Saturday, April 30, 2011
"You have to ask, 'Why are you taking care of Alabama and other states?' I know our letter didn't get lost in the mail."
-- Texas Governor Rick Perry, yesterday, complaining about President Obama's trip to tornado-ravaged Alabama and demanding to know why he and the federal government supposedly haven't responded to his request for more federal help for Texas, where wildfires have destroyed nearly two million acres
"I have determined that this incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state."
-- Texas Governor Rick Perry, on April 16th, in the aforementioned letter to the federal government
"We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot to boot."
-- Texas Governor Rick Perry, in April of 2009, implying that Texas may be willing to consider seceding from the union
I swear, sometimes this is just too easy.
Incidentally, FEMA has already authorized almost two-dozen emergency declarations in the wake of the Texas fires.
Oh, and state lawmakers recently proposed cutting $34 million out of the budget of the Texas Forest Service; most of those cuts would apparently affect training and equipment grants for volunteer firefighting crews.
The above picture by the way? That's Rick Perry literally asking for God's help during an officially declared three day period in which Texans were urged to "pray for rain." So far, it should be noted, God also isn't returning Perry's calls.
The last thing I had planned to do was contaminate any discussion of the devastating events in the Deep South with the injection of partisan politics -- not this soon after the actual event, at least. But, not surprisingly, there are some who don't share my shame when it comes to pulling that kind of crap.
I give you, drumroll please, Andrew Breitbart:
"I think they look at the polling and they realize that this is a very polarizing president who needs to shore up his base, who's really investing himself in being the blue state president for blue state people. And so for him, Alabama and a red state, a place that he's almost never gone to Alabama, he knows that he can't win them over so what's the point in investing any amount of time or effort into drawing the maximum amount of help for people who don't support him politically?"
So to turn a really idiotic phrase from Kanye West: Barack Obama doesn't care about red state people -- the people of Alabama. Is that it?
Breitbart goes on to say that the media apparently don't much care about Alabama either, that because it's in the South they're not giving it the kind of coverage that they would if this disaster had struck in, say, New York or California. While he would've been right to imply that nonstop servitude to yesterday's Royal Wedding in the face of this disaster was deplorable, to claim that the fact that these tornadoes flattened Alabama as opposed to some place where members of the national media presumably get their morning lattes is absurd. First of all, if tornadoes had leveled New York or California, it would've been one hell of a story for very obvious reasons related to how often tornadoes strike those places. Beyond that, though, it's certainly true that urban centers -- regardless of where they happen to be in the U.S. or what their politics are -- tend to make for more startling coverage during disasters simply because they offer Americans common points of recognition, also because we like to believe that our cities are impregnable. But Tuscaloosa, Alabama isn't the Australian outback; it's not like it's at the ass end of the planet from us and therefore the most powerful media companies in the country will simply let it slip through the cracks. Katrina did monumental damage down south and the press was on top of it from day one.
Speaking of which: The government was slow to respond to Katrina; that can't be argued with. This time around the response has been swift and for the most part thorough. Federal help was almost instantly dispatched to those in need -- despite Breitbart's asinine assertion that Obama and his progressive cabal are holding back because, well, fuck those hicks -- and requests from states for the very necessary financial aid they need are being honored. But once again, as much as it really does pain me to bring my own partisanship into this, a commenter here mentioned yesterday the irony of state leaders who've spent the past several months howling about the evils of the federal government -- how it needs to be smaller; how government programs have to be cut back; how the states should be left alone and be allowed to nullify federal law if it suits them -- suddenly looking to big, bad Washington for help. But that's the way the federal government works: Sure, it's large and bulky and sometimes bogged down by inefficient bureaucracy, but when something like this happens it sees to it that the consolidated power of the United States of America is there for our fellow Americans. No matter who or where they are.
Oh, and it should be mentioned that Andrew Breitbart lives in Los Angeles -- with the rest of the detached media that supposedly just doesn't give a crap about Alabama.
Friday, April 29, 2011
"This, apparently, is what it takes to get the media's undivided attention: the marriage between two people who are politically powerless, and who spend their waking lives as designated fetish objects for the United Kingdom's interested citizenry, for Anglophiles the world over, and for the celebrity-fixated media. Our collective Ken and Barbie dolls."
-- Matt Zoller Seitz in a brilliantly dead-on piece currently posted at Salon
Obviously, what's going across the southern United States right now is so overwhelmingly tragic that it's really beyond the scope of appropriate description.
With that in mind, it's good to see that NBC Nightly News's Brian Williams -- along with NBC News President Steve Capus, whom I've beat up on more than once here and at the Huffington Post -- made the right decision and didn't allow the network's main anchor to languish overseas covering what's basically fluff at the expense of one of the most important and genuinely affecting stories of the year for this country.
I hate to reference Chris Rock twice in 24 hours, but it could easily be argued that heaping praise on Williams and Capus for the mutual decision that brought Williams back home from the Royal Wedding after having already landed in London is a case of people getting credit for what they're supposed to do.
But I guess these days that's as good as you're gonna get.
NBC made the right choice.
Time: Brian Williams Explains Why He Ditched the Royal Wedding/4.29.11
To help the victims of these storms, by the way, please go here.
I'll make this really quick.
I obviously don't have much to say about today's silly spectacle across the pond; aside from the fact that Kate Middleton is just disturbingly hot (see left), it's not something that affects my life or would keep me sufficiently entertained one way or the other.
But there have been a couple of humorous royal-related comments that Votar and I tossed around this morning.
First of all, William and Kate are now going to be known as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. What's interesting about this is that the titles apparently have no real meaning; they're just something Queen Elizabeth gets to pull out of thin air at her discretion.
Which got us thinking how great it would be if the Queen finally succumbed to senility or just decided to fuck with everybody and dubbed these two, "Lord Baron Von Jizzington Shitsack and Her Supreme Bad-Ass, Princess White Cleopatra Jones," or maybe just "Lord Humongous and Lady Die."
And that of course reminded us of this:
Also, remember when it looked like William was gonna be the "cool" prince and Harry would turn out to be the weenie. Man were those preconceptions backward. William is, to use the appropriate lingo, barely above a poof while Harry behaves like a kid who knows he's a fucking prince but who also knows he'll never be king. He's gone to raves, banged girls two at a time, he dressed like Hitler for Christ's sake (if that doesn't scream, "Go ahead, get pissed, I dare you," nothing does), and when he decided, "You know what? I want to kill people," he joined the Royal Military. What has he got to lose?
If he did just go off one night and shoot a hooker in the face or something, just because he could, what would happen? Does the Royal Family have somebody on speed dial who's the equivalent of the Wolf from Pulp Fiction?
"Okay, you've got a commoner, minus a head in the boot of an Aston Martin -- take me to it."
As you can tell, we're showing the monarchy the respect it deserves.
"I don’t fault any one host for throwing a party, or any journalist for attending... But the cumulative effect is icky. With the proliferation of A-list parties and the infusion of corporate and lobbyist cash, Washington journalists give Americans the impression we have shed our professional detachment and are aspiring to be like the celebrities and power players we cover."
-- The Washington Post's Dana Milbank on the annual White House Correspondent's Dinner being held this weekend
Donald Trump is just one of the celebrities who've been invited and who will be in attendance.
And that's just one of the problems with this now grotesque tradition.
It used to be known self-deprecatingly as "the nerd prom"; these days it's anything but.
I have no idea how I've gone this long without posting the most recent single from the Black Keys. Give these guys credit -- they're churning out some of the most entertaining music videos out there.
Here's the somewhat B-list star-studded "trailer" for Howlin' for You.
Happy Friday, gang.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
I watched a segment a little while ago on the always delightful Cenk Uygur's show on MSNBC and to be honest the guy and his producers really deserve to be called out on a couple of things.
Uygur was interviewing Nicole Sandler, the South Florida radio host who managed to get arrested on Tuesday evening at a town hall meeting hosted by Rep. Allen West (R-Psychopath), and during his introduction he did something that was really misleading. He showed a clip of Sandler shouting a question at West -- what some considered a serious disruption but what didn't seem like a huge deal -- and following a very minor amount of resulting chaos, the video cut to images of a Fort Lauderdale cop putting Sandler's hands behind her back and cuffing her. Both the visual and the verbal implication from Uygur's voice-over made it crystal clear: Sandler shouted some questions at West and was arrested just a couple of seconds after and presumably for it.
Unfortunately, that's not what happened.
Sandler has posted the extended video over at her website -- in the interest of full disclosure, she's a member of the Banter Media Network -- and what it shows is that as the officer was escorting her out of the room she was giving him crap the entire way. Getting upset with a cop isn't generally an arrestable offense, but it is if you also don't do what that cop tells you to -- and that's what happened. He very calmly asked her to keep moving, she slowed down then stopped, stuck her finger in his face and yelled at him to get his hands off her and -- surprise, you're under arrest.
Now, did Nicole Sandler deserve to be escorted off the premises to begin with? Maybe not. Should Allen West be forced to answer for the unbelievable horseshit he spews? Absolutely. Is it a crime to shout questions at a congressman at a public town hall meeting? If it were the jails would've been filled with terrified and pissed off Republican old people a couple of summers ago. But you don't get to react with shock when you don't do what a police officer tells you to and he hauls you off to jail for it. You want to make a political statement and purposely get yourself arrested, that's one thing, but don't pretend that some great injustice has occurred -- and that you never saw it coming -- because you didn't follow a cop's instructions and he did his job.
Incidentally, Sandler's defiant act apparently didn't stop at the arrest. She said during the interview that she was maced in jail; when Uygur indignantly asked why, she essentially came right out and admitted that she argued with the officers, questioned everything they told her to do, wouldn't immediately follow their instructions. Again, is this a reason for someone to get maced? I can't say since I didn't see exactly what happened -- but throughout the entire interview I just kept shaking my head and remembering the Chris Rock bit about how you react when a cop tells you to do something: "Yes sir!" Jesus, even if you had made the conscious decision to really stick it to Allen West at his town meeting, consequences be damned, once you're actually in police custody and you've made your point you have nothing to gain by continuing to be antagonistic toward the police. Just who do you think has the upper hand in that test of wills?
Look, I swear I'm not really trying to beat up on Nicole Sandler; shouting down Allen West is an inarguably good thing if only because everyone will get a couple of seconds where they won't have to hear him. I'm actually more pissed at Uygur's complete and borderline unethical disregard for the truth -- for knowingly twisting events so that it all became "blue meat" for his and his audience's firmly held biases. That's the kind of crap Fox News pulls all the time and it shouldn't be acceptable -- even once in a while -- from those who constantly criticize Fox for it.
Oh yeah, one more thing -- both Cenk Uygur and the lower-third onscreen graphic kept insisting that Sandler had gone to "prison." No, she didn't. She went to jail -- there's a difference.
If Uygur's going to actually be allowed to play pro ball rather than being relegated to the farm league, he'd better start taking his game a hell of a lot more seriously.
Here's the story as presented on Uygur's show tonight:
And here's the extended video:
So last night I got an e-mail from an angry reader, lambasting me for something offensive/inappropriate/deplorable that I said on this site -- you know, the kind of thing I get all the time.
This person, though, was complaining about something I said about her.
Her name is Sakina Mengle and I have to admit that since I didn't recognize it, I had to run a search through the archives and find what it was she was talking about. Turns out she's a black woman from Maryland who was -- and still is -- featured prominently on the "Diverse Tea" website. The group is aimed at proving that, no, Barack Obama's race and multicultural background have nothing to do with why the people who formed the Tea Party suddenly decided that they'd had enough of unchecked spending and government overreach only and immediately after Obama became president.
Needless to say, my comment on the matter -- posted last October -- was predictably tactful:
"You know, I can't wait for Sakina's first official Tea Party photo op -- when she walks out onto a stage at one of the group's rallies and half the crowd instinctively begins bidding on her."
As you might expect, Sakina pressed me to explain what kind of person could say such a thing, who I think I am, what my wife and child would say*, whether I had any shame**, etc.
I quickly responded to her and explained that my comment wasn't really aimed at her as much as it was at the Tea Party in general and what I believed, and still believe, to be the racist and xenophobic undercurrent to the group as a political movement. I said that, from what I can see, it did actually evolve as a direct response to the ascendancy of Obama, a guy who scares the hell out of a lot of people who feel like they're losing grip on "their America." Economics and silly worries about "socialism" do play a part, I wrote, but if the leader of the United States were still the traditional aging, white, Christian guy -- instead of the black, multicultural, highly educated and mildly progressive-minded guy who's there now -- I don't think she'd be standing out on the Capitol Mall with a bunch of other like-minded and suddenly fed-up people complaining up a storm.
Then I thanked her for taking the time to write and for being relatively nice, although appropriately indignant.
I think I've made a new friend. And really, isn't that what the internet is all about?
*"I was just out with some friends," and "Can I have some Skittles?" respectively.
**Not that I can tell.
"They say you only roast the ones you love, so this is gonna be short... Donald I'm not even sure if you're aware of this, but the only difference between you and Michael Douglas in the movie Wall Street is that no one's gonna be sad when you get cancer."
-- Anthony Jeselnik at the Comedy Central roast of Donald Trump last month
Yeah, it's not really the quote of this particular day, but how well does it sum up the way we're all feeling about this asshole these days?
(About the picture: I'm so damn tired of seeing Trump's ridiculous face everywhere I look that I substituted a photo of a meerkat. Because who doesn't love meerkats?)
Dammit, I totally missed my chance.
If I had just been able to hold on for a couple more years, she would have come to me at last.
Ad Week: CNBC's Erin Burnett Reportedly Heading To CNN/4.28.11
"Sweet Dreams" (Originally Published, 1.28.08)
I realize I'm a little late to the party on this one, but it's not as if I get some kind of Bat-signal every time one of America's TV news talking-heads makes a colossal ass out of him or herself. I'd never get anything done.
Earlier this month, CNBC's Erin Burnett -- who's been dubbed, in thoroughly professional fashion, the "Street Sweetie" -- penned a column for Men's Health magazine, supposedly detailing the eight ways in which a potential suitor might impress her and, one would imagine, melt her cold, cold heart.
Unfortunately, though not unexpectedly, it reads like The Narcissistic Bitch's Guide to Gold-Digging.
I admit that Erin Burnett is positively gorgeous -- an opinion confirmed in the tawdriest of manners by Chris Matthews's inability to talk to her on-air without little hearts dancing over his head -- and if her almost impossibly over-the-top list of turn-ons is some kind of Kaufmanesque joke, she's also the coolest woman on Earth. But it's not beyond the realm of possibility that she's completely serious when she insinuates that the simple gestures she longs for all involve the use of an American Express Black Card.
Well, never one to deny the desires of a beautiful woman, I want to not only take the lovely Miss Burnett up on her challenge -- I'd like to offer my own list of the eight things she might do, in turn, to win my little-boy heart.
I've already taken the liberty of mailing my entire wallet as well as the contents of my 401k and a couple of hits of ecstasy I found buried in my medicine cabinet to Erin's Park Avenue address.
As for my requests -- they are, needless to say, made in spirit of Erin's own list.
Men's Health: Erin Burnett's "8 Ways to Impress Me"
1. Life's a Beach I'm a big fan of long walks on the beach, my feet sinking into the sand as cool waves swirl around my heels. If Erin would buy me Hawaii, that'd be awesome.
2. Pleased to Meet Them Music is one of my passions. I'd truly appreciated it if Erin would get the Replacements back together, including bringing Bob Stinson back from the dead, and pay them to play in my living room -- nightly.
3. The Better to See You With I can't imagine a more wonderful evening than one that involves Erin and myself curled up on the couch, her rubbing my feet and my tired XBOX hand, watching her on television. This is why Erin should buy me a 70" plasma-screen HDTV.
4. Forever in Her Debt Since I plan to shower Erin with gifts of all shapes and sizes, buying her anything her heart desires, I can only ask that she pay off all my credit card bills and give me her own cards to use -- you know, just in case of emergency.
5. Please My Palate Too Like my scrumptious CNBC goddess, I'm a big fan of great food. It's for this reason that I'd like Erin to kill Rachael Ray and bring me her heart. Then go out and buy me something -- anything at all.
6. Family Ties I agree with Erin that there's nothing more important than family. If she really wants to impress me -- and I know she does -- she'll tattoo a giant image of my beloved Grand-dad on her stomach so that her pubic hair becomes his beard. If by some chance she's fully waxed, that's okay -- Grand-dad needed a shave anyway. I expect her to have the work done at High Voltage Tattoo in Los Angeles, pay for it, then buy me the studio and engage in a threesome with myself and Kat Von D.
7. Like a Prayer I consider myself a very spiritual person. I wake each morning with a smile on my face and a song of praise in my heart, grateful for the new day that God has given me and the bounty of treasures -- material and rarefied -- that he's bestowed upon me. I put my life in the caring hands of Jesus Christ and accept that there is no obstacle too daunting for the one true God. He will reward those who believe in him and punish those who defile his divine name. Unfortunately, he tends to take his time with the whole punishment thing, so I'd like Erin to buy me the Roman Catholic church, execute Benedict XVI and have me elected Pope under penalty of death.
8. Put Her There Nothing, and I mean nothing compares to life's simplest pleasures, to wit, a nice cup of tea just before bed. This is why there's no better way for Erin to prove her undying love -- than to let me teabag her.
Erin, if you're out there reading this, I'll be awaiting your response -- or your lawyer's anyway.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Lawrence O'Donnell is, right now at this very moment, hammering the hell out of his own network, and it's honestly something to behold. For his willingness to speak truth to power at NBC, he deserves unrelenting applause.
His point: the NBC Entertainment division has not only created a monster, it has created and is perpetuating a conflict of interest with the NBC News division and by refusing to immediately reveal what Donald Trump's future commitments to the network are, it's complicit in one of the most shameful ongoing political attacks in recent history by someone who is nothing more than the most shameless of opportunists.
The only problem? O'Donnell is appealing to the professionalism and decency of the NBC suits -- and they generally tend to have neither.
As soon as the video clip is posted, you'll see it here.
By the way, during this nearly fifteen minute monologue, O'Donnell calls Trump, "The most deranged egomaniac in the history of the NBC entertainment division."
Jesus, that's a powerful statement. Do you have any idea what it takes to be the most deranged egomaniac in the history of the NBC entertainment division?
I assume O'Donnell never met Ben Silverman.
The Onion's Baratunde Thurston turns his obvious and understandable outrage down to a simmer -- as best he can -- and sums up the events of today in a way I couldn't even dream of rivaling.
Just watch and listen.
"I know that there is going to be a segment of people for which no matter what we put out, this issue will not be put to rest. But I am speaking for the vast majority of the American people as well as for the press. We do not have time for this kind of silliness. We have better stuff to do. I have got better stuff to do. We have got big problems to solve. We are not going to be able to do it if we are distracted, we are not going to be able to do it if we spend time vilifying each other... if we just make stuff up and pretend that facts are not facts, we are not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by side shows and carnival barkers."
-- President Barack Obama
“You know how Donald always says, ‘People are laughing at us, thinking we don’t have it’? Here’s one of the reasons they’re laughing at us, Donald. When you show such insane disrespect to the president of your country, other countries think we’re idiots.”
-- Whoopi Goldberg on The View this morning
She went on to say, about the racial component of Trump's attacks on Obama:
“I’m getting tired to trying not to find things slightly racist. It is very difficult, on a daily basis, to see this stuff and not say, you know, this is what it is. I have been raised to think, ‘Well, maybe that’s not what they mean. Let me figure it out.’ But, being black, when you say, ‘Y’know, this is racist,’ 9,000 people say, ‘Oh, you’re just playing the race card.’ Well, you know, I’m playing the damn card now.”
Start the clock. Trump calls Whoopi, fat, stupid, a failure, mentally unbalanced, unfunny, a foreign national, all-of-the-above in three... two... one...
I guess the only thing he can't do is insult her hair.
By the way, for those playing along at home, here's Trump's latest plea for attention and proof that he's running out of ways to top himself:
Mediaite: Donald Trump Praises Confederacy, Tells Obama "Get Off the Basketball Court"/4.27.11
(Adding: One more thing: For the birthers as a whole, it absolutely is about racism and xenophobia, but make no mistake, for Trump, it's nothing more than what it always is -- shameless opportunism.)
In the immortal words of the Joker, "And here we... go!":
"FORT LAUDERDALE (CBS4) -– Former Air America radio talk show host Nicole Sandler was arrested Tuesday night after a raucous South Florida GOP town hall meeting. The meeting, held at the Calvary Chapel on West Cypress Creek Road, got off to a rocky start when a handful of protesters heckled speaker U.S. Rep. Allen West over Medicare and his requirement that questions had to submitted in writing. Police escorted them out of the room."
Ladies and gentlemen, get ready for the summer of town hall karma.
"This is not to say that Obama couldn't have demonstrated more leadership. It's a fair criticism to argue that he too often allows his opponents to seize the initiative, and he hasn't been forceful enough in articulating his own vision. That's disappointing, but it's not betrayal -- it's not evidence that Obama is some kind of conservative mole, destroying what remains of liberal America from within. And it should not be confused with the notion that had he been more explicitly radical he would have achieved more -- that's simply not guaranteed at all.
-- Salon's Andrew Leonard in a well-thought-out column on Paul Krugman and the Disillusioned Left
One of the interesting things about the referenced article is that in it Krugman comes right out and says that he doesn't doubt Barack Obama's liberal beliefs. Contrast that with, once again, Glenn Greenwald, who can't stop writing about how naive it is for anyone to assume that Obama actually wants to see a progressive outcome from his policies.
One of my favorite things about Krugman is that, agree with his politics or not, he's both a brilliant and compassionate man; he's smart enough to give you a good argument for progressive policy and you truly believe that his reason for being liberal is that he feels that someone of conscience has no other choice. I respect this about him and always have. When I shrug off the often shrill and selfish criticism of Greenwald -- and it is selfish in the sense that, like it or not, it risks the greater good in the pursuit of perfection that he seems to demand on his personal pet issues -- it's because I don't feel that there's any real sense of conscience behind it. I've actually come around on the idea that Greenwald isn't simply interested in getting people to pay attention to him -- although I do believe he enjoys being able to think of himself a thorn in the side of the world -- and I now accept that he genuinely seeks to adhere to a very strict laundry list of political issues because he considers those issues important above all. The problem is, and always has been, that he'll sacrifice everything else -- burn down the whole village if he has to -- just to get his way on them. He believes that it's worth the short-term loss to go all Nader on the Democratic party if it means a sea change in American politics. From a logical perspective, this might be true. But once again, the difference between Krugman and Greenwald is one of conscience -- and anyone who's watching what Republican and Tea Party policy is doing right now in Wisconsin or Michigan, or federally with Paul Ryan's disastrous budget plan, can see that the choice of who leads the country and makes the laws in America isn't one made between equals.
It's easy to say that a sacrifice needs to be made to ostensibly teach a political party a lesson when you're not living in the country -- which Greenwald isn't, by the way -- that will look fundamentally different, and monumentally worse, in short order should the party that benefits from your act of insurrection come to power.
Glenn Greenwald isn't the one who would be doing the sacrificing here. The whole debate for him is strictly academic. And that's the problem.
This is what I've been waiting for all year -- without a doubt my favorite song of 2011 so far and a powerful and evocative video, reminiscent of the criminally underappreciated 2005 film Stay.
Here's the title track from Manchester Orchestra's upcoming album, Simple Math.
Also, below, a fan video that I seem to keep going back to again and again -- one that puts images from Stay to a song from Keane that's also become a favorite of mine over the past few years.
This is A Bad Dream.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
I'll make this really quick.
Can indie bands please declare a moratorium on giving themselves animal names?
Jesus, there's Deerhunter, Crocodiles, Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes, Tame Impala, Wolfmother, Owl City (whose breakout single was Fireflies), Panda Bear (who's a member of Animal Collective), Foals, the Mountain Goats, Caribou, Wolf Parade -- and that barely scratches the surface.
I get that animal names have been popular for decades (Meet the Beatles), but it's almost a bad cliché that if you want to instantly appeal to the faux-esoteric hipster crowd all you have to do is slap some name on yourself or your project that makes it sound like you're not just into protecting the woods -- you're into shitting in them.
You know, now that I think about it there is a Swiss ska band called Open Season. Can we arm them?
"We need you to come in and lock shields, and strengthen up the men who are going to the fight for you. To let these other women know on the other side -- these planned Parenthood women, the Code Pink women, and all of these women that have been neutering American men and bringing us to the point of this incredible weakness -- to let them know that we are not going to have our men become subservient. That’s what we need you to do."
-- Republican Rep. Allen West of Florida, addressing the members of Women Impacting Nation
I'd run down the list of staggeringly stupid things West has said since emerging onto the political scene and being sent to Congress by the shit-kicking dolts of southern Florida, but we'd be here all day. Suffice it to say that between this bit of unapologetic misogyny and his poetic plea that America needs "Spartan women to make Spartan men," from the same speech, I think it's safe to say that the only one crazier than ex-Colonel West here is Mrs. West.
By the way, that Spartan women comment, as well as the above quote, for some reason immediately made me think of the sign on the parade float in Animal House that read, "When Better Women Are Made, Faber Men Will Make Them." It's worth noting that the way men reacted to the women's movement was still in its bumbling infant stages in 1962, when the movie is set, and that gives you a good indication of where West's mindset remains to this day -- like most Tea Party darlings, still clinging to that hallowed vision of late 50s-early-60s America, where women and minorities knew their place. There's delicious irony, of course, in the fact that West is black is and yet not only seems to long for a world in which he'd be drinking out of his own water fountain but that he takes the side of the Alpha Dog in the equation, believing he's been endowed with special dominion over all creatures by the creator. But when I think of the Animal House comparison, one thing immediately comes to mind, and I'm not sure this can be argued with: Allen West is basically the black Doug Neidermeyer.
The Beastie Boys stopped being boys a very long time ago; in fact it's kind of shocking to think that License To Ill was the adopted soundtrack of my senior high school class of 1987. What's even more shocking, though, is that almost 25 years later, they're still one of hip-hop's most powerful and vital acts.
Here's an unbelievably cool track from their upcoming album, The Hot Sauce Committee Part Two -- and this one features New York City hipster goddess Santigold.
This is Don't Play No Game That I Can't Win.
(Update: After listening to this several times, I gotta say -- holy crap do I love this freaking song.)
Monday, April 25, 2011
A few days ago I put up a quickie post that implied that Donald Trump and Fox News are perfect for each other, if for no other reason than the fact that they respond to their critics in exactly the same way. Each one, when faced with negative publicity, lashes out like a petulant child in the direction of the perceived attack -- like some little asshole bully on a playground whose skin is paper thin and whose only defense against criticism is to hurl vitriolic insults in a quest for revenge. Well, just for the hell of it I thought I'd compile a few examples to show you what I'm talking about. As I started looking back through these, I noticed how truly alike these two are when it comes to their attitude toward those who dare to publicly take issue with them.
See for yourself.
Trump To Jerry Seinfeld (who recently backed out of a charity event hosted by Trump's son):
"I agreed to do, and did, your failed show, 'The Marriage Ref,' even though I thought it was absolutely terrible . . . Despite its poor ratings, I didn't cancel on you like you canceled on my son and St. Jude. I only wish I did."
Fox News on Sarah Silverman (after she called the network a "24 hour-a-day engine of implied racism"):
"Sarah's anger is understandable having recently lost her television show. We sympathize with her need for attention considering her book is languishing near 300 on Amazon.com."
Trump To Vanity Fair Writer Juli Weiner (who penned a blog post implying that Trump isn't serious about running for president)
Fox News on Charlie Reina (a former Fox employee who left the network after accusing it of imposing a right-wing bias)
"These false accusations are the rantings of a bitter employee. It's unfortunate that his career ended the way it did."
Trump To Director Mike Tollin (who helmed the upcoming ESPN documentary Who Killed the USFL):
"(It's) a third rate documentary... you are a loser."
Fox News on Paula Zahn (who left the network for CNN):
"Paula Zahn's supposed attempt at reinventing herself as a journalist is like putting a fresh coat of paint on an outhouse."
None of this includes Trump's viciously juvenile war of words with Rosie O'Donnell (he called her a "fat slob") or Fox's slams at its direct competition (it said about Ted Turner, "Ted is understandably bitter, having lost his ratings, his network, and now his mind"). It also doesn't even get into the fact that many of Trump's and Fox's attacks end with the condescending, mock-genteel bon mot, "We/I wish him/her/them well."
Really -- perfect for each other.
(Update: I knew this was coming, and of course here it is. One more to add: A couple of days ago during an interview at the Tribeca Film Festival, Robert DeNiro took at shot at Donald Trump, so of course because Trump's a fucking 12-year-old he couldn't let that stand. His response this morning on -- wait for it -- Fox and Friends: "Well he’s not the brightest bulb on the planet. I’ve been watching him over the years and I like his acting, but you know in terms of when I watch him doing interviews and various other things, we’re not dealing with Albert Einstein." Yeah -- insulting Robert Fucking DeNiro. Unreal. I'd really love to think that there's someone out there who could verbally body slam Trump's ridiculous ass who was also so high up the cultural food chain that Trump couldn't in a million years hit back at him without looking like even more of a boob than he already does, but his ego is so monumental that I'm pretty sure that's impossible. This is a guy who has no compunction about calling the current President of the United States a joke and a fraud who wasn't born in this country and who shouldn't have been allowed into the Ivy League system. "I heard he was a terrible student, terrible. How does a bad student go to Columbia and then to Harvard? I'm certainly looking into it. Let him show his records," he says. As usual, Trump offers no proof for any of his claims -- just more of the usual indiscriminate bluster. Douche.)
Next month marks the fifth birthday of this site.
And today marks the fifth anniversary of the event that led to my starting this site.
Five years ago today, I was preparing to enter Cornell Medical Center in New York City to undergo the surgery which would remove a pinball-sized tumor from deep inside my skull. I can't even begin to fully comprehend all the different ways my life has changed since that initial diagnosis, that surgery, the early recovery period that followed both; it's simply too overwhelming. I lost a career, a wife, had a beautiful child then almost immediately lost a future as a full-time father, lost quite a bit of faith and idealism along the way; but throughout it, I was always in the process of losing something that I'm still to this day trying to come to terms with, the difficulties of which I've documented here many times: I lost myself.
The surgery I underwent changed me dramatically, and while I'm finally about as "balanced" as I'm likely ever going to be and taking care of myself as best as possible, I can never deny that I'm not who I was before the tumor -- in so many ways. I subsist on a steady diet of medication which needs to be adjusted regularly; physically, mentally and emotionally I'm not quite as strong as I once was; I live with the constant concern of the tumor's potential return; I'm pretty sure I've finally fulfilled my destiny and become J. Alfred Prufrock, although how much of that is owed to the tumor and how much can be traced back to, well, everything I'm not quite sure.
As has become a kind of tradition on this day, I'm republishing the two pieces I wrote back in late 2006 which dealt with my surgery. The unfortunate thing is that even this story -- which is essentially about survival -- now reads as painful and bittersweet given how much of it centers around my love for and devotion to my wife at the time, Jayne. I know I've mentioned this more than a few times lately -- and I think it's because I need to accept that after all this time I still haven't fully learned to deal with what happened during our relationship -- but even during this traumatic period in my life, when I desperately needed to lean on her, I had no idea what was going on each and every day when I kissed her goodbye and didn't think to question the life she might be leading in my absence.
Still, I survived relatively intact. Maybe that's the best I could hope for.
I'm alive. It's probably selfish to ask for anything more.
"Where Is My Mind?" (Part One, Originally Published, 10.12.06; Part Two, Originally Published, 12.26.06)
The First Night
"Hi. My name is Piper; I'm going to be your nurse tonight."
The voice seems to come from out of the endless darkness.
"How are you feeling?"
More than hear myself respond, I simply feel the groan bubble up from the back of my throat, creating a harsh tremor; the vibration makes my head pound harder. I'm having trouble keeping my eyes open, so I can barely bring the lithe image into focus as it glides around my bed -- careful to avoid the machines, and the tubes which hook me to them.
Once again the voice comes from nowhere.
"Are you in pain?"
I exhale and somehow manage a feeble word.
"How bad -- on a scale from one to ten?"
I have no idea how to answer that. Much worse than a bad hangover; slightly better than if I'd just been shot in the head storming the beach at Normandy. I'm not quite sure how that translates into a numerical figure.
"Seven," I say.
I open my eyes a little wider and the hazy blur sweeping around me comes into focus. I can still barely make out the features though: Short, young, possibly attractive, long hair; a girl -- the kind I'd rather not have seeing me this way. I'm not sure exactly how I look, but judging by the blasts of crimson on the neck of my gown and the crusted blood on my chin, I doubt I'm ready for the cover of GQ.
For some reason, there's an image in my head I don't understand -- a view of the 59th Street Bridge lit up at night; a view of the FDR running perpendicular to it.
I let my eyelids drift downward and allow the world to go black.
"Okay, I'm going to give you a shot of morphine," comes the voice again.
Everything seems to disappear for a moment; there's silence -- followed by a sudden thrust of liquid fire which consumes my arm from the inside out. I gasp loudly and my body jerks up from the bed, pulling the IV tubes taut. My eyes are open wide. My heart begins racing violently. I can hear the beep of the electronic monitor sounding faster and faster -- keeping time with each pulse of blood through my veins.
"What's happening?" I can barely get the words out.
Piper has her hand on my chest now, trying to push my body back down onto the bed. "You're having a reaction to the morphine. Just give it a minute."
I can't breathe; I'm trying, but I can't.
I look directly at the young nurse's face, which I can still barely make out, despite being just inches from mine. Her head is now nothing more than a black silhouette against what looks like an empty gun-metal sky. Wherever I am, there's very little light. Even with my eyes open, all I see are slightly differing shades of muted grays and blacks -- except for that view.
"Help me," I cough. "Please."
Her hand still pushes gently on my chest, as my heart-rate begins to slow -- the beeping of the monitor subsiding with each pulse. My body relaxes back onto the bed; I take a deep breath. I'm numb. The pain is gone.
"Can I ask you something?" I manage.
"Am I alive?"
The silhouette remains inches away from my face. After a moment, a sliver of gray seems to grow in the center of it; it takes me an eternity to realize that it's a smile.
"Yes, you're alive."
I close my eyes again and fall back into the blackness.
Eight Hours Earlier
My eyes flutter open; the room spins briefly, then comes into a soft focus. I hold my hand up to block out the bright light streaming in through the waiting room windows. Outside, the sun is rising over the East River and New York City is waking to what will surely be a gorgeous day. I unfortunately will be having none of it; my schedule's full for the next several hours.
I stretch slightly -- rolling my shoulders -- and turn my head to the left. The softness of my wife's hair envelops my nose and I breathe deeply, reaching my right hand around her face and running my fingers through the dark brown tousle. I can feel her breath on my arm as her head continues to rest on my shoulder. Across the room, my mother and father sit facing me; they're wearing anxious smiles.
"You were out pretty good there," my father says.
"Yeah, I suppose so."
"Can we get you anything?"
"How about a ride home?"
"Nope. Can't do that, son."
I lift my arm to glance at my watch and it pulls the line on the IV I'm attached to; I'd better get used to this kind of restricted movement. It's just after 10:30am; I've been waiting here along with my parents, my wife and her parents for the past four hours. My surgery was scheduled to begin just before seven. So far the only eventful things that have happened to me since my arrival involve me trading in my clothes for a flimsy hospital gown, getting hooked up to a saline drip and answering some questions about my past drug use. I fail to see how anything I did to destroy my mind and body six years ago has anything to do with why I'm here today. Then again, I was stupid enough to carpet-bomb my bloodstream with an awe-inspiring arsenal of opiates for an extended period of time; I'm obviously not very bright.
My wife nuzzles her head into my neck and turns to look up at me.
"Are you alright?"
I pause for a moment, realizing that I have a responsibility to be steadfast -- strong. "Yeah, I'm okay," I say with an easy smile -- one which I hope distracts from the terror in my eyes.
I'm having a brain tumor removed today.
It's approximately the size of a pinball and has rested itself directly atop my pituitary gland, where it's begun destroying the nerve-center which controls my body's hormone output. My entire physical being has essentially been going haywire since it moved in and decided to do to my head what The Who used to do to their hotel rooms.
I became aware of the unwanted guest in my brain about three weeks ago; that was when the headache began. It was manageable at first -- although unusual because a full-night's sleep did nothing to make it subside. I took Advil. I went to work. I tried to ignore it. And then it got worse -- much worse.
By just after noon, I could barely move; it felt as if someone were hitting me in the face with a sledgehammer each time blood pumped into my brain. I slowly shuffled over to my supervisor's office and explained the situation to him -- that I was in excruciating pain. I told him that I was going home.
The following eighteen hours were indescribable. The headache continued to get worse, no matter how many Advil I took or how much I tried to relax. By the time the sun went down and my bedroom was submerged in darkness, the pain was so bad that it felt like my sinuses were being eaten by bacteria from the inside out. I truly assumed that at some point I would reach up and find a new hole in my face -- the escape route for whatever was devouring my flesh.
I moaned loudly during the night, unable to sleep and instead counting off the hours to sunrise -- when I could drag my racked body into Lower Manhattan to see my doctor. I had convinced myself that a trip to the emergency room for a headache would simply end with a six-hour stay in a busy waiting room; it would do far more harm than good.
As it turned out, my doctor did little to help me; she gave me a prescription for a codeine painkiller and ordered a CT scan for the following day.
When I got back home from her office, I downed six of the pills and drifted off -- the pain ebbing only slightly.
The next day, the suffering continued. The CT scan showed nothing.
It was the day after that -- the fourth day of extraordinary agony -- that I was sent in for an MRI.
It was then that I finally found out what was happening to me.
"Well, I can tell you what's wrong with you," the technician said.
I just stared at him -- my eyes opening and closing in slow-motion. I seemed to be fading in and out of consciousness as my body tried to shut itself down to escape the perpetual torture.
"You've got a brain tumor," he continued. "And it's hemorrhaging into your head."
"Am I going to die?" I asked.
"Probably not. It doesn't look cancerous."
Two hours later, my wife and I were at New York Presbyterian-Cornell Medical Center on the Upper East Side. She was in tears; I was being prepped for surgery. It was only at the last minute that a young doctor in a smart suit pulled aside the curtain to my little room, took a look at my MRI and brought everything to a grinding halt. He said that I was a perfect candidate for a minimally-invasive tumor removal technique which would involve neurosurgeons entering my head through my nose rather than cutting open my skull. He ordered me put on blood-platelets to stop the hemorrhage, Vicodin to kill the pain, and steroids to shrink the tumor as much as possible. He scheduled me for surgery in three weeks.
In the far corner of the waiting room there's a young Orthodox Jew and his mother, sitting and filling out paperwork. Moments ago, she was casually brushing off his shoulders as he rocked in his seat -- reading the Torah, probably for the twentieth time this week. He tried to pull away from her, but she refused to relent -- no doubt wanting him to be clean and presentable, should he wind up face to face with Yahweh in a few hours. It was the kind of stereotype which is always associated with New York City, but which is hard to believe actually exists.
My parents and Jayne's parents seem to be enjoying the surreal distraction.
It's then that the doors open, and the nurse walks in and calls my name.
My wife begins to cry as I stand up. My family walks toward me and, one-at-a-time, gives me what I can only hope will not be one last hug. I pull away and shuffle toward the door, my wife holding my hand. She turns my head toward her face a final time and allows me a parting look at her smile -- the view I'll take with me into oblivion. She looks like she's about to collapse, so I put my arms around her, once again pulling the IV line, and hold her tightly.
"I love you. Don't worry. I'll see you in a few hours."
She runs her hand down my face. "Come back to me," she says.
I squeeze her hand one last time, wave at my family, and allow the door to the waiting room to close behind me. I follow the nurse down the long hall -- concentrating on the little swishing sounds my hospital-provided footies are making on the tile floor. I try to think of my wife. My heart is beginning to pound. I take deep breaths.
"Don't I get a gurney or something?"
The nurse glances over her shoulder. "No, we need to keep you awake and alert to go over the final paperwork; you need to sign it before we can get underway."
"Lovely," I say. "So I guess a shot of liquid Valium is pretty much out of the question then?"
"We'll get you something as soon as we get you into the O.R."
WE'RE not the ones who are about to have a fucking brain tumor cut out of OUR head, lady.
After a few more steps, we arrive at a set of angry, steel double-doors. Yellow and black stickers warn potential interlopers that they are about to enter an operational neuro-surgical theater, and should proceed with caution. Abandon all hope ye who enter here.
I'm reading the warning when I feel something brush against my arm. I glance down and see a manila file folder open -- several thick sheets of paper visible within.
"I need you to sign where marked please."
The blood in my veins feels as if it's being pumped through a firehose; it's making my whole body shake. I'm terrified beyond words. Without paying any real attention, I numbly sign each slip of paper and hand the folder back to the nurse. She gives me a carefully rehearsed smile and turns to face me completely.
I say nothing.
With that, she spins briskly around and the steel doors open inward -- revealing a sight which causes me to immediately fight the urge to vomit. I can suddenly hear the blood thrumming in my ears as my heart pumps it at a painful rate. I begin to shake uncontrollably.
The operating theater is massive. It has a high ceiling from which hang rows of halogen spotlights. They augment the long fluorescent bulbs already bathing the entire room in harsh white light. There's movement everywhere; technicians and nurses busy themselves in preparation for the procedure -- adjusting electronic machinery, placing vials of chemicals in rows and lining up trays of scalpels and knives whose blades gleam in the bright light beaming down from above.
I see the computer monitor which will be used to track the progress as the surgeon inserts the camera and micro-instruments up toward my brain. It sits at the head of the room's centerpiece: a large bed, with padded arms that extend outward so that the entire thing resembles a crucifix -- or the bed on which death row inmates are executed by lethal injection.
I'm shaking to the point where it's now visibly noticeable.
"We'll give you something to calm you in just a second," one of the attendants says as he brushes past me.
I'm about to collapse onto the cold floor.
I hear someone ask where my neurosurgeon is; no one seems to know.
I want to close my eyes and disappear.
A nurse seems to appear from out of nowhere on my left and touches my arm. "We need to get you up on the bed; are you ready?"
I don't answer, choosing instead to simply crawl onto the crucifix and lie down on my back like a good little martyr.
"Spread your arms, please," I hear someone ask.
I do as I'm told -- taking a deep breath and somehow pulling a few small words up from deep inside of me.
"Can I please have something to calm me?" I say, barely above a whisper.
A nurse on either side of me grabs one of my arms and straps it down to the furthest end of the transom until both are secure. I can literally hear the sound of each powerful heartbeat.
Someone touches me -- straightening out the fingers of my left hand. "Take a deep breath. This is going to hurt," he says -- and then slides a needle into the soft skin of my wrist. I clench my teeth and muffle a scream. The chaos and movement continue around me, seemingly oblivious to my presence. I just want to vanish from here. I just want to sleep.
I glance over to my left again, and there's a heavy IV line protruding from the needle in my wrist; I can see the shank deep inside my vein. The person who just inserted it seems to be examining his handiwork.
He turns his face toward me.
"I'm going to give you something to relax you -- okay?"
I turn my head away from him and face forward -- toward the ceiling. The brightness from the halogen bulbs burns my eyes; I close them and think of my wife's face. I wish she were here.
I suddenly feel something cold push into my vein, beginning at the wrist and moving quickly up my arm.
I see my wife's face.
The light begins to burn my eyes once again -- only this time my eyes aren't open.
I float for a moment. The chaos and noise around me disappears. There's complete silence.
I see my wife's face.
Somewhere, the order is given for the Faster-Than-Light jump.
The world goes white in a blinding flash.
I feel the bed shake as it slams through a set of double doors. I'm coughing violently and I can't breathe through my nose. I see my wife's face, only now it's speaking to me.
"You're alright. You made it," it says. "We have to go. They say we can't stay through the night in ICU." I'm not sure who she's talking about. I have no idea where I am. She kisses me and then disappears from sight.
The bed jolts as it hits another set of double doors and enters a darkened room, coming to rest directly in front of a large floor-to-ceiling window. The view beyond is spectacular -- if it's actually real and not simply my imagination. It's a bridge, and a highway with cars streaking along it. The sun has just set, and the skeletal structure of the bridge has come alive with pinpoint lights.
I hear several voices speaking -- the volume of their words rising and falling. I get only bits and pieces.
"...a history of drug use..."
"...should be alright..."
Then there's silence. I'm alone with only the view of the bridge and the highway, the beeping of the machines and an unmistakable song floating through my head. It's Radiohead's Lucky.
An eternity goes by.
I hear someone approach from out of my view -- feel the almost imperceptible changes in the air.
I close my eyes.
The voice seems to come from out of the darkness.
"Hi. My name is Piper. I'm going to be your nurse tonight."
The Next Morning
"Well they encourage your complete cooperation. Send you roses when they think you need to smile. I can't control myself because I don't know how, and they love me for it, honestly, I'll be here for awhile."
I'm counting the holes in the ceiling tiles.
I'm listening to the quiet pulse of the heart monitor.
I'm desperately in need of sleep.
About an hour ago, the heavy bed that's held my racked body since the faster-than-light jump that swept me from the terror of the operating table to the Neurosurgical-ICU was wheeled up to what they call the "secondary" intensive care unit. My picturesque view -- the glowing bridge and highway -- is gone, replaced by an immeasurably less picturesque view of a man named Miguel. My bed has been planted -- monitors and all -- directly across from his so that we now face each other. It should be easy to stare him down should it come to that, being that whatever happened deep in the recesses of Miguel's brain has left him unable to open his right eye. It remains folded shut in an eerie, perpetual wink.
I realize that I've lost count of the holes.
I feel my eyes close and try one more time to drift off to sleep, knowing full-well that it's impossible right now. If the half-dozen tubes restricting my movement weren't enough to prevent me from getting comfortable enough to truly rest, then the hydraulic wraps around my calves which inflate every sixty seconds to push blood through my legs would do the trick nicely. The pressure from the leggings prevents my blood from clotting and me from consequently going into cardiac arrest and dying in this bed -- with Miguel giving me one final devilish wink to send me on my way to oblivion.
I silently wish to be back in the quiet ICU room with the astonishing view. I'm going to be in pain either way; better I be in pain in near-silence.
I don't know at what point it dawned on me exactly what it was that was spread out so beautifully outside of my window -- at what point I regained even a sliver of true lucidity. I now know though that from that room I watched as the darkness enveloped the 59th Street bridge. I watched the headlights of the cars speeding under it along the FDR -- watched them thin as time passed and New York City fell deeper into the night. I counted the minutes until dawn, hoping that at some point sleep would come -- but it never did. Instead I stayed awake throughout the entire night, terrified and alone -- the steely taste of my own blood dripping down from my punctured brain, through the cotton compresses plugged deep into my sinuses, and into my parched mouth.
Every half-hour or so, the young nurse -- Piper -- would enter my room from a door I couldn't see, take my vitals and ask me if I needed anything. I asked for water. I asked for morphine, despite the frightening reaction my body seemed to have to it. At one point she placed a warm blanket over me and I realized that it did nothing to stop my uncontrollable shaking; my entire being seemed to be spasming, and wouldn't stop. I asked her for another blanket -- and another. I was cold. I was shaking and shaking and shaking and nothing would stop it. Nothing. I was scared. I was terrified. I wanted someone to hold my hand. I wanted someone to tell me that everything was going to be alright. I wanted to close my eyes, get up, and slip through that giant window like a ghost and float away into the night -- over the city, to someplace far away. I wanted to fly. I wanted to disappear.
But then there would be the rhythm of the monitor -- the whisper of the leggings inflating. There would be the sudden awareness of the painful needle shanks in my veins and arteries and the taste of the blood and the feel of it on my cracked lips and the fear would return, and I would return to the bed that held me trapped. I'd ask for more water, and more blankets and more morphine. I'd ask Piper to talk to me -- to reassure me. I'd once again be able to make out just the slightest hint of her smile in all that endless darkness -- with just the electric light from outside to bathe the room in a hint of color -- and she'd tell me that I was doing fine.
She'd tell me that the operation was a complete success.
The tumor that had been eating away at my brain was gone.
"How are you feeling?"
A nurse's voice brings me back to this moment. I'm in the secondary ICU. I can't sleep.
"Peachy," I manage -- barely. "I'm tired."
She whisks around my bed and begins checking the readouts on the various machines to which I'm hooked.
"Do you know where you are?" she says as she adjusts my IV.
"Nowhere I want to be," I say, then thinking the better of it -- "Hospital. Cornell Medical Center." Despite the languid ebb and flow of my awareness, I'm cognizant of the fact that this woman deals with enough shit -- figurative and literal -- that antagonizing her is neither fair nor wise. Thankfully, when she comes back into my field of view again, I notice she's smiling slightly.
"Do you know what day it is?" she asks.
I glance slightly to the left of her as she picks up the chart attached to the foot of the bed.
"It's April 28th, 2006."
"Yes it is," she says without looking up from the clipboard.
"I know that because it's written on the rotation board to your right."
She smiles -- checks off points on the chart.
"Very good," she says. "Can you tell me who's president?"
"Fucking idiot," I say, actually managing a hint of a smirk.
"I'll count that as a yes," she responds, placing the clipboard back on the hook at the foot of the bed and -- in the time it takes me to slowly close my eyes and reopen them -- appearing at my bedside.
She shines a bright pen-light into my eyes; it feels like it's burning a hole through to my sore and damaged brain. She clicks it off and I can still see the purple and black sun seared into my retinas. Somewhere behind it she holds up her index finger.
"Follow my finger without moving your head. Eyes only."
I do as I'm told: side to side, up and down.
"You seem to be doing well," she says. "Are you in any pain?"
"My head's pounding." I whisper now. "Needles hurt."
She pushes past another nurse who's come to fill a tiny styrofoam cup on my sliding table with water. Before I can even react, she's pulling the surgical tape from the heavy IV line which was inserted into the tender skin of my left wrist just before the surgery -- before everything went white. I feel the soft hairs being ripped away. All I can manage is a pained whimper.
"Okay, hold on tight," she says. "We're going to pull your A-line. This runs directly into your artery. You shouldn't need it anymore."
I have nothing to hold on to, but I close my eyes tightly and try to will myself away from here. In one sudden motion, I feel the shank deep in my vein slide out and the excruciating pressure from her thumb as it flattens a cotton ball into the open wound. Flashes of color dance behind my eyelids. I exhale stale air through clenched teeth. She wraps new surgical tape around my wrist.
I allow my eyes to relax without opening them, and the strange shapes projected against the inside of my eyelids seem to diffuse, then vanish. I finally fade away.
"So give them blood. Blood. Gallons of the stuff. Give them all that they can drink and it will never be enough. So give them blood. Blood. Blood. Grab a glass because there's going to be a flood."
I feel something gently stroke the inside of my palm -- a light touch. I slowly open my eyes to see a face. It's glowing bright white. As it comes into a wet focus, I realize that it's my wife. The light is coming through the window next to my bed and illuminating her soft features. She smiles.
"Hi, baby," she says. "How are you feeling?"
What begins as a groan evolves into actual words: "Better now." I smile as best I can.
I can see tears beginning to pool in her eyes. I reach up and touch her face; her skin is soft -- even softer than I remember. I look over her shoulder and realize that my mother and father are standing behind her; they're both wearing reassuring smiles. Before I can even find another word, my eyes drift downward. The room blurs. Sound tunnels away. Everything goes black.
The next thing I hear is a voice. It comes from somewhere in a dream.
"Chez," it says. "Chez. You have to wake up."
A slightly darker room than the one I remember emerges from the pitch blackness. To my immediate left, the sun is setting over the East River. My wife is still at my side, but it's the nurse's voice that's dragging me -- kicking and screaming -- back to the waking world.
"I have some bad news," she says. "The doctor wants us to begin taking blood from you every four hours. We need your arm."
Before I'm even awake enough to know what's happening, I feel the latex strap (they asked me if I'm allergic to latex, didn't they?) tighten around my arm; the cold swab of alcohol is rubbed into the crux of my left arm; the needle slips in. I wince -- curse -- awaken fully.
"I have all these tubes in me. There isn't one you can just plug into?" I seethe.
"Well, that's the bad news. We removed your A-line, so that means that we have to find a new vein each time. The rest of your lines are for putting fluids in, not for taking them out."
I turn over slightly, attempting to bury my face in my pillow but unwittingly pulling my IVs taut -- putting me in even more pain.
"You're kidding me," I moan into the pillow.
"I wish I was."
The nurse folds my arm, squeezing a fresh cotton ball into place. "Motherfucker," I whisper. I glance over to see my wife's face; her expression is a concerned pout.
By this time tomorrow, they will have practically run out of places to insert a needle into me. I'll overhear the nurse saying that several of my veins are in danger of collapsing.
"A celebrated man amongst the gurneys. They can fix me proper with a bit of luck. The doctors and the nurses they adore me so, but it's really quite alarming 'cause I'm such an awful fuck."
I've devised a plan; I'm going to get out of here.
My arms are bruised black and blue from needle punctures. Last night at around 3am, I was awakened by a large black man with a picnic basket full of test-tubes and needles and the bedside manor of Ed Gein. He attempted to physically roll me over and put a syringe into my arm, but I managed to knock it out of his hand. "I can get security in here if I have to," he said. "You better hope they're armed," I returned with a furious sneer. This exchange was promptly followed by a blackout, which was promptly followed by my coming to just in time to see a nurse inserting something into my IV.
"What is that?"
Before she could even answer, I felt my arm catch on fire -- felt it spread throughout my body. I was being burned alive from the inside out. I opened my mouth in a grisly silent scream. There was molten lava flowing through my veins -- boiling my blood as it consumed me whole.
"Magnesium," I heard her say over the sound of every molecule in my body exploding, one after the other.
Now it's morning again and I'm being allowed to shower for the first time in four days. I'm unhooked from the monitors -- wondering for a moment if the nurse's station will suddenly light up like a pinball machine at word that one of the patients' hearts has apparently stopped cold -- and am marched off to the bathroom, along with my IV stands and catheter. If there's a more pathetic or embarrassing situation short of shitting yourself, I'm unaware of it.
I somehow figure out a way to shower and shave, ridding myself of both the smell of stagnation and the ratty castaway-chic beard I've been cultivating for the past several days, then return to my bed to find one of my nurses -- unfortunately, a young, attractive one -- waiting for me with a forced smile on her face.
"What'd my payment not go through?" I say as I lie back down.
"Nope. Time to take your catheter out."
One of the few true blessings in all of this is the fact that I was knocked out when they inserted both a lumbar puncture into my spine, and a catheter into my penis. For this, I will always be thankful.
"You know, I haven't looked at it once."
"Nope. God knows if there's one image I don't want lingering in my brain, it's my shriveled wee-wee with a tube sticking out of it," I say. "Couldn't they have at least sent one of the seventy-year-old nurses to take this thing out? Spare me the embarrassment?"
"Sorry -- I'll have to do," she says with that synthetically sweet smile. She reaches down along the side of my bed as I close my eyes and begin thinking about kittens and butterflies and long, white beaches and star-filled skies and Liverpool's 2005 victory over AC Milan in the Champions League finals and the new Shelby GT and Maria Bello in leather pants in Coyote Ugly and Pearl Jam's cover of the Who's Baba O'Reilly and my wife stepping out of the shower in the morning and any other goddamned thing I can call to mind to distract myself from the twelve inch tube and deflated balloon that's about to be pulled through the end of my dick.
I hear her say the words, "Hang on," then feel razor wire shred my urethra.
My pelvis jolts forward and I muffle a scream which degenerates into a cruel laugh.
"Oh you're fucking evil," I hiss.
"Had to be done," she returns with a look that borders on satisfaction. "Now comes the fun part. If you don't urinate within the next few hours, we have to put the catheter back in." As I furiously try to rub the pain out of my wounded penis, she looks right into my eyes -- no doubt to lend the necessary gravity to her next statement. "That's going to hurt -- a lot."
I reach over and grab a plastic bottle which is now hooked to my bedside, put it under the covers and begin pissing like I've just downed a gallon of iced-tea. It burns like hell.
"I guess that settles that," I say, looking directly at her.
"I gave you blood. Blood. Gallons of the stuff. I gave you all that you could drink and it has never been enough. I gave you blood. Blood. Blood. I'm the kind of human wreckage that you love."
With my shower and shave behind me, I now look presentable for the various doctors who see me intermittently throughout the day and night -- the doctors I'm now trying to actively convince to allow me to leave the hospital so that I might be able to go home and get some real sleep. I've memorized their rounds and make sure that I'm always chipper and alert when they show up at my bedside -- typically in small packs -- to stare in fascination at their prize monkey. In the moments before they make an appearance, I sit up straight, open my laptop and slip in an episode of Firefly on DVD. I smile wide when I see them. I tell them the truth: I feel surprisingly good -- especially for somebody who had brain surgery four days ago.
Across from me, I see the typical lethargic movements of Dead-eye Miguel -- his right eye now held open by a piece of surgical tape which secures his eyelid to his brow. Across the top of his head -- running from ear-to-ear -- is an unbroken line of dull metal staples. Next to him is a newcomer to our little melting pot of brain stew. His name is Mr. Yu. He's a diminutive Asian man who smiles constantly and doesn't speak a word of English. His family tends to visit in groups of seventeen at a time, which means that at least twice a day, the secondary neurosurgical-ICU at Cornell Medical Center is transformed into an episode of MXC, complete with the requisite high-pitched squealing and howls of surreal laughter. All that's missing is a monitor lizard and young girls in bikinis with raw meat taped to their legs.
"You're going home in the morning," Nurse Cockripper says as she suddenly appears at my bedside. "Doctor Schwartz just cleared you. We're moving you to a private room for the night."
"But I'll miss happy fun sexy recovery party!" I say with a deliriously exaggerated smile.
She responds to my obvious sarcasm with a wan smirk and begins unhooking my monitors, eventually leaving only the saline drip which is plugged into my right arm.
"Can I ask you a kind of personal question?" I say as she begins to walk away. She turns around and faces me, putting a hand on her hip like a greasy-spoon waitress who wants to rid herself of a last, loitering customer.
"I couldn't help but overhear you yesterday, talking to the other nurse about some problem you were having with a guy you were dating -- how he didn't understand your job." If there's one thing I have plenty of time to do, it's listen to what's going in the world beyond the partially-drawn curtain that separates my bed from the others. I'm not sure how to specifically ask what I want to ask, so I make a quick decision that I should probably just spit it out. "How can you even look at someone in a sexual way?" I say.
Her face softens. Her posture seems to relax.
"What do you mean?"
"Well," I say, sitting up slightly, "you deal with every type of gruesome bodily function there is. You witness every horrid thing the human body can do -- and you're usually the one called on to clean it up. You stand waist deep in death and decay every day. So, how can you possibly leave this place at the end of each shift, go out on a date, watch somebody take off their clothes and put all of this out of your mind? How can you think of the body as something beautiful -- something you actually desire?"
Her eyes widen slightly. I'm fully aware that the line is at least a good ten to twelve steps behind me. It feels as if all the ambient sound has been sucked out of the room -- the single act of such impertinence creating its own vacuum. She tilts her head slightly -- her hand reaching up to reassuringly touch the ends of the long blond hair which rests gently on her chest. She hesitates, then speaks.
"It's capable of all that awfulness -- it can break down completely -- and then it can heal itself. It's the most incredible machine there is. You don't think that's beautiful?"
Sufficiently put in my place, I smile.
As if on cue, there's the squealing sound of sneakers on tile -- the chaotic tromp of young feet across the hospital floor. I look past the nurse to see two children -- a boy and girl -- plow into the ward with unruly abandon. "Papi! Papi!" they shout as they make a bee-line for Miguel's bed, jumping onto it and wrapping their arms around their father from either side. It's now that I notice that Miguel is wearing a dark, pirate-style patch over his uncooperative right eye and an oversized Yankees hat on his head to cover the grisly row of staples. He moves slowly and carefully -- his reaction to the presence of his children delayed by several seconds. It seems to take an eternity for him to fully comprehend that he's at the center of an epic group bear-hug.
Finally, a weak and sluggish smile spreads across his face. He says something in Spanish. His words are a slurred jumble.
A woman about Miguel's age comes into view and takes her place at his bedside, pulling up a small chair. After a moment, he turns to her -- acknowledging the loving touch she gives his hand.
"What happened to him?" I ask quietly, without taking my gaze away from the strange and heartbreaking sight directly across from my bed.
"He had a tumor in his head," I hear the nurse say. "The same kind you had."
I immediately turn my head and face the young nurse, looking at her with an intensity I wasn't sure I was capable of right now.
She says nothing.
I say nothing.
A few feet away, Miguel's little children laugh for reasons all their own.
The next morning, I'm released from the hospital. I walk through the revolving door and out into a brisk morning in Manhattan. I look up to see the sunlight being split apart by the fresh spring blossoms as they begin to adorn the trees along the street.
I close my eyes and take long deep breaths.
(Lyrics from My Chemical Romance, Blood)
Back in September of 2001, industrial band butterfly and remix god Chris Vrenna released a solo album under the name Tweaker that I fell in love with pretty quickly and which provided a good portion of my post-9/11 personal soundtrack in New York City.
This was the first single from that wonderfully mysterious record, with David Sylvian lending his vocal talents.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
So Votar and I are sitting here watching Yard Crashers on DIY Network, a show that ambushes people and gives them the chance to have their backyards completely re-landscaped.
Let me get this straight: A guy named Ahmed Hassan approaches strangers in a hardware store, carrying two big bags of fertilizer, and says, "I want to go to your house, right now!'"
Yeah. What could possibly go wrong with that premise?