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.”



… 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.