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

Bottle Glass Window

Thus Poked

Schools, like students, are merely commodities to be exploited for financial gain. A steady infusion of taxpayer money into the pockets of private education providers will ensure that this artificial market will remain profitable for those who own and administer schools.

When life gives you lemons, throw them at somebody. But save some to make a pitcher of lemonade. Then throw that at somebody.

For a good while in my life I could consistently run two miles, on the track or on the roads, pretty fast. So somebody could say "Hey, where's shrimplate? I just saw them maybe ten minutes ago!" and I'd be two miles away. Now I just go hide somewhere instead.

Stock up on a variety of guitar strings. They're not going to get any cheaper.

Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon.

Always, always, be kind to operatic sopranos. Even the little ones.

It's not like grandmother used to say: "necessity is the mother of invention." It's the opposite. Something gets invented and subsequently it becomes a necessity. Cellphones. Microwave ovens. In-home hot running tap-water. Laptops. Telecasters.

If you should find yourself in the hospital and you are sure that you are being under-medicated for pain, consider doing this: Put on your call light, wait patiently for the nurse to come to you, then capture them and hold them prisoner. Then soon you will get a large amount of medicine to help you relax and feel better.

It has not yet been clinically demonstrated that moderation causes cancer. But it could.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Sunday Plath: Reaction to Good News


Clocks belled twelve. Main street showed otherwise
Than its suburb of woods : nimbus---
Lit, but unpeopled, held its windows
Of wedding pastries,

Diamond rings, potted roses, fox-skins
Ruddy on the wax mannequins
In a glassed tableau of affluence.
From deep-sunk basements

What moved the pale, raptorial owl
Then, to squall above the level
Of streetlights and wires, its wall to wall
Wingspread in control

Of the ferrying currents, belly
Dense-feathered, fearfully soft to
Look upon? Rats' teeth gut the city
Shaken by owl cry.

Sylvia Plath
June 26th 1958

Written on a rainy Thursday, and originally to be titled "Owl Over Main Street," because Plath and her husband Ted used to hear an owl as they took late-night walks around Northampton, where Plath had taught for a year. It's an artsy New England college town, good for window-shopping.

She'd stumbled upon Ted and a female student walking back from a local make-out area one day earlier that spring. Plath was prone to fits of jealousy that would push her to emotional extremes, as her poems often showed. But the day before she wrote Owl she got very good news.

That previous Wednesday she'd gotten notice from The New Yorker that two of her poems had been accepted for publication. That meant money, as well as prestige. She was set for months.

Owl is an early Plath poem, written before her Ariel voice emerged, but in it she displays her superb craftsmanship. It's like a Bach fugue.

"Orange Owl" by Martin Cheek Mosaics.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Sunday, November 02, 2008

Resuming Sunday Plath


I'm a riddle in nine syllables.
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf's big with its yeasty rising.
Money's new-minted in this fat purse.
I'm a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I've eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there's no getting off.

Sylvia Plath
March 20th 1959

This is more of an exercise than a poem, but a delightful thing it is. Plath was at Yaddo then, and on the verge of a poetic breakthrough; one that would give rise to a nascent
Ariel voice that would later provide her with a torrent of good poems.

But first she produced this aptly titled little nine-by-nine square poem.

Another work from this period, the seven-part Poem for a Birthday, and in particular its last section, The Stones, generally are considered to be the marking-point of something new and original arising in Plath's work. Coincidentally, it's dated "4 November 1959."

Let us hope.

I Can Haz Obama Voties

This kitty was blatantly blogstolen from Libby at Plush Life.

We just got back from a day at the state fair. Normally I avoid large groups of people, but because my face is covered with prison tattoos I fit right in with the crowd there. It was good family fun.

The food was about the same as every year. Chocolate-dipped bacon-wrapped twinkie-burrito-stuffed deep-fried whole turkey legs, seven-dollar lemonade, and the ever-present funnel-cakes; cuisine such as this ruled. I guess people are eating lighter these days.


There is an idea floating around the intertubes that we should fly the flag to celebrate Obama's election, so yesterday I went to a local hardware store to buy one.

Just inside the store stood a young clerk, right out of the similarly-named 1994 movie, as I soon learned. He gave me a meek "hello" as I entered. I looked around for a couple minutes but I couldn't find the flags. As I walked back towards the registers he saw me again and he uttered an anemic slacker "can I help you?"

I said "I'd like to put up a flag."

Then, and this is an exact quote, he said "So why don't you?"

Jesus fuck. As if he were actually puzzled.

"I don't know," I replied, adding "Maybe I should just smack you instead?"

I can say that now. I'm old and punk happened.

After a little further prodding he showed me where the flags were. Thirteen bucks and it included a pole with a little eagle on the end of it. Made in China.