dinner party/collective potluck/wine tasting/food bank drive, etc.

Anyhow...not a Naomi Klein fan, but she nailed something here about the nature of rhetoric and perspective. You can find the piece yourself at, here's the opening.

Iconic images inspire love and hate, and so it is with the photograph of James Blake Miller, the 20-year-old Marine from Appalachia who has been christened "the face of Fallujah" by pro-war pundits and the "The Marlboro Man" by pretty much everyone else. Reprinted in over a hundred newspapers, the Los Angeles Times photograph shows Miller "after more than 12 hours of nearly non-stop deadly combat" in Fallujah, his face coated in war paint, a bloody scratch on his nose, and a freshly lit cigarette hanging from his lips.

Gazing lovingly at Miller, Dan Rather informed his viewers that, "For me, this one's personal ... This is a warrior with his eyes on the far horizon, scanning for danger. See it. Study it. Absorb it. Think about it. Then take a deep breath of pride. And if your eyes don't dampen, you're a better man or woman than I."

A few days later, the L.A. Times declared that its photo had "moved into the realm of the iconic." In truth, the image just feels iconic because it is so laughably derivative: it's a straight-up rip-off of the most powerful icon in American advertising (the Marlboro Man), which in turn imitated the brightest star ever created by Hollywood (John Wayne) who was himself channeling America's most powerful founding myth (the cowboy on the rugged frontier). It's like a song you feel like you've heard a thousand times before – because you have. But never mind that. For a country that just elected a wannabe Marlboro Man as its president, Miller is an icon and as if to prove it, he has ignited his very own controversy.

"Lots of children, particularly boys, play 'army' and like to imitate this young man. The clear message of the photo is that the way to relax after a battle is with a cigarette," wrote Daniel Maloney in a scolding letter to the Houston Chronicle.

Linda Ortman made the same point to the editors of Dallas Morning News: "Are there no photos of nonsmoking soldiers?" A reader of the New York Post helpfully suggested more politically correct propaganda imagery: "Maybe showing a Marine in a tank, helping another GI or drinking water would have a more positive impact on your readers."

Yes, that's right: letter-writers from across the nation are united in their outrage – not that the steely-eyed smoking soldier makes mass killing look cool, but that the laudable act of mass killing makes the grave crime of smoking look cool.

Better to protect impressionable American youngsters by showing soldiers taking a break from deadly combat by "drinking water" – or, perhaps, since there is a severe potable water shortage in Iraq, Coke.

Incidentally, free advice for other bloggers. Cite your sources. Statistics pulled out of your ass sound like statistics pulled out of your ass. And make sure of your source. I once had a recently-converted-to-thefashionable-left buddy (and recent converts are given to enthusiasm, no?) send me a bit of news that supported his position on a topic, but some further investigation revealed that the story stemmed from a decidedly right wing news site, complete with a "Hillary Clinton is in the Employ of the Kremlin" lead story.

That site's sheer existence contradicted anything he stood for, and the site's founders would have been unamused with his riff on their material as well. So, proselytizers, waste less time of the passers by and learn to read, ok?


A Tsunami hits a good hunk of Micronesia and India and even the coast of Somalia, so the holiday is rather muted by the sight of bodies and that simple response to physics. The first footage I saw didn't look real,but genuine, natural disaster never looks the way one would imagine. A tidal wave doesn't come in like a cheap shot in a movie, it's simply a high wave that doesn't stop. The tide comes in and in and in, replacing whatever's in its way with itself.

Momentum, if that's what can be applied to water- when there's enough water to put ground level 15ft underwater in under a minute, a few things are going to become disjointed. And if/when the water falls, it's going to pull a lot of things back into the sea with it. It isn't hard to drown, it's simple juxtaposition. I didn't expect to be swimming right now, then you're not swimming, then you're drowned.

Dose of perspective for the new year. In much smaller terms (the world I live in, rather than watch), Christmas whirlwinded its way in and out. I wanted 5 minutes of sense memory induced zen- preferably sitting in a dimly lit room with the scent of pine- but it didn't come to pass. There were too many other moods in play, too many obligations (accepted, then complained about) to simply melt into the season. And one cannot always disengage. So it was flat- so what? I'll survive. Explain and survive. Nothing has flooded, so really, why should one complain?

Beats complaining about could-have-beens. Every year a movie will be released that either cost a fortune, lost a fortune or made a fortune (or some combination of the two) and somebody will say "I can't help thinking how much better it would be if that money was diverted to social programs/paying down the debt/feeding the hungry in the continent of your choice/saving the forests/paying for vocational schools," and so on. You can direct the sentiment towards the left or the right and still get the faintly disappointed, but self-righteous tone of the holy.

I try to avoid that particular tactic because it's the first thrust of the poser (or poseur, I suppose). And the logic shatters. It's not like hundreds of millions of dollars were removed from the coffers of the needy to finance a sword and sorcery epic. I watched a self-righteous type make that arguement at a party on one occasion, a listener looked at their shoes and said "If you'd bought sneakers instead of Pradas, you'd have afforded a few more bucks to the charity of your choice and skipped the movie. Or have you seen it?" They had. Point to the listener.

(and yeah, a million contradictions in this writer, scared to even think about them)

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