Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Urban Mountaineering III

I admit, I had grandiose visions for urban mountaineering. Was sort of hoping it would catch on and spread, Fight Club-style, and that someday there would be thousands of urban mountaineers, and I would be the Shadowy Founder who no one had ever actually met. And then I would reveal myself, only perhaps at that point no one would believe that I, a shrink from a smallish city, had single-handedly invented Urban Mountaineering.

But it's not really going that way. Tonight I did 11 "pitches" of U.M. alone. 1, 2, and 517 all ignored my text message to meet me at the mountain. In a bit of good news, though, it sounds like Girltuesday is mulling starting up a second U.M. franchise in her town (not quite sure where that is-- I suspect it may be the Slightly Smaller City further north.) I strongly urge all to start up, wherever you are!

Coming soon: summit prayer flags.

The seed doesn't fall far from the sugar maple

My maple syrup supplementation regimen is working fairly well, though some days I forget. When I forget, I just double the dose the next morning, which is what the FDA advises.

Just received a brief email from Momma Glacier and Poppa Glacier, down on Tropical Island. "When you come", it says, "please bring maple syrup. At least 8oz. We can't get the real thing here."

Poor exiled souls. There are good reasons to stay in the Smallish State all winter.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Ten things I could and probably should do tonight, but haven’t yet, and probably won’t:

1) Make a spreadsheet for the finances of my two-unit condo association (I am President and Treasurer, lucky me.)
2) Practice guitar
3) Go urban mountaineering
4) Do minor surgery on 9’s ear, where he got wounded by The Enemy.
5) Read the Sunday Times that 777 left here.
6) Clean out the linen closet so my new roommate (one of two) will have some more space.
7) Review, again, the provisioning list for the next sail expedition.
8) Call mom, just to see if it’s still warm down in the islands.
9) Take the VW over to coin-op car vacuum place, and/or put a bullet through its brain.
10) Read ten pages of Thoreau’s journals.

Head games

It can be very hazardous to go sailing without knowing nautical terminology. I was chatting earlier today with someone whose dad owns a fairly large sailboat. “You can fit two people in one of the heads”, she said, “and the other head can hold three.”

For a few moments I visualized three people crammed into a standard sailboat head. I thought her description was a novel way of emphasizing the luxury of dad's big boat. Then I realized she was confusing “head” with “cabin”. Imagine, if she were to join a crowded boat for a weekend, saying “Oh, I’m fine sleeping up in the forward head…”

Do Not Wash! May Shrink Or Fade

My friend 925, who did shrink training with me back in the day, used to claim that he could smell severe and persistent mental illness. That is, he believed there is some sort of pheromone or other subtle olefactory cue that could tip off a discerning professional (or, perhaps, trained dog) to the presence of a serious mental disorder.

The idea probably shouldn’t be poo-pooed out of hand-- lately, dogs have proven themselves useful in sniffing out other diseases. But I have maintained that any odor of “severe & persistent” was simply the mundane smell of poor personal hygiene.

I’ve been thinking about showering a lot lately. Last night, while helping 1 & 517 move into their new home, it was discovered that the control for the shower had issues, causing the hot water to alternate with ice water. Much groaning and despair. “Where I am going to shower?!?”, said 517. A few months back when my roof started leaking, the ceiling over my tub broke apart, causing the shower fixture to collapse. Similar panic on my part. “How am I going to get clean? I can’t live like this! I need to buy a new house!”

And yet just the previous month, I had shattered my own lifetime record for longest-period-without-bathing: 10 days, while crossing the Coral Sea on a sailboat with a water-misering captain. I did get doused with salt water several times, and sponge-bathed a bit. But overall I was pretty grimy-- and yet nothing really bad resulted.

Most of us grown-ups really enjoy a good, hot shower or bath, needed or not. Yet the same is often not true for the severely mentally ill. Many people think that “crazy” people have poor hygiene due to distraction and self-neglect; that’s part of it, but there is also an aspect of active cleanliness avoidance. On my unit at Green Acres, on any given day, there’s a good chance that one of our 24 patients really, really needs a shower and really, really doesn’t want one. Not uncommonly, I am asked to write a doctor’s order that a patient must shower. After that, a variety of ruses and sleights often follow—the patient closes the bathroom door and runs the shower without getting in, or just wets down his face and towel from the tap, or gets under the water but refuses to use soap or shampoo, etc. The permutations vary, but the intent always seems the same—avoid actual bathing at all costs.

When a shower becomes a real medical necessity, our staff may need to move a person into the shower physically. Sometimes this precipitates a bout of screaming that would make an onlooker think the victim was being branded with hot pokers or sent to the iron maiden. But after a few days or weeks, once the person has begun to improve mentally, this all stops, and he'll just shower on his own like the rest of us.

This phenomenon has long perplexed me, and I’ve found no good explanation for it. There are some idiosyncratic individual explanations—for example, the man who believed the CIA tried to assassinate him by putting gasoline in the showerhead—but most have no such obvious rationale. Some musings on etiology:

1) Is there a pervasive base delusion that equates loss of body grime with loss of special powers, like Samson and his hair? Does the perceived layer of oils, salts, and dirt on the skin somehow help a paranoid person feel insulated from a dangerous world?

2) Is there a regressive link to small children who scream, kick and cry at “bath time”? Plausible—but who can explain why so many little kids hate bathing? Was there, at some time, an evolutionary advantage to being dirty from, say, ages three to ten? Not out of the question—polio, for example, became a deadly epidemic problem only in the context of “clean” Western lifestyles.

3) Is there a component of truly adverse bodily sensation? It’s hard for most of us to picture anything more relaxing than a long hot bath or shower. Yet there is research suggesting that people with schizophrenia have overloaded sensory systems, and have difficulty desensitizing to “background” stimulation. Imagine if you had to feel, acutely, independently, and perhaps painfully, each drop from the showerhead? Could a shower really feel, to some people, like a spray of red-hot lava?

Sometimes, testifying in court while trying to obtain commitment for a very ill person, I may mention that he or she has very poor hygiene, and has refused to bathe for many days on end. Some of the patients’ attorneys have learned a bit about my adventurous outdoorsy pursuits, and ask pointed questions of me on re-direct (e.g., “Well, Dr. Turbo, in your opinion, for how many days can a person not shower and still be considered sane? Exactly how many days represents evidence of mental illness?”) As you may imagine, since returning from the Coral Sea, I’ve ceased mentioned bathing in court.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Nutritive Deficiency

New Patient: My arm muscles are stiff.
T.G.: Do you have any muscle stiffness anywhere else?
N.P.: Yeah, my neck. Here, and here. Both sides.
T.G.: Any idea why your neck is stiff?
N.P.: Probably a lack of chicken gravy. I haven't had chicken gravy in two years.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


2 and I were out for beers last night, chatting about life, trying to figure out Canadian politics (e.g., “When they say ‘conservative’, I think that’s what we call ‘liberal’. When they say ‘liberal’, that’s what we call “Commie scum descendents of draft-dodgers’.” Etc.)

Anyway, we decided to propose a new nation, better than all others, consisting of Northern New England and the Maritime provinces. I think it might be called Nova Mainewick or something like that.

It’s a damn fine idea. And in order to help turn it into a reality, we discussed means of physically linking the new cantons (as they will be called), and decided on a tunnel, under the Gulf of Maine. It will be lovingly called the Gulfel. I stayed up all night researching, and produced the folloing map:

Best Service Awards

I’ve been thinking about the varying treatment I’ve received lately from different companies, shops, and corporations. Herein is my completely subjective, personal listing of my Best Service awards for 2005. I did also make up a “Worst Service” list, but for the moment am withholding it, until I weigh the possible retaliatory repercussions. (I am quite happy to send it out privately, though.)

For now, though, The Best Of 2005 (in no special order):

1) N. Fuel Co., Smallish City [Not only do they keep track of my travel plans for oil delivery, they write “Have a nice trip, T.G.!” on my invoice when I’m going away.]

2) U.S. Post Office, Smallish City, Main Office [Helpful, always cheerful, despite appearing incessantly overworked.]

3) AutoZone auto parts stores [Employees of two different stores were very helpful after my bad experience with a member of the “Worst Of” list.]

4) Metropolitan Insurance Company [Have had insurance with them for 21 years, never anything but helpful. This year they quickly paid for a claim when a rental car was vandalized.]

5) Protection Division, Capitol Reef National Park, UT [Cheerful and astonishingly thorough assistance following above-noted rental car incident within the park.]

6) B. Street Veterinary Clinic, Smallish City: [Have been faithfully keeping 9 alive and happy this year, despite serious illness.]

7) Opticus, Inc., Superior CO. [Provided very personalized service in making T.G. some prescription glacier glasses, and in getting them to me extra-fast for a trip.]

8) B. B. Auto, Smallish City [Did what was needed, but not more, to keep my decrepit VW running through 2005.]

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

We have met the enemy, and they are us.

For several days I’ve been concerned about the frequency with which the Smallish State Bureau of Taxation visits my blog. They seem to check in every morning. Often, they do a fly-over at lunchtime, too. Sometimes as often as thrice in a day. Worrisome.

Even before discovering this, I have been of late slightly obsessed and anxious about taxes and taxation (partly because I am now officially self-employed). So, the presence of the Bureau of Taxation here in my virtual inner sanctum was quite unsettling. What are they looking for? What I have done wrong this time? When are they going to tell me? Is my blog something that can and will be used against me in a court of law?

To my surprise, a little Google research revealed that the Smallish State Bureau of Taxation has not even existed since 1997, when its name was changed to the less-threatening-sounding "Smallish State Department of Revenue". Suddenly I felt that I was being haunted, Scrooge-like, by the Ghost of Taxes Past. I could hear the chains rattling, and the howling of penalties with compound interest. These are not idle fears, either—recently the Smallish State sent me a letter demanding to know why I had not paid Smallish State income tax for the year 2000, and threatening me with “action” if I did not pay up quick. Since I didn't move here until mid-2001, this request seemed a little far-fetched, and I had to write them a letter saying so.

Anyway, I tried not to panic about this situation. Tried to figure out a more benign explanation. And finally, through careful observation and deductive reasoning, I determined that the Bureau of Taxation is, in fact, me. Yes, it was myself, logging on to my own blog. How can this be? Not sure, but I’m guessing the computer address at Green Acres was once assigned to the now-defunct Bureau of Taxation, and no one ever bothered to update things. Typical.

Summary: In a fit of classic paranoid behavior, I thought my own shadow was out to get me, and tried to catch it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Obviously A Doctor

Last night I dropped by Pricey Health Food Store for some pricey chili ingredients. I avoided the check-out line with the Blessing Clerk, as I didn’t feel the need for extra blessings at the moment. Instead I wound up in the line of the Blessing Clerk’s alter-ego, a perky young woman who hums and dances in place while she rings up orders.

Part way through scanning my items, she smiled and said “Are you a doctor?” Surprised, I said, “Um—yes, I am—how did you know that? Because of all the healthy food I’m buying?”

“No”, she said, “I just couldn’t read the scribbles you wrote on the bulk-item tags, so I figured maybe you were. Is this a ‘4’ or a ‘9’ “?

I assured her that the nurses always tell me my handwriting is excellent (for a doctor), but she didn’t seem to buy it.

Monday, January 23, 2006


They say it’s important, after a day of strenuous exercise, to “sweat out the toxins”. And when I say “they say” this, I mean I made it up, but it sounds like a plausible story (i.e., if I’d told you I read it in “Shape” magazine, you would’ve believed me).

So, to this end, I’m sitting enjoying a bowl of fiery-hot vegetarian chili, iron-skillet cornbread, and an ice-cold Corona. (Do you ever question the meaning of the phrase “ice-cold”? As if ice can have only one temperature?) I thought I would share with you, my loyal reader(s), the recipes for these delicious eatables. Whoever you are, you should eat more chili.

I. Smoky Chili

Get some dried chipotlé peppers. These are available in Mexico, possibly other places too. Roast them in an iron skillet until they soften and smell good. Then put them in a bowl with a cup boiling water.

Meanwhile, sauté two medium onions in 2-3 tbs of vegetable oil 5 minutes. Add 2-4 cloves crushed garlic, sauté a minute. Add several tablespoons powdered chili pepper and about half as much cumin. Stir constantly over medium-high heat for a minute. Add 1-2 diced tomatoes, cook a minute. Add a big can of crushed tomatoes, some diced bell peppers (red is good), several cups of black beans (canned, or previously cooked), and 1/4lb squished tofu. Yes, I said tofu. Don’t give me that look. It’s good for you.

Take the chipotlés, slice them, remove the seeds, put in blender with their soaking water, and liquefy. Add to the pot. Add a pinch of oregano, half-teaspoon salt, and simmer till the cornbread is done.

II. Cornbread

Heat oven to 450F (that’s 230C, for the Canadians). Put a 10” (25cm) cast-iron skillet in the oven.

In a bowl, mix: 1/2c flour, 2c cornmeal, 1tsp baking powder, ½ tsp baking soda, ½ tsp salt.

In another bowl, beat one egg and 2c buttermilk (or 2c soy milk plus 4tbs buttermilk powder.)

Put 3tbs shortening or vegetable oil in the skillet, return to oven until melted/hot. Pour shortening into milk mixture and beat. Pour milk mixture into cornmeal mixture and beat. Pour everything into skillet, put back in the oven for 20 minutes. Then put under the broiler for a minute or so until the top is lightly browned.

III. Corona

Chill Corona. Open with bottle opener.

Winter Summit #43

I feel sorry for anyone who was doing anything anywhere else yesterday. Lead Dog (and his Special Friend) and I summitted Washington at about 12:30pm. “This is a Himalayan day”, remarked L.D., and no one argued with him. The sun and thin air and clear blue sky made us giddy. The urban mountaineer training paid dividends in speed and endurance.

Mt. W often reports the coldest wind chill in the lower 48, and so it was yesterday while we were on top: temperature of 2F, wind 55mph, wind chill –30. Earlier in the day, the wind had been close to 100mph (wind chill –49). We had a rare stroke of perfect timing on this oh-so-ornery mountain. 55mph is enough to make communication, walking in a straight line, and gear adjustments very challenging, but it’s just a pleasant breeze compared to 100mph.

On the descent the winds abated some (and a location in Colorado took over the wind chill lead, temporarily). I drove back to the Smallish City with a big bag of freedom fries and a light soul.

On the way up (the structures are from the weather station atop)

Other climbers coming down from Mt. Munroe, Washington's smaller neighbor

Amusing sign on the door of Lakes of the Clouds hut (closed for winter)

Lead Dog and Special Friend on the snow fields below the summit.

Sunday, January 22, 2006


more later...

Saturday, January 21, 2006

This one's too warm... This one's too cold...

Another twelve garages worth of urban mountaineering last night. Then I left the Smallish City to come visit 777 in the Very Small Village, arriving in the wee morning hours. Lead Dog and I had tentative plans to scale Mt. Washington today, but postponed due to the weather forecast for freezing rain.

It’s dank and soggy here. The “January Thaw” is a New England inevitability, really only remarkable if it fails to materialize, but this year’s has lingered much too long. We’ve had three big rainstorms, counting today’s, and temperatures up towards 50F. There’s not a speck of snow left in the Smallish City, and only forlorn icy crusts in the Very Small Village. It’s truly depressing.

There are neither parking garages nor mountains in the Very Small Village, so this morning I resorted to climbing up & down a large gravel dam operated by the Army Corps of Engineers. A sign nearby indicated “SECURITY ALERT LEVEL: ALPHA +”. Not sure what that means. It probably should mean that unauthorized persons seen climbing around on the face of the dam should be shot on sight. But I didn’t have any run-ins.

Tomorrow, we’re tentatively on for the climb again. There’s a cold front barreling down tonight (thanks, Canadian friends!) which will bring a deep freeze, sun, and high winds. But this may be TOO cold. The summit wind chill forecast for mid-day tomorrow is 35 below zero. Lead Dog and I explicitly recognized with each other the likelihood that we won’t go much past treeline tomorrow. It’ll beat the garage, though.

Excuse me, I hear the opening strains of “Sex in the City” in the background—I need to go intervene.

Friday, January 20, 2006

A Green Acres Interlude

Conversation this morning:

Patient: I need to go to the bank so they can check my cash.

Turbo: You mean, so they can cash your check?

Patient: Did you not hear me? I need them to check my cash. I think someone gave me counterfeit money. I need them to check it out and call the Secret Service.

Turbo: Okay. Right. Sorry.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

SorF Plays Canada

Dear Readers,

Hello! Today I learned how to discern the geographic location of you all, and how to tell how many of you have dropped by, and when. Miraculous! I feel as if a blindfold has been removed and I can see a bit of the world around me.

And, I had an immediate sense of gratitude to you (all three of you) for taking the time to read these pages. Or at least look at the pictures. Suddenly, I feel the desire to (as the young people say) "shout out" or "holla" to you all. Especially the Canadians! Why, I had no idea Shrink or Fade had such international appeal. Hello, Nova Scotia! Hello, Ontario! Hello, B.C.! Hello hello hello Medicine Hat, Alberta! What a country. How's the snow? Can I come play up there?

Also, I want to send a special thanks to the good people at the Smallish State BUREAU OF TAXATION, who evidently have been tapping in today. But listen, I'm not making any money here. I hope you don't feel the need to tax my blog. Really, that's just not nice.

Goodnight, blog nation!


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Urban Mountaineering II

Back to the P. Street Garage tonight for another round of imitation mountain-climbing. Managed to convince 2 to come for a couple laps, though she had to run off to church class. She took my photo near the summit:

And here’s 2 making her escape:

I got in a full 12 “garages” (roughly 4.4 Leaning Towers of Pisa) which provided a very adequate workout. There were some new additions to the game tonight. For a lap to count, I decided the mountaineer must reach the Summit Pole (see photo) and circumnavigate it in a counter-clockwise direction.

Very few people actually use the stairs. After an hour or so, right at head-home-from-work time, I think I’d only passed two other people on the stairs. Perhaps this explains why 23% of the population of this Smallish State is obese.

Many curiosities draw the eye within the parking garage. For example, on one level, there is a walkway and door connecting the garage to an adjacent office building. Evidently, this spot is a favorite dumping-ground for the pigeons. Some humans have tried to frighten off the pigeons by placing phony owls on either side of the walk (I’m just piecing this together). The pigeons seem to make two lines of “business”, keeping a safe distance from the owls. But why they don’t form one line in the center, equidistant from both owls, is perplexing. Perhaps there are some ornithologists among my reader(s) who can shed some light?

Many thanks to Bulos Property Management for not noticing the strange guy running up and down their stairs.

Oxymorons III

A Chinese restaurant menu floating around the staff room at Green Acres has a section called "Everyday Specials". Available every day. Never changing. And yet, somehow, Special.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Concrete Mountain

Lead Dog and I plan to tackle Mount Washington soon—maybe this weekend, maybe the next. Either way, I have some getting-in-shape to do. Mount W. is big and bad, and I am relatively small and only partly bad. [Aside: just yesterday the summit of Mt. W recorded its windiest day in five years— 24 hours averaging over 100mph.]

The Smallish City lacks mountains to use for training, so I’ve been casting around for suitable stand-ins that could be pressed into service in the evenings after work. Tonight I settled on the P. Street Parking Garage, which I believe to have the longest publicly-accessible unheated stairwell in town. I drove over and nonchalantly took the push-button entrance ticket (while surreptitiously checking the attendant’s booth to ensure that he didn’t have any video monitors). Then I parked at the roof level, changed into my hefty Koflachs, and did seven sets of 136 stairs before Grey House Neighbor called me for a burrito. The last 12 steps of each set were particularly rewarding, as they are fully outdoors and actually covered with snow and ice like a "real mountain".

At roughly 6” per step, this totals 472 feet of vertical—roughly one Great Pyramid of Giza, or one-half an Eiffel Tower. But it’s just a stepladder’s worth of the 3,588 foot climb to the top of Washington. And it wasn’t windy in the garage. Reckon I’d better get back there tomorrow night. Maybe I can find a climbing buddy...

STILL waiting...

As you may remember, I recently found some coffee creamer which promised a "performance" if placed in the fridge. Still nothing to report on that experiment. False advertising.

Meanwhile, I came across a tin of confections billed as "entertaining cookies". Remarkable! I pulled out one of these dowel-shaped chocolate cookies, set it on the table, and watched for the longest time, waiting for the entertainment to begin. Again, nothing. When I got bored of that, though, I started sticking it in my ear, pretending it was a cigar or maestro baton, and used it for a swizzle stick in a Guinness. Then, suddenly, I realized that it was quite entertaining.

Monday, January 16, 2006


Just back from a long weekend in the Great North Woods—22 friends on 27,000 acres behind a locked gate. Lots of good people along—1, 2, 3, 518, Nimbus, Nutmeat, WBG, and many others.

This was the 13th annual iteration of this expedition, and (by ill fate) it began on Friday the 13th. As a result, I imagine, it rained all day Saturday. It had never rained on us before— but this time it sloshed us good, all day long. The snowy dirt road turned to a sinuous three-mile-long skating rink. Just crossing the road on foot took poise and balance to avoid a banana-peel slip. The snowy woods soaked up the water into slush.

That night, though, the mercury began to plummet, and by midnight the rain had ceded to snow. By morning enough had accumulated to make for good skiing. Within 24 hours the thermometer had dropped from 45F to 4F, and overnight down to –5F (which, compared to past years, was still quite warm.)

2 and I drove home together today. When we weren’t talking about life we were thinking about showers. More about showers, perhaps, in the next post. First, a few photos.

Here's the longstanding cabin mascot, guarding my skis.

Here's 2 studying the topo map by the woodstove.

It was Ruby's birthday!

Photos of log drives down the river behind the cabin, in the old days (when trees could fly...)

Monday, January 09, 2006

Just A Teaspoon A Day

I'm considering taking a daily one-teaspoon dose of maple syrup, straight up, every morning (between OJ and teeth brushing.) I love maple syrup. The merest taste of it reminds me of slush-strewn Northern New England sunny March mornings, the whiffs of woodsmoke from who-knows-where, the sweet wafting of maple steam (no steam smells like maple steam) from someone boiling down, and the crouching, twitching, springtime about to leap from the earth. More than that, I suspect maple syrup is good for you. It has minerals drawn from the deep bedrock of hardscrabble land. It has sugars created and filtered by trees who've been creating and filtering sugar since before my parents were born. And somehow it just connects me back to a world I love.

When I thought of this idea, it reminded me of words from an alma mater, which always make my spine tingle:

"They have the still North in their hearts,
The hill-winds in their veins,
And the granite of New Hampshire
In their muscles and their brains."

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Still Waiting

Seen on a little tub of half-and-half cream at the hospital this morning: "KEEP REFRIGERATED FOR BEST PERFORMANCE".

So I put it in the fridge, and have been checking it every few hours-- but so far, nothing.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Sign Of The Times

My circle of friends here in the Smallish City has adopted a kabbalahic system of numerologic identification. I, for example, am 4. My friend 2 lives with friend 1. 1 dates 517, while I date 777. 3, not surprisingly, has three legs. 9 doesn’t get out much, but is considered an honorary part of the crowd. I can easily tell you how each individual got his or her number—though when it all started, and why, I can’t recall.

Sometimes, when there is a crowd of friends, the aggregate is referred to by the sum of its parts. In the wee hours of this morning, I received my first text-message engagement announcement. It said simply “518 to wed!”