Saturday, November 28, 2015

Pass The Cheese And Quackers

Medical specialists may seem like dull people, with their narrow focus and all, but they have fun at parties. I know this now.

Let me back up. I've had a long-standing policy of avoiding non-recreational drugs. I'll step into a small nest of antibiotics if they're called for, but I think the prescription drug business is a racket and a trap, especially the older you get. No one ever seems to get off of their meds, and instead they get more and more of them, and the meds start playing with each other and not with you, until all you are is a hollow host for pharmaceuticals. A lot of older people I know are having more trouble with their drugs than they are with whatever they're supposed to be treating. I don't want to jump on that train.

Which is all well and good, inasmuch as nothing really bad ever happens to me. It's been an easy policy to carry out, so far. And yet, out of sheer irritability, I got myself on a drug. I went in to the Ear Nose and Throat guy because of my chronically clogged crustacean tubes and he looked in my ears and up my nose and down my throat, because that's pretty much his whole sad life, right there. And he declared my hearing perfect and my crustacean tubes open on both ends.

"But they're not," I insisted. "Particularly the left one. In fact, the only time it's opened up in the last eight months has been when I've been on an airplane." I'm aware this is completely backwards, but there you go. People have been known to drive their babies around to get them to sleep; I'm wondering how long I can be allowed to stay at 30,000 feet, because it's like a little slice of heaven up there.

"Well," he said, "if it's even a tiny bit clogged, it can feel uncomfortable, I suppose," he said, thickly implying that I have inserted an imaginary bean in the middle of perfectly serviceable crustacean tubes that are obviously open on both ends. "Tell you what," he went on. "We can put you on Flonase. Sometimes that will clear things up. But I have to warn you: too many times people give up on it too early. You have to take it for at least two months before it takes effect."

Flonase. Great. A liquid you shoot up your nose. I've spent decades trying to keep liquids out of my nose. But I was irritated that this doctor thought I had a fantasy ailment, and yet had a treatment for it. I'd had my heart set on relief; I gave it a go. I was given six months' worth of nose juice. What could go wrong?

The pamphlet was helpful. Do not take Flonase if you're allergic to Flonase. Avoid people who are sick or have infections. Avoid spraying in eyes. Close one nostril; carefully insert applicator into the other nostril. Oh! The other nostril. Check.

Three months in, I've noticed no change in my condition whatsoever. A drug with 120 doses in one tiny bottle doesn't seem like it could be too dangerous, but I decided to look it up online.

Well hey!  You can overdose on the stuff. Evidently you can go blind,  your bones can shatter, and you might develop "fullness of face, neck, and trunk, increased facial hair, and a lack of menstrual periods." All of which describe me to a tee. Also, it's for congestion, sneezing, runny nose, or itchy or watery eyes due to allergies. None of which I have. This is nuts. I must stop taking this shit now.

But he did say it takes a long time before I'll see any effect. I'd hate for the first three months to be wasted. Maybe I'll give it another few weeks.

The doctor is yukking it up at the Medical Specialist parties. "Did it again," he's saying. "I got one to spray shit up her nose for no reason whatsoever. And get this," he pauses to dab his eyes, "I told her she wouldn't notice anything for at least two months," and the rest of the guests guffaw and splutter into the cheese plate. Glasses clink all around. The pharmaceutical rep has to cross his legs, he's so overcome.  Only the proctologists are having more fun.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

They Didn't Mind The Quack Quack Quack

Kaiser Permanente is a highly regarded health maintenance organization, and I like them well enough. Certainly I do not count myself among all those whiners you hear complaining about how they took off the wrong leg and stuff, like they're so perfect. I mean, they can do that only once at most, and then it's problem solved.

They've never offered to take anything off of me. I had a fatty deposit on my eyeball once that they figured could stay put. Got something they call fibroid tumors growing inside me and something else hanging out of my urethra like a damn pee deflector, and their surgeons won't get out of bed for any of those, either. They won't even slice off the mole where my eyebrow used to be. Sucker is big enough to throw shade but the only C-word they keep using is "cosmetic." During my colonoscopy, everything looked so good that they not only didn't nip anything out, but they didn't even need to clean the itty bitty camera afterwards. All they ever do when I point out potentially fatal conditions is offer to keep an eye on things.

That's the real problem with Kaiser. They never find anything wrong with me. I've explained to anyone who still listens that there's something wrong with my heart. It skips and flutters and doesn't kick in on a hike until I've gone a quarter mile or so, when it finally says oh fine and starts working again, and sure, then it gets me up a mountain and back, but you can't tell me people don't die in the first quarter mile. They do.

The doctors humor me. They've stuck electrodes on me and put me on a treadmill and hooked me up to machines and did a lung function test and most anything I've asked them to do, and everything always comes out just fine. They're quacks.

Take the other day. My crustacean tubes have been clogged up since I got the flu in February, so I consulted the Ear Nose and Throat contingency. They gave me a hearing test. They stuck doo-dads in my ears and disappeared into a different room and had me push a button when I heard things. Well, evidently, they haven't seen such a good hearing test on an old lady in ages. They couldn't stop gushing about it. Evidently, I could track whales from fifty miles inland. But heck. They stuck the sounds right in my ears. I'd like to see them try it from a few yards away, behind the crustacean tubes' backs.

That's what the nurse-lady did when I was taking my physical exam for postal work back in the '70s. She got at one end of the hall and asked me to repeat what she said, getting softer all the time. "Pancake," she said. "Pancake," I said back. "What?" she said.

That's how you conduct a hearing test. Well, it was silly anyway. Letter carriers never listen to anyone. They had us lift a seventy-pound sack, which was at least germane to the job. For the rest, they could have just dispensed with the physical and issued us bullet-proof vests, and we'd have been fine for anything that was likely to come up in the station.

So the ENT doctor came in and said more nice things about my hearing test and looked in my throat, where he claims he saw my crustacean tubes winking at him and looking tip-top, and then he looked in my ears and told me, breathlessly, that I had beautiful ear drums, and wrote me a prescription for Flonase just for the hell of it and called it a day. They're all about the flattery, Kaiser. Apparently I am a pink paragon of perfection.

Basically, they don't think I'm ever going to die of anything, and that's just medically incompetent. They have no credibility. I'm not buying any of it until someone peers down my throat and up my butt and between my toes and tells me it looks like I have a touch of being about to be hit by a bus.

And they're going to want to keep an eye on that.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Near-Death Experience, And Them What Love Them

Photo by Beth Glisczinski

It was a wildly successful trip we took to California. We accomplished all goals. We wanted, depending on which of us you asked, to ride roller coasters, or stand on the ground near them. And we wanted to visit friends. Good friends! One was a former boyfriend of mine, something I have in common with his husband. And two of them I married. Signed the certificate and everything.

It was Beth and Dean who ferried us to Six Flags amusement park. The way it works, you hand the people a wad of cash and they let you in, and then you can ride all the rides you want. Ordinarily this works out to about a thousand bucks per ride, because the lines are so long. But we were clever, and arrived the day after Halloween, which is a major holiday in San Francisco. Every adult was too queasy to contemplate a thrill ride, and the kids can't drive. We had the place to ourselves.

Dave and Dean in the front row
Wasting no time, Dean and Dave shot off to the first deeply terrifying ride they could find, and Beth and I sat down at a table outside a snack bar because it looked like it wasn't going anywhere. We lost sight of the boys, until Beth spotted them way off in the distance, upside-down against the sky. Beth would make a terrific birder.

Neither of us really understands why a person would want to get on these rides, but there are plenty of people who do, and many of them are not despondent.

Beth and I did gamely agree to climb aboard a tiny roller coaster that didn't get any more than six feet off the ground. Unfortunately, I still couldn't handle it. That sucker was taking the corners just a little too fast for safety, if you ask me. An hour later, I consented to strap myself into a flimsy bench seat and go way the hell up in the air and sail slowly around in circles backwards. Maybe some people wouldn't find that frightening, but they lack imagination, and do not realize that all the straps could conceivably disintegrate at once and then all they'd need to do was climb over the bar and jump off, and they'd be pizza.

Perhaps it makes no sense for someone like me to go into such a park, but in my defense, I had a good idea there'd be ice cream in there, and I was right. And it did my heart good to see those men smiling as hard as they were. And they were. I still don't get it. Why do some people want to feel as though they're about to be killed?

"That's just it," Dave explained. "You might feel like you're about to die, but your brain knows it's not true."

Hon, you just described waterboarding.

I looked it up. Although there is no consensus on the reasons some people are so enamored with thrill rides, it's generally agreed that it's hard-wired in. In some cases, experts guess, people like to feel as though they are defying death. Whereas I prefer to defy death by going about my daily business while not dying.

Others speculate that thrill-seekers tend to depression and anxiety and feel relief only when they are forced to be in the present, experiencing immediate terror and not worrying about the future. Also, they have a different relationship with their brains. They have a powerful compulsion to stimulate their own amygdalas, and while I might not understand it, I am willing to accept they are born that way. Who am I to judge? Would I want to stand in the way of a thrill-seeker getting a few hours' respite from the daily wretchedness that is his life? No sir I would not.

Not as long as there's ice cream.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Pack Of Algorithms

Everyone knows Facebook has an algorithm. An algorithm is one of those things--like a parameter, or a paradigm--that you can easily use in a sentence without knowing what it is, as in "Facebook has an algorithm."

"Algorithm" is named after 9th-century Persian mathematician Al-Khwarizmi, in the sense of not being named before him. (Similarly, "G-string" is named after George Washington.) So algorithms have been around a long time. We just haven't much cared.

Unfortunately, ignorance causes us to be complacent about algorithms. We assume that Facebook is a big important company with smart people and they can be trusted with an algorithm or two. They might have started with just a cute little one but it never stops there. "No problem," we think, complacently, "surely they are free-range, grass-fed algorithms, and nothing hinky is going on."

But as soon as you turn the other way and let a nice company acquire algorithms, they're going to want more and more of them. At first they're going to be on display at the company headquarters campus, right near the artificial pond with the fake waterfall and the ducks. But soon enough they're part of a secret captive breeding program and there's no way for John Q. Public to keep track of what they're up to.

And what they're up to is figuring out every little thing about you so that you're more likely to part with some cash. Originally they were just set loose to herd data. It was a pretty good life for them, running free and nipping at heels and getting a lot of data all bunched up tidy so the fleecing could proceed more efficiently.  But then they were bred to be oh hey! Those are the very slippers I was looking for, right there in the sidebar! ever smarter.

One of the things some of Facebook's algorithms have been doing is deciding what goes into your personal news feed. You might think your friends have quit putting in stuff, but it's just that an algorithm has done some sniffing around and decided you weren't all that interested, and has run your friend's post right off the page. And since you don't see it, you don't miss it. And then they'll put in stuff from people you've never heard of that they think you'll like. But lately, they've gone even further. They've sniffed out the stuff people actually do click on, and thus might be expected to miss, and thought: well now! This must be valuable stuff. Maybe someone will pay us to prioritize this little item.

And that is why I can put out bits of cheer and delightful life observations and all manner of fun on Facebook, but if I put in a link to my latest Murrmurrs post, all of a sudden it's all arf arf arf and I Don't Think So, Missy. You don't get to just promote your stuff. Not even if you're not making any money off it. You want your Murrmurrs post to show up in everyone's newsfeed, you need to grease a little Facebook palm.

I was puzzled about this at first. I'd put in my link, and then Ditty the Dancin' Fool (frequent commenter, Friend Of Pootie, and loyal sharer) would put in the same link on her page, and all my friends' comments showed up on her link. They didn't even know her, but she'd tagged me and that was enough to get it to show up for my friends. And then I heard from people who wondered why I had quit linking to Murrmurrs, even though I always do.  And some who (gad) even wondered if I'd quit writing the blog.


There are ways you can fix your own Facebook news feed. You can go to the top right corner and click on News Feed Preferences and click on Prioritize Who To See First.

Or you can click on my name and click on Following and check the box that says hell yes, I want to see links from this lady. Or maybe it says "see first"--could be.

Or, like good ol' Ditty, you can link to Murrmurrs yourself and tag me. Then even God will see it. Good luck, and don't slip in the algorithm poop.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Are You A Friend Of Pootie?

The original Starbucks logo was similar to the current version, except the mermaid had titties. This goes way back to 1971. It took Starbucks a while to get off the ground, and it's probably because of the titties. People were disappointed to find that coffee was what was on the menu, and not titties.

Mind you, she still has them. They are implied by the curves of her hair, and all the more powerful for that, because they force the brain to do the work of imagining them. The brain can dawdle at its task as long as it wants. It's the same reason reading a book is more engaging than watching a movie. The brain gets to construct the scenery. In the case of the Starbucks logo, it gets to leave some of the scaffolding up, and you're that much more readily drawn into the next Starbucks as it appears, which could be as soon as a half block away.  It's the power of the logo. Also, they sell drugs.

The logo is also brilliant because unlike your average mermaid, all enticement up above and frustration below, this one has a forked tail, and moreover, she obviously has it all spread apart for you. There's your coffee with cream, right there.

The latest iteration of the Starbucks logo assumes we all have our implied delight firmly in place in our heads, and leaves out the "Starbucks" wordage. It signals that the company has arrived, and like Nike and its swoosh, it doesn't need to spell it all out for us anymore.

And that's when it occurred to me that Murrmurrs really needed a logo. And we already have a dog-o. Moreover, he is an extremely handsome dog-o, and vain enough to embrace the role. Pootie is an interesting fellow and interested in many things, primarily being famous. He is not shy and is a natural leader. He has a number of friends, all of whom have accepted a subservient role. Scooter is typical. Scooter is a perfectly fine wiener dog, but when he arrived here from the Arfnage he was immediately drafted into one of Pootie's many enterprises, being the entire workforce of Poot 'N' Scoot Janitorial Services, a baseboard-cleaning outfit that accepts payment in M&Ms. Scooter does 100% of the work involved, but Pootie, as he points out, is the brains of the operation, and keeps all the M&Ms. We're not certain Pootie is a Democrat. But anyway, Scooter is just fine with this role, as long as he gets to call himself a Friend Of Pootie, and that's the way the rest of us feel, too.

There are already several hand-painted shirts out there emblazoned with Pootie's handsome mug and F.O.P. above. There is a Pootie Fan Club whose benefits include (all right, it's the only benefit) a laminated membership card. And now, since the Poot had been gracious enough to grace the screen here for lo these many years (seven), we here at Murrmurrs, Inc. would like to give anyone the chance to become an official Friend Of Pootie. Yes. There are T-shirts. We here at Murrmurrs, Inc. are going to begin with the proposition that we have arrived, even though we haven't, and leave out all mention of Murrmurrs.

Imagine the thrill of traveling somewhere and spying someone else wearing an F.O.P. shirt! Why, there are twenty-six of you in Australia alone, and two in Tasmania. If you do not run into someone with an F.O.P. shirt, you might run into someone who asks you what it's all about, and you can proudly say you are a Friend Of Pootie (he won't mind) and that means you're also a fan of Murrmurrs (I won't mind). If you see someone with an F.O.P. shirt while you're wearing one, you'll feel extra special.

Special-Bus Special is still special.

So are you a Friend Of Pootie? Order an F.O.P. shirt in any style or color and soon you'll be rockin' the Poot. If you want a dark shirt, click here. For a snazzy white, click here. There are tons of options. Please supply your own head.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Cow Shit Truck, And Other Stories

Every time we walk past that spot, I smile, thinking of the time, thirty years ago, the pickup truck we borrowed to get a load of manure broke down right there, and I sat in the cab as Dave popped the hood, had a look inside, and walked into the business establishment ten feet away. Five seconds later he was back out again with a fire extinguisher, and I shot out of the truck like a Heimliched meatwad, visualizing the tremendous explosion, the ball of flame, and the ensuing rain of Murr fragments mingled with aerosolized cow shit. I mean, come on. I've seen the movies.

"It was just a small fire on a wire. It had burned itself out by the time I got back. I just didn't want to do any damage to Scott's truck. I would never," Dave says, with a bit of tension in his voice, every time I bring it up, "endanger you in any way."

And that is probably true. After all, the man has made dinner for me virtually every night for forty  years, and if he'd been at all interested in doing me harm, he's had plenty of opportunity. But he never poisoned me, except that once, and he didn't feel so hot then, either.

So I'm sure he had assessed the situation correctly and I was never going to perish in a spectacular and yet comedic fashion that would have lived on in video to this day. But I can't say his record for this sort of thing is entirely spotless.

There was that stormy night I lay awake listening to a gale-force wind slam into the thin old window directly over our bed. "Wake up," I said. "I think that window's going to come in on us."

It's hard to say if Dave woke up all the way. His mumbling seemed designed to maintain unconsciousness. "That window has been there for seventy years," he slurred between snores. "It isn't going anywhere."

I'm easily comforted. His word was good enough for me, and besides, it made sense. Two seconds later an especially mighty gust hit the south side of the house and Dave launched himself horizontally into the air and on top of me like one of those safes that's always falling out of buildings in the cartoons, to shield me from broken glass, and a minute later, when I could get my chest going up and down again, I thought it was sort of sweet. Plus it was an acknowledgement that I might have had a valid concern. To be fair, he was also correct about the window, which was still sound.


Then there was the time I broadsided a deer with my Subaru, and while the deer sprang up and bounded off to die courteously somewhere else, my hood was so crumpled that it wouldn't shut. Dave tied it down tight with the only thing we had, a bungee cord, and we took off again. Later, at highway speeds, I looked nervously at the hood bouncing around with the wind getting under it, and said "I don't like the looks of that. Do you think we  should pull over and do something about it?" and Dave said "It's fine. It's not going anywhere." BLAM.

Really, it's not often you get vindicated that fast. There we were doing sixty on the highway and the hood whacketed open and hit the windshield and folded back over the top of the car and we had to stick our heads out the windows to locate the shoulder, where we sat for a few trembly minutes, and Dave said "wire might be a better idea."

As long as it's not on fire.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

It's A Bummer About Peter Pan

I joined a music performance group years ago. We meet in each other's houses and play whatever we've been working on. The benevolent founder of this salon shanghaied virtually every one of the original members. We were scraped right off the streets, some of us. He's an insistent guy, and doesn't know how to take "I'll probably throw up" as an answer.

It's been a fluid cast of members, and on any given night about a dozen of us show up. At first I was relatively comfortable. There were many people much more accomplished than I, but there were also a few rank beginners and one or two who could be counted on to (praise Jesus) play woodenly, which calms me down. I can play very musically. I can do this when I'm alone at night on my home piano and there's no danger of anyone actually listening. I can play the hell out of that instrument in those conditions.

Usually I don't do that well on performance night. And over the last few years, all the lesser lights seem to have moved on, and I find myself surrounded by lovely people with master's degrees in music performance. Opera singers show up. Clarinetists. Competitive teams of string players. It's all gorgeous and memorable, and than it's my turn to walk up to the gibbet, I mean piano bench, and, well--plink away.

But even the accomplished musicians figure I at least have what it takes to be a page-turner. I've been drafted on a few occasions. "My four friends the string players over here are going to spank the hell out of some Dvorak and Beethoven," my pianist friend Carole said recently, "and all you have to do is turn the pages for me." All righty then!

I can read music, I thought. I can sit back and watch my friend flinging out a bazillion notes and get up in time to turn that page, I thought. No problem!

The view from the page-turner's seat
Problem. Turning pages turns out to be just as terrifying as note-flinging. One false move at the switching yard and the whole quintet goes off the rails.  And it's ever so possible. Do I have the next page under my fingers, or did I accidentally grab two? I've got one and a half measures to make sure.

And then there's Beethoven, a well-known bitch. He sticks in something he calls a "movement" just for fun, but that doesn't mean the movement is always forward. He sails into it for a bit and then repeats. Lurches ahead and then backs up again. Two pages in I need to whip back a page. A little later I need to whip back two pages. Later yet he wants me to whip back to an unrelated page, probably in the Dvorak, and only then does he get up enough momentum to go forward and keep on going. It is utterly terrifying.  The possibility looms that I will whip the entire score into the audience, where it will flap around like a spooked bat.

Even without the repeats, sometimes the musical pace is so torrid that my eyeballs can't keep up. Here is a movement entitled Molto Vivian Vance which means, in Latin, that chocolate bon-bons are about to come down the conveyer belt faster than you can get them wrapped. And then there's the other problem. Twenty minutes in, your friend and her friends, with no thought to your comfort, might start playing so damn beautifully that you're caught up in the majesty of the moment, and suddenly you realize you have no idea where she is on the page. All you can do is scout ahead for a big stand-alone chord and hope she beaches herself on it long enough that you can get your bearings again.

It's a horror.  At some point, when you're in too deep to bail out, you realize that you are the invisible person up in the rigging who is solely responsible for making sure everything on stage happens as it should. And if you let go of one crucial wire, Peter Pan might go sailing end-over-end into the audience and splat into the balcony.

Heh heh heh.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Strange New World

Well, it's a dang miracle, is what it is. The dude from CenturyLink came out here to hook up our new high-speed internet and fancy TV service and now he's gone, and every little thing is working. I was cringing for an hour or so in anticipation of the explosion wherein all of my data in The Cloud would rain down and ice up the internetular driveway, and now I'm starting to straighten up. I'm still wary, but it's looking like a new world over here.

The old world had been a tableau of the stages of grief. We have been learning to accept our losses for a couple years now. That web page is going to be real pokey tonight? Okay, as long as it loads eventually. Not going to load at all? Okay, we'll shut down the computer and turn it on again and pull the cord on the modem and plug it in again if it buys us fifteen more minutes of acceptable internet speed. Not going to have acceptable internet speed? Everything will freeze up and hang on our computer screen like a museum display of what we used to care about? Okay. Maybe tomorrow. Tomorrow not looking so good? Perhaps it is time to become philosophical about the fact that we are not in control of anything, and recognize the folly of having become dependent on something that didn't even used to exist.

And I could have lived in that old world for quite a while longer if Dave wasn't such a whinypants. "The computer doesn't work," he'd point out, and demand that I fix it, because I know about two more things about it than he does, only I didn't know how to fix it, because I don't know how it works when it does work. And I didn't know if it was the computer or the connection. Or if it was just acting like a savvy old horse who knows when it's being ridden by someone who doesn't know anything about horses. I'm just going to stand here and bite grass, it says. You can yank on those reins all you want to and kick me in my massive impassive belly with your teeny weeny feet, but we're not going anywhere.

But I got tired of Dave whining about the computer, and thus reminding me that I'm an idiot, and when some guy cold-called me to offer me a shinier internet, I went for it. But I wasn't very hopeful. Especially after I spent two hours on the phone with him about it, mostly on hold. Okay, I'm going to put you on hold here for a moment, while I and everyone I work with go out for pizza, but I'll be back. Okay, I said. And then I'm going down to the DMV to get my new driver's license, but I'll be back right after that. Okay, I said.

in exile...
And yet this morning here comes Andre three minutes earlier than my four-hour window opened up, and Dave was here to steer him to the basement and crawl-space instead of wrapping wire all around our house, and after an hour or so he pops up and declares us wireless, which means the fairies are now in charge of toting our emails and such, and he punches in a wireless code, and sure enough it doesn't work. But he hmms and hmms some more and five minutes later he's found the virtual cord to my old internet service and snipped it in two, and everything worked, and it's still working. So is the TV.

"You can pull the plug on that modem--you don't need it anymore," Andre said, and I held my breath and pulled, expecting the tinkling sound of data crashing out of the ether, but nothing happened. If I shut my eyes, I can almost make out the fairies, with their CenturyLink overalls and their little names stitched on their pockets. I can almost hear them buzzing. It sounds like tinnitus, but without malice.