Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Is Nice - I Like

I know I'm supposed to boycott Massive Coffee Shop Company because of their imperialist tendencies and non-local aspect. But I do like this program they've started, in which 5lb bags of used coffee grounds are left in a bin by the door, free for the taking, to be used as compost and soil conditioners. As the MCSC is right on my walk home, I'm getting in the habit of picking up a bag most days. The 5lb weight, walking up the hill to the TurboPalace, adds a little extra exercise to my day. And as I'm currently engaged in a gardening project that demands about 600lbs of new topsoil, every 5lb bag saves me about 25 cents on that. Plus, even better, the grounds are slightly acidic (there is debate on just how acidic-- I will test soon and let you know) and this is perfect for the project, which requires getting the soil down to about pH 6. More on that soon.

Friday, April 25, 2008

a post from max

The $20 catnip-infused yellow-tasseled scratchy-post that my dad bought to entice me away from the antique furnitures: Worthless.

The $30 3-hour endless-loop DVD of starlings jostling each other in cornfield that my dad bought to keep me entertained while he's at work: Dumber than dumb.

The $8 green chipmunk-like toy that my dad's dog-loving friend brought me in a pathetic attempt to win me over: An insult to my intelligence.

The six-cent piece of foam weatherstripping I pulled off the back door: Priceless.

I Know It's Spring When...

... my f#*#&ing neighbor is out playing this f#&%ing accordion on his back steps, eight feet from my kitchen window. I swear this is the summer I'm going to take up bagpipes...

A Green Acres Interlude

Nurse: Stella, don't forget, you volunteered to run the grill at the cookout today from 1 to 2pm.
Stella: No, I don't think I can do that today.
Nurse: Why not?
Stella: The voice is Joan of Arc today. So you can imagine, that's making me feel pretty uneasy about being near fires.

Dial P for Patient

I just spent four days at Green Acres, covering a colleague’s vacation. One of my private practice clients asked, with a suspicious tone, whether the weeks I occasionally spend there are for “tune-ups”—she thought court ordered, perhaps. No, nothing so intriguing as that. Just helps pay the bills. And remind me why I left.

This week I was thinking about the elusive concept of “privacy” and “confidentiality” in a mental hospital. If you’re sick in a "real" (medical) hospital, it’s unlikely that any of your fellow patients will know anything much about you, unless you go out of your way to tell them. They probably won’t even know your name, let alone your diagnosis, prognosis, familial situation, etc. This, to my mind, is how it should be (and, I believe, how it is legally supposed to be-- attorney readers, feel free to chime in.)

But it ain’t like that at Green Acres. There’s no way that the other 23 patients on your ward will remain ignorant of your identity—your full name will be posted in any number of public places, and nurses and ward techs will shout it down the hallways. If you’re diligent and make it a priority, you might stand some chance of having your particular mental problem remain at least moderately under wraps—but it’s unlikely. Within a week everyone on the ward will know that you tried to [slit your wrists, kill your mailman, cheat on your wife, insert other personal event] and that [your kids are living with your ex-husband, you are pleading Not Criminally Responsbile, your wife threw you out, insert other fallout]. A large number of crazy people will very soon know more about your secrets than most of your family. Sure, you could just refuse to associate at all with your “peers” (as they are called), but then you will bring on yourself a lot of “interventions” designed to increase your “sociability”. Refusing to attend group-therapy treatments tends to prolong your stay at the hospital…

So now what happens when someone—let’s say, your ex-husband—hears that you’re at Green Acres and phones the hospital switchboard trying to reach you? Well, due to Confidentiality, the operator will neither confirm nor deny that you are at the hospital. Instead, the operator will give the caller the number for the ward “Patient Phone”, and suggest you call there. There is Patient Phone on each ward, in a small alcove on the main hallway. It has all the privacy of a payphone at LaGuardia. Staff are forbidden from any dealings with the Patient Phone—it is for Patients Only.

So anyway, you call the PP. The phone in the hallway rings. Maybe it’s snack time, and no one answers. (There will be three staff sitting ten feet away at the nursing desk staring at the phone, but they can’t answer it.) Or maybe one of the self-designated Helpful Phone Answering type patients will be hanging out nearby, just hoping for such a call. For many patients it gives nice sense of self-worth if they can do something useful like going to fetch a “peer” and tell them they have a phone call. But, this inclination to help can and often does spill over into curiosity, or nosiness. I have had family members of patients phone me in my office to inquire, e.g., “who that was who answered the patient phone, and had all kinds of personal questions to ask me before he would go get my brother” (I don’t think the Switchboard explicitly impresses on people, when they give out the PP number, that the person who answers will NOT be a staff person…) Then, moving along to ever worse cases, there are the patients who find the ringing of the phone bothersome, and simply lift the receiver and hang it up. Or, next, the ones who find a phone call coming from “outside” to be an irresistible opportunity to alert someone (anyone!) to the horrible crimes they are experiencing at the hands of the staff, the poison that is in the water, the drug-dealing, the ritual sacrifices that happen every night on third shift. Or, the phone-answerer might start “sharing” the personal information he’s learned about the patient being sought… or might start INVENTING personal information, or bogus messages (“Antoine? Aintoine…ain’t you her ex-husband? Yeah, man, she said you can go f---k a goat. She said you can just keep the kids, she don’t want them anyway. She’s with me now, get it pal?” etc.)

You laugh (maybe) but this is what happens. It’s sad.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Best, Worst

Was just sitting here reading the "Best Of..." results from the annual readership poll conducted by the Smallish City's independent / artsy weekly newspaper. It's mostly good news. The best parts:

Best Place To Live is my neighborhood! And not, as I tell her every day, GirlTuesday's neighborhood. But truth to tell, I only tell GT that every day because I strongly suspect that her neighborhood is, in fact, better. They have, for example, water views, a beach, tennis courts, a bike path, a cafe with fried pickles on the menu, parking unregulated by "resident permits", and a bar called The Snug.

Best Bartender is NOT the bartender with an out-of-state girlfriend who nonetheless keeps somehow winding up at one of my female friends' house late at night having "locked himself out of his apartment" and needing a place to sleep / make out.

Best Pub Quiz is the pub quiz attended by my [awesome] pub quiz team, Silent Disco. The write-up even mentions us, albeit obliquely, by saying "...you know one of the same few teams is going to win, every time..."

Best Breakfast Place is NOT any of my top-three favorite breakfast places, which is fantastic because it might draw the crowds somewhere else. [Another funny thing is that another breakfast place put an ad in this same edition of the paper, the copy reading in part "Best breakfast in the Smallish City!", even though they had not received that honor.]

Best Make-Out Spot is some tiny little park that I've never heard of or noticed, but you can be sure I'm going to go check it out now, and put the info in my back pocket, just in case I ever again have the inclination to "make out" with someone. [Oh yes-- I should mention that the Best Make-Out spot is in GirlTuesday's neighborhood, too. I'm not sure what my neighborhood actually has going on in its favor.}

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Results are in from the recent think/talk/do informal poll. Here is how I tallied them:

Primary behavior: 3 points
Secondary behavior: 2 points
Tertiary behavior: 1 point

For those who insisted on trying to split the difference (e.g. "I'm a thinker/talker, then doer"), I averaged the two allegedly equal traits to the same number (e.g., in this case, Think and Talk got 2.5 points each, Do got 1 point). However, for such people I was tempted to give all six points straight to thinking.

Anyway, no surprise, readers of SorF are big on the thinking, less so much with the doing and talking.

P.S. Oh yes-- and there was one person who simply responded to the poll with the word "Wanker". I'm not sure how to count his vote.

What I'm Reading

Just a few excerpts. Tao Te Ching, Stephen Mitchell's version.

When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.

Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.

Can you deal with the most vital matter
by letting events take their course?

When the Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When goodness is lost, there is morality.
When morality is lost, there is ritual.
Ritual is the husk of true faith,
the beginning of chaos.

In the pursuit of knowledge,
every day something is added.
In the pursuit of the Tao,
every day something is dropped.
Less and less do you need to force things,
until finally you arrive at non-action.
When nothing is done,
nothing is left undone.

True mastery can be gained
by letting things go their own way.
It can't be gained by interfering.

Those who know don't talk.
Those who talk don't know.

Close your mouth,
block off your senses,
blunt your sharpness,
untie your knots,
soften your glare,
settle your dust.
This is the primal identity.

When a country obtains great power,
it becomes like the sea:
all streams run downward into it.
The more powerful it grows,
the greater the need for humility.
Humility means trusting the Tao,
thus never needing to be defensive.

If you realize that all things change,
there is nothing you will try to hold on to.
If you aren't afraid of dying,
there is nothing you can't achieve.

Trying to control the future
is like trying to take the master carpenter's place.
When you handle the master carpenter's tools,
chances are that you'll cut yourself.

The soft overcomes the hard;
the gentle overcomes the rigid.
Everyone knows this is true,
but few can put it into practice.

Therefore the Master remains
serene in the midst of sorrow.
Evil cannot enter his heart.
Because he has given up helping,
he is people's greatest help.

True words seem paradoxical.

Intellectual Propagaty

I was at the supermarket last night and took a look at some houseplants which were on sale. Need some plants for the office. To my eye they were just normal generic-looking houseplants with broad green leaves. $16.99. Then I spied a notice printed on plastic ribbon attached to each plant, reading "THIS IS A PATENTED PLANT. PROPAGATION PROHIBITED. U.S. PATENT #384930236".

Okay-- for real? They have patented a houseplant? And they are going to intimidate me into not propagating it? So, if I snip off a cutting and put it in a mason jar of water on my windowsill, I am committing a crime? What if the plant decides to propagate itself-- suppose is sends out tendrils into the soil of the next pot over, and sprouts a new plant? Am I on the hook for that? Am I required to actively suppress propagation of the plant, or just obliged not to encourage it?

The whole business made me sad. Soon kids will be going to juvie for growing avocado-pit plants, and I will have to sneak out under cover of darkness to do the annual re-seeding of morning glories along the backyard fence. And God help you if the FBI raids your home and finds old potatoes sprouting in the back of your kitchen cabinet...

Dang - Lost The Thumb Again

Stanley the Barn Cat did not work out. Do you remember The Omen? Yeah, it was kind of like living with that kid. Also he blew bloody boogers all over the house, which even the Omen boy didn't do. After several months of intense medical and behavioral treatments, he wasn't adjusting or getting well. So eventually he had to be repatriated to his dairy farm... where I imagine he's probably happier anyway. Sort of sad, though.

So after an appropriate period of mourning / home sterilization, I set off to the shelter last Friday to roll the dice again. It was a mixed visit. The place is run by Krazee Kat Laydeez, for real. The one who chaperoned me had 12 cats (not to mention great danes) and clearly tends to be more interested in protecting cats from people than the other way around. Thus she failed to warn me, before opening her cage, that a cat named "Spuds" was a vicious monster. She (Spuds) seemed nice enough at first; I petted her a few times, she stood up for more. But as I was withdrawing my hand to close her cage, she lunged at me and sank her fangs deep into my left thumb. There was involuntary profanity and gushing blood. KKL seemed nonplussed, as if this happens all the time. "Bite!", she announced to no one in particular. "Bite quarantine! Bite paperwork!" While I was desperately running to the bathroom, rummaging for Betadine, and running over in my head the horrific litany of cat-mouth bacteria species, she continued talking about Spuds' prospects. "Oh, don't worry-- she'll have to spend 10 days in quarantine before she's put out for adoption again..."

I managed to pull myself together enough to visit one more cat before fleeing in horror. Had to go to the urgent care clinic to get some debridement, a tetanus booster (we doctors are always out of date on our tetanus vaccination) and antibiotics. I seem to have avoided any serious sequelae, but dang my thumb hurts. It's making it hard to button shirts, and nearly impossible to tear duct tape off the roll (which is a serious impediment to my lifestyle.)

I did get to thinking about the other [nicer] cat I had met, though, and decided to give him a try. Partly because he was almost a dead ringer for 9. So I called up the shelter Saturday afternoon to ask if they could hold him for me until Monday morning, when I could get in to pick him up. I spoke again with KKL. She refused. "Oh no, doctor. As I explained, we cannot hold an animal. It's against policy." I explained, for my part, that I had spent three hours and about $250 the previous day seeking medical care subsequent to being attacked by an animal at her facility, and due to this unanticipated activity had needed to reschedule my Friday evening plans into Saturday, and therefore was not free to come in at that minute, and since the shelter was closed Sunday anway, and under the circumstances, couldn't she see her way to hold the kitty till Monday morning for me please? "Oh no, I'm sorry. We can't make exceptions like that."

I had steam coming out my ears (and, still, blood coming out my thumb) and I wanted to be done with the shelter people. So I called my Little Brother and told him that we needed to change our planned swimming-at-the-Y activity to saving-cat-from-the-shelter, which he readily agreed to.

And so that is how Max came to the TurboPalace. So far, he is awesome. Will keep you posted.

PS. To my beloved attorney readers: No, I don't like going after charitable organizations and no, I don't think the shelter has "deep pockets". But on the other hand, no, I did not sign any kind of waiver before the Spuds incident and yes, if you want to help me sue their pants off I would discuss with you.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Question For Tax Attorneys

Where on my tax forms can I take a deduction for the stamps I had to buy in order to mail my tax forms in? Surely that should be tax-deductible?

Even more rationally, shouldn't tax-return envelopes just be postage-paid? I mean, isn't making us buy stamps to mail the forms back nothing more than a tax on paying your taxes? They long ago outlawed poll taxes-- how is this not just as crazy?

Seems like small potatoes, but there are 117 million U.S. taxpayers-- so if each needed just one stamp per tax season, that comes to $50 million annually. And most of us also have to buy a stamp for our state returns. This year, in fact, I had to file so many forms and schedules that my envelope required an additional 17 cent stamp. That last little insult is what really pushed my fury over the edge!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Crazy Sailors

It’s 2:15 a.m. on Saturday. I’m sitting on a Crazy Creek chair under an overhang outside the white-clapboard town hall of the wealthiest (or perhaps second-wealthiest) town in the Smallish State. It's 39 degrees. There’s a cold, heavy rain falling. There are piles of snow around. I’m bundled up, but not warm. I have a thermos of hot tea. Madness? Yes. This is an annual game played by the wealthiest town in the Smallish State to torture those of use who would like to keep a rowboat at their town dock for the purpose of accessing our sailboats moored in the harbor. There are over a thousand moorings, but they give out only 90 dinghy permits. 60 are reserved for town residents. The remaining 30 are tossed to out-of-town barbarians such as myself, like so much slop to starving, stampeding swine.

At 4:30 a.m. the harbormaster will show up and issue place-holding numbers to the first 90. If you are among the chosen ones, you then come back at 8 a.m. to actually pay your $100 and get the permit. It’s a pretty crappy system. If you don’t get a permit, and you aren’t a member of the yacht club (which operates a launch service), you will probably have no way to get to your boat. You may as well not even put your boat in the water this summer. The stakes are high.

So, much as we used to camp out for Foreigner tickets in the 80’s, now we come camp out for dinghy permits. Last year I was #29 in line; much too close for comfort. This year I didn’t take chances. After beers last night with 3.14 and GirlTuesday, I only allowed myself a one-hour nap at home before driving out here. Still, I was the ninth car in the parking lot. But everyone else is dozing in their cars, and I’ve set up camp at the front door. I am #1 in line. Yes. I am #1. I am the dinghy permit master. And I am freezing cold. And it’s a long time yet till 4:30. I haven't pulled an all-nighter since residency, and it's not feeling so good. But after I get my number, I'll roll out my sleeping bag in the back of the Nonturbomobile and try to sleep until 8:00.

At least the richest town in the Smallish State has WiFi outside town hall, so I can blog about their absurd policies while I participate in them.