Wednesday, August 18, 2010

So you don't believe in Friday the 13th, huh?

Well, let me tell you about my Friday the 13th.  And my Saturday the 14th.  And my Sunday the 15th:

Friday August 13th at 4:20 p.m. the phone rings in the office.  A researcher has spilled a carcinogenic chemical all over herself.  It's in her clothes, on the floor, etc.  A collective groan rises from cubicles throughout our department.  Really?  On a Friday?  One hour before we go home?  We printed out an MSDS for that chemical, grabbed our gear, and ran over to her building.  All of my lab coats are missing from the rack, so I have to wear my boss' lab coat.  I arrive wearing a coat that says "Dave."

Fortunately, things went smoothly.  We took care of her, and the room, and I left the office on time.  Whew, no big deal.  Walked up the hill to the bus stop, got on the bus to Union Station, so that I can catch my train to Claremont.  Bus pulls up to Union Station, and I start walking off the bus.  As I step off the bus, my belt goes on vacation without me, and my pants fall off, with a bus full of USC employees standing behind me.

Saturday August 14th.  Go to the local credit union in Claremont to use their ATM.  The machine eats my ATM card.  Now I have to wait until Monday to get my card back.  That ATM machine pisses me off: they actually have a ring binder full of peoples' debit cards that their machine ate, and a log book for when people like me show up, and get our card back.  How about you guys blow some bucks, and get a new ATM, one that doesn't eat peoples' debit cards???

Saturday August 14th, the Emergency Room.  Crazy busy shift.  I x-ray 19 people in 4 hours.  All of them difficult.  The collimator light goes out in the big x-ray room where we x-ray trauma patients.  I shoot this guy's lateral c-spine with him in c-spine precautions, while he's still taped to a backboard.  I have to line up the tube and the wall bucky by line-of-sight.  Fortunately, I'm a kick-ass x-ray tech, and I nail it on the first try.  They should give me a Nobel Prize in Radiography.

Second to last patient of the night:  2 year old boy who fell and hurt his arm.  Happens all the time.  The ER is so packed, that all the beds inside are full, as are all of the chairs in the waiting room, and there are people sitting on the floor.  I stand in the doorway, call the little boy's name.  A young woman sits up, and picks up her son.  I see a dopey tough guy sitting next to her, and ask, "Are you dad?" 

He says, "Yes."

I motion him towards me and say, "Come on."

He indignantly asks, "Me?  Why do you need me?'

Before I go on, let me explain:  I get guys from this particular country--one that is outside the U.S.--where they speak a different language--and they all have his reaction.  Some of them will come out and say it:  "But, I am not a woman!"  or "That's woman's work!"  (I am not making this up: they have said this to me many a shift).

So let me see if I understand this: if you stand in an x-ray room wearing a lead apron, and hold your child still in order to make sure that his/her x-ray comes out okay e.g. I do't have to re-shoot the x-ray, because of motion blur, the fact that you have been forced to do this will immediately convert you into a sissy-boy who sings show-tunes, only watches the Bravo Channel, and has an Edward poster in his bedroom?  Really?

You don't understand how freaked out this guys get.  They act like I'm demanding that they take off their underwear, and...

Deal with it.

Last patient of the day.  Radiology request says abdomen series for a 35 year old female.  I go into the little side-room they've got her in, and the lab tech is muttering about how she has to put the i.d. bracelet (that cheap white plastic thingie) onto the patient's wrist, because the nurse refuses to do it.  Boy, did I miss that clue that something was wrong!  The lady is lying there on the gurney, sobbing.  Tears pour down her cheeks, and she is holding a cell phone to her ear. 

At this point, I feel really sorry for her husband or boyfriend, who is at home, listening to his woman sob, and he cannot console her.  All he can do is hold the phone to his ear, and listen.  After I've been standing there for a minute, I say, "Hi, I'm from the x-ray department."

During the whole time that I stand there, I never hear anybody's voice on the other end of the cell phone. Is anybody even on the phone with her? I have pretty good hearing, and this seems weird.

She doesn't answer, just keeps on crying.

I wait another minute, and say, "Um...the doctor ordered some x-rays of your abdomen...your tummy."

She doesn't answer, just keeps on crying.

I wait another minute, and say, "Um...the doctor wants x-rays so that he can know why you're in pain, so he can do something about it."

I'm standing there looking at her, thinking, "Wow, she's in so much pain, she must have cancer.  I feel so sorry for her.  She's so young, and dying of cancer.  Wow, that sucks."  I don't know anything about her medical history: this is her myth that I have constructed in my head, by spending 4 unproductive minutes in a room with her.

In one millionth of a second her face changes from "Somebody please make the pain stop" to "I ordered these potatoes au gratin, you cretin!"  She stares at me and hisses, "I am not playing, mother fucker!"

Boy was I pissed.  So I said, "I'll tell you what, sweetheart.  When you're ready for your x-ray, why don't you give me a call on that phone of yours?" 

I walked out.

Sunday August 15th:  Take the kids and the dog for a big walk.  It's hot and humid, and I start bugging the kids to keep up on their water consumption.  Do I follow suit?  Of course not. 

I'm soaking in sweat.  I am sticky and stinky.  Definitely need a nice long shower before I go to work.  Arrive home with the dog and kids, and the wife tells me there's no hot water.  I go out there, and try to light the pilot light.  The water heater is under warranty, so we call Home Depot.  I will never buy a big-ticket item from Home Depot, again: they flat-out do not have their act together.  Morons can't find us on their computer system.  After multiple  phone calls to various numbers, GE tells us that after a year, only the parts are under warranty, we'll have to pay for the labor.  So, we'll have to get our own plumber to do the work.

Time to call Csaba (pronounced "Chuh-buh") the Hungarian plumber.  His American name is Andy.  I forgot to mention that, last week.  There is no English/German/French/Italian equivalent of Csaba.

I pack a travel bag, arrive at the hospital in shorts, sandals, and t-shirt, and take a shower in the O.R.

When I get to work at 3:00 I realize that today's shift will be the opposite of yesterday's debacle (remarkably, despite x-raying 23 people on that shift, I also wrote 368 words in chapter 27 of Roadside Rest).  Great, maybe I'll get 700 words written, today.  I need to write the part where the heroine tells her best friend that she needs to change her life, and do something different (No, this is not a rip-off of "Eat, Pray, Fart".  My heroine can't afford to get divorced, and wander around Bali, barefoot).

I'm sitting in an office chair, telling Marcy the front desk clerk about how crazy it was, last night.  I've been at work for 2 hours, and still haven't filled my gigantic plastic cup with drinking water.  All of a sudden, the room starts spinning, I can't talk, and Marcy is shouting, "Tom?  Tom?  Tom!  You're really red!  Tom?"

Next thing you know, I'm a patient in the ER. 

Well, that's ironic: yours truly--The Radioactive Birdwatcher, who makes fun of guys who pass out while mowing their lawn at noon on a hot summer day--got dehydrated, and passed out in an airconditioned room. That's just wrong!

Monday, August 9, 2010

I Should Have Quit While I Was Ahead

     I should have heeded the bad omen Friday night: on the Metrolink train my laptop lapsed into the Blue Screen of Death. Only got up at 04:30 a.m. on Saturday, armed with Tom Benson's cell phone number. Brilliant plan: Yeah, yeah, I'll get there hours after the rest of the birders at the Salton Sea have located all the good birds, and glean their information.

     Arrived at the Mecca Arco station at 07:00 a.m., and only bought 3 gallons--the plan being that having to stop for gas on the drive home will give me a chance to stop at Starbucks, drink coffee, and cool off. After buying a tuna sub at Subway, carefully placed my wallet, Blackberry, and car keys on the roof of the Jeep. Had the following conversation with myself:

     "Dude, don't put your things up there, you'll forget them."

     "Dude, that's not possible. I put the keys on TOP of the wallet on purpose. Can't drive off without the keys, and that will force me to grab everything. No problem, Dude!"

      Got in the Jeep, and drove off with the wallet and Blackberry on the roof.

       Got to Wister Unit, where I enjoyed the Lesser Nighthawks, White-winged Doves, Verdins, Gambel's Quail, and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers. Didn't see the Barn Owl. Headed for the Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge HQ. Got there, didn't see any Abert's Towhees, headed off for Red Hill Marina, where I saw some Yellow-footed Gulls, and lots of pelicans. The water level in this whole region has retreated dramatically.

     Standing there, missing my wife and kids, I decided to call home. Where's my cell phone? Oh My God. I have to go back to Mecca. Ran across a fisherman and local resident named Ronnie, who let me use his cell phone to call my wife, and asked her to call the Arco Station. Ron stood by, sipping beer from a can the size of an 88 mm mortar round. Couple minutes later the wife calls back, and says the guy at the Arco station says "Nobody turned them in, and if one of the locals found your wallet & phone, they're enjoying them, now." Images of somebody running home with my wallet and buying donkey porno with my American Express card float through my head. I look at the gas needle: I have no money, no cell phone, and EXACTLY enough gas to drive home to Claremont, if I drive 55 mph with no air conditioning.

     Said goodbye to Ronnie and his kids (they caught 3 catfish in the short time I spent with them), and drove east on Schrimpf Road, where I saw several Stilt Sandpipers, one in breeding plumage, and a Solitary Sandpiper in the ditch further east on Schrimpf. Drove back to Mecca doing 55, annoying everybody on the highway. A hundred yards before I got to the Arco station, I saw it: my wallet, and all of its contents were spread out along the highway. Parked the car, and found EVERYTHING. The AmEx card, the credit union Visa Card, the USC Master Card, my health insurance card, CPR card, library card, and everything else were lying there, waiting for me to collect them. Tire marks from hundreds of cars all over the cards and wallet, which now looks like a Doberman spent an hour chewing on it.

     Never found the Blackberry. Walked over to the Arco, and saw two old guys get out of an SUV, and head for the door. I could tell they're birders, and walked up to them. At first they were startled by the manic stranger walking up to them, but then they recognized The Uniform: my tan shorts with cargo pockets, camouflage t-shirt, 5 o'clock shadow, and bags under the eyes. The look in their eyes said, "Oh, he's one of us!"

     It was Chet McGaugh. He let me use his cell phone to tell the wife the 50% good news (my boss' boss is gonna kill me: this is the 2nd USC cell phone I have lost in the desert). After another hour of walking/driving up and down the highway, gave up on the Blackberry, and headed for Highway 10.

     Hey, I'm already in the desert. Might as well stop by Morongo, and pick up Rufous Hummingbird for a year bird. There were none. Lots of Black chins, and Anna's. Nothing else. Got back into the Jeep, and headed home. While driving, I noticed that they were starting the news on NPR at 6:17 p.m., which I thought odd. Checked the Jeep's dashboard clock, and it disagreed with my Seiko Orange Monster--a manly dive watch with a screw-down crown and high visibility in the dark. Oh man, how much is it gonna cost to fix the watch?

     Ten minutes later, I noticed a "dragonfly" perched inside the Jeep, hanging from the ceiling, all the way in the back. I decided that when I got home, I'd open the hatchback, and shoo him out. No problem. Dragonflies don't bite people; they eat insects! Ten minutes later--keep in mind, I'm wearing shorts, and driving 80 mph--this big, gray, vicious insect landed on my inner thigh, and bent his abdomen, pointing his piercer at my femoral artery, I realized that (1) this is the "dragonfly" from the back of my car, and (2) I don't know what that is, but it ain't no dragonfly!

     So I did the only sensible thing you can do at a time like this: I let go of the steering wheel, waved my hands frantically, and emitted the sound of Frankenstein's monster having an orgasm. The Jeep veered first to the left, then to the right. Luckily, the drivers around me reacted in time.  The murderous invertebrate flew up, and found refuge in the corner between the dashboard, and the windshield.   Since the front license plate broke off months ago, I have been driving around with it on the dashboard--so I grabbed it, and started stabbing at the bloodthirsty fiend, screaming, "Die, motherfucker!  Die!"  Spineless bastard cowered in the corner, refusing to come out and fight.  Now I had time to study him for the restof the drive home, and realized that he was only a Robber Fly. Well, why did he pose like a mosquito on steroids?

     Got home, and confirmed that the Jeep was right: my Seiko needs to go to the shop. Ugh. Walked the dog, took an awsome shower, laid down with the kids in their room, for an early night.

     The wife walks in and says, "Oh, I wanted to ask you about this hummingbird that came to the feeders, today. It was like a male Allen's but it was all rufousy."  (Her Palinism, not mine)

     I ask a trick question, "What about the green on his back?"

     "No, no green. I'm telling you: he was red ALL OVER."

Somebody shoot me.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Just call me Ishmael

I heard this report on NPR about people who use fake names at Starbucks, when they order coffee.  These aliases are now known as "Starbucks names".

Working at a research university, I interact with a lot of Chinese immigrants with "English names".  Somebody named Liu Mao will name himself Louis or something else that starts with an L.  To make it really interesting, some of them re-name themselves with names that don't start with the same letter, so Liu Mao will call himself Bob, or Tony.  It gets really exciting when we need to get our hands on Bob Mao, and can't find him, beecause all of his USC paperwork is under Liu Mao, and we don't know that.  When we look up all the employees named Mao who work in science, we usually find oursleves throwing our hands up, in defeat.


On the one hand, I am one of those Euro-centric types who butchers the pronounciation of Chinese names.  I try not to: and put a good deal of effort into correct pronounciation.  I'll repeat their name out loud a few times, in front of them, until I get it right.

On the other hand, you've got to admit that the gap between Mandarin or Cantonese and Indo-European languages is incredible. 

It isn't only Chinese immigrants who invent English names for themselves.  I have a Hungarian friend named Imre.  I've known him since the 1960s.  His wife is German-descent midwestern Lutheran, so she named him Jim. 



Where the hell did she come up with that one?  Here's the problem:  Imre isn't one of those ethnic names that cannot be translated into English--unlike my middle name, Geza.  There is no English equivelant of Geza.  On the other hand, the country that you live in is named after Imre.  That's right: 15th century Italian mapmaker Amerigo Vespucci--the guy who realized and mapped North and South America as two continents separate from Asia--was named after a Hungarian prince named Imre a.k.a. Emery, whose claim to fame is that he was killed in a hunting accident by a wild boar (This happened to a lot of important Hungarian leaders--it's the Central European equivelant of crashing your Porsche at 100 mph).  Remember Emery Worldwide?  They got gobbled up by Brown.

So, why didn't Imre's wife re-name him Emery?  Well okay, to be fair, as far as I know, she named him Jim, he didn't come up with that, himself.  Either way, the birth of Jim is a mystery.  James in Hungarian is "Jakab"--pronounced 'yuck-uhbb' (the biblical names James and Jacob are essentially the same name, so Jacob in Hungarian is Jakob, pronouced 'yuck-obe').   Imre isn't even hard to pronounce.  Say "email" out loud.  Now, say "repetitious" out loud.  Now, chop the "ail" out of "email" and the "petitious" out of "repetitious", and say "Eem-reh".

Do you need me to drive you to the hospital, to fix your broken tongue?

Okay, so what should my Starbucks name be (don''t ask my wife--she is sure to suggest "Butthead")?  I was thinking "Wasp Killer" or "Hornet Slayer", after I spent Monday on my patio with a fly swatter, killing the yellowjackets that were trying to build a nest under the roof.  When I smacked one of them with the flyswatter, his body went flying across the patio, while his tail stayed behind, impaled on the flyswatter's grid.  That stinger is something to behold.