Friday, January 30, 2004

Phantoms

Further reasons to donate your body when you die.

When X-ray machines are calibrated, a device is used called a “Phantom”. This is a human skeleton donated to science that has been encased in a plexiglass shell that mimics the density and opacity of a human body. The Phantom is placed in various positions and x-rayed much like a regular person would be x-rayed (skull, chest, extremities) and then the pictures are developed normally. By this method, the Phantom may be repeatedly exposed to x-ray radiation in order to both determine the appropriate strength and duration of the exposure for a real person for that specific x-ray tube, and also to train new x-ray technicians. A Phantom may be exposed as many times as is necessary for the student x-ray tech to learn how to take perfect films without a single living patient ever being exposed to excessive radiation. One Phantom (with it's associated x-ray tube calibration person, typically a physicist) can keep hundreds of vital diagnostic machines in safe working order for use with living persons, or can be used to train hundreds of medical personnel in the safe use of x-ray machines.

It is cold as hell here. The temperature is a raw and dry 6 degrees, but the wind chill is a blistering -27 degrees. I had a client at 11:30, and that's pretty much all I did all day. Cleaned the house, updated the Strategy and Gaming page. I was planning on going to the post office to mail some packages, but it's just too damn cold. Beth bought me a new coat last night. It's a great spring jacket, but it feels like it'll be months before I'll be able to wear it. At least the sun has come out. Like it or not, I'm going to be out in it tomorrow for class. Need to pick up a battery for my camera so I can take some more pictures of Chicago.

I'm feeling like I need some new music. You'd think with the collection that I have that I'd never run out of things to listen to, but it seriously feels like I've listened to every song thousands of times.

Maybe I'll work on my novel some more, or go take a nap.

Watched three movies tonight. Personal Velocity, which was excellent but I only caught part of it.. My First Mister, an extrordinarily well-written love story. Guys if you want an intelligent date movie, this is the one. And finally, Taps, with Sean Penn and Tom Cruise, which was quite good for an 80's movie, but would have been better with a bit better writing.

Ate chicken alfredo with gorgonzola over penne. My favorite italian dish. Drank hot apple cider. How could life be better?

God, I hope this doesn't degenerate into one of those journals that's just a rehash of everything I did during the day.

In any case, I also added my old journals to the main Journal page so you can peruse my old angst. If, that is, you have nothing better to do. Like sleep.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Starbucks at CSMT

Bitter.

Cold.

Maybe I'm getting to be an enormous wuss from spending my last three winters away from NNY, but this windy -5 degree shit seems a lot colder when you're on the L platform and it's knifing through your pathetic wool coat and sweatshirt. Skin so devoid of moisture that the grape seed oil that our massage classes use is absorbed almost as soon as it's applied. By some further blessing, I get Friday off and I don't have to be at work until 11:30 tomorrow. Some rest, then. I took my make-up anatomy test that I missed last Saturday, I think I did well enough. I ordered this weird green tea with mint from Starbucks. It went from being too hot to too cold before I could fully enjoy it. Not much else today, though I did manage to take a picture of the Belmont stop from an interesting vantage point.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Riding the L, veiled women

I had my first nightmare winter experience in Chicago this morning. It took nearly an hour, fully dressed for work, to dig out my car. Two shovels, a hundred false-starts, and a steady stream of profanity and swearing later, I was free. I parked my car in front of the door (the main driveway had not been plowed either) and waded back through four inch deep snow to my condo, took off my soaked work clothes, took another shower, and dressed for the second time this morning. I made it to work an hour and fifteen minutes late. Fortunately, Glen was there and he covered for me. I hate shit like that. I was furious for hours. I tore, spun, dug, and basically just messed up the back lawn trying to get out. I've always said they should pave over that patch of grass. My elderly upstairs neighbor parks his car a foot over into my space anyway, so I end up parked half on the grass.

I saw a lady today in our office of some undetermined middle eastern ethnic origin. She had come to accompany her family. She was covered head to toe by a long dress that skimmed over the floor and her head and hair were completely covered by a long black silk scarf/veil of some sort. It was very unusual, and I had never been that close to a "hidden woman" before. Her startling eyes peered out from under her veil like some sort of modern ninja. She never said a word, but she watched me intently as I cared for her son. As she left, she fixed her eyes on me and said "thank you."

I can't really say why this was such an interesting experience. I mean, I have seen a number of these women with their faces exposed by the scarves, and I do know what they look like under there. This one today must have been nearly as old as her husband, and she probably looked less like Jasmine from Disney's Aladdin, and more like Cheech Marin.
Just the same, the combination of a woman's eyes behind a black mask is an oddly provocative one.

Then it hit me; in some strange way, the traditional head coverings are like the middle-eastern version of the school or military uniform. It's a genderizing form of subtle costume that has an innocent outward and practical purpose (maintaining modesty, respectability and uniformity). Its actual percieved purpose, though, is very much open to interpretation.

For the first time today I wondered honestly if there was some measure of personal expression in this type of dress, or even cultural status, much like the Japanese women, courtesans and entertainers, who still roam the streets in certain districts of Tokyo wearing traditional kimono and hairstyles. Is there a mystique that these hidden women evoke of which Western society is ignorant?

I suppose this is not true of something like the Burka, which is essentially one step above an actual cage, and has all the allure of a bad Darth Vader costume. There is no question that the burka's purpose is subjugation, and when you see the poor women wearing them on the streets of Afghanistan, you can't help but wonder if the men who enforce the insane fundamentalism of that region wouldn't care if their wives and daughters had faces at all.

But the woman I saw today was all eyes. When you boil a person down to something as simple as their eyes, they become incredibly complex. Every look or glance means something; consideration, fear, curiosity, forbodeing, determination, helplessness. Or, it may mean nothing. It may mean an itchy, unscratchable nose, or a hidden sneer, or a motherly smile. In any case, it's strangely hypnotic. You begin watching this unusual person out of the corner of your eye, and their eyes become like some sort of quiet social barometer, meaningful but frustratingly nubulous. The people that still hold to the cultural custom of covering the face are, sadly, quite beyond my power as a sociologist to give any kind of qualitative analysis of. Nonetheless, I will say this: they are highly distracting.

It's almost like the old metaphor about the giant pink elephant over in one corner of the room that everyone can see but no one can talk about. In my case it's the 40-something middle eastern woman in what appears to be wearing a cross between a Mexican poncho and a ninja outfit. Noticed; certainly, acknowledged; possibly, but under no circumstances talked about.

The American corollary to this would be, of course, Amish women. They strive to be, above all, plain. They take pride in their utter lack of individuality. This serves to hide the individual strengths and weaknesses of the women from public scrutiny. The same is true of the hidden middle eastern women. I'm not sure if this is a very accurate comparison however, because the premise of the anonymity is different. The scarf-wearing premise is "look all you want, you won't see anything." The Amish premise is "look all you want, there's nothing to see."

Hmm...

The guy sitting next to me on the L appears to be of the barely-literate, grunting, colloquial-pronouncation type. He is wearing a dumpster load of clothes that reek of weed. And what's worse, I've forgotten my headphones. They supply a much-needed barrier between the train and myself, and without them I can listen only to the ugly sounds of coughing, cell-phones, mechanicals, and the irritatingly-cheerful train voice telling me "Belmont is next. Doors open on the left at Belmont."

It's still snowing, and the streets here aren't much better plowed than at home, but at least the air doesn't smell like pot anymore.

"How did you do on your Chemistry test?"
"Let's just say my mother won't be getting a bumper sticker this year."
-Thirteen

Monday, January 26, 2004

Lupus and librarians

Back to work today. Fortunately there are three doctors out of town this week, so the workload is more or less negligible. It's marginally warmer in terms of temperature, but now it's snowing all night and day. Oh well, we made it to the end of January, I suppose there's no point complaining. In a month, this crap will be almost over and I can get back to normal.

Beth and I are both well again. I'm even feeling mostly good and rested after our unscheduled four-day weekend. I found out last night that one of my younger cousins has lupus. I didn't even know men could get it. Apparently of the known cases of it in the US, less than 100,000, fewer than 10,000 are men. Talk about winning some sort of awful lottery.

Got a call from _____ today, apparently, his younger daughter read my book, and talked to her school's librarian about it. _____ said the librarian would like to schedule me for an appearance. Given that I've done almost nothing to promote the book and that my sales numbers were almost comically dismal this year, this would be a good opportunity for me. Writing the second one took so much time and effort this year that pushing the first book sort of fell aside as a priority.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

English Tech Support

Well, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that whatever the hell just railroaded its way through my digestive system is now gone and I feel physically fine.

The bad news is, apparently it wasn't food poisoning.

Beth came down with the same symptoms as me last night at about 10:30. The progression of the evil affliction (probably viral, given the fever) was almost identical to mine, though to her credit, she bore the misery much better than I did. So today, instead of going to class, I decided to stay home and take care of my poor fiancée.

As it turns out, this was a fortuitous decision. It is snowing like nuclear winter here today. Snowflakes the size of Walgreen's circulars are pounding down outdoors. I brushed off my car this morning to drive to the grocery store and pick up some ginger ale and nausea medicine and some other essentials and now the car is all but invisible. It's almost…. New Yorkian.

I called the technical support line for a computer game called Stronghold:Crusader that I bought about two weeks ago and have been unable to get to work on my system. Apparently the problem has to do with my CD burner not having update drivers, but when I dialed the tech support 800 number they transferred me to….

England.

That's right. Spot-o-tea, Becks and Posh, Burrberry, Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Prince Harry England. I was so bewildered by the computerized cockney voice that answered that I missed it when they actually clicked over to the tech guy and I heard:

“'Ello, Fuy ahfluy suppow, 'owmay I 'elpyou?”

(Translation, after thinking about it for a minute, “Hello, Firefly support, how may I help you?”)

“How about getting this goddamn game to work, you limey bastard.”

Of course this is not what I said, though in retrospect, I should have given it a bit further consideration. What I did instead, was stammered to this person (who no doubt believes that the English language has anything at all to do with what he was speaking) that I was having compatibility issues with Windows XP.

He said, using several more friendly-sounding and barely-discernable phrases, that I should attempt to reload my cd burner drivers. And with that, he said.

“Ull roit 'en, anks foe callin'” (Translation: “Piss off, Yank.”)

And then hung up.

That's all. None of that “did I answer all your questions today” or “you call may be recorded” crap that you get from American phone help services. Just a quick answer and a hang-up. I'm not quite sure how to take this. I had the ludicrous thought at first that I might have somehow deserved it. Like it was a subtle way for the Brits to say “Hey Yankee, get off the goddamn phone and do something useful, like voting someone into the White House that's not from the Southern US.” For a minute there I actually felt a hint of shame that I might have been wasting a tech support guy's time.

Then I remembered: my roommate in college was a tech support guy, and he used to get paid for playing Grand Theft Auto II for hours on end at the SLU computer helpdesk.
As I listened to the hum of the dead line in the receiver, playing the bizarre conversation over and over in my head, I decided to go make a cup of tea.

Friday, January 23, 2004

I managed to eat another bowl of cheerios and have an ice tea. I took a shower and shaved and brushed my teeth and just generally put myself back together again. I feel almost like a human. A few more ibuprofen took away most of my headache. Kept down a glass of milk successfully. Managed to accomplish a surprising amount of chores/busywork/loose-ends. Renewed library books, did bills and budget, affixed parking and registration stickers to my car, cleaned up the house a little. Downloaded an old James Taylor tune. Don't really understand the current fascination with James Taylor. Oh well.

Ill (continued)

I got my appetite back about 11:00 PM last night and I managed to eat a small bowl of cheerios. I put a freezer bag of ice cubes on my head to try and break the fever, which had gotten worse since yesterday morning. My head was so hot that I could hear the ice cubes creak and crack. Once I had cooled myself down a little, I was able to eat the cheerios, have another glass of water with an ibuprofen, and go to sleep relatively comfortably. I did get alternating feverish and chilled moments last night, finally waking up around 7:00 AM in cold clammy sheets with a forehead that once again felt like a barbeque grill. At least now the headache is receding a little bit, though when I cough it feels like my skull will explode. My guts still rumble uncomfortably every time I stand up, but now I am able to sit at this desk and look at the computer or watch TV. Thankfully, I had already planned on taking today off because there was only one doctor there today.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Ill

About two hours after finishing that last entry I was getting home from Massage Therapy class, and started to feel an uncomfortable rumble in my stomach. Now being a survivor of Dana Dining Hall at SLU (even before they revamped it) I'm no stranger to indigestion, heartburn, and painful gastrointestinal episodes.
By 11:00 I was vomiting loudly on the bathroom floor, my body wracked with twitches and shudders, like I was being electrocuted. Again and again over the next eight hours my body attempted to purge whatever I had put into it for the last day or so. Every forty-five minutes, I would vomit, feel much better, pass out (in bed, on my office chair, and eventually on the bathroom floor), and then wake up suddenly to another painful wracking purge from “both ends”.
My first thought is that this must have been food poisoning. Sometime around 8 AM this morning, I had finally purged everything even resembling food from my digestive system and I was wharfing up water, or feeling my guts twist on thin air. Dry heaves are one of God's cruelest jokes.
Finally, just as my alarm was going off to go to work this morning, I managed to keep a few meager glasses of water down, despite the ever-present nausea and threat of more vomiting. I climbed into bed, after having Beth help me clean up the bathroom, and shuddered uncontrollably for two hours or so. I finally managed a few hours of sleep sitting bolt-upright in my office chair. And thus went the first day I have ever called in sick to my current job in three years.
I woke up this morning feeling weak, wobbly, and had dizziness and light-headedness that I associated with positional hypotension (when your blood pressure takes a sudden dive from sitting up too fast). I felt like I had the single worst hangover that any human being has ever had. Hangovers, you will remember, are often caused by the dehydration of drinking too much and then peeing/vomiting all the water out of your body. Picture the worst hangover you've ever had multiplied by the shudders and twitches of limbs that would not get warmer. I began to feel faint even if just sitting up. Some part of me registered that this was the effect of what might end up as severe or even life-threatening dehydration. The best I could figure, I had vomited between 15 and 17 times last night, in sufficient quantity to scare me, not to mention the diarrhea. So I began slowly and precariously forcing myself to drink little sips of water until I had held down about two liters. This was about all I could handle without my stomach going into flip-flops. I drifted in and out of consciousness, usually waking up to answer the call of the persistent diarrhea. It is now 6:27 PM, and I have been awake and alert for about an hour and a half, the most since last night at about 11:00 PM.
Without exaggerating or being dramatic I am going to tell you that last night is the sickest that this young man has ever been, or hopefully ever will be. I can think of other occasions that were awful beyond description that don't hold a dim candle to last night. The vomiting has resolved into a pretty good fever and a bastard of a headache that makes it agony to look at the computer screen. I have been able to hold down water, iced tea, and a few dozen cheerios all day. My legs feel like rubber, I have muscular exertion pain all up and down my back and legs, my knees and neck.
I can't write anymore now.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Sad news

I hadn't received any emails from my friends in quite a while. Last night, right after updating, I got four emails, two of which were sad news. Crystal's mother passed away last month after a protracted battle with cancer, and DJ's grandfather was recently diagnosed with cancer. Two messages like that in the single click of a mouse button. I fired off a couple of half-assed replies, but honestly, is there any good way to respond to things like that other than to look at the winter sky and softly ask: Aren't we too young for things like this? Are we so old already that our families are mortal?

And once again, for about the fourth time in as many years, all I can manage to do as a friend is to sit in my comfortable chair in Evanston and write meaningless emails or worse, write meaningless journals. I can't hold hands or hug or say meaningful things to my friends when they most need it. I don't know how many times I hung out with Jake in high school and Alex in college. I shared food with them and swapped stories and Jake even taught me how to play the guitar, and when they died, where was I? Right here on my useless ass in Evanston, trying to do with my computer what I could only really do with my voice or shoulder or even tears, if at all.

Could I have helped? Could I have done anything to make my friends' troubles any easier? Maybe not, but...

Well, that's how my day was today. Except for when Beth came home and we stuffed ourselves with pizza. She has sweet kisses when my nose is cold. And riding the purple line home, that's about all I'm thinking about right now. I realized today, sort of randomly, how excited I am about the wedding and my future with her.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

First Day at CSMT

Chicago's 94.7 the Zone has a hilarious news guy in the morning. Here is an example of his deadpan dilevery.

(bored voice) Our little droid on Mars moved ten feet yesterday. NASA scientists say that the $4 billion dollar robot will spend most of today..... drilling into a rock.

I also found a great site www.fallonfey.com that has the transcripts of the SNL weekend updates since 2000 when Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon took over the Weekend Update segment. Some of the best lines include:

Fallon: Christina Aguilera cancelled two concerts in England, saying that she has acute bronchitis. Actually, it used to be acute, now it's kind of askanky.

Fey: On Sunday, Al Gore called for the repeal for the US Patriot Act, and accused President Bush's administration of undermining civil liberties and exploiting public fears about terrorism. And then, as always, the cashier nodded and gave him his Big Mac.

All I can keep thinking about is a cup of hot cider, my office chair, and taking off my shoes. I'm 25 years old. Am I supposed to feel like this?

I had originally planned a rant about how big a pain it is to have to travel to class and sit in for the lectures of stuff I already know or that is glaringly common-sensical. But on the way home from class I decided that it was unseemly to bitch about it, so I decided instead to tell you an awesome story from the first semester.

One of my first days there, an older guy was sitting in the back that I didn't recognize. I didn't peg him as a student, a suspicion that was confirmed when he got up to the front of class and introduced himself as Bob King, the founder of the Chicago School of Massage Therapy, and its first professor. He greeted us in a way I'll never forget.

Now bear in mind that I have been through a number of orientations scholastically before, including freshman orientation for high school and college, as well as orientation and admission to both of my majors. I have sat through a number of speeches by authority figures that ranged from rule and expectation setting (you must complete such and such requirments, you have a responsibility to your fellow students, etc) to the fear-factor speeches ("look to your left and to your right, those people won't be here next semester") to outward challenges ("you have to prove yourself as a member of this academic community, do you hace what it takes?"). Well, as it turned out, there was some truth to what they were saying. Next semester those other people had dropped out, there was a great deal of hoop-jumping and obedience to complex and often arbitrary rules, and to some extent, yes I did have something to prove to myself and the faculty of SLU. But after first semester freshman Biology, I was still in the chair even when 2/3 of the class had dropped it. I managed to make it through SLU without breaking too many rules or failing to negotiate the convoluted path to success. And in the end I think I proved to myself that I really had nothing to prove.

Three years later, enter the Chicago School of Massage Therapy's orientation week. I am sitting in a chair somewhere in the back of the class, ready to sit out yet another frosh speech with adversarial language designed to set the record straight for the newcomers. Instead what I get is a phrase that was so simple and perfect that I don't remember much of what Dr. King said after it.

He said: “I'm so glad you're all here.”

That's all. But you know what? Even through successfully navigating the schools that I went to before, getting excellent grades and proving myself over and over, not a single authority figure ever told me that they were glad that I was entering their school. More, that they specifically were glad that I was there.

Now, of course, I will tell you that I knew immediately that massage therapy was going to be a career that I would pursue and enjoy. But it is much easier for me to say that now than it was back then, a few months ago. Making a career jump to something so unexpected (though perfectly legitimate) had left me feeling like I was taking a rather hefty risk. I got support from those close to me, thank goodness, but as I'm sure you all know the support that comes from within is always the most important. It wasn't until the moment that Bob King said that to us that I felt for sure that I had done the right thing. The minor irritants that have arisen from jumping through the inevitable educational hoops are forgotten almost as soon as they are overcome, because in my mind I became dedicated to this profession that morning after hearing the man who founded the school (and invented the Body Mobilization Techniques for which my school is known nationally) tell me that he was glad that I was there.
And no sooner than I thought about it, I was glad too.

I'll leave you with one final joke from www.fallonfey.com

Fallon: New Scientist magazine reported on Wednesday that in the future, cars could be powered by hazelnuts. That's encouraging, considering an eight-ounce jar of hazelnuts costs about nine dollars. Yeah, I've got an idea for a car that runs on bald eagle heads and Faberge eggs.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Insurance Companies

As much as I'd love to gripe about my office, I know of at least one of them who reads my website. I suppose it's not written anywhere that journals have to be about griping, but somehow that always manages to be a significant component. In any case, I'll spare myself the pleasure of ranting on people in general and focus on something we can all hate together.

Insurance.

See, your eyebrows furrowed just then, and you felt that tightness between your shoulderblades as if anticipating the classic knife-in-the-back. Ok, so maybe you didn't react as viscerally as I do to the uttering of that hateful word, but bear with me.

The reasonable response to the criticism I'm about to make is: Well, of course you hate insurance companies, you work in the medical field. There has always been a tenuous relationship between those two industries, and being involved in one places me squarely in a subjective point of view, but the most insidious part of the whole situation to me is not the matter of expense versus incompetence versus high risk versus profits. The most insidious part is that the conflict that happens between the medical and insurance fields has once clear and helpless victim that is continuously caught in the crossfire. The patient, who is both a customer of healthcare providers and a customer of health insurance companies, is the one who inevitably suffers the fallout of this.

Do you have an example? You ask.

Why, of course I do. One from today, as a matter of fact.

An elderly gentleman and his wife come to our office today because his wife has slipped on ice and broken her ankle. He has parked the car and come into our office asking for someone to come outside with him with a wheelchair and help her in the door. I am young, strong, and more than capable of doing this, but because of an insurance policy, I was unable to do this.

Let me explain how this works. I am covered by an insurance policy that covers liability for staff in the event that I were, for example, to drop someone while attempting to help them on the x-ray table. This is a very realistic example given that I sometimes have to assist non-weightbearing patients in excess of 300 pounds onto the table from wheelchairs. Thankfully this has not happened to me yet. This is a blanket liability policy that protects me personally from being sued for mistakes I make on the job (can you imagine working in a job where a simple error might get you PERSONALLY sued for more money that you will make in a lifetime?).

So I have come to grips with this idea and accepted the massive responsibility that comes with my specific job. I am still in the lower tier of health care professionals, I am uncertified and moderately skilled, but I have a great deal of sensitive and risky patient contact including minor surgical procedures, removal of sutures, dressing wounds and transporting patients around the office that sometimes have very serious skeletal injuries. The point is that I'm sufficiently exposed to enough things that could go bad that at some point someone decided to take out an insurance policy against the possibility of me fucking up.

But, one of the provisos of this wonderful policy is that it only extends as far as the front door of our office. The instant I step beyond this threshold, I am no longer an insured staff member, I am just Joe Nobody. And if I were helping this couple come in from their car on a cold-assed day like today and she were to fall, I would be personally liable to be sued. Never mind that the old gentleman politely asked if someone could help him, never mind that I am strong enough physically to lift this woman like a baby from her front car seat and deposit her light as a feather into the wheelchair, never mind that I might actually even just do something NICE for a person outside of the physical boundaries of my job, just for the sake of being nice and not because my supervisors ordered me to. Never mind that I might just be trying to help.

Never mind that it's the right thing to do.

It's not easy turning around and pretending to read a chart while some poor guy with an injured wife asks in a bewildered tone of voice why someone can't come out with a wheelchair to help him. He was probably 80. He could no more have lifted her than a child could have. They got in by shoving and crouching and jostling and probably trying to bear weight on an ankle fracture.

And remember that these folks aren't victims of HMO's or victims of reduced Medicare benefits or victims of rising health insurance premiums. They are victims of a standard liability policy that pretty much every doctor's office has.
Insurance companies are not your friends.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

I called Jeremy the other night and we laughed like idiots at various passages from my old online journals. This was, admittedly, some of the impetus for writing this journal. There were so many things that I had completely forgotten about, like the craziness of the week before graduation and all the people I talked with and hung around in those days. This, for example:

May 15, 2001
I got a nasty little surprise today when I went down to get my lunch. Dana dining hall was running basically on a skeleton crew and there were two choices for lunch: cassarole and cassarole. There was no pizza, no sandwiches, no grilled food, salad bar, and no dessert. Basically everything was closed and that was the only place seniors could eat on campus today.
So, in a rare feat of impassioned fury, I marched up the hill to Vilas hall and took my complaint to the Dean of Administrative Affairs, the Dune of Student Life, the director of Student Activities, and the senior class president. Everyone said that they'd call and try to straighten things out. The Dean of Affairs is the guy who directly controls food services, and I spoke to him at length and told him that not only was I disappointed in service, but that I saw a couple of young-looking people and their families here that looked like prospective students. I told him that it would have been a huge embarrassment if those people had paid the exorbitant fee to eat there and had to choke down Dana cassarole. If that influenced a student to dislike SLU and give them another reason to not come here, Food Services is risking $120,000 in tuition money for saving a few bucks on some hamburgers and hotdogs.


Did that really happen? It must have, if I've written it, but I have absolutely no recollection of this whatsoever. I might have been drunk, I suppose, but other than a couple of nights, I don't remember getting particularly wasted that week. At least not to the point where I would forget what had happened to me.

This is somewhat troubling because I don't like feeling as though I've forgotten something that happened in the not-too-distant past. I suppose that is why I have such an affinity for photography. Not just for the aesthetic value of having a picture of something I saw once, but as a very real reminder that I saw it at all. There were, of course, passages that I did vividly remember:

May 16, 2001
I got trashed last night and slept till almost 5 this afternoon. It was too hot in my room to get any decent sleep, so first I went out into the hall and laid down in front of the window to get a nice breeze and then I went into the lounge. Between Socia and I, we finished a bottle of Black Velvet, half a bottle of Mandarin Absolute, and about twenty five beers. I'd say it was a successful night. Jeremy blew a fireball and I got it on tape. That should make for some interesting party viewing in about twenty years.


Looking back, I'm glad I took the time to write down at least a few lines about those weird/wonderful/awful days when my life was changing almost faster than I could keep up with it.

It was most relaxing today to have an entire 24 hours without school or work. They start to blend together after a while, and when I don't have to go to either, it seems like suddenly I get a little mini-vacation even if it's only for a day. Went to Beth's parents house and hammered out details for accommodations for our wedding. We have reservations for our honeymoon hotel room, in a lodge in Boothe Bay, Maine. I've heard Maine is beautiful in the summer.
Watched “Just Married” with Ashton Kutcher and Brittany Murphy. It was passable, if somewhat bland, comedy. No outstanding performances and only a few laughs. Predictable.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

A homeless blind man just tapped his pathetic institutional cane past me, asking in what appeared to be a genuine tone if we had any change for him to get some dinner. He was wearing a pair of deep blue jeans patched in the seams with duct tape. On his back was a coat obviously meant for a much smaller person, as the sleeves barely covered his arms. The coat was adorned in back with a picture of a tiger's head and various silk screened japanese characters. I was standing in the doorway holding onto the poles at the time, and I moved my foot so he wouldn't hit it with his cane. Several one dollar bills in my wallet were more than willng to help the poor limping bastard, but in the end I just stayed out of the way and kept my mouth shut. I wasn't intimidated in the least by this person, I get hit up for change all the time from various hustlers, panhandlers, cripples, and homeless people. But the point is that even when this pathetic soul couldn't see me, I shrank from him and shunned him so that the dollar bill in my wallet would go home with me instead of him. Maybe he was a hustler or a faker and just wanted the money for booze, who knows. But if he WAS blind and just wanted some money for food...

I'm riding the Red Line, the section of the L that traverses nearly the entire vertical axis of metropolitan Chicago. It starts in the rough southern neighborhoods and works it's way North through the downtown district, up through the affluent Lincoln Park neighborhoods, and finally to the rich north suburb of Evanston. I take only the last leg of this ride, maybe fifteen stops, but it is impossible during certain seasons and times of day to avoid the homeless, the panhandlers, the looneys, the packs of young punks. People living very close to the sociological fault line. Large men in the employ of the CTA are employed at Howard street and 95/Dan Ryan streets to come on and rouse the homeless men that pay a buck fifty for a ride end-to-end for an hour and a half with somewhere to sit that's heated on bitter winter nights. It's almost always men. I've seen probably a hundred or more homeless guys on this train, but only two women.

It's hard to think of myself as someone who would begrudge an unfortunate and hungry man a buck for some chow. What the hell kind of healer does that make me?

The waiting area that's heated on the Howard street platform smells like years and years of piss. Now I'm on the Purple Line, the North Shore line that has heat and clean chairs, and no bums.

I'll be home soon.
Saturday evening in Chicago.
I spoke to Gee last night and we reminisced about the old college days in that insane semester before graduation. March is going to be fun, hopefully he and Reid will make it without difficulty. I get a whole day off tomorrow. It will be the first in two weeks. Last weekend was taken up with classes and student clinic. I plan to update my webpage more often, specifically with this journal. Maybe I'll go back to the older style webpage or switch to something new. Just another in a long line of incomplete projects.

When I was reading over my old summer journals that I kept while I was at the Orthopedic Lab in NY, I surprised myself at the bitterness that I had toward that job and the people I worked for. The pay was awful, and I was always "the kid", or "kiddo" in a way that most of my coworkers spare me of now, and of course there was the ever-present random hand injury. But the job I have now still has it's miseries. Patients that are homeless or indigent that smell like they haven't bathed in weeks, crippled patients that helplessly urinate/defecate on themselves or me, rude patients, crude patients, and patients that are just crazy. Certifiably crazy. Need a bucket to carry around their extra crazy crazy. As George Carlin once said, the difference between a maniac and a crazy person is that a maniac will beat nine people to death with a steel dildo. A crazy person will also beat nine people to death with a steel dildo, but he'll be wearing a Bugs Bunny costume at the time.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

At the Outset (Prologue to The Black Tea Letters)

At The Outset

Since my last stab at online journaling, I have kept three others in various places. One in a small notebook, one in an old palmtop Windows CE device that was most of 2002 and got erased when the backup battery failed. And finally I kept a diary in a diary program on my Palm IIIx, which I may or may not make available online depending on how I feel.

In any case, it's been almost three years since I last placed a journal online. I posted at Dyingdays.com for a while, and I did what I could for that site when I could. Paul Hughes is doing his own thing these days and I am doing mine. My webpage has been only sporadically updated for the last three years, but I would like to work on making this a priority, and I think a journal is just what it needs.

So I suppose a synopsis of the last two years is in order. When my last journal left off, I had just graduated St. Lawrence University and I was living, rather forlornly, with my parents. I had no job direction or prospects and I had given up on prosthetics as a career. I'm sure now that everyone must go through moments like this, but at the time it was most disconcerting. This translated predictably into a rather grim journal in May and June of 2001.

Happily, my life took a series of positive turns very shortly after. So here we go:

In late June 2001 I was working in a factory in Watertown, NY. I had the second shift, and the dubious honor of coming home late each night smelling of mechanical lubricants and pulling slivers of steel flash out of my hands. The previous job I had, making prosthetics, was also brutal to my hands. On the job injuries from prosthetics included repeated sanding and grinding of my knuckles and fingertips on the pin routers and drum sanders I used every day, and one particularly painful episode when two square feet of molten polypropelene foam wrapped around my ungloved hands and stuck like taffy.

Fortunately, it left only a few dark scar areas and didn't seem to cause much lasting nerve damage. I only mention it now because my hands figure ironically into the outcome of this little tale.

It was sometime in the fourth week of work at the factory that I got a call from one of my close friends from SLU who lived in St. Petersburg Florida. Hearing how unhappy I was, she invited me to move to Florida and try to get a job where she worked. Less than three weeks later, I was living in Florida, and I had gotten a low-level job with Xerox. It was not a long-term or ultimately satisfying place to be, but it was infinitely better than living in upstate, NY.

During this time, I had only limited internet access, so I moved my journaling activities to just a pen and notebook. I used my trusty green Schaffer fountain pen with which I had taken every note and written every test at SLU. I stopped this journal, sadly, later that season when I lost that wonderful old pen. This is something I regret to this day.

It was around mid July that I finally re-established my internet access through a pathetic dial-up connection. I had taken my leave of Dyingdays due to my lack of an internet connection, and I decided not to write any more Torque articles, because symbolically, that time in my life was over. I did, however, begin posting on the illout.com message board for Paul's resurrender network, and one person in particular caught my attention. A female member with the unusual username On My Back.

Conversations with this person went from open discussions to private instant messenger chats to phone-calls. Eventually, we decided that she should fly to Florida and we should meet. On August 3rd, 2001, I met Beth O'Malley at the St. Petersburg airport. It took all of about 12 hours to fall completely in love with her. Following the first thrilling and unlikely weekend, we parted tearfully as she returned to Chicago, and we swore we'd see each other soon. And we did. Every weekend almost, despite the distance and expense of air travel. Each reunion was more joyful than the last, each time together more romantic and exciting. Sometime in early September, a crew of crazy arabs decided to fly airliners into buildings on a boring morning the day after Beth had left to go home again.

I was sitting in a dull staff meeting that morning when I heard the rumors that "someone had blown up some planes". As I watched the breaking news footage on a conference-room monitor, the doughnut I was eating suddenly tasted like just so much dirt. Thankfully, Beth had made it safely back to Midway airport only hours before the attacks.

After the attacks, especially since so much shit surrounding those attacks took place near where I lived (the terrorists learned to fly planes at a nearby flight training facility and my local post office was shut down because the White House anthrax scare letters had been mailed from there.) In any case, it became impossible for weeks for Beth and I to see each other. I felt at once just as lonely as I had been in NY, talking to Beth online or on the phone, wishing I was somewhere or someone else. It was around this time that I decided to move to Chicago to be with her. The final trip that Beth made by plane to St. Petersburg, she had to make her way past several checkpoints and several dozen National Guard soldiers with assault rifles at the ready. I will never forget what that was like, and it was a crash of reality into my relatively isolated life.

Another packed car, another two-day road trip, another new and enormously unknown home. But this time I had a delightful companion to share it with. Predictably, if only to us, we took that ride right up until this very day. We are still together, and I loved her even more this morning as she lay sleepily in bed peeking out from under a heavy down blanket as I did on that day at the airport.

Of course, that still leaves a gap of about two years. What the hell happened to me in those two years? I had quite a time getting used to Chicago. I got a job working as a medical assistant in an orthopedic surgeon's clinic (a job which I have to this day). Several thousand stitches, staples, casts, and minor medical procedures later, I managed to help build a very nice life with Beth, that includes, among other things, a new Mustang to replace my old Cavalier wagon.

A country mouse like me fought and kicked against the urban norms before finally accepting them. I completed my first novel, The Prince and The Pitchman, and it was published in 2002 by Booksurge under the label Vole Books. My second novel, a sequel to the first, titled The Journey of the Tallish Ten, was completed in 2003, and is in the process of being published. I applied to Northwestern again for prosthetics, and was rebuffed a third time. With relatively little time to sulk about it, I discovered a new and unexpected interest: Massage Therapy. I applied and was accepted into the 15 month program at the Chicago School of Massage Therapy (I am writing this right now on a Dell Axim pocket PC in my Saturday morning anatomy class). Eleven and a half more months to go. Now we come to the irony of my hands, those much abused travelers of grinding mechanical work. Now I am going to make a living using my hands on other people to soothe, relax, and heal them. By the feedback I've gotten so far, massage therapy is quite natural to me, and I see a great deal of potential within myself to help others with this innate ability I've discovered.

But the most exciting development in the interim period has unquestionably been August 12th, 2003. Atop Castle Rock in Blue Mountain Lake, NY., under the Adirondack sky, I asked Beth to be my wife, and she accepted. Our wedding plans are progressing as we speak. We have hammered out many of the rough details and now we are working on the fun parts of picking out themes and colors and music. I am happy to be involved in the process though at times it is complicated and daunting work. I hope to make this process a part of this journal, along with my experiences in Chicago and with Massage Therapy.

In a very real sense, I have grown enormously as a person since 2001, and one of the most profound examples of this is that I like things now that I used to hate. Sure there's the obvious example of urban life, but the best examples are food. Mr. Used-to-eat-pizza-every-day-dipped-in-ranch-dressing now eats plenty of salads, lettuce, tomatoes, and (wonder of wonders), soup. I began eating soup for no apparent reason about a month ago. I hadn't had it in over ten years.

But overwhelmingly the most incredible example of this is my newfound love of tea. Iced tea at first, and now hot teas as well. Many of my friends and family have sat through one of my endless eye-rolling diatribes about how I never drink hot liquids because they make me queasy. Well, now I not only drink tea, I am somewhat addicted to it.

So, if there's a theme to this journal that could be predicted at the outset, it's the theme of acceptance and learning to like things I once hated. Hence, I'm titling it the Black Tea Letters.