Speak of the Devil: Pet Peeves And Random Thoughts

Now we know who to blame for Justin Bieber ...

Speak of the Devil: Pet Peeves And Random Thoughts: Every once in awhile, a thought or a complaint runs through your head that you might like to blog about, but it really doesn't seem to be en...

Operation Fails to Cut Out Stress


SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

            This might come out a bit more disjointed than usual, and not as funny, as I’ve just been through something of a rough week.

            What’s that, you say? I’m always disjointed and not as funny? Clearly you’ve never read the side-splitting account of my prostate exam, which never fails to clear the room.

            There are ways one can deal with medical problems: laugh, cry, or stoically carry on, for instance. I whine … but I channel it into a job. This makes me the Woody Allen of my block, complete with a much younger wife but without the movie credits.

            This all segues nicely into the story of my fiancée-wife, who I’ll refer to for the next year as my fiancée even though she’s kind of my wife. Segues aren’t just for riding around in malls anymore. (You have read my previous column explaining this, yes? Shame on you.)

            Humor at the expense of my own problems is expected, but when the medical problems are hers it’s harder for me to find the funny. That, plus the fact that we’re still going through it and I’m writing this almost literally at the last minute (and I don’t take the term literally lightly, figuratively speaking), make this column difficult.

             I wanted to explain why I’ve been largely absent from many areas of my life and why I was often an emotional bear (and you don’t want to mess with emotional bears), and above all, to say I’m sorry for using all these parenthesis. It’s also an emotion dump for me.

            Many weeks ago, Emily (my fiancée-wife – seriously, read my columns) started having trouble with abdominal pain, and other symptoms. Various medical people poked and prodded and said “Hm …” in their most professional manner while Emily, who’s had various medical issues all her life, did the stoic thing. I was, of course, confident, encouraging, lighthearted, and absolutely certain everything would be okay.

            Only later did I find out I fooled no one. So much for all that acting experience in high school drama 
club.

            Dr. Miller, a lady-parts doctor, sat us down to go over options. Well, I’d already collapsed into a chair, but never mind. The options: We could do nothing and see if the pain would go away. (It had been, what – three months at this point?) We could put her on birth control pills to see if controlling her raging hormones might help. (Emily’s raging hormones, that is – Dr. Miller is a male lady-parts doctor. This is where you make the joke of your choice.)

            (By the way, I was really worried at this point that the raging hormones thing would result in objects in our house being demolished, and by objects I mean my head.)

            I’m really, really sorry about the parenthesis.

            Or, we could go in for laparoscopic surgery, which means the doc uses a tiny camera to go Indiana Jonesing around the body, overwhelmed with curiosity and looking for trouble with such joy that he might as well be named Doctor Who. If only it could be done in a less invasive way, say with a sonic screwdriver, which is not a drink they serve at Sonic. More’s the pity.

            I knew it was time for the surgery when Emily, who I sometimes call Miss 4.0, expressed a complete lack of interest in her college course load. It was like Hugh Hefner saying he wasn’t interested in women.

            I took a week off from work, anticipating she might need some nursing after the surgery. Boy, was I ever right. I hate being right. I’m only right when it’s a bad thing.

I told my relatives that they didn’t need to come wait with me, under the theory that if I kept busy with writing, reading, or other work in the waiting room I wouldn’t worry, which is pretty much total bull and was roundly ignored by my mother. Other friends and relatives were flocking toward the hospital like politicians toward a photo op, until Emily came out of the operating room so quickly that I turned them all around, thinking it was all over but the shouting.

By the way, I want to take a moment to talk about Parkview Noble Hospital. This “Band-Aid station”, often put down for being a small town nothing that ships all its patients elsewhere, is where Emily had the operation. It’s also where one of my grandsons was admitted for an illness and where, in its previous location, both my daughter and I were born.

Are they going to do emergency brain surgery there? No. But the staff was competent, friendly, helpful, encouraging, caring – all those other good “ing’s”. She was in and out of surgery so quickly that when the doc stepped into the waiting room I figured it was to tell me there was a delay, and he hadn’t even started yet. At no point did anyone rush to get rid of us, or fail to answer questions or address concerns.

So if you put down a small town hospital as being worthless in front of me, those are fighting words. Or, well, very strong glare words.

The diagnosis: Endometriosis. This condition happens when cells that are supposed to stay in the reproductive system break out and have a party in other parts of the abdomen, with pain caused by their head banging music, littering of red cups still partially full of beer, and wet t-shirt contests.

I’m kidding – the wet t-shirt contests cause no harm.

While looking around with his spy cam the doc called in the pelvic police and had the party shut down. Not to go into too much detail, but the end result was a lot of pain, and medications junkies can only dream of. Yes, I did spend the next week nursing Emily back to health. No, she did not starve or get dropped down a staircase. Yes, I did come out of it sleep deprived. It’s 5:30 in the morning as I write this, five days later. She’s stretched out on the couch across the room, and I’m meeting deadline. (Note to editor: I’ll have my other news stuff to you after a nap. Also, I appreciate your note about using too many parentheses.)

I should note that during her convalescence: One contractor finished replacing my roof, I had to empty everything out of our kitchen so another could replace the ceiling and lighting fixtures, and my furnace stopped working. Life goes on, and there’ll always be something to write about. I’d just prefer, in the future, if it didn’t involve bad things happening to my loved ones.

yep -- local author on display


My daughter Charis stopped by The Bookmark, an independent bookstore in Fort Wayne, and was surprised to see Storm Chaser shelved there. I’d asked them to carry it – The Bookmark and Summer’s Stories in Kendallville are the only book stores that carry print copies.

She got so excited that she attracted the attention of another nearby shopper – who decided to buy a copy! I think I’ve discovered a new form of guerilla marketing.


Health and general welfare update

Kinda rough weekend. Emily is up and around more -- she accompanied me on a shopping trip Saturday afternoon (to pick out a ceiling fan, of all things) and got around in the store okay, but got motion sickness in the car on the way there. She's still heavily medicated and in pain, but getting around a lot better. With her not being able to get out much and me having to stay close for various reasons, we've been subsisting largely on a diet of The Walking Dead S1, and I've come so close to learning to cook (Those two aren't related). She can't sit straight for long or concentrate well, so there'll be a lot of college work waiting for her later.

Meanwhile, Vince and Charis Koehl came over so he could put our kitchen back together after last year's flooding, and it's looking great (thus why we were picking out a new ceiling fan after the old one proved unsalvageable). During the process he had to cut power to the house, which shut down the furnace, and now I can't get the pilot light relit. I guess with the roof replaced and the sewer cleared of roots earlier this year, it was time for something else to go wrong.

endometriosis

Endometriosis. I'm learning a lot about it ... it's an odd, not terribly serious but painful, treatable and not fun problem that Emily has. She's asleep now, thanks the the influence of really good drugs ... so I'm off to take a nap too. I know I've got comments to reply to, but I have no brain power: Will catch up with all of you later tonight.

Emily's out

Emily's out of surgery (after less than an hour!) and doing well. The doctor found the problem -- which was a large part of the concern -- and it's something relatively common and manageable; will have more info about that later. She's going to be in recovery for a few hours and then will probably be able to come home, although it'll take over a week for her to be fully recovered.

Emily's surgery

Emily's going in for some exploratory surgery in the morning, to try and figure out why she's been having such trouble with abdominal pain and other issues for several weeks now. We might be a little sparse online for awhile -- the doc says 5-7 days recovery time for her -- but I'll check in whenever I have an internet connection and let everyone know how she's doing. Prayers, healing vibes, and all manner of other good thoughts are appreciated.

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Titanic Only Latest in Disaster Fascination


SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

            Oh, yeah – the boat that sank.

            I have well over a dozen books and movies relating to the doomed passenger liner, Titanic. While many date back to my kids’ fascination with the subject after James Cameron’s move came out, I kept them because of my own fascination with both history and disasters … and, of course, the history of disasters.

            We just passed the 100th anniversary of the date the Titanic, on its maiden voyage, hit a patch of ice and slid off the surface of the ocean, despite the efforts of the crew to patch the leaks with third class passengers. It was a story of human error, class differences, heroism and cowardice, and no small amount of irony.

            You want irony? Over 1,500 people died that night, but three dogs made it onto the lifeboats. But in all fairness, they were small dogs.

            As humans we’re fascinated and appalled by large scale disasters like ships sinking, wars, and the Kardashians. We want to understand what happened, how it effects people and societies, and above all how to keep it from happening again (Or, if you’re a reality TV programmer, how to make it happen again).

We’re also – let’s face it – entertained. Disasters are like a train wreck: We’re horrified, but we can’t look away. (Well … a train wreck would be a disaster, wouldn’t it?) How many TV shows these days take advantage of the fact that everyone has a video camera? The Weather Channel used to be about forecasting – now it’s about finding and showing images of violent, damaging, terrifying things. The cast of The Jersey Shore should show up in a half hour Weather Channel program any day now.

I’ve been watching disaster movies since I was a kid, but still haven’t figured out why destruction is so much more fun than construction. Godzilla and similar Japanese monster movies were my thing. Every Saturday night, on The Double Creature Feature, some large beast that looked suspiciously like a guy in a cheap suit demolished Tokyo. The best ones were when Godzilla took on some other giant monster: Mothra, Ghidorah, King Kong …

King Kong? Well, I guess he was doing the tourist thing.

It didn’t take long for me to realize disasters are fun, as long as they’re on film and not in real life. Everyone else figured it out, too. The 70’s – in other words, my youth – were an especially strong decade for disasters. I give you the Carter administration. Since we’ve somehow segued into my youth, which was a catastrophe in its own way, let’s take a look at some of the big disaster movies of that decade:

Earthquake. Los Angeles goes down. I believe this was my first experience with young music composer Johnny Williams, who later went on to score sharks, aliens, lightsaber fights, and Nazi fighting archeologists. Why L.A. instead of the more earthquake prone San Francisco? Location shooting?

Meteor. A giant rock heads right toward Sean Connery, who later goes on to star in The Rock. See how it all works out? New York was the target this time.

The Poseidon Adventure. A freak wave, possibly a Kardashian hair perm, turns a passenger ship upside down, and the vessel begins sinking when a survivor unthinkingly flushes the toilet. Another John Williams scored film – he was scheduled to score Meteor, but backed out to have his composing muscles treated for exhaustion.

City On Fire. A city is on – oh, you guessed it. How did John Williams and I both miss this movie? Henry Fonda as a fire chief!

The Towering Inferno. We didn’t miss this one; in fact, this was the first Williams score I ever owned. It was, like many good disaster movies, basically an all-star soap opera set in a high rise that just happened to be burning.

The Andromeda Strain: An alien virus threatens to kill all life on Earth! Those aliens can get really touchy.

Where Have All the People Gone? The Sun flashes, and almost everyone turns into white powder. You can’t make up stuff like this. Okay, obviously you can …

The China Syndrome. Jane Fonda’s activism melts down a nuclear power plant. I might be remembering it wrong. By coincidence, the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident happened just thirteen days after this movie was released. Coincidence … or was it? This movie was almost completely devoid of music and thus had no John Williams, so I skipped it.

Airport. A blizzard strikes an airport, stranding every Hollywood star of the time on an airplane that contained a bomb and was piloted by Dean Martin, who was probably bombed. The movie proved so successful that three sequels were released before the 70’s ended, despite the lack of Williams. It was a hard decade for airplanes.

The Black Hole. A spaceship is sucked into the US Federal debt.

That’s just a partial list – and that just of disaster films from the 70’s. Is there any question that we’re all fascinated when things go horribly wrong? It was good preparation for my later attempts at using power tools.

I wonder if I can get John Williams to score my next home repair job?

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April 15 Deadline Taxes Brain Power


SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

            There’s a certain irony in the fact that I finished doing my taxes just minutes before April Fools’ Day.

            Now that I think of it, I wonder if someday the director of the Internal Revenue Service will hold a press conference and say, “You know how we set up this huge, expensive, insanely complicated way of figuring out your income taxes that has more twists and turns than an Alfred Hitchcock movie? April Fools!”

            That would explain a lot.

            Anyone who wonders why I waited until so close to the deadline to finish my taxes never went long form. It was also about money: I expected to have to pay, and up until now didn’t have the cash. My part time job – which you’re reading right now – is as a freelance writer, which means my publisher doesn’t take taxes out. (But they do pay me, so yay!) Add that to the fact that I also don’t get taxes taken out for the sales of my novel, and you’ve got a recipe for that old joke about simplifying IRS forms: “1. How much did you make last year? 2. Send it in.”

            Luckily I had extra money taken from the paycheck for my full time job, and in the end got a bit of a rebate. A rebate, by the way, is when you jump up and down excitedly and make big plans to use the money that your government was so nice to send you, completely forgetting that it was your money to begin with.

            The bigger reason why I waited so long to file taxes is because I’m too cheap to pay somebody else to prepare them. That’s selfish of me, considering that by some estimates over $150 billion dollars are spent just filing taxes in America every year, and how many people does that keep employed? If the feds ever did simplify the tax code, it could collapse an entire industry. Not just one, but two – the market for headache medicine would decrease substantially.

            Because I worked four jobs in 2011 (thus explaining my exhaustion), and two of my employers didn’t take out taxes, going “EZ” was out of the question. Instead I had to use the long form, code named “SU”, which of course stands for “Stroke-Ulcer”.

            I have a carefully organized filing cabinet, with folders dividing up everything so that finding the 
necessary paperwork would be quick and painless. It would, if I used that filing cabinet. Instead, I spent the year piling bills and receipts on every available surface of the house.

            After ransacking my home I organized materials into one pile for the stuff I knew I’d need, and one pile for the stuff my paranoia told me I’d need but that I never really use. Then came necessary items such as calculators, pens, notebooks, highlighters, aspirin, highly caffeinated soft drink …

            By the way, do not drink alcohol during this operation. One wrong calculation or smart aleck notation, and you’re sitting in an office with a man whose job description includes the words “make miserable”.

            Then I fire up the online tax preparation program.

            Hey, I’m not completely crazy. I’m not going to do this stuff from scratch with no assistance at all, not when long forming. My wife short formed this year (EZ – ha!) and it still took her two hours.

            It took me a day to collect and organize everything, and four hours to do the actual paperwork online. Four hours, after laying out everything.

            Overall it took an entire weekend to do my federal and state income tax returns – a bit more if you figure in recovery time. Since I don’t drink, recovery time took longer.

            I know what you’re thinking: “Couldn’t we just find a way to simplify the tax code?” Capital idea, but it flies in the face of history. Every attempt to make figuring income taxes easier has just made it more complicated. Every attempt to close a loophole opened a dozen new ones. It’s almost as if Washington was full of lawyers, bureaucrats, and career politicians who know we can’t be bothered to vote them out, but surely that’s not the problem?

            In their defense, complicated as it might seem to us peons, it costs only eleven billion dollars or so to operate the IRS every year. That’s small change, in Washington. So small, in fact, that I sent a letter to my Congressman asking for just one percent of that to help stimulate my economy. He sent me a thank you and an invitation to his next town hall meeting, which I can’t afford the gas to drive to.

            So it’s done, and I get enough of a rebate of my own money to pay my property tax bill, which again – ironic. My donation will surely take the Federal budget out of the red, and they’ll have that pesky $1.48 trillion budget deficit taken care of in no time.

            Meanwhile, my refund will get me enough fuel to reach the pharmacy, for more aspirin.