Quote of the week:

“They'd have to shoot me to get me back to Illnois."

~Abraham Lincoln upon going to WDC to become president

Monday, January 28, 2008

It IS Pretty Great

About a year a half ago, my niece (M) called me to tell me she was pregnant. It was not the most ideal of circumstances. She was 19, just out of high school. But she was excited, and I was excited for and with her. When she first called me, I told her that this was impossible, because I’m WAY too young to be a great uncle! For whatever reason, she paid me no attention, and the result is this beautiful little lady here, (with her prematurely gray great uncle).

On February 7, 2007, my great niece Addison was born (one day after my birthday). M & A, who live in Maryland, got married in December. It was a destination ceremony, so extended family didn’t go. This past weekend, I had the distinction of meeting my great-niece (and her Daddy) for the first time, when they flew in from to east coast & came to my parents’ house in Bumblefuck.
I don’t get to see my niece that often. The last time was Thanksgiving of 2003, when the whole family converged for my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary. Having always lived southeast, even in optimum conditions, I would get to see her and her older brother (D) maybe once a year. Once my brother and their Mom divorced, the annual gatherings ceased, especially as they got older, and school activities, and working consumed their holidays and summers. I watched them grow up as a second and third hand distant observer.
As she grew up, M was very good at making contact with and keeping in touch with me. (With chagrin, I admit she was much more diligent & better than I at the return.)

I will admit, I was concerned with her having a baby so young. Seeing her this weekend, it’s obvious what a great mamma she is. (A is also a great Daddy.) Any small reservations I may have had were immediately eradicated. Part of my fear was that M would give up her plans of going to college, becoming a mom so young. But, she has started college. Aside from becoming a mom, I was astounded to see the incredible young woman she has become. She was a strikingly beautiful baby, and grew to be a strikingly beautiful woman. The genetic fates were kind, in that she took after her own mother’s side of the family when it came to looks. But it’s not just the outward aesthetics. She makes me feel comfortable with being me around the rest. She’s able to cut through the bullshit. Usually in the extended family gatherings. I am the big pink triangled elephant in the room that people don’t want to address. The familial version of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Not with M. She’s right in there asking me questions—if I’m dating, what I’m doing for fun, what the gay bars are like in Chicago and how she wants to come and have me take her (and A) out to them. We compared notes on Project Runway. I was able to say, “Christian is such a queeny fag and laugh about it. She allows me to feel and be mainstreamed and ‘normal’ (although I loathe that word). For that, I love her (along with many other reasons.) At one point she commented about me being “Great Uncle Randy—‘It’s so weird to say that!’”
“It’s so weird to hear it!”, I responded.

For the past 6+ years, all that the others want to talk about is my health. It’s the ‘safe’ topic—of course unless I was feeling like shit, then it’s uncomfortable again (for them). I don’t think M once asked me about my health, which may sound strange, but that makes me happy. Note to readers: When someone has chronic health conditions/problems, that topic is usually the last thing in the world we want to talk about. Partly because, if we really do feel like shit, you really DON’T want to hear about it. If we are having a good day/week/month, we don’t want to be reminded of and have to think about when it was bad, or how long until the current good streak runs out.

Now to A (her husband). First impression: They were at my other brother’s house when I arrived. So, when they came, I hugged M. She then makes the introduction, “This is my husband, A.” I extend my hand to shake. He ignores the hand and gives me a big hug. No pretension. No macho appearances to make. Hugging the homo uncle upon first meeting—he just scored major points.
The next day clinched it. He and I ended up left in the living room with the TV on, with some football game playing, he looks over at me and says, “Do you want to watch this?” Another male in the family who isn’t sports obsessed. He went to culinary school, and I quizzed him on ways to use the black truffle oil I got for Christmas. He’s pretty quiet and reserved, just as I would be thrust into a whole new family. He was a great observer. He caught the nuances. When different barbs were exchanged, or snarky comments, a small grin would appear on his face, but no outburst of laughter at someone else’s expense. He just took it all in, I’m sure making mental notes to himself about this extended family he just married into. This man and I are going to get along great! He’s a very involved Daddy, and they seem to have a great partnership worked out. He’s definitely a keeper. Did I mention he’s really hot? He exhibits a self confidence that I never possessed. He’s very comfortable in his ‘own skin’. That’s very cool to observe.

I am so incredibly proud of her—of them. I don’t have kids. Never will. Yet as I make this statement, it is as though I somehow had a role in her being the incredible young woman and Mamma that she has become. I don’t. The credit is hers. It may still feel/sound weird. But, ‘Great Uncle Randy’—I can get used to it. It IS pretty great. This little girl is the best birthday gift this uncle has ever received. ©wtf/rle

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Ledger Doesn't Reconcile

I have perseverated for two days about whether I should write a post about Heath Ledger. That much pondering seems to be a strong indication that I should write. The interesting, non-sequitor reply to my previous post is what I’ll take as the confirming signal to write. I really don’t want to be on the pop culture bandwagon.

The comparisons to James Dean were immediate. I love the three James Dean movies (East of Eden –also one of my favorite books; Rebel Without A Cause; and Giant). I’ve not seen all of Heath’s movies. It’s probably obvious that the one I’m going to write about and the one that has had a huge impact on me is “Brokeback Mountain”. This movie has such an impact that I pre-ordered the DVD and the movie poster (the real deal) when the movie was released. I saw the movie three times in the theatre—Something I NEVER do. (I bitch about the price of movie tickets), and each time I saw it was at full price, no matinees. It was the winter I broke my arm. I had been downstate at my parents for a few weeks, while they helped me out. I came back home when it was time for my regularly occurring appointments with my orthopaedic surgeon. I was still in a good deal of pain, and not able to drive. The movie was showing at an older theatre about a mile from my appt. So, I was able to walk. The first time was a Saturday night. I fully expected to like the movie. I expected it to affect me. I didn’t expect it to impact me and resonate with me to the degree that it did. It was Heath Ledge’s portrayal of Ennis Del Mar that hit me right between the eyes. I left the theatre that Saturday night, feeling like I’d had the wind knocked out of me. Have you ever had the experience where something reaches you so viscerally, at such an intense deep emotional level, that you are so numbed, you can’t even have an appropriate emotional response? Ennis Del Mar did that to me.
I went back the next day, Sunday (OK, I guess I did see one matinee). There was a line that Ennis says, that I couldn’t remember. I wanted to get that line, and I had to see the movie again. Again, smacked between the eyes. I knew what was coming so the intensity wasn’t so raw, and my heart wasn’t in my throat throughout the whole movie this time. Damn it! I couldn’t remember the quote again, after the second viewing.
But, I still had to see this again. I needed to see it with my best friend. We grew up together. I was ‘man of honor’ at her wedding. One of the reasons I moved to Chicago was to be closer to her geographically. I needed to see this with her, to discuss it and process it with her after viewing. I didn’t tell her any more details about it outside of the media flap already surrounding it. As we were leaving the theatre, I said, “What are your thoughts?”
She replied, “That was Bumblefuck*, Illinois!—without the mountains and beautiful scenery.” (*pseudonym for our hometown).
She saw it too. It wasn’t merely my projection. I very easily could have been (nearly was) Ennis Del Mar—rural farm town boy, with a secret, trying to fit it, trying to be something/someone he was never meant to be; shut himself off from people, afraid that they would ‘discover’ his truth. The “love that dare not speak its name”.
There were some eerie coincidences with me and the movie. At the beginning of the movie, the Randy Quaid character (boss) drives up in a Rambler-American. While not the exact model, my first real car was Rambler, that my uncle Orval sold to me for $50. Later in the movie, Ennis is driving an old light green, with white top early 60s Ford F150 (I think it was a 150, maybe 100). That was the truck I learned how to drive in. My Dad’s old beater truck, 3 on the tree, no power steering, taking my first drive on the country gravel roads. The little grocery store, the Laundromat, the small country church, as my best friend said, “that was Bumblefuck, Illinois!” Even down to his mannerisms and speech pattern, talking in that drawl, barely opening his mouth as he spoke. Heath nailed it. That was my Dad and my Uncles. The eerie coincidences unnerved me just a little bit. How does someone you don’t know, have never met, tell your story –get into the dark recesses of your soul and make seem even more real?

I took pen and paper the third time to get the line down that I thought was so profound (to me, not all of humanity). The line is when they are on one of their camping trips. Jack is frustrated that Ennis won’t commit to being together.
Ennis “If you cain’t fix it, you got to stand it.”
Jack “For how
Ennis “As long as we can ride it.”

As noted above, I was recovering from my broken arm/shoulder. It was another in a long line of major health shit that I’d gone through in 5 years. I was on a medical leave—no income, waiting to go back to a job that I loathed. It was hard to identify which of these hells was worse than the other. This exchange between Ennis and Jack became my mantra. I couldn’t fix it. My arm or my job. I had to ride it out. I typed it out on slips of paper, and put them everywhere that I would see it: in my wallet, in books, in my office(s) once I returned to work. It literally became my mantra. It helped get me through that winter, through that year, and finally out of that job.

Accounting has never been my forté. But this Ledger just doesn't reconcile. It doesn't add up. It certainly makes no sense. Thank you Heath. Give my regards to James Dean. RIP. © wtf/rle

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Lone Ranger Flight Geek

Flying out to Orlando for this conference, it occurred to me for the first time that I am the flying equivalent of the pocket protector, medical taped horn rimmed glasses engineer. Last year when I attended this conference in Phoenix, I came home and proceeded to get the worst bronchial infection I’ve ever had to date. I’m certain that I got this infection from the plane trip home, with the recirculating air. I missed over 2 weeks of work; was borderline pneumonia; and almost put in the hospital. IT was the beginning of my year long on again-off again rounds of antibiotics. Not wishing to repeat this episode in 2008, I acquired some surgical masks from one of my docs, to wear. So, upon arriving at the airport, I masked up.
Additionally, the pressurization really screws with my ears. So, for a long time, I’ve purchased ‘ear planes’, which look like IUDs for the ear. It’s as I’m sitting, the plane is moving from the tarmack to runway for take off that I start to insert the aural devices, that it hits me, what a total geek I must look like. Now, on the plus side, people tend to ignore/avoid you. Since for reasons unbeknownst to me, I seem to be a freak magnet, this kept them at bay.
Once we landed and deplaned, I went to the bathroom in the airport (no Larry Craig antics), took off the mask and went down to collect the luggage. So far, so good. I’m tired, but because of the change in routine and the different pace one has at meetings/events like this. I’ll be masking up again for the trip home.

The trip home:

Well, so much for warding off the freaks. The shuttle that took me to the airport picked me up at 9:00 am. My flight wasn’t until 12:45pm. I arrive at the airport, mask up, get through TSA security and go to the gate. The gate area is crowded. I find an end seat next to some man, I would guess to be in my age co-hort, somewhere in his 40s. I open my backpack to get out my book to read.
“Have you ever read the Bible?”, says the man I just sat beside.
“Yes, I have.”, I respond as non-committally as possible, without looking at him, not wanting to encourage the continuance this conversation.
“It’s fortunate that you sat next to me. I’m just reading here in Acts about God’s healing powers. Are you a believer? Is Jesus Christ your personal lord and savior.?”
“No, I’m not and no he isn’t. I’m not going to have this conversation with you.”
“Jesus loves you and wants to heal you.”
He continued for a bit longer, without me taking the bait.
Had I not been tired, and had I felt like a good sparring match, I would have said,
“The reason I’m no longer a believer is because of people like you, who think it’s fully appropriate to approach a total stranger, wearing a face mask/barrier, make assumptions about what disease I may or may not have and think it’s your right to come and start proselytizing to me. And because I don’t believe exactly what you believe, I am somehow inferior. I have no use for that type of theology or god.” Had I really wanted to get his ire up, I would have introduced myself as a Sodomite fag.
Instead, I turned my back to him, and pretended to read my book. After a few minutes, he selected a new victim on the other side of him, who was more receptive (or perhaps, less direct) than I in rejecting him.
The mask, my fool-proof anti-polarity method of repelling the freaks has failed me! What does it take to keep me from being the freak magnet?! Tonto, I need your help.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The 1st WASTHTR* of the Year ©wtr/rle

This falls under the category of “Weird Ass Shit That Happens To Randy”*.
Alternate titles could be: “Channeling David Letterman” or “Call Me a Rock Star in a Hotel”.
I arrive in Orlando, late afternoon Friday, for the Conference I’m attending, We’re at the JW Marriott, which is the “high end” of the Marriott franchise. As always, when I first enter a hotel room, I turn on the TV, find a channel, and start to unpack. My first thought is, “This JW hasn’t been updated. The one in DC had flat panel HDTV. This is the old tube model, in the armoire/credenza/cabinet, on the ‘pull out’ shelf.
Clothing all unpacked, I unpack the laptop, I have checked out from the IT dept.
As I can’t see the TV well from the desk table, I go to pull out the TV and rotate it toward me. As I start to pull out, the shelf and TV come tumbling out the front and fall to the floor. “Shit, shit, damn fuck me with a crowbar! I can’t believe this just happened to me!” The cable has ripped from the back of the TV. TV is still connected to the electricity, still on, green screen of snow. My AMX limit won’t handle this. I’m going to get kicked out before the conference starts! I call the front desk. “Hello, this is Mr. E, in room 24xxx. My TV and shelf just fell out of the cabinet. I need some help.”
~Five minutes later—‘knock, knock. This is engineering.” I open the door, to greet a small Latina woman. “Oh, MY GOD!”, as she enters the room, seeing the TV on its side, green snow glowing. She begins to turn off and disconnect. A minute or so later—“Knock, knock, engineering.” I open to the door to two gentlemen, of foreign origins. “Oh, MY GOD!”. I begin to see a theme developing. “Sir, are you OK? We’re you hurt?” “No, I’m fine. It didn’t land on me.” The other man is immediately calling the front desk. “We have to move him to another room.”
“Tell them that he’s not hurt. That’s important.”
Sir, is golf course view OK?”
“I’m not so concerned about the view, I prefer a higher level floor.”
“He wants to be on one of the higher floors. Sir, we’re going to move you down the hall to 24xxx. A bellman will bring up new key cards. IF you like, we would like to offer to buy you dinner or breakfast at the best restaurant in the hotel.”
“I’ve not had dinner yet. Dinner would be very nice, thank you.”
Go down, tell them your name, and that Engineering sent you. You’ll be taken care of.”
I go down to the host station. “Hi, I’m WTF, Engineering told me to tell you that.”
“Oh, yes sir. We’ll take good care of you!”
I’m seated by a handsome Turkish man, who tells me Manita will be my server. Manita arrives, tells me that her husband was one of the men who helped me with the TV and she apologizes profusely. She asks me if I’d like a glass of wine while I look at the menu. “Do you like reds?”’
“Will you allow me to select a nice red for you? You like Cabernet Sauvignon?”
I was treated like royalty! Manita comes to take my plate, ask if I’d like dessert, and apologizes that it was so busy, and that she wasn’t able to come and talk to me more. Before my meal is over, her husband, from Engineering, comes, shakes my hand, apologizes again, and asks me if his wife has taken good care of me. “I told her you were my special guest and to treat you extra nice. We are from former Yugoslavia.” I’m not quite sure why he wanted me to know that.
By the time dinner was over, and a glass of wine was gone, I was able to laugh about the occurrence. But, when that TV first fell, I nearly pissed myself.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

No Day But Today...

Had I not wanted to headline this with a quote from the show, the alternate headline of this would be another song, “I Read the News Today, Oh Boy”. It was announced today
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/16/theater/16broad.html that the Broadway show RENT will close June 1, after 12 years, with the distinction of being the 7th longest running Broadway show in history. It’s like hearing that a good friend has just been given a terminal diagnosis. Overly dramatic? Perhaps. But not so much hyperbole as you suspect. This play, its music, its story has resonated with me (and millions of others). I had the great fortune of seeing RENT on Broadway, with the original cast in December of 1996. My friend Eric, who used to be an actor in NYC, was good friends with the Stage Manager, so he contacted her on my behalf so my best friend and I were able to get tickets (and house seats at that) to the hottest show on the Big White Way. Serendipitously enough, I just downloaded the Original Broadway Cast Recording (OBCR) and the movie soundtrack on my mp3, and have been listening to them the past two days. [side note, OCR & Soundtrack are NOT synonyms. Music from a stage performance is NOT a soundtrack. Soundtracks are from movies or tv.]

In addition to Broadway, I’ve seen a touring company production three times in Chicago. If I lived in NYC, I’d be a “RENThead”.

RENT, written by Jonathan Larson is based on the Puccini opera “La Boheme”. It was autobiographical about his life in NYC and his friends, and neighborhoods. It’s not only the show, but the circumstances surrounding the show that helped make its impact so powerful and poignant. The night of the final dress rehearsal, two and a half weeks before it opened on Broadway, the composer & librettist, Jonathan Larson died of an aortic aneurysm. He had been to the E R 2 or 3 times and was sent back home told it was ‘nothing’. Jonathan was the epitome of the ‘starving artist’. He had finally quit his waiter job, because he was actually going to ‘make it’ on Broadway. His show was being produced.

Larson gave voice to those of us post-Viet Nam, the last of the baby boomers and first of the Gen Xers. He gave voice to persons with AIDS. I think the fact that he was a heterosexual man, helped give credence to that voice who’s screaming had fallen on deaf ears during the Regan and Bush the 1st era(s). He died on the cusp of his greatness. He didn’t live to see his dream, and to see how much his work would affect millions of us.
His lesser known (only) other work, produced off Broadway a few years after RENT’s success is “tick, tick...BOOM!”. It was about him turning 30, and trying to determine whether he should give up the dream and get a 9-5, or keep plugging along. Larson was less than one year older than I. While I didn’t live out the same struggling artist life that he did, I lived my version of it. I tried to make it on my own, starting my own business. After three years, it was apparent that while on paper I was ‘in the black’, in reality I was ‘in the red’. I had to trade my dream for a different 9-5. It too has some great music, there is an OCR of it. Get it and listen to it. Especially “Cages or Wings” and “Louder than Words”.

“To faggots, lezzies, dykes, crossdressers too.
To you, to you, to you and you and you and you and YOU.
To people living with, living with, not dying from disease.
Let he among us without sin be the first to condemn.
La Vie Bohème…
…The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation.”

The curtain may close, but your music lives on forever Jonathan. Thanks for giving voice for over 12 great years. Viva La Vie Bohème, indeed.

rle/wtf ©

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Saline--It's just like beer

I have often said, "I don't buy beer, I rent it", as it runs right through me. I have come to the conclusion that saline is just the same. Today was my IVIG infusion day. The day each month I just want to be over. Travis came and got me to hook up my IV. I don't have a problem nor get freaked out by needles (good thing!) But I just don't like to watch it go in, so I always look away after he does the alcohol swab. All of a sudden, he's moving to get the tape to tape the catheter in. I didn't even feel it going this time. "Damn, you're good Travis!" I tell him this often. It's beneficial to keep the people who jam needles in your body on your good side. He hooks up the the first bottle of IgG, and they always hook up a bag of saline to drip along with the IgG. I have a small bladder to begin with. By the time the first (bigger 200 ml or 20g) bottle of IgG is done. My bladder is feeling it. The second bottle always seems to drip slower than the first. By the time it's finally done, I usually have to piss like a field horse. I always see the Dr. sometime during the infusion. He was running behind today, so when the second bottle had emptied, he still had not been to the room. So, I disconnected the line where it hooks into the catheter, and went to relieve myself.
My medical question is, why are IV fluids kept at room temperature and not body temperature? Aside from having to piss out a liter of urine, I'm corpse cold by the time the infusion is over. Last month, when the nurse went to get me a blanket, I found out they've gone high tech. No more big fluffy cotton blankets. It's the space age disposable blanket, that's the thickness of a paper table cloth or napkin. It's sort of like a large version of the bibs the dentist put on you. But surprisingly, very effective in the warming factor.
When I first learned I was going to start this lifetime of monthly rides, I decided I wanted to try and make these monthly contstitutionals as zen as possible. I was at my previous employer, out in the burbs, so it meant I would end up taking the whole day off. I did this for a few reasons: 1) It was not really worth the while to drive for over an hour, to work for 4 hours and then come back; 2) I loathed that job and place, so the anticipated monthly day away was as much a mental health break as anything; 3) In the event I had an infusion reaction, I didn't have to worry about work. (I've had reactions a few times.)
I'd schedule the appointments for late morning or early afternoon so I could sleep in. I'd take a book, and read while the drip ran. This can end up being problematic, as I have to get my arm in just the right position for the drip to go. Slight movements can stop it. The positions are never really comfortable, especially if the catheter is in the crook of your arm.
Now, since I work in the city, I can schedule my appointments for the end of the day, leave work early, be home by 7:00 pm. I'm usually pretty wiped. Instead of reading, now I try to just zone out, clear my head, and if the nurse/tech/ and/or doc are delayed in their frequency of checking in on me, I sometimes nod off. While not feeding my brain, I think it's good, because it's a forced rest. It's two hours + every month that I have to stop and just be, not do. I don't even put my MP3 ear buds in. A forced rest is not really such a bad thing. We should all 'schedule' that for ourselves. But it should really be more than 2 hours a month. It shouldn't require an IV and bag of saline to make me stop and just be. But sometimes it does. I just wish it didn't make me have to piss so much.

The Kite Runner--the movie

I started this over a week ago. I'm just now getting it finished & posted.

Just to show that I’m not always pessimistically critical,. My book group made a New Year’s Day field trip to go see “The Kite Runner”, as we had read it as our last book. This book grabbed me from the first page, and had me fully engaged. It’s the best fiction I’ve ever read. I have pretty high standards. That is not a statement to be taken lightly. It is the only time in my life that as soon as I finished reading the book, I turned back to the front and began re-reading it again immediately. The book was a going away gift from a friend and former colleague, when I left my previous job for my current one. I was excited, because I would no longer be driving. I’d be taking the train and in my own words, “I’ll become literate again because I can read on the train!” She told me the book was one of the most beautifully written books she'd ever read. She was an English major in Collge. Another assessment not to be taken lightly.
I can be somewhat stoic, holding my emotions at close guard. I would be reading this book (on the train, in public), and my face would start contorting, as I would try to fight back tears from streaming down my cheeks (which I’m sure made it all the more obvious). All of this set up to get to the movie. I had great reservations because I loved the book so much. And, how many times have you seen a movie of a beloved book only to see it butchered on the screen. When the beginning credits showed that the author (Khaled Housseini) was not the screen writer, I was more frightened. This movie? I loved it! They were very true to the original story. I thought they did a great job of editing/condensing to get it to ~2 hours on the screen. From the first “A thousand times over”, at the beginning, I was tearing up.
The group went to one of the member’s apartment afterward to discuss the movie. Brian said it perfectly when he said, “It was like seeing the visual of the poem that was this book.” (paraphrased). I can count on one hand the number of DVD movies I own. This is one I would add to that small collection.
Given my recent movie going experience with S.T., my reticence and apprehension were high. Every movie reviewer who is going orgasmic over that piece of shit Sweeney Todd and has panned this movie are just imbeciles, twice over.
If you haven't read the book. READ IT! Or, go see the movie, then read it.
The book IS beautifully written. I was blown away that a man for whom English is not his native laguage wrote such beautiful prose, and compelling story.

I liked that the reader/viewer also learns a good deal about Afgahnistan from the story.