Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Godfather & the importance of health to happiness. Or not


(517 words)



It is my understanding that in some convalescent settings, many of the faithful turn to prayer.


Me, I turned to Hyman Roth.


Roth was the wise Jewish gangster (modeled after Meyer Lansky) who in “Godfather II” memorably counsels young Michael Corleone on relationships, trust and how dessert cake can be used to demonstrate equality in Third World plunder distribution.


And, an enfeebled old man, Roth expounds on the benefits of good health.


“Good health is the most important thing,” he says gravely. “More than success, more than money, more than power.”


Right now, you could argue I’m oh-fer-4 on the Roth rankings.


I have little success, no money and so little power that if the stupid dog ever communicates he’d rather watch “The View” than baseball the girls will insist I forfeit the remote.


Health-wise I’m actually doing pretty good. Eight days out of surgery and still mostly homebound, the podiatrist says I ought to be traversing the 77 steps between my office and favorite Tin Lizzy barstool in 10 days.


As for the Parkinson’s, all the experts say I’m doing great. This is perfect because my plan all along is to appear symptom-free for so long all my friends begin to suspect I fabricated the diagnosis just because I crave attention.


I looked up the Roth quote to ensure precision. I wanted to understand his life priorities. They are: health, success, money and power.


If I were advising the young gangster, I’d in order list family, friends and either memories of happy times or hallucinations of happy times.


I love bein’ human, and I love human bein’s.


Unlike Roth, I take good health right off the table. Our lives are so fleeting and finite that emphasizing good health and longevity is like stressing the importance of winning the lottery.


Sure, it’s great to have in your pocket but acquiring it is largely beyond our cunning. We’re all one distracted driver from a pulse-racing helicopter ride to an urban trauma center.


My priorities, if properly pursued, will lead to scores of loved ones crowding around our death beds and — one hopes — a tidy grave drenched with appreciative tears rather than — one hopes — warm urine.


I wish I could have (for a small fee) stressed to Roth the importance of close friendships. His disregard for them wound up — spoiler alert! — getting himself  killed. 


I sense no one is right now out to kill me and that includes Val and my daughters who’ve been patient and pleasant with my needs as I gingerly seek a return to full mobility.


I don’t count my blessings. I lose count of my blessings.


The gratitude attitude never caught up to Roth. He spent his life in pursuit of illusory goals that required, literally, back stabbing and cut throats.


So men like Roth never gain an appreciation for the things that mean more to life than even stellar health.


But to paraphrase Roth’s most famous quote, “That was the business he chose.”


I’m glad it’s none of my business. 




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Thursday, April 8, 2021

Toe surgery results: Laid up!

(480 words)



I was intrigued when an hour prior to surgery my foot doctor said my toe fusion procedure is one of his favorite operations. He has favorites?


“Oh,” he said, “It’s just fun. You hammer in these little brackets and you put the little pins in. You saw some little bones.”


I didn’t realize some operations were more fun than others. Fix this. Remove that. Sure, there’s that part of every procedure when the anesthesiologist signals light’s out and it’s safe for everyone to begin taking turns evaluating the patient’s genitalia, but favorites? 


I felt reassured he was looking forward to performing my surgery and felt comfortable saying so. I wondered how I’d have felt had he expressed the inverse.


“Man, I gotta tell you, I don’t have a good feeling about this. The last one was a nightmare, blood and toenail flying everywhere. Do you want a drink? I can’t do this sober. And remind me again: Is it the right foot or the left we’re amputating? No one tell’s me nothin’ ‘round here …”


I never really thought about being a podiatrist, but I once repaired an Apple music device.


I guess that makes me an iPodiatrist.


I was under what they call “twilight” anesthesia, a state of being half asleep/half awake. It’s the state in which I’ve resided since 2000 when we became parents so I couldn’t comprehend the point.


Maybe I was just too groggy. 


They told me the operation was a success, a premature declaration meant to convey I was still alive and could still purchase my shoes in left/right pairs. 


Near-term, success will be defined by the discipline I show by remaining in the prone position with my feet above my heart.


All the time!


So after a year in which it’s been ordered I stay in my house, it’s now being suggested I not leave the bed.


I don’t know how much more inert it’s possible for me to become and still register human vital signs.


Doc says I shouldn’t put weight on my left foot for two weeks. I’m laid up!


It’s an odd designation for a man who’s under doctor’s orders to be laid down.


In two days of being laid up, I’ve watched the Pittsburgh Pirates lose two games by a combined score of 25-4. It’s mathematically conceivable I’ll have seen the Bucs get outscored 350-56 by the time I’m done with being down.


I’m blessed to have an adoring support team here that springs into action any time I yell, “Help!”


Of course, the altruistic novelty of that may begin to fade as they come to realize “Help!” in my world usually translates, “Klondike!” or “Peeps!”


It’s just my way of gettin’ down while bein’ laid up.


Thank you for all the prayers, well-wishes and offers of help.


Rest assured, my feet are in good hands.

 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Parkinson's update: Seeing brain surgeon today (hoping he detects one)


 (562 words)


Today’s the day we learn if a deep brain stimulation procedure is even possible for a man so shallow-minded he gets thrown off track at just the thought that there exists in Peru a body of water named Lake Titicaca


Pronounced “TITTY-caca.”


TITTY-caca!


Hilarious!


… Now where was I?


Oh, right.


Deep Brain Stimulation!


DBS is a groundbreaking Parkinson’s Disease treatment that involves implanting a thin electrode into the part of the brain that controls abnormal movements like, I guess, when guys like me try to dance to popular music.


That they drill straight into the head makes DBS one of those rare instances where a medical procedure breaks both ground and skull.


Maybe you’ve seen the ads. A Parkinson’s patient with wild shakes is shown being utterly incapable of buttoning his shirt. Then — voila! — literally at the press of a button he can play the guitar.


It’s remarkable.


I don’t know if the gent had previous experience or not, but I’m hoping I become instantly expert at tootin’ the tuba!


The odds of anything like that happening today are very remote. Today is little more than a get acquainted meeting between me and the renown brain surgeon. He wants to determine if I’m a candidate for DBS down the road, maybe two, four — who knows? — 10 years from now. 


So much can happen — good and bad — in those intervening years: they could find a cure for Parkinson’s; I could take a fatal tumble down the Tin Lizzy stairs — it’s a world of possibilities. Anything’s possible.


Well, anything ‘cept the Pirates being over .500 anytime after April 20.


My go-to Greensburg neurologist keeps telling me I’m “beating” Parkinson’s. She thinks I have an upbeat attitude that, three years into diagnosis, is keeping symptoms at bay.


I’m not nearly as confident. I’m staring into a future that may involve me incapable of either dressing or feeding myself. Some patients report an inability to swallow or blink.


Beating Parkinson’s? I feel blessed to be for now distracting it.


Maybe DBS will help with that tactic. 


My goal all along has been to keep symptoms difficult to detect for so long that friends speculate I made the whole thing up just because I crave attention.


To me, it’s like living life on a trapdoor with a rusty hinge.


I’ve been looking forward to this day for the six months it’s been scheduled but then a widower friend sounded a discordant note. His wife died of Parkinson’s related infirmities despite being skillfully cared for by the same renown brain surgeon.


His warning: “He’s not the kind of guy with whom you’re going to want to sit and have a drink.”


No one’s ever classified another person to me like that.


And what does it say about me that caring friends don’t judge my brain surgeons on their results but on the the prospective likelihood we’ll wind up drinkin’ buddies?


I was dumbfounded.


“Is he Satan?” I asked.


“No, he’s just not a people person. Grumpy as hell.”


Why is a man who makes a comfortable living — certainly compared to me — unhappy when the I’m generally cheerful with Code Red flatliner income?


I wonder if he’s ever heard of Lake Titicaca.


Or maybe the problem goes deeper than that.


Some neurosurgery patients think we have supple minds, but really it’s all in our heads.


Thursday, March 11, 2021

Spa boner etiquette & my big toe operation

(792 words)


The podiatrist looked at my left foot with a puzzled expression. He said he’d never seen anything like it.


The four lesser toes were uniformly straight and pointing forward in line with the foot. But the big toe was pointing about 40 degrees in the other direction.


The captain was abandoning ship.


“Are you sure you never had an injury, some instigating incident years ago that would cause this deviation?”


“Positive,” I lied.


But there was an incident, a painful recollection about which I never told another soul.


It involved me, soft music, a darkened room and a beautiful woman who was not my wife.


And to top it all off, I was completely naked and fully aroused.


The woman was my masseuse.


It was the early aughts and I was at a fancy spa in Taos, New Mexico. This was back when I was immersed in the freelance travel writer gig.


Back then, high-end New York PR firms representing top resorts and destinations would seek out guys like me to write about their clients. And it was all free.


Free airfare, free rooms, free meals, free golf, etc. Relaxing spa treatments were staples of every trip. And with every massage, I began to detect a pattern. I was getting more than just deep tissue relaxation.


I was getting horny!


Understand, these were very professional masseurs so it didn’t lend itself to horniness. There was no dirty talk. No flirtation. No hint of illicit couplings to come.


It was just me lying there on a cushioned table with a beautiful woman rubbing warm oils up and down my naked body …


Up and down …


Up and down …


What’s horny about that!


So, of course, I’d get these erections, but they seemed so out of place, me there with this obvious hard-on and her there talking about how later that day she’d be taking her mother-in-law to Tuesday Bingo down at the VFW.


There was zero chance I’d be getting what’s known in the industry as a “happy ending.” That’s where some masseuses who are casual about ethics will, often for money, seize the erection and manipulate until it until it achieves its biological conclusion.


But that never happened to me. When our hour was over, they’d leave the room and busy themselves preparing for their next appointment while I’d get dressed, silently relieved I remembered to wear cargo pants instead of a Speedo.


The awkwardness inspired a story idea that eventually appeared in Men’s Health under the headline: “Spa Boner Etiquette.”


I spoke with an industry leader who assured me an erection was a perfectly reasonable reaction to the setting.


“You shouldn’t be embarrassed,” she said. “An erection is almost a reflexive reaction to what’s happening.”


I was thinking of this as I lay there naked on the the table in Taos eager for my massage to begin.


I do not remember her name. It may have been Rebecca but, hell, for all I know it may have been Burt. What I do remember clearly is she had raven hair and her hands were both soft and strong.


In an instant, the reflexive reaction mentioned by the spa spokeswoman began to stir.


Now, even with full industry sanction, I did’t misbehave. I did’t wiggle, play peek-a-boo or jump up the table and insist she salute and sing “Morning Has Broken,” all the things I insist Val do as a prelude to romance.


But the masseuse seemed to take an instant dislike to me. Or maybe she’d had enough of men like me — all erection and farmer tans. But 10 minutes into the massage, she took an aggressive turn. She became rough, like she intended to show me who’s boss.


It was an incredible turn-on!


Then all of a sudden she reaches down and starts tugging on my left big toe.


I remember thinking, geez, of all the things on my body right now screaming out for a good tug, why the hell would she choose my big toe?


“You’re hurting me,” I said.


“Oh, sorry,” she said, then she abruptly ended the massage a few minutes later. Then she was gone.


Maybe she gave up massage. Maybe she became a lesbian. Maybe she decided to confront her demons head on and seek employment down at the old Oscar Meyer weiner plant.


And that’s who I blame for needing the surgery that I hope will eliminate this infernal limp.


But I’m going to be fine and on the bright side it’s far better for men like me to admit we have a little limp than admit we are a little limp.


That makes this a rare case of a story that ends happily without having benefitted from the memory of a true happy ending.

 

Friday, March 5, 2021

"Blazing Saddles" & the rise of cancel culture


(715 words)


It’s only my third favorite Mel Brooks movie (behind “Young Frankenstein” and “Silent Movie”) and I find the ending too contrived to even watch. But “Blazing Saddles” has instructive elements for these fraught cancel-culture times.


I’m talking about the scene where Cleavon Little, playing the newly appointed black sheriff to the racist white town folk of frontier Rock Ridge, rides into town.


A mush-mouthed prospector is dispatched to a nearby rooftop to alert people when he sees the new sheriff approaching. When he sees him and discovers his duskie complexion, he becomes agitated and yells, “The sheriff is a (n-word)!”


His exact wording is lost in the commotion below. The people seek clarity. 


One interpreter says, “He says the sheriff is getting nearer!” Everyone roars their approval, which infuriates the lookout who repeats more emphatically, “No! I said the sheriff is a (n-word)!”


Eventually, everyone realizes ol’ Gabby wasn’t saying nearer. He was saying the sheriff is a word that sounds like “trigger.”


It still makes me laugh my white privileged ass off and takes me back to Ohio University. It wasn’t uncommon for me and my circle of friends to allude to it in shorthand when telling a story.


A buddy would mimic the prospector and say in garbled speech, “Ma E-con perfezzer  is a (unintelligible n-word).” And I’d translate, “He says his economics professor is getting nearer!”


And all the frat boys would roar with laughter.


Understand, this was 1985. None of us were “woke.” Hell, many of us were the exact opposite of woke. We couldn’t get out of bed all day, having blacked out the night before.


Can I still say “black” out?


Of course, I mention all this sudden sensitivity in reaction to the rampant insensitivity over the bogus fears of cancel culture.


Progressives say we should erase any distasteful recollections that might offend dainty sorts.


Our conservative friends — and that shows you just how liberal I am; I still consider many conservatives my friends — are apoplectic that things as innocuous as Dr. Seuss are canceled.


Where do I stand?


I stand quietly over in the corner with no shoes on.


I try hard not to offend anyone. I don’t like seeing anyone made fun of or be made to feel uncomfortable.


If there are racist images in some of the lesser known Seuss titles, they should go. It’s no big deal and if it reduces the chances any kid will be made to feel inferior then I’m all for it.


How does it hurt me?


Ideally, there’d be context. Read the script to “Blazing Saddles” and it’s shocking. But it’s pure satire and in that context it’s hilarious.


Mine’s a mindset duality that explains why I’m over there without my shoes on.


It doesn’t happen often, but on occasion we’re invited to homes where we’re asked to remove our shoes before entering.


Now, I like wearing shoes. I have some very stylish ones I dote on and enjoy showing off. And even the rattiest sneaker bestows the foot with functional practicality.


A sturdy shoe can protect the tootsies if you drop a knife or spill some hot tea. Plus in any fight or flight scenario, my go-to option is to run like a cheetah — a limping, paunchy, 58-year-old cheetah with Parkinson’s Disease. Shoes are a necessity in any get-the-hell-of-Dodge situation.


But if my host kindly requests I remove my shoes before entering, I mention none of this. I just take my shoes off and say a quick silent prayer the house doesn’t catch fire.


It’s the same when some business owner requests I wear a mask before entering.


Why is everything such a big deal?


We live in a time when many people are easily offended.


This is unfortunate because it coincides with a time when we’re absolutely inundated with people who are so enthusiastically offensive.


I wish I could persuade everyone to moderate their behavior, to be more understanding, to seek compromise over these issues that have nothing to do with how we live our lives.


All our culture warriors needs to appreciate the difference between victories and solutions. I fear if common sense solutions don’t prevail we’re all doomed.


You could say I fear the end is nearer.


Monday, March 1, 2021

What happened during the 5 minutes before I went live on-air with an audience of 1.5 million truckers

 


The phone rang at the designated time. It was the producer for the Road Dog Trucker Sirius Satellite Radio Show. They reach about 1.5 million truckers each day. They asked me to be on Saturday to tell Fred Rogers/Latrobe neighborhood stories.


I don’t think people are aware, but I get very nervous prior to a high profile guest spot like this one.


What if I say something that might offend the truckers? What if one of my jokes misfires and the truckers decide to unilaterally strike? What if that leads to national ruin and the severing of all my professional prospects?


Worse, what if my wife decides to listen and I say something about her that leads to personal ruin and the severing of something dearer to me than professional prospects?


I was grateful for the five minute off-air banter that would precede going live. It would allow us to get a feel for one another and critically for me to learn the ground rules. Are certain risque jokes permissible? Would it be a bad idea to use my air time to bash the bandits who set the ever-escalating turnpike tolls.


After a jiffy round of introductions, host Jimmy Mac said, “Okay, there’s one thing you need to know. It’s essential that you — ”


And the phone went dead. 


That I what? Stifle my belches? Mention a sponsor? Conclude with a prayer to St. Christopher, the patron saint of truck drivers?


Now, on top of all my other anxieties, I now have equipment concerns: Is my phone failing? Do I call them back? And what is that one thing essential thing?


Finally, the phone rang. It was the show producer. There was frantic urgency in her voice. “You’re on in 12 seconds!!!”


Here’s the clip from my 24-minute segment.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Tweets of the (last 2) months


 • Close your eyes and turn the mirror into your friend. Too many people, women especially, stare into the mirror and do nothing but catalogue flaws. Try this: when you're done tidying up, spend the last 15 seconds staring into the mirror -- with your eyes closed. Imagine you're seeing yourself through the eyes of all your best friends. Instead of noting microscopic flaws you'll begin your day with thoughts of all it is about you that people love best.

• It’s not uncommon in a stale marriage for a spouse to contend he/she has his/her partner's back while wanting nothing to do with his/her front.


• I can't believe I'll -- knock on wood! -- be 58 next month and I still haven't sucked face with Madonna. And don't get me started on Betty White …


• World will be a better place when all those scheming to find the means to an end instead work on finding an end to the means.


• I hate to say so, but every day this year something awful has happened to  make me nostalgic for simpler, less complicated times. The good ol’ days. You know ... 2020!


• Can it still be a get-rich-quick scheme if I've been working on it since 1992 and have been flat broke the whole time?


• Being in line next to another person is an example of juxtaposition. Being in line next to a gross person is an example of yuckxtaposition.


• ”Frostalgia" is the glazed half smile that freezes your friend's face whenever you try and show them treasured family photos from your last vacation and out of politeness they feel compelled to act like they care.


• I’m fully on board with masks, social distancing and strategic isolation, but admit to being fearful that me and tens of million Americans are beginning to feel a kinship with the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel.


• Next time you have occasion to heartily sing "God Bless America" which groups will you in your mind parenthetically ask God to exclude? White bigots? Welfare moms? Pro-Trumpers? Immigrants? Former FB friends you can no longer stand for political reasons? 'cause we're all in there.


• Because I enjoy seeing the fundamentalists get all excited, I hope I live to see the day when America has a First Lady named Eve.


• Some nights I lay awake because I'm troubled over global injustice. Some nights personal challenges seem daunting & some nights I toss and turn fretting about a future over which I have no control. Tonight promises to be sleepless 'cause I can't fathom why nasal is not nosel.


• We live in an age when people who are most insistent about speaking their mind reveal how little mind they have mostly every time they speak. I wish they would mind their own business, but fear the same formula would apply.


• Woke up to sheets of ice on a bed of snow. My fear is obviously I'll tonight put my head down onto a pillow of slush.


• I wonder how many people have died choking on a Life Saver furiously aware of the irony.


• It’s been said our character is the sum character of the five people with whom we most associate. If that's so, then I'm about 60 percent upstanding citizen and 40 percent pure sleazeball.


• News reports say man suffering from gunshot to the knee in "stable condition." Not if he tries to stand up!


• Until shoes come with individual toe sleeves, you'll never hear the phrase, "Shoes that fit like gloves." Really, if we were at all precise about language we'd call shoes foot mittens.


• I’ve been counseled that coming straight out and asking readers for money never works. You know what I've learned through experience also never works? Sitting here quietly and never asking for money.


• The admission belittles all my pretensions of superior intellect, but I still wake up some mornings wondering if this'll be the day when, for the good of the kids, Jon & Kate reunite.


• If you could literally "laugh your ass off," boy, that's one fitness craze jokers could really get behind.


• I’m writing a book on eternity. It's taking me forever.


•Any person who obsessively disinfects the same clean surface over and over is a wipe-o-chondriac.


• How come sportswriters insist on referring to the vast parts of our arenas and stadium where everybody sits as the stands?


• The doctor walked into the examination room and said, “Chris, how do you feel?' I said, “Doc, I just use my hands."


• I wonder how in heaven they deal with the whole smoking/non-smoking thing.


• Product placement gone horribly wrong:  "Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Peanut."