Wednesday, December 30, 2009

And Portland's Top Blunderer Award Goes To ...

News of the day: Providence Health Systems shoots itself in the foot. Again. Having in 2006 lost private information on some 365,000 plan members from a car trunk, they have once again bungled into the release of the private details of some 6500 State members. The printer got stuck, they say.

Note of interest: I work for Providence Health Systems, and have for some 18 years.

Good time to retire. Which is exactly what I've been planning anyway.

An official spokesperson commented "We feel very badly."

I'll bet.

And here's the kicker: All this happens just as Providence takes over administration for the Oregon Public Employees Benefit Board--enrolling more than 100,000 workers and dependents.

Imagine the magnitude of possible screw ups in the future (i.e., stuck printers).

Now here, as everywhere, trickle down is the key phrase--for this betrayal at the hands of batch printing will surely, somehow, become the fault of lowly transcriptionists such as I.

Like ... I ... said ....

Time to retire.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What Is So Happy About New Years?

Well that's over. Christmas, I mean. I suppose if I had to compare this Christmas to the last 55, I'd have to say it runs about dead last, though in a neck to neck race with the one I spent alone (save for the dog) in my transitional sort of apartment, pining over lost love, hobnobbing with the ghosts of Christmases past, becoming at last deathly ill on rum and eggnog. (Honestly, a wave of nausea passes through me even as I remember. Gak).

Time to change the subject.

How about New Years Eve. Actually I've always pretty much hated New Years. To me it seems somehow endemically depressing--not just this year, but every year. To rate the last 55 New Years on a comparative scale would be very difficult indeed, for the graph would depict a fairly perfect flat line.

This may have started at a very early age. What I remember now is my parents, stable, reliable, Cleaver-like 364 days of the year, turning suddenly into complete idiots, along with all of the friends who had been invited to the house. We--my brother and I, and whichever hapless other children had been compelled to attend--would be quarantined to a second story bedroom, tied to a television set (and believe me, folks, in the late 1950s there wasn't a hell of a lot on late night TV), and the expectation was that we would remain fairly quiet, preferably invisible, whilst the raucous celebrants on the ground floor cavorted. Roars of laughter climbed up and down the staircase, the sound of something shattering, the sound of someone falling, followed by another chorus of roars. Always, at some point, one of us would quite accidentally cause a disturbance of some sort--decide to wrestle, for instance; or break something, or knock over the TV, or suddenly vomit 7-Up and Summer Sausage--and my father, in his hard soled dress shoes, all rubber mixed with iron, would pound up the staircase, thumping between banister and wall, and demand in an outraged though bleary, slurry sort of way what the Goddamn son-of-a-bitching hell had happened.

Fun stuff.

I think now that the whole thing frightened me. My young life was one of security, predictability, sobriety, and so this once yearly departure from all that was safe and familiar was disconcerting at the deepest level. Always, deep down, despite the general mirth that seemed to be expected, I just wanted the thing to be over--to close my eyes, to sleep, and to return next morning to the status quo.

By the time I had grown old enough to be a complete idiot myself, the damage had already been done--such that complete idiocy, though freely, even eagerly sought on many of an evening throughout the year, retained a particularly distasteful quality on New Years. Most often I would just stay at home, and watch the big ball descend, you know?

Descending. What's that all about anyway? Does it not strike you as peculiarly depressing?

Once I went to a party at a club. The girl I was with busted out the back of her dress (apparently a bit too tight), and then later started crying because she was in the midst of separating from her live-in boyfriend, and then got angry at me because . . . well, because it was all my fault.

Later I married that girl and she became my second wife.

New Years is expensive, overly hyped, generally cold, and cannot live up to its own expectations. Rather, to ours. To mine, that is.

So Happy New Years! I shall hope it passes quickly.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Twas the Night

Oh holy night ... the stars are shytely bryning.

Sound like something out of Chaucer, don't it?

Anyway, it's a good example of the way in which my tongue has begun to twist simple phrases. But of course it's not really my tongue that is at fault, but my brain. Poor tongue, I apologize.

Nonetheless, linguistics remain intact, so we're safe, it's all good.

So this is Christmas. Well, Christmas Eve anyway. As it has happened, we (by which I mean my wife and I) didn't really do Christmas this year--if one takes being done to mean the whole thing with glass bulbs and lights, trees and bells, flock and tinsel. There is some talk in the air of putting up our Christmas tree tonight, and I think the talk is probably reliable--but other than that, Christmas will have come and gone without the customary fanfare. Nor do we have much in the way of presents, for we shall soon be traveling to the other side of the world and must do our best to travel light. A fly by night sort of business is this.

So this is Christmas, and what have we done? Well, not a whole hell of a lot. The usual, you know? But that won't be lasting much longer (there! you see, I just typed longing much laster, and then corrected it). So we've been just about to do something for some time now. We as a family, we as a couple, and then also I as an individual. I've been just about to really seriously write a second book now for about the past 6 months. What's keeping me from it? Maybe waiting for the first one to find a home? Maybe waiting for my mind to clear? Maybe waiting for my energy to revive. Or maybe just waiting to retire, to sail, to settle, to soak up the sun. Maybe something is waiting for nothing so that something itself can ensue.

Merry Christmas to the few yet well loved. Merry Christmas, cousin David. Merry Christmas to my best friend Marc, together again after so many years. Merry Christmas beloved Hasan, and salute--I wish you all the best, along with a full bottle of Black Label. Merry Christmas Roy, wherever you are--and may many baskets of food fall from heaven to your lap. Merry Christmas dear readers of all these poor scribbles--your visits are my daily bread. Merry Christmas lovely Manitobians. Merry Christmas Enero, Valeria, Susan, Becky, Jamie. Merry Christmas Abdul and Saiid. And to you also, Neil, saddled with so many hopes--may your energy never fail.

Merry Christmas to all ... and to all a nood gyte.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Skating Into the Holidays

Learned a rule of thumb yesterday. If you have MS, and can't walk very well to begin with, don't take up ice skating.

Now, I am not new to ice skating. I used to ice skate quite often. When I was 12. My wife thought this would be a fun sort of holiday thing to do. And I figured it this way (always inclined toward the positive viewpoint): Even if you have trouble walking, ice skating ought actually to be easier, because the ice itself will move your feet--you will be sliding along rather than walking. Kind of like swimming--wherein, of course, you simply float.

Well, it's not so, folks. That's the honest truth. I was in fact surprised at how very weak my legs and ankles have become. All that wobbled to begin with now shook and shimmied, and all the while ached in protestation. I'm sure I must have looked like Elvis in the Ice Capades. Oh yeahhhh, I'm all shook up.

But it was fun, I'll have to admit. And my wife certainly enjoyed the show.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

This Is The End

More and more often I feel like I am in a race, and though the destination is near, I must drag my body and mind along--the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, and has in fact become dead weight. The legs of determination grow wobbly, vision clouds and my whole spirit squints to keep fixed on the goal.

I bear an expiration date, like a common bottle of milk--and though the numbers are smudged, the milk begins to smell sour. How long? Long enough?

If only I could lie down for a moment. Sleeping beauty. Rip Van Winkle. This is the end, beautiful friend, this is the end, my only friend, the end . . .

I forget the most essential things and find myself captive to worried fantasies, waking dreams which conspire to convince the rightness in my mind that to struggle is fruitless, to sleep is inevitable.

I'll give thee fairies to attend on thee, and they shall fetch thee jewels from the deep, and sing while thou on pressed flowers dost sleep . . .

But I will not, no, not yet.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Funny thing about Pascal's Pensee--no matter how many times you read it, it remains almost wholly unread. This may be partly due to the abbreviated nature of much of the material--a jotting down of notes and reminders, suggestions and hypotheses. One finds himself included in the author's thought process, filling in, groping forward, linking this which is partial to that which is more fully developed. Because of the spaces we become in a certain way more fully involved. The picture takes a more vibrant shape because of the fragmentation itself. Curious experience.

Well, this week, once again, I am sick with the cold. Seems like I just got over one. I guess that's because I did. Great year for colds, 2009. And I am indescribably fatigued.

I have heard it said before that a person with MS is less likely to become sick with common illnesses because the autoimmune system is overactive and thus attacks actual invaders as energetically as it does the healthy systems.

Wouldn't it be pretty to think so.

But as is often the case, what seems neat in theory often fails to play out in practice.

Thus it happens that I have heard it said also that people with MS are more likely to suffer from common illnesses simply because the body is worn out and haywire, and the overactive immune system does its intended job just about as well as a fence made of Tinker Toys.

(my apologies here--because I could not think of a good simile, I used Tinker Toys).

The fact is, those with MS eventually die not because of MS itself, but from some other illness they might otherwise not have succumbed to if not for the MS.

(weird sentence ... like I said, I'm tired ... so shall I desist for now).

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Our beloved student, Hassan, is gone--having left yesterday, along with Prince Fahad, for Spokane, and thence to Saudi Arabia. We shall miss you dearly--your laughter, your songs, your good heart. A presence has left our house, as if by a wind through the chimney, and has left behind the sort of deafening silence that most commonly follows only a death.

Last night we walked together, I and my wife, at the mall, doing nothing, holding mittened hands, and you seemed to walk with us, all the more present for being so absent.

We sat down for soup and salad at Stanfords, and Sant ordered a tall drink, as if in your honor. She changed the subject again and again, only to find herself reinitiating the same. By and by the tears she had been trying to avoid welled above willpower and tipped the edges of her lower lids, glistening like a silver thaw. She excused herself from the table, so that she could return anon and claim to have cried not at all.

Hassan our friend, our gentle giant--this uncommon mix of men great and small--part Falstaff and part Steerforth, part Shrek and part St. Nick, part troubadour and part court jester--a catcher in the rye, the Samaritan who passes by on his mule, the spirit of Christmas present, dispenser of abundance, Pied Piper and St. Peter.

We shall see you again in Paradise.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Thus Sayest Al

Global warming--the scam of the century.

Once upon a time there was a prophet named Al. He spread the news far and wide--repent, for the sky is falling, the ice caps are melting, yon ozone layer growthest thin and weak.

But the people laughed, in as far as they could move their lips, for the weather was colder than ever before--in fact, record cold temperatures had been posted for the last two years, and this winter promised to be colder yet.

Ah, but when all say peace and safety, then comes the cataclysm. Beware, the prophet persisted. Repent. Come to the ark two by two, all ye two legged and four legged peoples and critters, the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth. And the polar bears. Especially the polar bears. Leave thy coats and thy hats. If they be like to die, they had best do so, and decrease the surplus population. Leave thy rubber boots and thy woolly scarves, for there shall be nothing needful save the Hawaiian shirt and the sandal.

Oh come all ye faithful.

People are not good at long term stuff. It seems so . . . well, so far distant. Who knows what might happen in the meantime. The earth may freeze, for instance, before it has a chance to yield to the disaster of warming--what with the snail's pace involved.

And what about 2012, huh? What's the point in preparing for the famine when there is no food for stockpiling? Which is to say that Al's end time will not have sufficient time to mature.

Eat, drink, and be merry?

Why not? It is, after all, the holiday season.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I Promise

The next morning my wife asked me to help her with a couple of cuff links--small little things that were to be threaded through the eyes on her blouse cuffs and then snapped snug at the wrists.

Try as I might, I could not accomplish the task. Every possible conspirator conspired against me--my fading vision, my shaking hands, the numbness in my fingers. She may as well have asked a camel or a giraffe to do the job.

Frustrated, she dismissed me, saying that she would do it herself, as usual.

I was feeling kind of low after that, and so by and by I returned to the bedroom to see if I could try again. I found her sitting on the bed, shoulders shaking, a teardrop rolling down either cheek.

And so I knelt by the bed and hugged her. I just stayed there and hugged her.

Why do you have to be the one with MS?" she said, catching her breath, forcing back tears. Why couldn't it have been your crappy ex-wife, or one of her kids, or . . . just someone else?

Well, it's okay. It's okay. It could have been worse. It could have been cancer, it could have been heart disease. It's not so bad.

For you, she says, for you. But I don't want to be alone, I can't be, I can't stand it.

Her shoulders are shaking again, she can't catch her breath, she's holding on tight as if I will soon slip through her arms like a scarf or a cloud.

I did not know she felt this way. Somehow, I did not know.

And so I told her that I would never leave. I told her that I would live forever if need be. I promised her so, and a promise is a promise, an oath is an oath.

The rest is up to He who collects and cares for such things.

Two Cognitive Hiccoughs to Start the Holidays

Yesterday afternoon I shaved, which is something I do every three or four days (the pain heightens the general sense of being alive), and then afterwards went looking for some sort of lotion for my skin. Quite naturally the search took me to my wife's bathroom, which is the best place to find lotions of every brand and flavor. I'm not particular when it comes to this sort of thing, and so I laid hand upon the first lotion handy.

Now, my eyesight is not what it used to be and tends to pick up key words rather than comprehensive descriptions. What I saw, therefore, were the words Coach, moisturizing, and lotion.

Perfect. I poured out a large dollop and applied it to my tender cheeks.

Sensation as it seems, for one in my position anyway, is often more immediately informative than visualization--for the immediate olfactory and tactile message received was that this stuff I had just applied to my face was not right at all. This was certainly like no lotion I had ever smelled, and definitely not like anything I had ever smelled on my wife.

Well, those familiar with the brand name Coach will know straightaway that this is a purse, not a body lotion, and that this particular Coach lotion is meant for softening leather, not the soothing of faces.

For the rest of the day I smelled like a saddle bag.

It's quite chilly in Portland this week. Temperatures in the 20s, dropping in the evening to the teens. So I decided to make a fire in our wood burning stove. This would be the first fire of the winter, and therefore necessitated some work in preparation--specifically the removal of all sort of things that had piled up against the stove during warmer days, so as to avoid setting these (and the house) on fire.

This was accomplished (to the best of my knowledge at the time), the wood was cut into thin pieces of kindling, and then the larger hunks that would follow, and the fire was successfully ignited, and soon burning like a furnace.

I went about other chores, happy for the growing warmth in the house.

This is where, once again, sensation kicked in, for no matter how foggy my brain becomes, my nose remains as clear-minded as ever. In much the same way as had happened with the purse lotion mistaken for aftershave balm, this fire in the stove simply did not smell right. It didn't smell like a wood fire at all, but rather like I would imagine napalm to smell, or an uncontrolled blaze in a tire factory.

A focused investigation revealed the problem. I had not after all moved all the aforementioned things from the vicinity of the stove, but had neglected one. This was (or used to be) a large green plastic armored vehicle belonging to my son which had previously made itself obscure directly upon the iron top of the stove--not a tank now, of course, but a puddle, a spreading, oozing, sizzling little lake of piping hot slime.

It was my son himself who made the positive identification. I grabbed what was immediately available from the kitchen--a metal spatula, two or three dish towels, and as I ladled the smoking goo into the towels, Sasha danced nervously back and forth, holding a sweater to his nose, shrieking Don't breathe, don't breathe, it's TOXIC!

During the holiday season, some peoples houses smell of pine and cider, some of cinnamon and cookie dough.

Mine smells of freshly fried plastic, with just a hint of five canisters of Ocean Breeze air freshener.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Jolly Old Me

I was today, for the first time ever, a Santa Claus. I suppose the timing is right--having gone old and gray, and self-sufficiently jolly (i.e. without having to be under the influence).

Who doesn't balk at the idea of being Santa? Of course I balked, made feeble excuses, voted in favor of anyone and everyone else, insisted that they would surely make better Santas. But to no avail. Anyone and everyone had already had his turn, and so balked with equal energy, though had also the justification of duty already done to fall back on.

I was therefore escorted upstairs by several female elves and deposited into my costume--the whole nine yards, for these folks were serious about Santa Claus--the red suit, the white wig and beard, the boots and the hat. A cumbersome bag of gifts was affixed to my back and I was told to say Ho, ho, ho--and to say it not that way, but the right way. I was told I must be louder. Much, much louder.

Who is equal to Santa Claus? Who can duplicate his joy? We find ourselves called upon, summoned moreover for the express sake of the children, bundled moreover into such a merry and inescapable straitjacket, that we have at last no other choice but to simply do our best.

Ho, ho, ho, ho--Now all you children sit down and shut yer yaps--Santa has gifts for each and all.

And so on.

Wonderfully, some of these children (the smaller ones naturally) actually believed me to be St. Nick. One dashed forth to hug me (and would not let go). Another started to cry. Still another froze in place, able to move nothing, no part of her person, but for her eyes, and those in the m9st careful sort of watchfulness, as if I must at any moment either give her all her heart's desire or suddenly explode into blinding light and smoke, shooting up through the roof while I was at it.

There were many children. Countless children, perhaps. And there were many gifts. And, truth be known, I soon found myself somehow believing that I had in fact brought each gift, specially intended for each individual child--and had come a long way to boot, through the wind and cold and the driving snow.

On Dasher, on Dancer . . .

Well, it wasn't so bad. As it turned out, it wasn't so bad at all.

Just don't ask me to do it next year.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Royal Feast

Yes, Lady, here I was at last;
Here found I all I had forecast . . .
--"To An Island Princess," Robert Louis Stevenson

My wife is an Island Princess. Really. In Sulawesi Indonesia she is royalty, although this is, in our time, traditional rather than particularly applicable. Nonetheless, it does explain a few things about her character. Royalty, in other words, is in the blood, and no more extractable than the red.

A princess by any other name, no matter the locale, is a princess still, and forever. You can take a way the tiera, but not the title. You can subtract the ceremony, but the celebrant remains.

Now I wonder am I a prince as well--or will I be when I take my throne? Is the title automatically conferred upon the spouse, as is the Western custom, or do they eat their princes in that faraway land?

I shall soon find out.

One way or the other, it's all good--whether a royal figure or a royal feast, I shall end up quite consumed in the time that remains.

Here I was at last, as RLS has said. And also this:

"For nearly ten years my health had been declining; and for some while before I set forth upon this voyage, I believed I was come to the afterpiece of life, and had only the nurse and the undertaker to expect."

I know what you mean, Bob. May I call you Bob? For I feel a kinship in circumstance, a companionship in and out of time. We shall both attend and be the feast before we are full.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ordered South

I have discovered, quite suddenly, not only the most efficacious treatment for MS, but perhaps even the cure--

Just say no.

It sounds simple, I know. Too simple? Well, it's like one of these things that's right under your nose, hiding in plain site--although given the size of my nose, and the ample darkness cast thereby, it is perhaps not so very surprising that something so close has remained so elusive.

Yes, just say no, just say fuck it--draw the line, set your boundaries--and then move to Bali. The tropics, after all, come with a well known history of being curative for pretty much any and every sort of malady (except for leprosy). We follow, therefore, in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson, of Paul Gauguin, not to mention a lot of other people whose names I cannot think of.

Place is the key, not medicine. They have no medicine in Bali (that I know of anyway). They do have a witch doctor, who charges, I think, beads rather than bucks--whose office is the last palm tree on the right, and has no waiting line.

The promise is so great, and we are all so easily led away when hope and memory are both in one story, that I dare say the sick man is not very inconsolable when he receives sentence of banishment, and is inclined to regard his ill-health as not the least fortunate accident of his life. Nor is he immediately undeceived.

"Ordered South"
Robert Louis Stevenson