Sunday, December 28, 2008



We rode from Camelback and Central to downtown. Rumor was there were hours-long waits in Tempe to get back to Phoenix, so we hopped off at Van Buren. Then what?That's the rub. We walked over to the Arizona Center, which was empty at 4 p.m. on a Saturday. So we rode back up to Camelback.

It was very crowded, both ways. People were enthusiastic. The general patter was that it would be a good way to get from Phoenix to Tempe when not so busy as on this, its opening day, and free. The ride was smooth and fun.

It's not a replacement for automobile travel, but it's a great alternative.

I have to admit a certain fondness for the "Camelback corridor." We go to the Biltmore a lot for books at Borders, snacks at Haagen Dazs, and the sales racks at Macy's. It's a pretty little outdoor mall; excellent people-watching, especially at the corner of the lawn by the Apple Store and the MAC make-up shop.

For another billion dollars maybe we could hook that up with light-rail, too.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Fireplace Tile

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sunday Plath: Before the Coming


Compelled by calamity's magnet
They loiter and stare as if the house
Burnt-out were theirs, or as if they thought
Some scandal might any minute ooze
From a smoke-choked closet into light;
No deaths, no prodigious injuries
Glut these hunters after an old meat,
Blood-spoor of the austere tragedies.

Mother Medea in a green smock
Moves humbly as any housewife through
Her ruined apartments, taking stock
Of charred shoes, the sodden upholstery:
Cheated of the pyre and the rack,
The crowd sucks her last tear and turns away.

Sylvia Plath

1959 may have been the best year of Plath's short life. Married to Ted Hughes and back home in Massachusetts, she studied with confessional poet Robert Lowell and met fellow poet Anne Sexton. Then Ted and Plath spent the summer traveling and camping throughout the western part of the United States. Upon invitation, they spent the fall at Yaddo. Sylvia also found out she was finally pregnant, after long fearing she might have been unable to conceive.

This was one of the last poems she wrote before her "Ariel" voice began to emerge. Even here though, Plath deeply and darkly mines herself. But maintaining form; in this case another sonnet.

The Ravaged Face, written just a little later that spring, was probably the last time Plath resorted to the sonnet scheme.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Cats Eat Tinsel, I Do This

I am without lid.

I've flipped my lid.

My lid is gone. My lid has gone away.

I slept with one lid open.

My lid is over there someplace. Over the rainbow maybe.

Everyone must pop their own lid.

Put a lid on it.

The first one to open the lid and get the peanut butter.

I was talking up my man George and he says he's so old he remembers when you could score a lid for forty dollars.

They kept a tight lid on it.

I need a lid remover.

The paint color is on the lid.

He cracked him on the lid.

When one door closes, another opens. But when one lid closes, that's it.

Eyelids are doors.

As you can see, one thing lids to another.


I love the music of Carla Bley.

Only thirty more days. Even less if you live in Minnesota.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Season's Greetings

There was this one semester in college when I scheduled all my classes just on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This left me with some unstructured time and I was free to other interests I had, such as film.

My best day was Monday. I started the morning by sitting in on a general "introduction to film" class. That's where I saw The Battleship Potemkin.

There's be discussion by the teacher afterwards. This is also where I first saw movies by Renoir, Chaplin, Welles, Kurosawa, and the like. After that class I'd do my usual campus thing and then go to a French cinema course. In the evenings there was a "women in film" class. So on Mondays I went to three movies accompanied by lectures and student talk. It was great.

I saw a lot of movies back then and to this day I tend to look at them through film student eyes. The professors instilled in me a way of distinguishing classic film-making from all the rest, and because I've seen a lot of movies I appreciate originality. Repo Man, see quote above, is certainly quirkier than it is "good," but that's why I like it. Same goes for Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, which is the best time-travel movie ever.

The stoner philosophy really gets me. You can fall in love with people from the past, and some of them are very interesting. You can teach yourself to duck in a timely manner. It's just a silly little caper film, but it's final conclusion is epic: Be excellent to one another.

What a lovely and profound sentiment. Be summarizes all of existentialism. Excellent is "the" aesthetic and ethical goal for us. To points in the direction of the real world, the one outside our minds. Bill and Ted go there. It's big. One acknowledges other individuals, and Another established our commons.

It's what nurses try to do, I guess. When we are given time and resources.

I'll be sporting a 12-hour shift on X-mas. I've got your back in case anything bad happens. But don't worry; it won't.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Oak Panel

Click to enlarge.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Little Duck Big Sea

A long time ago I had a classroom teacher who introduced us to something called The Parable of the Invisible Gardener. It goes along these lines: two guys stumble across a garden flourishing in the wilderness. One of them is a skeptic and he just thinks it's a lucky find, while the other guy is a "believer" who attributes it to the "invisible gardener."

They devise all sorts of tests to capture evidence for the gardener and these all fail to provide any, but the believer is undeterred and continues to insist that there must obviously be some gardener tending the plot. James Randi, a magician and debunker, refers to such believers as "unsinkable rubber duckies" because their beliefs persist despite lack of evidence.

Without an observable corresponding phenomenon, what exactly is a "belief"?

Friday, December 05, 2008

Burr Grinders

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Death by Borders

Discharge instructions:

Patient advised to seek out assistance from the consulate of their country of origin.

Patient should return to their country of origin to obtain treatment of their liver mass.

Patient to avoid alcohol and illicit drugs.

We made up a taxi voucher and arranged to get them to a shelter before it closed for the evening. They could get their prescriptions filled there and they'd store the pain meds so the patient wouldn't get mugged for them.

As warmly as I could (through the in-house interpreter) I told the patient that if they got sick I'd like them to come back to our hospital.

I wish you could all have seen the look on the patient's face when they left. I wish you also could have seen the look on the face of the attending doctor. She didn't want it to be this way. Nobody does.

Well... almost nobody.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

New World Symphony

I used to leave the radio on all night. The classical music station went off the air sometime late and resumed broadcasting at six in the morning with gently bonging wake-up bells. That served as my alarm. I was always awake then anyway.

"Did you sleep good?"

I said "No, I made a few mistakes."

Steven Wright.

After a few minutes the radio station would start its music. I played classical guitar and I was learning music theory in a special class at school. It was my thing.

I also sometimes listened to an unformatted college station. They were totally weird. Neither ever had commercials.

There was time to read the newspaper before high-school. I always liked that. We had the Times-Union delivered. The morning all to myself... a nice way to start the day. Then I walked to the corner and waited for the school bus.

There was this guy named Kim who lived behind us, their little yard backing up to ours and separated by a wire fence. Being a year ahead of him, I didn't hang out in his circle, but he went skiing with us once in a while. His father was the television repairman.

One day Kim was showing pictures to other kids on the bus. I caught a glimpse of one. A dog was licking a naked young woman's private parts. It sickened me.

I was sitting next to my friend Anita who said quietly "Wait a sec. That's Rex." She recognized the dog. It was Kim's german shepherd. The girl in the picture was his older sister who didn't go to high-school anymore; at least not ours.

I hated the housing development we lived in during my high-school years. All the houses were the same. Four hundred of them, but just four different models with slightly varying yards and paint-jobs. It was situated way outside of town. There were no stores, parks, or public places. Nothing to do. Nowhere to go.

I envied my friends in town. Saratoga Springs is beautiful. Many of them lived in stylish older homes.

They could walk to the public library, which occupied the northwest corner of Congress Park.

Some of my friends had after-school jobs. One did odd stuff at Ben Serotta's bicycle shop when it was just a little place. Another worked in the kitchen at Lillian's, before it moved and got bigger.

I did sports and took the late bus home. It was a long ride because it covered a route for all the kids who lived outside town. I'd get home after six. There'd be supper and homework, then I'd practice.

Me and my friends; we didn't talk about the pictures again.

I heard Dvorak for my first time on the radio around then and I made my mother drive me to the library so I could borrow a recording. I've heard dozens of interpretations since. Quite a few live symphony performances of it too. It's best that way: live in a concert hall. It's so vast.

What a fantastically good, really majestically transporting work of music... but it's hard for me to listen to it. It never resolves its grief.

Friday, November 28, 2008


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Flu Season

Here are some of the viral memes we have to be wary of now that the winds have shifted:

Obama is recycling people from the Clinton era into his own new administration. This isn't change.

This is just yet another tired old attack upon Hillary. She remains very well-respected globally. She herself would make a fine U.S. president. The problem as I see it it that there is no political position high enough for her, so Secretary of State will have to do for now.

America is a center-right country.

Well, no. Not when people are asked about issues. Ranging from the Iraq war (we want out) to healthcare (we want single-payer universal coverage) to Social Security (young people support it) Americans consistently poll to the left side of the political spectrum, even though many self-identify as "conservatives."

And then there are the recent election results.

Of course, these are just the newly-identified strains. Other memes continue to circle the planet, mutating as they go. As long as there are hosts to be infected, perhaps they will never go away completely.

We are all familiar with these: Unfettered capitalism is the best economic system (so long as taxpayers provide it with profits and pay off its losses,) America is a "Christian nation" (there aren't any really,) the mainstream media is predominantly liberal so we cannot have a revival of The Fairness Doctrine because then it would have to be even more liberal... or whatever.

So it goes.

I have long wished that economists would subject their work to scientific and rational analysis. Instead of that, the discipline (for lack of a better word) seems to be mired in cold-war assumptions fashioned more to oppose an old and non-existent Soviet ideology than to actually tell us about how the world works.

Consumer sovereignity, the invisible hand, enlightened self-interest, the "laws" of supply-and-demand; all those sound like very nice ideas, and such as that they are. But just because somebody thinks up a nice idea, and then thousands of other people fashion themselves careers out of reinforcing those same ideas and often making a good living doing so; well, those ideas could still be bunk. Crap. Shinola. Perhaps best described as bullshit.

So modern American economics, at least the kind that filters its way out of the academic world and splashes noisily out into popularly-consumed media, tends not to be science. It's rather some sort of faith or ideology, unhinged from the real world around it. Yet it takes hold and infects that world. It is like Vonnegut's Ice-Nine in the way its viral notions freeze just about all debate that challenges conventional economic wisdom.

"Ice-Nine" is the fictional substance whose leitmotif courses through the novel Cat's Crad;e by Kurt Vonnegut. It's a kind of water crystal that instantly freezes any other water molecule it contacts. Those would in turn freeze others, on and on.

Vonnegut had once described an interchange he had at a party long ago. A scientist there ruminated on the idea of Ice-Nine for a long while, then said to Vonnegut "it's impossible."

Just like the benevolent invisible hand of the so-called Free Market. It's impossible. It doesn't even exist. It's just an idea. It doesn't really work as described. Yet we are sickened by its societal effects. It's an ideological influenza.

Remember to eat well, get your flu shot, drink lots of fluids, prepare yourself with knowledge by reading up, and wash your hands, both literally and figuratively.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Telemetry Room Review

The first room had a post-coronary-bypass patient. Pacer wires to come out later, along with his drains; up walking and talking.

The next room had a patient who came in with the sniffles. During a bronchoscopy she developed a pneumothorax and there was an air leak evident in her chest tube drainage system. She was seriously pissed off about that, but otherwise doing okay. Room air saturation 94% and up and about.

The guy in the next room died. He had said he was going to. Decades of non-compliance; he didn't check his blood sugars, nor watch his diet, and he drank and smoked all his life, so his diabetes finally killed off his kidneys. The dialysis room had called for him to go over there at 0700. When I told them that he'd passed away in the night, they said, "That's too bad. We'll take the patient in room 12 then."

Yes. Just like that.

Next door down was a chronic alcoholic with ascites. His scrotum was so swollen that it has swallowed up his penis and when he urinated it just dribbled all over. We weren't doing much for him so he'd be leaving later, which was good because he was a miserable human being whose only pleasure left in life seemed to be making other people miserable, too.

There was a post-Nissan-fundoplasty patient next. Doing well and going home soon. They were also schizophrenic. Such patients are often the best-behaved of the bunch. He never complained, but he never smiled.

Then next, a twenty-five year-old with back pain and constant demands for more and more opiates. He'd nod off with his eyes rolled up into his head. Then he'd wake up momentarily, just long enough to loudly demand that we call the doctors to get his meds increased. Then he'd pass out again, saving his nurse from having to make yet another stupid phone call.

The guy in the next room had been drinking and taking sleeping pills. He fell and broke his arm. Naturally that required telemetry monitoring. He had been discharged to a skilled nursing facility but refused to go, and his family members refused to take him home.

There was another alcoholic in the next room. He likes to drink on the tailgate of his truck. Actually, he likes to drink and then fall off his truck, having been previously admitted for this. He had failed two swallowing studies, which would seriously impinge upon his future alcohol consumption. We were feeding him through a Dobhoff tube, which gave him loose stools so he had a rectal tube also. In one way, out the other.

The guy in the next room was on his sixth admission (at our hospital) this year; there'd also been others at various healthcare outposts around the valley. He always has chest pain unrelieved by nitroglycerin; instead, larger-than-usual amounts of morphine are required due to his heroin habit. Negative enzymes, no ECG changes, negative stress tests, every time. When he found out he was discharged he suddenly developed crushing chest pain. After getting "his" morphine he went out to the curb to smoke. That seriously ticked off the lead resident, who confronted him when he got back to the floor. I thought the doctor was going to help the guy pack his things and toss him out himself. The patient promised us we'd be hearing from his lawyers; apparently one of many. Junkies with lawyers.

And so on and so forth.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday Poetry: Plath Creates Art Out of Illness

Heptonstall, England.

Waking in Winter

I can taste the tin of the sky --- the real tin thing.
Winter dawn is the color of metal,
The trees stiffen into place like burnt nerves.
All night I have dreamed of destruction, annihilations ---
An assembly-line of cut throats, and you and I
Inching off in the gray Chevrolet, drinking the green
Poison of stilled lawns, the little clapboard gravestones,
Noiseless, on rubber wheels, on the way to the sea resort.

How the balconies echoed! How the sun lit up
The skulls, the unbuckled bones facing the view!
Space! Space! The bed linen was giving out entirely.
Cot legs melted in terrible attitudes, and the nurses ---
Each nurse patched her soul to a wound and disappeared.
The deathly guests had not been satisfied
With the rooms, or the smiles, or the beautiful rubber plants,
Or the sea, Hushing their peeled sense like Old Mother Morphia.

Sylvia Plath

This poem lies between A Life and Parliament Hill Fields in the chronology of Plath's work, so it dates from between mid-November of 1960 and early February of 1961. Her first book of poems, The Colossus and Other Poems had just been published in England that October.

It's a hospital poem.

Plath miscarried the first weekend of that February, and she had been sick with another abdominal ailment that would eventually lead to her two-week hospital stay for an appendectomy in the early spring.

Saint Pancras Hospital, where Plath had her surgery:

Ruins of an old church in Heptonstall, Ted Hughes' home town. Plath and her husband visited there in December of 1960. Sylvia and Ted's sister Olwyn did not get along and they bickered with one another. The visit was cut short.

Friday, November 14, 2008