Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Three Drunks and a Nazi

First order of the day for a portable chest x-ray comes out of the printer. I look at the form, and see that it’s for a young guy, in his early thirties. I grab a 14X17 cassette, and turn on the portable. Drive it into the ER, and park at his bed. Whoa. How old is this guy? His feet are swollen, and his abdomen is distended. His belly is so round, and the skin so tight & shiny, that it can only mean one thing: ascites. Also, if your left foot, only, is swollen, I’m assuming that you have cardiac or circulatory issues. Both feet—how’s yer liver? Sure enough, it turns out that this guy’s liver is a disaster. Well, actually, he has this liver-shaped thing in his abdomen that got tired of the nightly 12-packs, and finally gave him the middle finger.

I’m used to seeing this in 60 year old homeless guys, not a 32 year old.

Bartender, I’ll have another.

Later on, I’m cruising by this other guy’s bed, on the way to x-ray an old lady. ER doc asks the guy who fell and cut himself how much alcohol he’s had today. Guy says, “A couple.” ER doc asks him how much he smokes. Guy asks, “Uh...cigarettes?”

Oh, dude.  That was not a multiple-choice question. I’d say more, but I just realized that I have to return that Cheech & Chong movie to the video store.

Oh man, now I have the munchies!

Request comes out of the printer for a tib-fib on a 2 year old. I get there, and the kid has been strapped down in a papoose. I love the guy who invented that thing: it’s a board with Velcro straps, for holding down little kids who don’t want to get an i.v. started, put or stitches put in. He’s a little guy, and the open wound on his leg is a couple inches wide. I can see deep inside his leg, while the med student is looking around for f.b.

Glenn, a nurse with big arm muscles that are the envy of the hospital, is holding the tot down.

I start talking with the mom, who has a pissed-off look on her face.

“What happened?”

“He was playing in the grass, and landed on a broken beer bottle. It was the same color as the grass.”


She nods in agreement.

One of these days I'll tell the Heineken story.  It's either proof that I'm not a real man, or a real Hungarian.  Or both.  My wife doesn't even know about what happened on that foggy night in Holland.

A series of images flash through my mind: Her husband, a loser, was out drinking on the lawn with his friends in the dark, last night, and didn’t clean up after themselves. Better yet, the neighborhood gang members stood around, drinking, daring anybody to tell them to take it somewhere else. Either way, I felt bad for the kid, but not because of the gash on his leg that was getting sewn together by a medical student with trembling hands—I pictured the kid being condemned to the same endless cycle of poverty and ignorance, growing up in a neighborhood where it’s okay to toss beer bottles.

I ran into my German friend, Tanja, on the train, today. Told her I had just watched a movie about Germans in Germany, but the British and American actors spoke English, and the books they read were written in English. I wonder if they’ll dub it into German. Actors in Europe are typically multi-lingual, and it’s not unheard of for them to dub their own roles in French, German, or Italian, after filming in another language. The movie, titled The Reader is simply awesome. Go out and rent it today. Although it takes place in Germany, this isn’t another one of those movies about the Nazis, World War II, etc that we’ve already seen. The story is unique, yet universal. The story of the boy protagonist and his girlfriend (can we earnestly call her the antagonist?) could effortlessly be transported to the American Civil War, or Imperial Japan. I highly recommend this film.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Village Idiot(s)

###############################So I'm at a red light, and I ask the wife, "Want to get your hiney shot?"

She says, "Excuse me?"

"Hiney. You wanna get shot in the hiney?"

"What the hell are you talking about?"

I point out the car window and say, "Over there. Hiney shots."

She says, "No, you dumbass. That's 'H 1 N 1', not 'hiney'!" Shakes her head, and says, "Jesus!"

She's more right than she would ever suspect. The events of December 24th, 2009 are proof.


The first evidence, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is that the above photograph of the train ticket vending machine does not contain the burglar.

Sort of.

Here's what happened:

In an act of genius, I didn't ask for the 24th off from work. I knew full well from previous experience that working on December 24th saves a vacation day better used later on, for birding purposes. You go to the office, and stare at the one other idiot who went to work, while everybody else who might want something from you is standing in line at the airport, suitcase in hand. The 24th of December is spent checking one's emails on a regular basis, and discovering that the inbox insists on remaining empty. The office phone refuses to ring. Once in a while somebody shows up, unannounced, bearing a tray of home-made cookies containing enough sugar to kill a room full of diabetics.

To get to work, I needed to take the train. I got to the Claremont Metrolink Station, and greeted my fellow Downtown L.A. worker bees with a hearty "Merry Christmas!" [Despite being an atheist, I find the whole "Happy Holidays" greeting to be limp-wristed. I mean, really? Happy Holidays? What holidays? Get real. People are celebrating Christmas, not "the holidays", and they want their presents. They can hardly wait to get drunk at the Christmas party, and then go home and open up gift-wrapped iPods, Wiis, and all that other crap on sale at Target. This is the one and only issue in which I agree with my sworn enemies, western hemisphere christian fundamentalists. Almost. Christmas should be about celebrating Jesus' birth (even though he was born in April), not about putting a big bow on top of a Lexus, and surprising your wife) But then again, let's be honest: Christmas is a christian holiday co-opted from winter solstice celebrations in which pagans celebrated the fact that the sun wasn't going to abandon us, by feasting, drinking, and giving each other gifts].

So I'm standing there, and this dude shows up in jeans, a ski jacket, and tennis shoes. Good-looking middle-aged guy with a full head of hair. He drops a gym bag on the ground, in front of the vending machine that sells tickets. Then he pulls out some power tools: a power drill, and a power saw. See that really bright, little white rectangle on the upper right part of the vending machine? Senor Ski Jacket commences attacking that little white rectangle on the face of the vending machine as if it was a Cuban spy on a Florida beach.

Okay, now here's the problem: Is this guy supposed to be doing this? He isn't a burglar. Is he? Would a burglar have the balls to show up at 7:30 in the morning, and bust into a vending machine in front of a hundred passengers?

Should we call the cops? I have Claremont PD's direct number on speed dial on my cell phone (I just found out last night--March 25th--that this is no longer necessary, as they can now tell that I am in Claremont, and my 911 cell phone call will go to them, as opposed to the traditional 911 cell phone call where you're on hold for 10 minutes, and a recording admonishes you not to call 911 when you're lost, or your car broke down). I consider using my Blackberry to take the guy's picture. Hey, if he's legit, he won't mind. I need to do this quietly. I don't want to make him mad. Especially if he really is a criminal. He might drill a hole in my forehead with that yellow Makita power tool in his hand.

We all stood there, trying to figure out if this guy was an incompetent repairman, or an incompetent burglar. We stood there, talking about him, while he could hear us. We openly debated whether or not to call the cops. Why wasn't he wearing a service uniform with "Jose" embroidered over his shirt pocket? Why wasn't he wearing an i.d. card with his photo?

Three cops arrived from three different directions. The guy didn't have a chance. He put his hands in the air, and let them cuff him. They took him away, and like the seasoned criminal he was (probably an illegal alien with 15 kids on welfare) , he said nothing as they hauled him away.

After the cops left, a tall, unattractive lady with Big 80s hair informed the crowd that she had called the cops. She explained that her husband is a cop, her brother is a cop, and her dad was a cop. America is a safer place because of ladies like her. Big 80s Hair Lady; I salute you.

Well, aren't we a bunch of idiots? We should have called the cops! The entire train station was full of people who all had masters degrees, law degrees, and MBAs, but none of us had the brains to call the cops. Wimpy Claremont liberals that we were, we didn't want to be accused of being racist, so we talked ourselves into believing that he was just some guy doing his job.

I have an aquaintance at Claremont PD who proof-read the chapters in my novel Amateur Hour in which the hero Jake Kovacs gets kidnapped by the terrorists. If I ever convince some idiot publisher to print my book, he will get named in the dedication. Today, he will remain anonymous. So I emailed him, when I got to work. Apologized for being a liberal moron. Told him I was there, and stood by like an idiot.

He wrote back, "Well, actually, he was legit. We confirmed it with Metrolink, and released him."


"Oh, yeah. He went back, and finished the job."

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I rest my case.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Stickin' it to 'em

^The Turks occupied Hungary for 150 years. One of the things they did was to vandalize i.e. deface three-dimensional objects representing people. As Muslims, they considered statues of people to be idolatrous. Hundreds of years later, a casual tour of the Hungarian countryside will produce gravestones and church statues with heads missing, or the face filed away. Whenever I see the statue of Florence Nightingale in Lincoln Park, I imagine that it was a Turk with a scimitar who chopped her hands off. Recently, someone rehabilitated her with prosthetic hands. Good for them.

^^Ironically, Florence Nightingale worked as a nurse in Turkey. You gotta wonder if it wasn't a Turk, after all, who chopped off her statue's hands. Next time I go birding at Lincoln Park, I'll keep my eyes open for anybody in a turban, carrying a scimitar.

^^^Looking at the grafitti on her statue, I just realized that the idiot gang member who defiled her marked up the two parts of the female body that everybody talks about, including Ben Folds.

^^^^A friend took me out to lunch, recently, and when we got into his car, he said, "You gotta hear this."


^^^^^This guy Ben Folds, whose albums sound like Bruce Hornsby got drunk, and wrote what was really on his mind, sings a Gangsta Rap song from the early 90s titled "Bitches Aint Shit", but his treatment of the song is brilliant. Folds takes what is quite probably the most offensive, misogynistic song ever released, and sings the entire song with the heartfelt, melancholic voice, piano, and background vocals of a Bruce Hornsby ballad. This ultimate white guy from the suburbs cover of the song serves not only as a parody of gangsta rap, but the irony of singing the song as if it was the theme music to a Hallmark Made-for-TV Special delivers a death blow to the hatred and nastiness of the original.

^^^^^^^For me it isn't the language of the song, itself, that offends me, so much as the concept presented of women being sexual property who should remain faithful to their man, while it's okay for him to have multiple sexual partners.

^^^^^^^The cliche of angry young African-American men singing misogynistic lyrics was one of the topics discussed yesterday with Larry Mantle's guest, Tom Burrell, who discussed his new book, Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority. Burrell states that Gangsta Rap is the legacy of centuries of slavery, when Black men could not legally marry, and their 'wife' and children could be hauled away at a moment's notice, to be sold off individually. Slave owners, and other white men routinely raped Black women. Burrell concludes that Gangsta Rap is an attempt to take ownership of these power structures--an ironic repetition of the slavemasters' sins, visited upon the same victims: Black women. A particularly ugly version of the Stockholm Syndrome. Listen to the whole interview, and come to your own conclusions.

^^^^^^^^All of this sounds like fodder for the next cocktail party, when we can stand around in sophisticated poses, drinking adult beverages, and discussing the world; but there are real-world consequences. This morning I walked from the bus stop to the office, and took the shortcut through the hospital parking garage. Dressed like a middle class guy, wearing my cheapo Costco backpack (that green backpack is the Toyota Camry of backpacks: they're everywhere), I was power-walking through the concrete structure, ignoring the nasty exhaust fumes, and watching for panicked employees driving too fast who need to park, run inside, to clock in on time. I turned a corner, suddenly coming upon a car with its trunk open. The car's owner appeared from the front of the car at the same time I did. She was in her late 30s, and I saw the panic in her eyes. Here was a large man, appearing out of nowhere. By making eye contact with her, I frightened--rather than reassuring her. Resisting the sudden urge to assuage her fears by saying "Good morning," I looked away, and kept on walking.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The L Word

So I'm standing there at the train station, Swearoffskis hanging from my neck. I'm looking for Swainson's Hawks while I wait for the train.

A young, petite blonde is sitting on a bench with her 4 year old son, who is dressed nicely. My ears are assaulted by a string of profanities that fly across the tracks, from a short, fat guy. Oops, make that a short, fat woman who has shaved her head, and is dressed in a faux garage mechanic's outfit. Woody Allen refers to women like her as "Women in comfortable shoes." Okay.

I have a couple of friends who are women who wear comfortable shoes. I get it. They know that I get it. They've never had to explain to me, "Look, Tom, we're not interested in men, and by the way, don't ever piss us off, because unlike you, lard-ass, we work out, and will kick your butt."

It's neither an uncomfortable truce, nor a comfortable one. It's just how things are. They know that I get it. Am I interested in their life stories,and how they got to where they are, today? Sure I am , and I'm never going to ask.

Okay, so this particular woman in comfortable shoes is yakking it up on her cell phone, pacing back and forth, unaware that we can clearly hear her entire conversation. Loud people on their cell phones is another topic for another day, but in this particular case all I care about is the fact that the lady in comfortable shoes seems oblivious to the fact that she is exposing that 4 year-old kid to her constant use of the F-word and the S-word.

I am old friends with the F-word, and the S-word. I occasionally use them in writing, albeit sparingly, to avoid watering them down to the point where they lose their shock value. Like most members of society--except for inner city school kids--I know my audience i.e. when and where I can use those words.

I'm pretty sure that there's an negative correlation between how much education you have, and how much profanity you use. In this particular case, I must confess to having class bias. After all, my family were European lesser nobility, and I was raised with the
attending blend of social conservatism and moral hypocrisy.

That said, I'm standing there, and feel the urge to cross the tracks, and interrupt the mechanic lady's phone conversation. I would like to point out the kid to her, and ask her to tone it down. While standing there, preparing to approach her, I compose non-judgemental words that are designed not to offend her, and start an argument. I want to persuade her.

I chicken out, and walk away.

I assume--rightly or wrongly--that she will express outrage at my interrupting her phone conversation, and for telling her how to act. Ironically, she'll probably tell me to fuck off, and the little blond kid will hear more cussing than he might have, had I not intervened. I wasn't intimidated by her bulk, but I pictured her violently attacking me, the cops getting called, and me calling my wife (who never has her cell phone with her, and when she does, has it in the back pocket of her jeans, and can't hear it) from jail.

Once I got a safe distance from her, I had an attack of guilt. I then condemned myself for moral cowardice. I prepared a speech in my head about how her rights end where they trample on other peoples' rights. In this case, the kid's mom was never asked how she felt about having her kid exposed to "You won't fucking believe the shit that bitch said to me."

I believe in the social contract. When I buy a movie ticket, the theater or the movie's producers put up a rating that lets me know if I want my kids to be exposed to whatever's in that movie. I get the choice. Same thing goes for TV. I deliberately don't get HBO or Showtime, because I don't want my 5 year-old channel surfing, and coming across two naked people humping, screaming, "Do it harder!" I also have that expectation when I go out in public. I get really annoyed when uber-tattooed lumpenproletarians wearing cheap jewelry and their pants around their ankles shout obscenities from the top of the mall escalator,
while my kids are playing in the childrens' play area.

Even tonight, I feel like I should have approached the lady in comfortable shoes. Problem is, one time I saw a crime in action at the same train station, and had I gone with my instinct, things would have gone very wrong...

Monday, March 1, 2010

Goodbye Cousin Laszlo, Too Bad We Never Met

I called Primus, my long-time long distance phone carrier for the house, and cancelled their service. They couldn't get the bill right--starting with the fact that they keep trying to get their money off of an old, expired credit card. Tired of "fixing" the problem every couple of months, and occasionally discovering when I pick up the phone that I can't call out of Claremont, I fired them. I warned them repeatedly, to no avail. I switched the home long distance over to Verizon.
~My mom had 3 brothers and 1 sister, all of whom had kids, and now only the sister and youngest brother are still alive. The sister--my aunt--lives in Budapest, and my uncle lives in Germany. Now that the phone was working, after an entire year of problems, I finally called up my 80 year old uncle Bela in Germany. He's got Alzheimer's, so his wife answers the phone. She tells me that their nephew Laszlo--the son of my mom's oldest brother, Otto--died two days ago in Hungary.
~~Ah, shit, I knew this was gonna happen.
~~~ Last trip to Hungary I told my other cousins that I want to meet Otto's (grown-up) children. This was taboo while my mom was alive. Otto died in the 1960s, and my mom, his sister, never talked again to Otto's widow after an ugly family argument. Details aren't important, although I will say that my mom had every reason to pissed at her former sister-in-law (This has been independently confirmed for me by others with no dog in this fight). Problem is, from the first time that I went to Hungary 1978, I have never met those first cousins. I grew up hearing stories about her brother Otto, and his kids, but was forbidden from ever meeting those kids, who are now a bunch of middle-aged people with jobs, mortgages, and cars that needs work. My cousins took me to meet Judit, and her son. It was a lovely afternoon. Beautiful Hungarian spring day, with the sycamores and acacias outside in fresh green leaf, and a Chaffinch singing on the lawn, outside the window. Espresso was served in dainty porcelain cups.
~~~~Judit explained that her brother was at work, so I didn't meet him, but I figured "Hey, one day I'm coming back to Hungary with my kids, and I'll meet the rest of the family.
~~~~~Too late.
~~~~~~My mom's other brother, Alfonz, had two kids, Gabriella and Zoltan. Both alcoholics. Gabi died of breast cancer at the age of 37, and Zoli has a habit of having one too many drinks, and calling me at 2:00 a.m. Well, he used to do that, until the Irish Truck Driving Incident. During the height of the "Irish Miracle" when Eire was importing workers, Zoli went there and cashed in as another of many Eastern European truck drivers. Apparently the Irish decided that Ireland doesn't have enough alcoholics, so they imported more from my part of the woods, starting with my cousin Zoli. He dismissed the 8 hour time zone difference between Dublin and L.A., and called me up, happy as a clam to hear my voice. My son was a couple of months old, and we weren't getting enough sleep, so having Zoli not give a shit about waking me up was the last straw. I went fumbling around in the bedroom in the dark, cussing in English. Something about my fucking idiot cousin. I got back to Zoli on the phone, and he was gone. I figured that in his state of inebriation he had dropped the phone. The next day, while scanning a cancer patient ten years younger than me, it dawned on me that Zoli now lives in Eire, where English is one of the two official languages. Being as he's my blood, he shares my talent for easily learning foreign languages. Uh oh. I think he heard my angry English-language diatribe about my fucking idiot drunk cousin, and understood every fekkin word. Knowing him, he probably learned Gaelic, too. I would, if I lived there.
~~~~~~~Needless to say, he hasn't called me, since. Since then, Ireland's economy crumbled, and the Hungarian, Polish, and Czech truck drivers had to go home. Ironically, the Irish hosted me and my parents in 1968, as refugees from Communism. A Catholic relief charity hosted us on the Emerald Isle for a few weeks, while the paperwork for flying to America was straightened out.
~~~~~~~~Okay, so I've solved my long-distance home phone problem by moving to Verizon. Now it's time to dump Verizon as my cellular provider. That only took 4 phone calls totaling up to around 3 hours. Idiots. Too bad their cellular reception is so good, and their customer care is so bad. Hey, if they don't want to keep me as a customer, I can walk. And I did. Four months ago we had decided that we wanted to change our monthly plan to one that costs less, with less minutes. The lady at Verizon says, "Well you average this many minutes per month, so this plan here should work fine for you." Turned out to be a bad idea. We ran up $80 in overage fees. I called them up and said, "Look, reducing our monthly minutes was a bad idea. How about I go back to a higher (more expensive) plan, and you guys forgive us the overage minutes?"
The lady at Verizon proceeded to read to me from Atlas Shrugged, and other musings of Ayn Rand. Ripped into me about personal responsibility, you have to pay your bills, and it's not our fault that you're an idiot. So I tell her, "Well, look, my contract expires in 9 days, if you forgive me the overage fees, I'll stay on as a customer with a new plan that costs me more, but if I'm mad at your company, and leave, you guys will lose that $45 a month you were making off of me." She didn't care. I said, "Okay. I'm going to pay the bill, and walk away." I did. GOODBYE, VERIZON.
~~~~~~~~~~I don't need a cell phone. They're great to have. Makes life easier, but I don't have to have one. I made it through my first 31 years without one.
~~~~~~~~~~~I have figured out the secret. The world is full of companies that tell you that you need to buy and own their products in our modern, complex world, or you will get left behind. You will miss something, and be sorry. You have to have a cell phone. You have to have the internet in your house, with DSL or fiber optic cable. If you don't have satellite TV with Tivo, you won't be able to discuss that really cool TV show at work tomorrow morning. You know, the show about that woman in the high heels. Ah, baloney. They're all sucking the paycheck right out of our wallets; and I think it's time for us to start saying, "Hey, that's my money. Be nice to me, or I'll walk."
~~~~~~~~~~~~I'd complain some more, but I need to get a fountain pen out of my backpack, and write my cousin Judit a letter (I called her house in southern Hungary, and no one answered). I'll mail it at the post office, tomorrow.