A Little Poetry

Daffy Duck: [singing] From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli/Hear those bells of freedom ringing – Oh, no, it’s just the phone for me.

Draftee Daffy (1/23/45)

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This afternoon, I had the TV on, and I was watching the ceremonies surrounding the opening of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, which is the newest museum to open up on the National Mall.

 

Image result for smithsonian african american museumAs it happened, I was in the area a few weeks ago with Daughter, and in our wandering through we were able to see the building from across the street (the museum side of the street was fenced off). It’s a truly impressive-looking structure. Older museums on the Mall are built to pretty much look like museums. Then along came the National Museum of the American Indian, with its curvilinear design which is meant to emulate naturally-carved rock formations and landscaping that simulates wetlands. Suddenly people got the idea that the building didn’t have to look so much like a building as all the others do. This new museum is a boxy building but it’s covered by an architectural scrim made of bronze-painted aluminum, designed to resemble a crown from Yoruban culture. The design also tricks the eye into thinking that it’s an inverted step pyramid. In addition to the three floors above the ground, the museum goes five floors down as well.

So, back to today.

I was watching the ceremonies on the TV up in my bedroom, and President Barack Obama was making his remarks. As he wound down, he referred to some people to his right, and identified them as members of the Bonner family, including seven-year-old Christine, up to 99-year-old Ruth.

Ruth’s father was born a slave.

Ponder that for a second—in a very real sense, we’re only ONE generation beyond slavery in this country.

Ruth’s father ran away, became a farmer and ultimately graduated from medical school.

President Obama then said:

“…in a brief moment, their family will join us in ringing a bell from the First Baptist Church in Virginia — one of the oldest black churches in America, founded under a grove of trees in 1776. 
And the sound of this bell will be echoed by others in houses of worship and town squares all across this country — an echo of the ringing bells that signaled Emancipation more than a century
and a half ago; the sound, and the anthem, of American freedom.”

Now, there aren’t a lot of churches in my immediate area, but perhaps there’s one or two willing to participate. So at that point, I stepped to the window and opened it up, and turned the volume down on the TV to listen to the outside.

I heard nothing. Well, that was a disappointment, but as I noted there aren’t a lot of churches close to my house. And the one that’s closest doesn’t have a real bell; it’s got pre-programmed recordings of bells. Ah, well. So I shut off the TV and headed downstairs to let the dogs outside.

When I got to the bottom of the stairs, I decided to open the front door and let some fresh air into the house. There was a lovely breeze going on, and it blew through my brass wind chimes on the front porch. Being big and brassy, they don’t do a teeny ping! ping! like the aluminum ones do. Instead they make a deeper bong! bong!, much like a church bell.

Good going, wind chimes.

Why I Was Late to Work Today

Leslie Knope: George, I notice you’re wearing glasses; yet, on the day in question, I don’t recall you wearing glasses. Could it be because you WEREN’T wearing glasses?
George: I never wear ’em on the job.
Leslie Knope: Can you take your glasses off please
[George removes his glasses]
Leslie Knope: and-and read this for us?
George: [George reads the paper in Leslie’s hand] "I could read this…
[Leslie moves the paper away, George reads louder]
George: …if I weren’t so blind!"
Leslie Knope: Well, well, that went terribly.

Parks and Recreation, “The Trial of Leslie Knope” (12/1/11)

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For most of my life, including when I first moved to Baltimore, I had some pretty good vision going on. In fact, I had some pretty great distance vision.

Then, around 2003, I was getting an eye exam and the doctor noted that I was having some trouble seeing smaller print. It was his opinion that I needed glasses to read.

“I’ve had great vision my whole life,” I protested. “What happened?”

He said, “You turned forty, that’s what happened.”

So that’s pretty much the way it goes, it turns out. Around age 40, the lenses in your eyes start to harden—specifically, they become less flexible—and it affects your vision. You need more light to see well, but you’re also more susceptible to glare. And, of course, smaller type becomes a big problem, you should excuse the expression.

Over the 13 years since then, my vision has really deteriorated, to the point where if I’m not wearing glasses, absolutely nothing in my field of vision is clear. I’m pretty sure that if a person with normal vision were to put on my glasses, they could actually see the future.

So this morning I was on my way out of the house, when I heard a loud rumbling nearby. I realized that it was the garbage truck making its rounds, and I realized that I had time to grab the trash I’d neglected to put out last night and get it to the curb. So I tossed my stuff into the car and grabbed the trash bin.

Just as I passed the car, the bin bumped into the front end of the car. I took a stumble and, as I gesticulated wildly to regain my balance (one-handed; I was still holding on to the bin), I accidentally knocked my glasses off my own face. They went flying off; I saw that much. But because of that nearby truck, I couldn’t hear them when they landed, so my echolocation skills weren’t going to help me. Despite this, I figured that if they’d hit the sidewalk I probably would have heard some clattering, and I hadn’t. So I started searching the immediate area. They wouldn’t be behind me because my car was there, plus my head would have been in that pathway. But ahead of me was some sidewalk, to the left, more sidewalk and several potted plants, and to the right was a garden that Wife had put in a few years ago. I started looking through the potted plants, the most likely suspects. Nothing. I looked in the garden. Nothing. I looked (carefully) around the sidewalk and, just for completeness’ sake, under my car. And again I came up empty. Another factor working against me is that it was overcast to the point of being about to rain, so the sun wasn’t shining down and reflecting off the glasses.

At this point I’d been looking for over ten minutes, so I said “To hell with it” and went back in the house to put in my contact lenses. The lenses will get the job done in that I’m able to read most print and drive safely, but a lot of stuff still just isn’t sharp. I wear them to social events and such, but it’s a lot of strain if I try to do computer-based work with them. So now, armed with better vision, I went back outside and looked again for the glasses.

Nothing. What the hell is going on here? How far could they have gone?

I finally had to decide that this was a mystery to solve later on, as I’d been doing this for about twenty-five minutes and I was definitely late for work. So, off to work I went. Fortunately it was not a computer-intensive day.

When I got home, I parked the car on the street rather than in the driveway, and I began searching anew for my glasses. The sun had broken through a little bit, so even though it was now on the other side of the house, it was still brighter out than it had been in the morning. Potted plants? Nope, not in there. On the sidewalk? Nope. On the ground near the potted plants? Nope, even moved them around. In the garden? Appears not.

Damn…Could they have flown across the sidewalk and into the lawn? I started to look that way but gave up quickly, then I came back…

…and there they were, in the garden.

20160901_183000

To the left is the view from where I’d been standing as I did most of my searching. 20160901_183011See my glasses?

Of course not. I know where they are, and I can’t even see them. Now, to the right is the opposite-direction view, taken from about the sidewalk meets the edge of the left-hand photo. Even from this angle, they’re pretty tough to see, but there they are, upside-down in the upper-right quadrant of the picture. You can’t even see the whole thing from that side.

But there they were, and there is where they spent the better part of the day, before I finally located them, almost accidentally.

And as for me, I spent the better part of the day trying to adjust glasses that weren’t there, which meant that I appeared to be saluting a lot.

Soak Up The Sun

Maj. Don West: We’re not getting any power. Must be a loose connection in the solar batteries. I’ll go up and see if I can fix ’em.

Lost in Space, “The Hungry Sea” (10/13/65)

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I was saving this story until it had more of an ending, but what the hell.

These guys.I do like being an energy-efficient kind of guy, not just because it keeps the bills down, but because Save the Earth and all that. So when I saw a representative from Solar City standing in Home Depot, I figured it was at least worthwhile to talk to someone about it.

So I chatted for ten minutes with a very pleasant lady, who gave me the basics about how it works and such. She was having a hard time getting the wifi signal on her tablet to work, but she still managed to get enough information across that I decided we needed to hear a little bit more. So she took down my information and that was that for the time being.

A few days later I heard from someone at the company. He wanted to make an appointment with both me and Wife so he could show us the whole thing and make sure all of our questions were answered. We set the date and that was that for the time being.

During the visit, the way the plan was explained to me was this: Solar City puts the panels on the house at no cost to us. Then, for the next 20 years, we’d be buying some of our electricity from our regular supplier, and some of it from Solar City (but at a lower rate). Whatever the panels generate that doesn’t get used, would roll back into the grid, effectively turning the meter backward. Solar City then makes money that way as well, by being the ones who sell the electricity back to the electric company. If the panels need maintenance, we just call them and they make the fix (or, something at our end detects a problem and alerts Solar City). After all, they own the things. If we need roof work, they’d come out and remove the panels until the roof is fixed, and then they’d put them right back on. Our only obligation is to pay for the electricity they generate, and pay for 20 years. If we move or die, the 20 year lease transfers to the new owners (because, who knows: maybe our new place doesn’t get enough sunlight).

So, to break down that deal in bullets:

  • They install and maintain the system.
  • We buy some of our electricity from BGE at the usual rate.
  • We buy the rest of our electricity from Solar City at a lower rate, and this is ALL we pay for.
  • Solar City gets the profit from the electricity flowing back into the grid.
  • The deal is attached to the HOUSE for 20 years total.

This whole thing was acceptable to us, so we agreed to move forward. They set a date for a guy to come out and measure/inspect our roof, and that was that for the time being.

Not Pictured: My daughter's window, you perverted fuck. Awhile later, the guy came out and did his thing. He had a Google Earth photo of the house (the initial salesman did, too), and he had a rough idea of how many panels were going to be put up there. Every jurisdiction has its own rules about this sort of thing, and in Baltimore City, solar panels have to be three feet away from EVERYTHING, including the edge of the roof (including the peak), chimneys and any vent pipes that might be sticking up. So given the size and configuration of our roof, they figured that they could put eight panels up there. In the meantime, the roof itself is in very good shape, so that’s encouraging. He took his measurement notes and such, and the next step is having a formal design drawn up.

After a couple of weeks, I got an email with the design for our panels. This is the document that they’d be sending to Baltimore City as part of the permit process (another step I didn’t have to deal with). You can see part of the image to the left, here. The front of the house (with the dormer) is to the top of the picture, and the rectangle on the bottom is where my kitchen sticks out. Most of the other stuff (the D, M, and AC) are utilities that are actually in the basement. “Inv” is where the inverter would be mounted to the side of the house. “B” is the junction box that would lead from the panels down to the inverter. The inverter is the gizmo that turns the solar power into something that the electrical appliances can actually use. According to the legend (I cropped it out), there are supposed to be lines indicating where the conduits go, but they’re not on this picture. So Solar City took this picture and a bunch of paperwork and submitted it to Baltimore City for the zoning approval, and that was that for the time being.

Several weeks went by, and finally the word came back that Baltimore City had approved the plans. Now, all we needed was an installation date.

Awhile after that, we got an email AND a phone call from Solar City that it was time to schedule the installation. I called them back and got a date. It was a weekday, so I had to take a day off, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

Installation Day: I don’t get to sleep in, because they’re coming kind of early. A truck pulls up, and while their crew chief is talking to me, there are guys running all over, carrying equipment and such and getting it ready for the install. Other guys are setting up ladders to get on the house. I show them where everything is, then I pen up the dogs in the kitchen because these guys are going to be all over the inside and outside of my house. Some of them will need to be in the basement fooling with the circuit breakers, one guy will be in a bedroom attaching some gizmo to the internet router, others will be on the roof and side of the house. And the work proceeded apace, until…

…until it wasn’t. At some point in the afternoon, it occurred to me that I wasn’t hearing people running around, nor was I hearing much of anything else. I went to the front door and looked outside. The truck was gone. The crew was gone. Most of the trash generated by their work had been cleaned up; what remained wasn’t a big deal. But that was IT. They’d left without saying anything to me at all. I called Solar City and they were puzzled by this too, but they did say that the next step was to have BGE inspect the installation and install a Net meter. A Net meter is the kind of meter that can run backwards and allow the power from the panels to come through. So we needed an inspection date from BGE, and that was that for the time being.

A little time went by and I called BGE to see what was up. BGE told me that they hadn’t received the completion paperwork from Solar City, and once they got that they could do the inspection and then SCHEDULE the meter installation. Aha. So that’s a separate step, then. So I had to wait for Solar City to set up the inspection and that was that for the time being.

The inspection itself was a relatively brief affair: a guy from Solar City came to the house and waited for the guy from BGE to show up. BGE’s concern was largely related to the interior of the house, but it was brief and largely consisted of the BGE guy nodding sagely at everything the Solar City guy told him and then giving the whole works his personal blessing, which came in the form of a sticker I had to affix to the electrical panel. Can I schedule the Net meter installation now? No. In a few days Solar City will send them some information and THEN I can schedule my Net Meter. And that’s that for the time being.

A week or so later, I was able to set up the Net meter installation. If your meter is outside, no problem: they’ll just go and do it and you’ll never know it happened. If it’s inside, well, I hope you have another day off to spare. And BGE is like so many utilities in that you get that gigantic window of opportunity for their service person to show up. You know how long it takes to change out a meter? About five minutes, and your entire house loses power for maybe thirty seconds. The next step is getting word from Solar City with the directions for actually turning your system on.

So the email came in, but not everything looked quite like the pictures in the email, even though they’d accounted for several different systems. The problem was that I was supposed to turn on a circuit breaker down in the basement. And the problem with that was that there was NO breaker dedicated to the solar system in the panel. There was a breaker that had been identified on the chart as being the Solar breaker, but it actually connects to an outlet in my kitchen. On the panel itself, there was a big red sticker reading SOLAR, but it was over a blank space (i.e., no breaker) on the panel. So I called Solar City and told them that I couldn’t follow the directions as emailed. They said they’d send a technician out, and started to set up yet another weekday for the visit, but I put my foot down. It was several minutes of me complaining before they agreed to send someone out on the weekend.

A few days after the phone call, on Saturday, the technician arrived. First I showed him the display on the inverter and such, then I showed him the electrical panel. He opened the thing up, and sure enough, there was wiring but no breaker in the place indicated by the panel sticker.  So remember how I told you about the inspection and what it entailed? Now you know what I mean. If the BGE guy had taken two minutes to open the panel and see that there was no breaker in place, the inspection would have failed. So the technician installed the breaker and fired everything up. So far as he could tell, everything was running fine.And that was that for the time being.

About a week ago, I got an email and a phone call telling me that the system is registering zero output, and I need to call them. Because I was out all day Saturday, I didn’t get to call them until Sunday. The person on the phone asked me a few questions about what was on the display, then he told me that another technician had to come out. I told them that as
long as they don’t have to come in the house, they can come whenever they like during the week. They set me up for Thursday in the afternoon. They even gave me a courtesy call on Wednesday telling me that the arrival window had changed slightly. I told her, “Frankly, I don’t care because I’m not gonna be there.” On Thursday evening I got home and there was a door-hanger waiting for us: “Sorry we missed you!” and, at the bottom, an hand-written note: “System is off and electrically stable.” Thanks, guys! I didn’t know that stability was going to be an issue! I gave them a call.

According to their system, the tech had reported that some part of the inverter itself had gone bad and needed to be replaced. So they had to order something, which would take 7-10 days to get in, then they’d contact me to discuss coming back to replace it.

So that’s where the story ends for the time being. I have a system on my roof that’s generating zero electricity, and maybe it’ll be working again in a couple of weeks. But let me lay some extra details on you, because I’ve been deliberately obscuring them until now. Here’s the entire timeline (some of this I’m filling in gaps, other stuff I have the emails saved):

  • I met the woman in Home Depot in June 2015.
  • Wife and I met with the salesman in mid-July 2015.
  • The guy who inspected the roof and did the measuring came at the end of July 2015.
  • On August 13, 2015 I got an email that the design had been finished.
  • At the end of August came the approval from BGE to install a system.
  • On November 3 I got the email that it was time to schedule the installation.
  • On November 20, the crew installed the system.
  • In early December the system was “inspected” by BGE.
  • On December 30, BGE still hadn’t received anything from Solar City, so they couldn’t schedule the meter installation.
  • On January 12, BGE let me know that I could finally schedule the meter installation. That got done sometime over the next week or so.
  • On February 10, Solar City told me that they’d gotten the final approval from BGE.
  • On February 18, I tried to start the system and failed because of the missing breaker.
  • On February 20, the technician arrived and fixed it. So
  • The system generated power from February 20 through March 30, then stopped.

imageimage

  • On April 2 I got the “No output” email and phone calls.
  • On April 3 I called them and was told a tech had to come out again.
  • On April 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7, according to Solar City’s website, the system was generating power
    image.
  • On April 8 it stopped again, presumably because the system had been shut off.

So counting from an approximate date of June 15 (although it was probably earlier because school was still open) to today, that’s 299 days I’ve been involved with Solar City, during which time I’ve had panels generating power on my roof for a grand total of 45 days. Not an auspicious start, I say.

And that’s that for the time being.

Everybody Must Get Stones

William Shatner: I was recently at a celebrity auction where I sold one of my kidney stones for $75,000. Oh, yeah. And do you understand what I have done? I synthesized uric acid and calcium inside my bladder and turned it into a house for Habitat for Humanity! Who’s the Warlock now, bitch?

—The Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen (9/19/11)

Warning: graphic, T. M. I.-type stuff ahead. At this rate something like this is going to be my featured post every February.

As many of you know, a short while ago we had a pretty big snowstorm around here in Baltimore. There were the usual stories in the news, with the usual headlines about Snowmageddon and such. I was campaigning them to use Snowtorious B.I.G. but that didn’t pan out. Wife and I shoveled the walk on Saturday, while the snow was still falling, in a misguided attempt to make it easier to clear the walk when it actually did stop. What with all the wind blowing the snow everywhere, it didn’t make much difference. When the snow stopped, you’d never know that we’d shoveled. So, we took to it again and cleared out most of the sidewalk, then we dug out the one vehicle we had with the four-wheel drive…so we could drive it to Sears and buy a snowblower. That was on Tuesday.

Wee One was disappointed by all the snow, largely because she’s been in rehearsals for a play (her first starring role in Amateur Theater, folks) down in Greenbelt, and the snowstorm postponed the show’s opening weekend. So when the roads started to clear, the director called one last rehearsal before the delayed debut. That was on Thursday. On the way down, I started getting a pain in my lower back. It was a little weird because it was on my right side and when these things happen to me, it’s usually on the left. Also, this was a pretty sharp pain for a muscle ache—plus, it was a pretty delayed response to all the shoveling we’d done two days earlier. But…I’m staring another birthday in the face; it’s probably just one of those “getting older” things.

It hurt me so bad that you could actually see the cartoon lightning bolts. On Friday night, Wee One’s new opening night, Wife and I took Wife’s mom to see the show’s opening. My back was hurting again and Wife offered to drive, but I turned her down, thinking I’d still be sore and maybe the drive would distract me a little bit. However, I was wrong: despite taking some over-the-counter pain medicine, it was like having a knife in there. The pain subsided some and I was able to enjoy the show, but it never quite went away. The next night, the same thing happened: huge pains during the drive to Greenbelt. It was especially intense in the back on the right, but it ran through me all the way to my groin, to the point where my right testicle was actually kind of sore. We’re still thinking muscle pain, so Wife gave me one of her muscle relaxers and about nine Ibuprofen tablets. For the third night in a row, I slept quite poorly.

When the pain hadn’t subsided by Sunday, I started to think maybe it was something else, and I started to do some research on the internet. Here’s a word of advice for you: when it comes to symptoms, The Internet Is Not Your Friend. It will scare the hell out of you. Within minutes you’re convinced you have Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (and for god’s sake, don’t look it up).

On Monday I went to work, still hurting. This was the first day back after all the snow, so I spent the day trying to get cancelled meetings re-scheduled. On Tuesday, the Motrin and Naproxen I’d been taking just wasn’t getting the job done. I finally left work early and headed for the local express clinic, where I described my symptoms. After some examination, they said, “We think you have a kidney stone, but we don’t really have the equipment to tell you for sure.” They gave me a prescription for some high-octane Tylenol and directions to hit the Emergency Room if it got worse. Later on, it occurred to me: I haven’t moved my bowels in a couple of days. For me, this is unusual: many people classify me as kind of weird, but in this respect I’m definitely a Regular Guy. Could this be the problem? I’m just constipated? While I was getting my prescription filled, I also picked up a bottle of Miralax. Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had to take a laxative right before the Super Bowl. The bottle said that a typical dose takes about a day or so to work. OK, I can live with that.

By Thursday, I’d had a bowel movement,but it wasn’t exactly what one would expect from someone who hadn’t gone much at all in several days. Now I’m thinking it’s some higher-level form of constipation, like a bowel obstruction or such. (Again, let me stress: The Internet is NOT YOUR FRIEND.) But I wasn’t especially uncomfortable, so I let it go for the time being.

Or…maybe this is the New Normal for me and I’m just getting used to being uncomfortable? Working for Baltimore City Schools has taught me that I can get used to anything, after all.

On the way home from school I stopped at a pharmacy and talked to the pharmacist about what a next-level laxative might be. She offered some suggestions, and at that point the least scary (or, perhaps more accurately, least harsh-sounding) of them is the suppository. I bought a small package of them and used one that night.

For what it’s worth, these things aren’t so bad; it’s just that we have this whole “up yer butt” association with them so we get squicked out. I think the way the ones I bought work is that they draw water from the surrounding body tissue, which softens the stool and encourages increased bowel action. They’re supposed to work in about 15 minutes, so OK: away we go. And again, the result wasn’t quite what I expected. I tried again the next night with the same result. Now I’m thinking: well, if I’m blocked, it’s gonna be way up in there. Something’s getting through, but not much.

So on Saturday I picked up a disposable enema bottle and tried that. Again, relatively quick and not as bad as I thought it would be. And again, still not quite the result I’d hoped for.

Flash-forward to today. I got a bunch of stuff done at work, but I was again in pain and general discomfort, so I went to the Principal and told her, “I can’t take anymore, I’m going to the E. R.”

She said to me, “You shoulda gone last week. Go. And don’t come back till they tell you what’s wrong with you. BYE!”

I have a cool Principal.

So I drove myself up to the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, at Wife’s suggestion. As it turns out, GBMC—like most metropolitan hospitals—is especially busy on Mondays, so there were lots of people in the waiting room when I arrived. At this point I’d convinced myself that the problem was some form of constipation, so that’s what I told them was going on when I arrived. I told them I was having pain, and they took all my pertinent information and sent me into the waiting area, where I sat among the Ill Folk of North Baltimore. After maybe 45 minutes a nurse came out calling my name. She’d come out to give me Motrin for the pain I’d reported. I was puzzled but took the Motrin anyway. She also gave me a packet of graham crackers in case my stomach was empty (in fact, it was). About 15-20 minutes after that, another nurse came out and led me inside.

I was met right away by a doctor who listened to my whole story, including the visit to the express clinic and their kidney
stone theory and all of my laxative adventures (there were another couple I didn’t tell here because nothing cmae of those, either). He said he’d like to do a CT scan to rule out any blockages and such, and we’d take it from there.

Then a nurse named James came in and set me up with an IV of basic saline, I guess, and gave me a huge cup of liquid. “It’s Go Time,” he said. Then he explained that the liquid was part of prep for the CT scan. I was to have two types of scans: a Oral Contrast and an IV Contrast. This drink was for the Oral Contrast: I drink it down and then as it works its way through my intestine, it shows up on the CT scan. This means that I have to knock this stuff down within an hour, then they wait a while longer before doing the scan, to give it a chance to work its way down. I said, “I guess I should call home and let them know I’ll be awhile, since this will take a few hours.” That’s when I discovered that my phone had no signal in the exam room. So James said, that’s OK, we can bring a phone in here for you to use. And away goes James, reminding me to drink my contrast drink. The drink, by the way, was probably just some stuff mixed with water, since it pretty much tasted like room-temperature water and appeared to be clear. (Sometimes they give you barium, which is thick like a shake and usually minty.) Someone else came in with a low-end phone for me to use, and plugged it into the wall, then established that it had a dial tone and left. Belatedly, I realized that the phone still didn’t quite work: the “4” button was inoperative. And let me tell you, my friend: when you live in an area with ten-digit dialing and that area’s codes are 410 and 443, you’re not going to get far with a phone that doesn’t do “4”. Fortunately, my phone had a wi-fi signal so I used Facebook Messenger to let Wee One know what was up. Then I used Twitter to bitch out GBMC for giving me a defective phone.

Well over an hour later, I was getting antsy, partly because I had to use the bathroom (32 ounces of contrast fluid, plus the IV, plus the bottle of water I’d had in the waiting room, plus a prostate that just turned 53 last week = a good reason to be antsy, thanks) and I was still connected to the now-empty IV bag. The nurse who’d brought me the phone came in and I told her I needed to use the bathroom, “and your phone doesn’t work.” She got James to come back in to disconnect the IV bag and set me free to go pee. When I came back, James decided to find out whether they were ever going to take me down to the CT. He made a couple of calls, then decided that if this was going to happen, he’d have to bring me there himself. So, off we went to the CT room. CT Scan of the Future.

I was greeted by a tech named Jamie, who told me the basics of how all this was going to work and asked a few questions about allergies, etc. A few minutes later, I was brought into the room with the CT machine. Most people have this image of a big tunnel and lots of banging noises, but that’s an MRI. a CT is more like a big donut, and it’s relatively quiet. Picture the Guardian of Forever, only in a perfect circle. So Jamie and her assistant lay me on the bed and arranged me just so. She told me that the machine was going to tell me to hold my breath, and when to resume breathing, and if I couldn’t hold my breath that long, just breathe REALLY SLOWLY. Sure enough, when they started up, a voice came from the CT machine (again, just like the Guardian): “TAKE AND HOLD YOUR BREATH.” and, a few seconds later, “YOU CAN BREATHE AGAIN NOW”. Sadly, I did not time-travel as I passed through, although I did have a flashback to the time I had the MRI taken of my head. Jamie then came in and they did the IV Contrast portion of the test. She took a syringe of iodine and injected it into my IV. Iodine in your veins doesn’t usually hurt, but it does give you a weird, warm feeling through your body, almost like you peed yourself. You also briefly get a taste of copper in your mouth. This all settles down pretty quickly, though. And again, the CT told me when to breathe and when not to. The total elapsed time in the CT room: about ten minutes.

So the Oral contrast would be used to determine if there were any blockages in my intestines, and the IV contrast w
ould be used to look for blockages in some of my blood vessels and other organs.

Jamie told me that it’d be about an hour before the results came back, but in fact, my doctor came in the room right after I’d returned. He told me that I do, in fact, have a kidney stone, about 3 millimeters in size. I asked him, “Is that big?” He said, no, not really. but the weird thing about kidney stones is that sometimes the really small ones are the ones that hurt the most, because they can bounce around and do more damage. Anyway, it should pass pretty easily, especially once I start taking a few days’ worth of Flomax. So here are some prescriptions, and you’re good to go.

Wait a minute, says I. What about the constipation?

“Well,” he said, “there are no blockages and, for that matter, there isn’t a lot going on in there. Let me ask you this: since you started having pain, have your eating habits changed?”

In fact, they had—the pain had affected my appetite to the point where I ate maybe once a day, and that was usually soup. So I haven’t been pooping because I haven’t been eating enough stuff to generate much poop. So I need to drink lots more fluids and get extra fiber in my diet and in the long run I’ll have a happy ending (you should excuse the expression).

Everything Comes in Trees

Cameron Tucker: Mitchell, where were we sitting when Lily first rolled over?
Mitchell Pritchett: Under this tree.
Cameron Tucker: Where is home base when we play hide and seek?
Mitchell Pritchett: Under this tree.
Cameron Tucker: And where did we sought shelter from that frightening lightning storm?
Mitchell Pritchett: It wasn’t a good idea, but it was under this tree.

Modern Family, “When a Tree Falls” (11/28/2012)

When we moved into the current Parkville Palace one fine Spring morning several years ago, Wife and I were especially taken with a couple of large trees that were in the yard.

One was a gum tree, which resided in the front yard. Frankly, it wasn’t long before the novelty of that tree wore off. The gum tree is one of those jobbies that drops the big spiky balls later in the year. And as the Spring became Summer and the tress all over started putting forth leaves and such, it was clear that this tree was in a bit of distress: there were several branches that weren’t producing leaves. Plus the spiky balls were just making it impossible for me to walk around barefoot out front, and they made the lawn mower sad as the blade would hit them, and the first couple of hits would just ricochet the balls around the inside of the mower before the blade managed to finish them off. When, during that first Winter, the tree actually dropped several branches, we realized that it was probably not long for this world and we should consider having it removed.

Farewell, old friend.The other tree, in the back yard, was a big cedar tree. It was about 50 feet tall and a beautiful old thing that provided just the right amount of shade for the corner of the yard where we had the patio and the pergola installed. We loved the tree, but unfortunately over the last couple of years, we could see that it wasn’t doing well: branches were dying off or falling from the tree altogether; it was starting to lean a little bit, and so on. We started to wonder if that one could be saved, or if it would have to go as well.

Finally we made the call to a couple of places and asked them to come in and give us estimates to have the trees removed. One place gave us a price that was over $2000 for those two trees, plus a dogwood that he’d noticed was also about at the end of its life. The other one, AmeriTree, was more in the realm of $1600 so we went with them. I called them up and the woman who answered the phone said, “OK, I think I have some spots open this week, let me get the calendar.” Before I could continue that there were some date constraints, she’d put me on hold. When she came back she immediately launched into “OK, I can get you down for either Friday, or Saturday—“ at which point I finally interrupted her and told her that she’d put me on hold too quickly, and I needed a date after July 11. (For those of you not in the know, July 11 is the second Saturday in July, the weekend that Wife and I stage our Annual Pig Roast. And if you’re not in the know, why not? Why haven’t you been coming?) We settled on the 13th.

On July 8th, AmeriTree called me to tell me that they see they have me down for the 13th, but a spot has “opened up” on Saturday the 11th, could they come by then? I told her no, we have a lot of guests coming that day, and they were all going to say goodbye to the tree. (Yes, I really said that.)

On July 9th, a guy working on a tree in another yard nearby came by and suggested to Wife that the gum tree probably needed to come down, and could he put in a bid on it? We told him that we’d already committed to a company. Out of curiosity, he asked who we went with. We told him it was AmeriTree. He said, “Okay.” Then, after a beat, he said, “You should be careful; those guys aren’t always so great with the safety side of things.”  We thanked him for his advice and that was pretty much it from him, although we did ask him to take out a smaller tree that AmeriTree hadn’t bid on. He said he’d come over after the job across the street was done, in a day or so.

July 10: we got another call from AmeriTree: “I see you’re down for the 13th, but there’s an opening tomorrow if you can accommodate them.” I told them that no, we STILL can’t accommodate them because, as I’d already explained, we had a lot of people coming to the house that day. This time she took the time to write on the estimate that it couldn’t be changed.

On July 11, we held the Pig Roast and a merry time was had by all, and there were, indeed, toasts to the impending demise of the tree. We even toasted once to the gum tree, but we were pretty drunk by then.

So Monday rolls around, the last of the guests have departed, and I’m getting ready to run an errand when the AmeriTree guys arrive at about 10:30 or so. They look at the gum tree, which is pretty accessible and shouldn’t pose a problem at all, and then we go to the back yard. The guy’s a little worried about the cedar tree, because they’re not sure about getting the pieces to the chipper. I take him into the alley to show him that big trucks, can, indeed, go back there, and he’s a little more confident about their ability to do the job without hassle.

Of course, if that actually happened, then I’d be writing a 140-character Tweet about how guys came and cut down my trees and that’d be it. Instead, I’ve got this story to tell you.

Right before I left, their lead guy said, “OK, before we get started, we’re just gonna go get lunch, all right?” Hey, what can you say, guy’s gotta eat some lunch. I don’t know why you check in and get lunch instead of lunching first, but whatever. I go on my errand, leaving Wife with the tree crew.

It was about an hour later when I got back. The gum tree was completely down already, and some of the workers were raking up the leftover branches for disposal. Wow, says I. That was quick. They’ll make short work of the cedar tree. Then Wife told me that the stumps weren’t going to be ground down that day; that was for another crew and another day that we had to arrange. I asked the crew chief if that was true, and he told me yes, that was always the case. I noted that I wished I’d known about that so we could have planned ahead; we thought everything would be done that day. So I got on the phone with AmeriTree and set up a second visit for the stumps. Nobody had an answer for me with regard to why I wasn’t told this in the first place.

So I sat in my dining room, looking out through the back door and paying my bills online. Wife sat on the small deck we have outside the dining room door, watching the guys work. In fact, she snapped the pic here shortly before they came to the back yard. They were doing a bang-up job of cutting away those lower branches and generally reducing the tree to a big stick before tackling the trunk—or trunks, as you can see: about ten feet up the trunk really split up into about a half-dozen main branches. I got wrapped up in what I was doing, which involved a more-or-less static screen, when Wife popped the door open and asked me: “Do you still have internet?”

“I think so,” I said, then I hit the F5 button to refresh. Nope, the internet had died. How did she know this had happened? That’s when I looked outside and realized that the work had stopped.

To hear Wife tell the story, one of the workers was up high in the tree, making the cuts, while another one or two guys was on the ground, pulling the tree parts this way and that with ropes as a means of guiding the pieces
down in a specific direction. One large piece, however, did a kind of pirouette at the end of the cut and, instead of falling to the left onto the grass (see the grassy area in the photo? There), it fell at about a 90-degree angle to that point, just missing the pergola but neatly hitting the two wires that are strung across my yard. One wire was the power line for the house next to ours; the other is the Comcast cable that provides my internet service. (Shut up, DSL isn’t available in this part of town, and FIOS isn’t available anywhere in Baltimore City.) The power line was pulled away from the neighbor’s house, and now hung about three feet over our yard, but was still connected; about half of the brackets that held the cable to the house had been torn out. Our cable had been torn out at BOTH ends: at the pole and at the house. So while our neighbor still had electrical service, we had no internet.

I got on the phone to AmeriTree to ask them what their protocol was for this sort of thing. She said she’d have to call the crew chief to see what was up. I went out back and asked where  he was, but nobody seemed to know at that moment. When he did turn up a minute later, I told him that the office was supposed to be getting in touch with him. This was the beginning of numerous phone calls, back-and-forthing with the crew and with the AmeriTree office, and a bunch of stuff you don’t really want to hear, but I’ll add these few tidbits:

At one point in the afternoon, around 4:00 I called AmeriTree to ask when Comcast was supposed to come out and fix the cable. She said she didn’t know; all she knew was that it would be sometime the next day and here’s the work order number if I want to call them myself. What about BGE, for the electrical wire? “Well, it’s not a high-power wire, they can probably fix it on their own…” And, in fact, they did that, putting the brackets back in and re-mounting the cable against the house. They did kind of a half-assed job of it, so the cable is no longer lying flush against the house, but they did something, I guess. They also trimmed the hell out of a tree that the cable was passing through. In addition, they took the time to trim my neighbor’s hedges for free AND, because she’d asked for the gum tree wood for her fireplace, they cut that up into smaller, more manageable pieces (still too big for a fireplace but easier to turn into fireplace-ready pieces). In the meantime, Wife is discovering a bunch of other damage they’d done to parts of her garden that we hadn’t expected to see damage on. Our cherry tree (at the far left in the photo) had a bunch of its branches broken, and the crape myrtle’s trunk had been split down the middle. The crew chief knocked $100 off the total cost as an apology and against the possibility that the crape myrtle would have to be replaced; as he’s writing the bill up he said to me, “Sometimes these guys, they want to work really fast and I have to slow them down because they don’t always do things the right way.” This statement flew directly against my next phone call to the office, which involved me being told that their crews are always concerned with doing things safely. She did not, however, have a reply when I repeated what the crew chief had told me. She did note, however, that they wouldn’t have been in business for as long as they were, with an A+ rating (from whom, she didn’t say).

Pay attention to this, AmeriTree: you don’t keep on being in business by resting on the laurels of the previous work; you keep on being in business by delighting the NEW customers you have so that they’ll come back and give you referrals.

A supervisor came out the next day, and Wife and I toured him around the property, showing him everything that had happened and some of the attitudes we bumped up against. He was (sort of) apologetic and offered to replace the crape myrtle if it, in fact, didn’t survive its injuries, and said he’d send out a second crew to fix the power line. (Coincidentally, the Comcast guy arrived at almost the same time he did, so the internet was back up before he left.) But in the end, we weren’t left with any real assurance that the next person down the line wouldn’t experience something like this, or that they held any real remorse for what had happened. So we’re pretty much in a “time will tell” loop at the moment.

Small Measures

Principal Skinner: Justice is not a frivolous thing, Simpson. It has little, if anything, to do with a disobedient whale.

The Simpsons, "The Boy Who Knew Too Much" (5/5/94)

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This morning, as I stumbled down the stairs in my usual fog of grogginess, a text message came in on my phone. It was from the folks at Discover; they'd identified some unusual activity on my credit card and needed to get in touch with me. I logged into my account online and got the same message, with a few details. Apparently overnight, "I" had tried to buy over $2000 worth of stuff from Franklin Covey, along with $4 of something else I didn't recognize. 

Now, Franklin Covey has some very nice stuff, but I–and most FC fans, I think–would have a pretty hard time coming up with two thousand dollars' worth of stuff to buy. So I called Discover, as requested, and spoke to the representative in the Fraud unit. They asked for a ton of information, basically trying to establish whether I actually had the card in my hands. They then went back through the last several charges (all of which had been declined because Discover thought they were fishy) until they got to one I recognized. So all is well, I'm not responsible for the fraudulent charges, and new cards will arrive in a few days. Happy ending, but not the way you want to start the day. 

So on the way to work, I'm headed up Belair Road and approaching the turnoff for the Beltway, when a guy in a silver Mercedes minivan** comes flying in from the left lane, cuts me off and continues into the on-ramp. As it happened, there wasn't anyone ahead of us, so he just kept rocketing down the ramp and disappeared into the traffic. 

And of course it's annoying because he's rude and I nearly spilled my tea and the crappiest part about it is that there wasn't even anyone ahead of him to slow his ass down, so he pretty much got away with it and that's the worst part. You're minding your own business and following the rules of the road, and you have to be extra careful when you're driving because there are ASSHATS LIKE THIS out there on the road. 

So for the uninitiated, from the Belair Road exit on the Beltway, it's maybe a mile to the interchange with I-95 and, about another mile or two south of that, the highway splits so that motorists have two tunnels through Baltimore to choose from. It's a very busy piece of road during rush hours, but for the most part it's well-designed and seems to go smoothly, even if the volume means that you're not able to go at full speed.

Today, however, was a little different. The merge to southbound I-95 was pretty easy, but after the split for the tunnels, the traffic seemed to slow down. It was kind of an unnatural place for this sort of thing to happen, and I got worried that I'd be late to school, because I'm also aware that there is construction beyond the tunnel that tends to slow things down. Could the slowdowns actually be backing up through the tunnel and continuing another four miles? This could be bad.

In the distance, however, I saw some police lights flashing, so I figured, cool. We get past that, and things should open up. I hope. 

As I get closer to the police activity–and, sure enough, I can see at this point that the traffic is lightening up after that point–I see that it's a single marked police car, and fortunately he's not reporting on an accident; he's got a single car stopped for some infraction. 

And that car is a silver Mercedes minivan. 

This may be a good day today, you know? 

 

**you can call it an "SUV" all you like, it's a minivan unless it's actually spending some time off-road. And this thing ain't spending ANY time off-road. 

Somewhere Out There

Eric: Okay, guys. Road trip checklist…Car? Check. Okay. We’re good.

That 70s Show, “Canadian Road Trip” (5/8/01)

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A Facebook friend of mine recently posted a link to an article about someone who did a road trip around the entire United States.

The teaser for the article noted that the trip hit all the major landmarks, and was accompanied by this map:No stopover in Boise?

As far as the article was concerned, well, that was a big failure. The map wasn’t interactive, there wasn’t anything about the points that had been “pinned”, and it was pretty clear that the route described on it did NOT hit all the major landmarks of the USA. For instance, it clearly ignores the St. Louis Arch, Graceland, the Grand Canyon, and the Statue of Liberty, just to name a few off the top of my head. So I did a little digging and discovered that the map in question actually traces the path of a time-lapse video made by a guy who did, in fact, drive in a 12,000-plus-mile loop around the United States, starting in upstate New York (see the green pin? there) and heading south to Georgia, then west and so on. If you’re interested, you can see the video here. It’s kind of cool.

This got me to thinking about my own desire to take such a trip—except without the time-lapse video. I love road trips, I really do. And since 9/11, flying anywhere is a pretty miserable experience. Over the past couple of years, I’ve made close to a dozen trips to Florida, most of them by car. And I’ve occasionally taken a different route just to see what else is out there on the road. When you live in Baltimore, it’s pretty much I-95 until you get to Jacksonville, Florida, after which it’s either I-10 to I-75 and another couple hundred miles south, or jump off I-10 in Baldwin and ride US-301 for awhile until you can meet up with I-75 in Ocala. One time last year, on the way down I jumped off I-95 in South Carolina and headed west about 25 miles to a little town called Orangeburg, where I spent the night. As it happens, US-301 passes through Orangeburg, and I was hard-pressed to come up with a reason why I shouldn’t take 301 all the way down through South Carolina and Georgia until crossing into Florida, and staying there until I reached Ocala. On the way up from that same trip, I stopped in Orangeburg again, and the next morning I headed WEST to I-26 and then I-77, unfortunately hitting Charlotte NC during rush hour. I ultimately made my way to Danville, Virginia and spent another night in a hotel. All about the journey, not the destination. It’s a great way to decompress.

116--May 1953Anyway, THAT got me thinking about my great-grandmother. Mamie Devine Shine (“Nana” to pretty much everyone) was born in 1898. During the eighty-four years of her life, she had thirteen kids, eight of which made it to adulthood (only one survives today), and she saw enormous changes in the way the world operated—and that was before the Internet was an everyday thing. She went from horse-and-buggy to the Concorde; from gaslight to electric everything; she lived in the era of sixteen Presidents of the US (two of whom were assassinated). She lived through two world wars and innumerable other such actions. She had thirteen children, five of whom survived to adulthood (child mortality was still pretty common in the 1920s), and all of those made it at least into their 60s. By that time, of course, they were scattered all over the country. My grandmother and one of her sisters was in Florida (albeit many miles apart), one son was in California, another in Nevada, and a third who was on Long Island near us for awhile before moving out to Nevada and finally to Virginia. So in the early 1970s, my great-grandmother took it upon herself to visit her family continuously. She used my grandmother’s house in New Port Richey, Florida as a kind of home base (that is, her mail went there), and she’d work her way around the country, driving in her mid-1960s model Plymouth Valiant from place to place. She had a bedroom in New Port Richey, but I’ll bet I spent more time sleeping in that bed than she ever did. When my brothers and I went to visit during the summer, she was rarely there so one of us got her room while the other two slept on couches.

Nana was a gregarious type, and she managed to make friends wherever she went. She was a straight shooter with her opinion, and while she had a great sense of humor, she also struck you as the kind of person you did NOT want to anger, because you were pretty sure that she was capable of killing you. Take a look at the photo to the left: that was her in 1953, with my mom and my uncle. She was tough as nails, boy. When my brothers and I were kids, she’d give us ten bucks and send us down to the deli to buy her some beer. It was about a half-mile walk, and we were allowed to get something for ourselves. I have no idea why the deli sold the beer to a couple of kids; maybe they figured that anyone who came in with “it’s for my great-grandmother” HAD to be telling the truth, maybe it was because we were buying candy or some such alongside it. Maybe she called ahead, but I don’t really think so. Now that I think about it, it’s possible that they didn’t really care one way or the other.

So Nana would come to our place, and she’d stay for a few weeks, and there’d be the beer runs and her telling stories about people who’d gotten on her nerves, and she’d call my grandmother to find out if there was any mail that she had to handle personally, and then just like that, she’d get back in the blue Valiant and off to another relative. She’d drive in the general direction of that relative, but stop wherever she pleased and manage to find a friend and spend a night or more with them. And she’d reach the next relative and spend a couple of weeks with them, around and around the country. We saw her three, maybe four times a year as she made her rounds. When she was coming our way, we’d be ready but we wouldn’t really know when specifically she was going to arrive.

When I was in college, in my sophomore year, in 1983, I was on the phone with my brother when he said to me “Did you hear? Nana passed away.” This caught me by surprise because I’d had no idea. My brother was living in Florida at that point and I got more information regarding what was happening on Long Island than I ever did when I called my mother at home. So his being the information clearinghouse wasn’t unusual. But getting information like that certainly was. I called home. My mother told me that Nana was out in California visiting her son Bob, and Bob’s wife was brushing Nana’s hair when she noticed that the hair was coming out in clumps. The wife, being no slouch, deduced that this was a Bad Sign, and took Nana to a doctor, who essentially told her that Nana was pretty deep into Stage IV Cancer. Nana apparently had no idea she was sick. She was dead and buried out in California, all within a few weeks.

Now, as far as I’m concerned this all happened over
the phone and I have no real connection to it the way I do the loss of my own mother and grandmother. So it’s entirely possible that I misunderstood the whole thing and she’s not, in fact, dead. It’s entirely possible that she’s still tooling around the nation in her little blue mid-1960s model Valiant, at the age of 117, and sending ten-year-old kids out to get her beer. And she’ll turn up on my doorstep, looking to visit for a couple of weeks. And, of course, she’d be welcome to stay.

Or, it’s possible that she’s not, that her journey across America has, indeed, come to an end. In which case, that’s a torch I’d like to pick up someday. I don’t have relatives all over the country, and I’m not nearly as friendly and outgoing as she was, but I could easily take up her Road Warrior legacy and see what this country has to show me. Who’s with me?

Shell Answer Man Got Nothing On Me

Maggie O'Keefe: Command of trivia is one of the things that attracted me to Cliff. That and his manners.

Cheers, “Ma’s Little Maggie” (10/17/91)

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Holy cats! It’s time once again for Mister Answer Guy, who takes the hardest of questions and provides answers that sound almost like he knows what he might be talking about. Let’s dive into the mailbag.

The difference between pea soup and roast beef? Anyone can roast beef...Q: Every time I’m about to vomit, I start to drool, a LOT. What’s that about? I’m pretty sure I’m not salivating because I’m thinking about all the food I’m about to see. So what’s the deal?

A: Really? We’re going to start with this? Okay. Vomiting isn’t the most pleasant thing in the world, but it does have a purpose. Usually the most immediate point of it is to force suspected toxins out of your body, whether it’s bad food or too much alcohol, or perhaps you just realized you’ve paid perfectly good money to see a movie with Kristen Stewart in it. Another reason is that you may have a foreign object in your esophagus, so maybe giving it the old Hydraulic Boost will set it free. The problem is, the contents of your stomach are highly acidic, enough to do some damage to your esophagus, your mouth and the enamel on your teeth. So when you’re about to boot, you start producing a lot of saliva, which is weakly basic (as in “opposite of acidic”) and can help dilute and neutralize some of that acidy badness.

But check this out: I have kind of a weak gag reflex, but I’m pretty diligent about my oral hygiene. So I brush my teeth regularly but I also brush my tongue, the way I’m recommended to by my dentist. Once in awhile I brush my tongue a little too vigorously, and I accidentally set off my gag reflex. I know it right away because, of course, I’ve suddenly got a mouthful of saliva. I find that I can actually prevent vomiting by not swallowing the saliva. I’ve done some research that says others do the same thing, with the same result. Some people spit it out into the sink or toilet; but I’ve found it easier to just breathe through my mouth and face downward over the sink, letting the saliva just drain out of my mouth. Before the feeling has passed, I’m usually drooling in a continuous stream for about a minute. Pleasant? Not really, but it beats vomiting, especially for no reason.

Q: We haven’t added any states to the Union since Alaska and Hawaii, back in 1959. Given that we added states all the time before that, why aren’t there any new ones?

Meh. A: It’s true, we’re in the longest statehood drought since the 37-year gap between Arizona (1912) and Alaska (1959). I’m pretty sure we had to add Hawaii because otherwise the flag would look really stupid with 49 stars on it. While I’m on that gap thing, do you realize that this makes Barack Obama the ONLY President of the United States for whom the number of states has never changed in his lifetime? It’s not significant, nor is it necessarily his fault, but I just thought that was kind of cool.

In that interim, though, there have been a few possibilities for 51st statehood. Perhaps the one that’s brought up most frequently is Puerto Rico, and as it turns out they’ve inched much closer to that condition in the last couple of years. In 2012 the Puerto Rican legislature resolved to request that Congress begin the process of admitting Puerto Rico as our next state.  A year later, funding was approved for the territory to hold a referendum. In the event of a positive outcome, the President would then have to draft legislation to have Puerto Rico admitted as a state. That money was approved in early 2014, but the funds don’t expire. Whether such a referendum is in the near future, I don’t know.

Once in awhile, Washington DC gets nominated as a possible statehood candidate, but that hasn’t been seriously considered in about thirty years. This sucks for the locals, because they’re essentially residents of no particular state, which explains the “Taxation Without Representation” license plates so many of the cars have. One suggestion has been that Maryland take back its portion of the city (Virginia already did this years ago), and leave only the National Mall, the White House and the Capitol as a much smaller District. This way the people who live in the city get the benefit of being state residents and a new state isn’t created.

There are a few other territories out there, such as the Virgin Islands, Samoa and Guam, but the discussion has never really gotten serious. The Philippines went through a movement to become a US State awhile back, but again there’s been no real activity in that area. Any other suggestions for statehood usually involve the division of existing states. For instance, New York could easily be broken into a lower state (New York City and Long Island) and an upper state (everything else). California and Texas are huge and could be broken up—in fact, when Texas was admitted into the Union, part of the deal was that that state could, if they so desired, break into five separate states. Western Maryland is politically quite different from the central part of the state. No kidding: this state is friggen HUGE!However, the eastern portions of Maryland are quite similar to the western ones, politically. It’s about the only thing that keeps politics interesting around here. At any rate, while it comes up once in awhile it’s never a serious discussion.

Q: Got any more good stuff on Alaska?

A: I do, thanks for asking. In addition to being our largest state by far, Alaska is interesting geographically because it’s our Northernmost state. It’s also our Westernmost state. But did you know that, because it crosses 180 degrees West Longitude, it’s also the Easternmost state? And—AND! It’s also our only state that crosses into the Eastern Hemisphere.

Q: Is it true that women couldn’t show their belly buttons on TV in the 60s?

Larry Hagman looks like he's already figured out that he's losing a fortune by not getting residuals in his contract. A: Generally, yes. As scantily-clad as Barbara Eden was in I Dream of Jeannie, her costume was designed so that it wouldn’t show. There are a couple of occasions during the course of the program where her outfit would slip a little and let it show, and either nobody noticed or cared enough, but for the most part it didn’t happen. On Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, there were often shots of girls in bikinis dancing, but the body paint they wore usually provided camouflage.

NBC had some weird standards at that time. David Gerrold (the writer of “The Trouble With Tribbles” episode of Trek) once noted that when it came to women’s breasts, you could show pretty much everything as far as the top of the breast was concerned—except for the nipple, of course. However, showing the UNDERSIDE of the breasts was absolutely verboten. “Sideboob” wasn’t really a thing at that time, at least it didn’t have a name.

Incidentally, because of the belly-button rule, there was an episode of Star Trek where Mariette Hartley had to keep her belly button covered. A few years later, the standards had relaxed a little, and Gene Roddenberry the creator of that show, cast Hartley in his science fiction movie/TV pilot Genesis II. They needed an easy, but not always visible way to show that someone was a mutant, so they put a second belly button on the mutants. including Hartley. Roddenberry later joked that because NBC took away his ability to show her belly button on Star Trek, they owed him one.

Q: Why does marijuana give you the munchies?

I would not be surprised if they named it this hoping that some stoner would just identify with the packaging. A: Me? It doesn’t. It mostly gives me headaches. However, I do get the intent of the question. For a long time, nobody really knew. It was theorized that THC, the chemical in marijuana that gets you high, had a strong effect on your blood sugar, thus making you hungry. However, a lot of research (and presumably a LOT of joints) went into research that discovered that THC really doesn’t have much effect on blood sugar. So, the simplest explanation turned out to be the wrong one.

As it happens, some new research has just come out—as in, just this week. Your brain already produces some cannabinoids naturally, which repress the release of some neurotransmitters in the brain. Cannabinoids help to control emotions, memory, your sensitivity to pain, and (ah-HA!) your appetite. Because THC, as a cannabinoid, can fit into those same receptors in the brain, it basically alters your brain’s function dramatically.

Have you ever gone into a room that smells kind of weird, but after a little while you stop smelling it? It’s called olfactory fatigue, or olfactory habituation, and it’s your body’s response to a strong odor to prevent overloading of the nervous system. If olfactory fatigue didn’t happen, you might not smell something different when it happens. So imagine yourself, say, in the perfume department of your local Macy’s. If your body didn’t stop responding to the perfume, you might not notice that the sweaters in the next aisle have caught fire.

What THC does is to delay olfactory fatigue, allowing you to smell a food for much longer than you ordinarily would. So when you break into that bag of Doritos, your ability to smell those chips goes on for much longer than it would otherwise, which means that you respond to the smell for longer, and you, in turn, eat more of them. Science, boy.

ANY excuse to run this picture. Q: Last time you did this you talked about how popular your Hawaii Five-O post is. Is it still popular? Have any other posts proven to be especially popular?

A: In, fact, yes! For those who don’t remember, or aren’t inclined to click through, the Hawaii Five-O post was my deconstruction of the opening credits of the original program, which ran from 1968 until 1980 and barely changed in that entire time. I’d planned to do the same thing with the modern-day edition of the show, but while the basic structure never changes, the individual shots within that structure change every season. (I will point out that the zoom-in on Alex O’Loughlin is a direct homage to the one involving Jack Lord, even to the point of having O’Loughlin standing on the SAME hotel balcony.)

While the Hawaii Five-O post is still ridiculously popular and has even generated emails from people—the only post of mine to do so—there’s another post that rivals it in popularity. It’s a study of the phrase “Jockomo-feena-nay”, as in the phrase sung in the song “Iko Iko” and many others. I haven’t run the numbers specifically, but I’d be willing to bet that “Jockomo” has “Five-O” edged by just a little bit. According to StatCounter, the “Jockomo feena nay” post is the Number One result for several different search terms. “Hawaii Five-O” is more in the realm of 10th—14th, depending on the specific search term.

And that’s it for this time around! As usual, feel free to submit any questions you’d like me to research! Not that you will, but feel free!

My Social Experiment

Leslie Knope: By Swanson standards, we're close. I know when your birthday is.

Ron Swanson: So does Baskin-Robbins.

Parks and Recreation, “Ron and Diane” (12/6/12)

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Back in 2011…

(This is the part where your screen gets all wavy and out of focus temporarily.)

…I was perusing Facebook, and it so happened that, according to Facebook, something like five of my friends all had the same birthday, and maybe I should write something on their timelines. Being the kind of guy I am, I didn’t want to just write “Happy Birthday” on each one and move along; I wanted to personalize it just a little bit. But when I got to the first friend’s timeline, I saw that something like 200 people had already posted some sort of greeting. I thought, is this person really going to wade through all these greetings? And, if Facebook hadn’t reminded them of the date, would all of these people have sent some sort of greeting? I pretty much thought, “Not.” At present, I have 306 friends on Facebook, and I know the birthdays of precisely nine of them, six of whom because I’m related to them (and one of THOSE because we share a birthday).

That’s probably on the low side of average, because I have almost no memory whatsoever of these things, whereas other people I know have that stuff nailed down, or have a good working system for keeping track. My sister-in-law keeps a calendar with all kinds of memorial dates on it: birthdays of people both living and dead, anniversaries of weddings, events, parties, funerals, especially good desserts she’s had…it absolutely exhausts me to look at that thing. But I figured that a lot of people were in the same boat I was: they’re only wishing each other a Happy Birthday because Facebook said that it was their birthday.

So I decided to conduct an experiment, to see A) whether my theory was correct, and B) how many people actually paid attention to this sort of thing. And hey: maybe I’d get a blog post out of it.

I went to my Facebook profile and edited it, changing my birthday from February, to April 5. It was late March by then, so I figured that was ahead of the timeline just enough that the date wouldn’t suddenly appear on people’s pages. By April 3, the greetings started coming in: “Hey, wishing you an early Happy Birthday since I won’t be around.” Late in the day on April 4, they started to pour in, most of them in the realm of “Have a great day tomorrow!” And, of course, on the 5th I got something like 75 greetings. I acknowledged them with a single post, thanking everyone for their good wishes.

A few days later, I went back into my profile and moved my birthday to June 5. Now, I have to admit that this one was a little bit of a time bomb. I set the date and pretty much forgot about it…until the greetings started coming in. And again I got something in the area of about 70-80 greetings. No kidding? Okay. A few days after the 5th I changed it again, to August 5.

This is where the experiment went to hell, in a couple of ways and for different reasons.

In early July, a guy named David Plotz got the same idea. However, he was on deadline and I wasn’t, so he sped up the process and celebrated his Facebook birthday on July 11, 25th and 28th. (Click the link for the story.) The story ran on August 2nd, only a couple of days before my fourth birthday of the year. My blog post had gone from Cool, Original Idea to a “Me-Too” re-hash of someone else’s project. Even though I started first and was taking my time about it, he got his story live before I did. It was also around this point that a couple of my Facebook friends were starting to catch on. Some of them had gone from “Have a great day!” to “How many birthdays do you have, anyway?” That part I was actually fine with, because that would have been the tipping point of the story: with the August birthday, I could end the project because finally people had figured out what I was up to.

Also, Facebook itself was getting kind of tired of me moving my birthday around, and offered up some suggestion that if I change it again, I’m not going to get any more opportunities to change my birthday. So I re-set it back into February and tanked the whole project. So that aspect of the Summer of 2011 was a little disappointing, in that I’d done all this but felt as though I couldn’t write about it, not without looking weird or bad or something.

(Temporarily wavy screen again.)

So why have I chosen to write about this whole thing now? I’m glad you asked.

As I noted above, my birthday falls this month; in fact it falls this week. And once again I’m inundated with the birthday greetings. Nowadays I take pains to reply to as many of them as I can. There’s over a hundred nowadays, and I feel bad when I find myself resorting to canned phrases when I acknowledge them. At least I have four or five of them to rotate through, and now and again I can break the chain by relating something a little more personal. (“Hope your chlamydia cleared up!”)

But among that hundred-plus posts, there remain about 10 percent of them who are doubters. They see it’s my birthday, and their greeting to me is “Happy Birthday! (assuming it’s really your birthday)”, or they’ll piggyback onto other people’s posts, including the greeting from Wife: “If Wife says it’s your birthday, then I can believe it. Have a great day!”

All’s I’m saying now is that it’s been four years, and I’m still in the virtual doghouse with some people. It’s kind of fun that they remember that prank from a few years back; I hope they still get a chuckle themselves out of it.

What’s Up My Butt? Nothing, Guaranteed.

Colonel Wortman: [on the phone] Colonel Wortman here, General Kelly’s aide. Now listen carefully, this is an order. Take the General’s body, put it in a Jeep, and drive it up to G sector.

‘Radar’ O’Reilly: Uh, sir, there’s no fighting there, just diarrhea.

Colonel Wortman: [covers phone] I’ll provide the fighting.

M*A*S*H, “Iron Guts Kelly” (10/1/74)

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This isn't mine. Sorry to disappoint.

WARNING: I tried to be light-hearted about it, but the bottom line (heh) is that there’s gross clinical stuff ahead. Read at your own risk.

I’ve had to disappoint the folks at the Red Cross Blood Donation centers for the past several months, on doctor’s orders.

Whenever I go to see my doctor, she usually orders bloodwork for me before the visit, so she can check on my cholesterol and blood sugar levels. I have a family history of high cholesterol, and my A1C, which is a number that represents your average blood sugar levels over a certain period of time, has historically been high, but not high enough to put me in the diabetic range. So she likes to keep her eyes on that stuff, and while we’re siphoning off my arm, let’s check a few dozen other things.

On my last few visits, however, she saw something that concerned her, specifically that my blood counts were a little low. Not low enough to be considered anemic, but still kind of mysterious. She had a few suggestions for my diet, and for some vitamins I could be taking, but the numbers weren’t really budging (much like my A1C—no matter what I do, it doesn’t go up or down by any significant amount). They did one of those basic quick tests for occult blood but came up with nothing. So finally my doctor decided that it was time for me to get both an endoscopy and a colonoscopy and see if that reveals anything. Since I crossed that Big Five-Oh a couple of years back, she’s been kind of hot for me to get the colonoscopy done anyway as a kind of Thing To Do When You’re Fifty-Plus.

Off to the gastroenterologist I went, where they set me up with a “consultation”. That basically means meeting the guy who’s going to do the procedure and being handed a bunch of forms to complete and bring back on the day of the procedure. Among those forms is the preparation procedure for these things. Let me share the highlights with you:

There’s actually a timeline written down for this stuff. First thing is, the day before the test, you’re basically not eating any solid food at all. The closest you get to solid food is plain gelatin or popsicles, and everything you consume can’t be red or purple. So, no cherry Jello if you’re going to have Jello. Lemon is fine. You can have coffee or tea, but no milk or nondairy creamer. Everything else is broth, juice, water, or Gatorade.

First up on the timeline is the laxatives. They used to give you a prescription for some high-powered laxative, but now it’s all over-the-counter stuff. So you go out and you buy some laxative tablets, plus some powdery stuff. And at around noon you take the tablets along with plenty of liquid. It’s also at this time that you’re supposed to mix the powder with a quart of Gatorade. I cheated and used Powerade because I don’t like Gatorade. In the long run, it doesn’t appear to have made much difference. You don’t drink the Gatorade mixture just yet; you just “refridgerate” it. (That’s what the instructions say.) At 1:30 you drink 8 ounces of the Gatorade stuff, and repeat every hour till it’s gone. So the 32 ounces of the Powerade, plus the powdered stuff, makes a beverage close to 44 ounces altogether, so you’re doing this about a half-dozen times.

It's not quite like this, but close. Now, you kind of expect horrible things to happen, like you’re going to have horrific cramps and then explode and spend the entire rest of the day in the bathroom. What’s more, you kind of feel like a ticking time bomb that’s going to go off at any moment, but it’s not really like that. On the other hand, you’re definitely inducing diarrhea, so there’s that. And—AND! Don’t count on going anywhere once you’ve taken those pills. In between the Gatorade drinks, you’re supposed to keep taking on fluids so you don’t dehydrate yourself. I was actually drinking enough that I had to pee a lot, too. It also made drinking the Gatorade stuff a bit of a chore, because you’re filling up on other drinks in-between the Gatorade stints. I was glad to be done with that stuff so that I could relax and drink the un-treated Powerade and Crystal Lite lemonade.

(Full Disclosure: the prep sheet told me to use specific brands of laxatives; I was in a supermarket and bought the store-brand knockoff equivalents. Same drugs, same dosage, same effects, MUCH less money. I also bought the store brand version of Crystal Lite, I think because I was on a roll at that point with the generics. And, as I mentioned, I used Powerade instead of Gatorade, but it wasn’t because of the cost although Powerade happened to be on sale; I just like it better than Gatorade.)

The first few times you’re in the bathroom it’s pretty much what you expect. In my case there weren’t the attendant cramps that usually come with it, so from that standpoint it’s not so bad. And you’re not so incontinent that you have to run to the bathroom at top speed, but you don’t get a lot of warning. Also: if you think you have to pass gas, DON’T. It’s a trap. Fortunately this occurred to me before I learned the hard way, if you know what I mean.

When you get to the end of the evening, the urgency goes away but you often still feel the need to go now and then. By that point, however, you’re expelling very little, and it’s mostly clear or pale yellow, with maybe a few flakes of fecal matter that managed to hang around. Early on, I was worried that I might be doing this all night and that I wouldn’t get any sleep, but the fact is that it’s all pretty much done by then.

The next morning (procedure day), I woke up and my abdominal muscles were a little sore, largely (I think) because when you get to those last couple of times, you’re actually pushing a little bit. You’re also a little bit sore down below, but that’s to be expected; it’s been practically traumatized.

So just as a lark, I weighed myself before and after. Right before taking the tablets, I weighed myself, and then again after waking up. Without getting into specifics, I’ll share that I lost 2-1/2 pounds. I was going to do an hour-by-hour, but I realized that the numbers would get goofy because of all the fluids I was taking in. Also, I don’t really get along well with our scale; it’s digital and a pain in the neck to turn on. But it occurred to me after that weighing that that’s not nearly as much of a difference as I thought there’d be, I don’t know why. I guess I thought that feces weigh more than they actually do. Which sort of leads me into wondering why people with eating disorders will resort to laxatives; there’s not a lot of return for all that misery. You’d think they would figure that out early on.

Anyway.

Wife took me to the doctor’s and they looked over the paperwork I’d completed. The paperwork included:

  • A list of All The Bad Things That Could Happen and Why We’re Just Sending You To the Hospital if
    Anything Goes Wrong
  • Information about Advanced Care Directives and how those don’t really apply to them
  • Information about Living Wills and how those don’t apply either
  • Acknowledgment that I’d received HIPAA privacy information (I hadn’t, but signed anyway; I know the drill)
  • A page asking me about any allergies I had
  • A page asking me about medications I take regularly.

It's milky-looking stuff. They took me into the Procedure Room and had me take off everything but my socks and put on a hospital gown. “Don’t bother tying up the ties, because we have to connect all the leads and stuff to you, still. Just sit up on the edge of the bed and you can cover yourself with this blanket.” The blankets in this place, incidentally, are nice and toasty-warm. Before long, I’m being swarmed by several different people. One person is connecting all the telemetry, another is putting in an I.V. line, and the third is the anesthesiologist, who is reviewing the medications and allergies with me. She tells me that she’ll be giving me Propofol, which is the stuff that took out Michael Jackson. The difference between this and typical anesthesia, she says, is that it’s a genuine sleep, with dreaming and everything, because it hits the brain’s sleep center. If you’ve ever had general anesthesia, you know that you pretty much lose the time: you’re in one room and then suddenly you’re in another. With Propofol, you don’t remember feeling sleepy, but you DO dream. The other thing is, when it wears off, you wake up pretty quickly; you’re not eleven kinds of groggy and stuff. Once you’ve been up for a couple of minutes, you can walk right out. So they had me lie on my left side, and kinda-sorta posed me with my left arm out in front of me and my right resting on my hip. Someone put a Bite Block in my mouth (so I don’t bite down on the endoscope), then they shot me up with the Propofol. I was warned that there might be a bit of a burning feeling in my arm, and for me it wasn’t a burn but more like an electrical tingle, and in retrospect that’s pretty much the last thing I remember thinking about before I was awakened.

So I can’t tell you anything about the procedure itself, other than it doesn’t go very long at all, maybe an hour altogether, counting the pre-game stuff. I’d walked in shortly before 10 AM and walked out just after 11 AM. The doctor said that everything looked good, although he’d removed a few small polyps, and he’d send everything along to my internist. “So there was nothing that would explain the anemia?” I asked.

He corrected me: “You have some low blood counts, not anemia. But no, there wasn’t anything that would explain it.” So from the blood standpoint I’m kind of wondering if I’ve just got A New Normal going on for myself.

Let me sum all this up for the uninitiated: colonoscopy sounds pretty scary and embarrassing and such, and maybe it’s scary because it’s often used to look for scary stuff. And while you’ve got the Necessary Evil of the preparation process, the whole thing really isn’t so bad. I’m not saying it’s great, or it’s something I’d want to do every weekend, but I don’t think I’ll be going in with the same level of trepidation should I have to go another time.