Anchors disguised as people

Have you ever worked with a person who has nothing to contribute to a situation or project? The type who lives to criticize work and never offers any constructive feedback? Who sits in meetings quietly and only speaks up to point out why action is a bad thing, why change brings risk, and why sitting on your ass doing nothing is always the best course of action?

People who “don’t” not “do”?

I hate these people.

I work with a lot of good people. And yet, I work with a few who the universe dropped on the planet with the sole purpose to point out flaws and imperfections, or  why something won’t work or isn’t right or who knows what. I like to call them “anchors” because they keep projects from moving forward by creating obstacles to dodge and hurdles to jump.

There's one of them now, hanging out, making life difficult. Creative Commons: Michael Wilson

I see this quality in many of our current politicians and the people who follow them.

They have no plans of their own and they hate everyone else’s plan.

Don’t give Americans the right to purchase healthcare, they say.

Then what should we do instead to solve the challenge of affordable healthcare for all?

Well anything but that plan?

Okay, what about this plan?

Well, not that plan either.

What’s your plan?

[silence]

So, you’re just going to say “no” to anything we come up with?

[silence]

Nothing is ever right with these people. It’s all wrong.

My daughter was like this when she was two-years old. I would build a tower with her blocks and she would come along and take a swipe at it like Godzilla walking the streets of Tokyo and down it would go. She’d laugh and it was quite a game we played. But then she grew up and understood it wasn’t so cool to destroy something someone took the time to build, especially if she was the builder.

Here’s my remodeling math: It took me a day to demolish my bathroom to the studs, and six months to rebuild it. So, anything politicians or others want to blow up, like Social Security, takes a long time to rebuild. It’s easy to remodel when you have some structure in place. From scratch is hard and takes a long time.

If we really want to “fix” this country, we have to stop listening to the people who tell us why we can’t do something before it has ever been tried, and who have no original ideas of their own. It doesn’t matter what party they’re from – they live in both.

If we don’t cover our ears to these Eeyores with half-empty glasses, we’re going to find ourselves peeing in a bucket asking when the bathroom is going to be finished while these knuckleheads debate the color of the tile.

Or, to borrow from Facebook: Done is better than perfect.

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Standing in line is agony

I’m not a patient person. It’s one of the reasons I was such a screw-up early in life, though one could argue I haven’t changed. I do feel I’m able to manage my impatience now, as an adult, and understand the value of working hard toward long-term goals.

But standing in line is still my Achilles heel and forces me into mental tailspins.

No, there are three registers and one line. What if someone makes a new line?

This weekend, at Barnes and Noble, I entered their line at the point the sign says to enter the line. But thanks to the incompetence of B&N line designers at that store, there is also an opening in the line at about the spot where you stand waiting to be called to the next cashier. So, as I walked closer to that point, a woman with two kids and man broke into the line, failing to see the beginning of the line or choosing not to walk that far to enter it.

As I was still waiting for my wife to pick out some new reading glasses, I said “go ahead” to the woman to take the first spot. I thought the man was with her and the kids. Then I noticed that he wasn’t and was on his own with a separate purchase, but had taken advantage of my hospitality to the woman.

And that’s my problem with lines, I find them very stressful because they force me to put my “asshole” hat on, to confront other people who are trying to scam to get ahead or are just plain clueless.

At B&N, I had pent-up anger left over from the day for reasons unknown, and had been a bit snippy with my wife. So I held in my need to have a deep conversation with this man and ask him what he was thinking, lest I blow up, get in fight and knock down rows of gift cards and discounted books, leading to my arrest and subsequent new profession making shivs from old nebulizers.

Lines make me feel like a chump. They are pianos being loaded to an 8th-floor apartment waiting to fall on my head and crush me.

Our next stop was World Market where a couple in their 30s walked up to the cashier ahead of me, but chose the wrong side, which happens there because the layout to pay is confusing. I’ve done it a few times myself.

Now I had a choice. I could have ducked in and been first to the register, having mastered the puzzle, or I could be a nice guy and wait for them to return from the dead-end they’d scurried into. I was a nice guy and let karma guide me by allowing them to come back around and go first.

But I paid a price for my niceness, or what I might argue to be wimpiness in the city of Los Angeles where we all want to kill each other with our cars.

I was punished when I saw the couple carrying a tall stack of dishes, each one having to be individually wrapped by the cashier. Edvard Munch, you were a genius, because The Scream was really about standing in line, wasn’t it?

More pain and suffering when the man tasted the sample chips, and liked them, doing his best to be cool for his lady and the cashier, who I’m positive wondered why anyone would spend a Saturday night at World Market, as she could attest to the torture of the place with its rugs “fresh off the boat” emitting an odd odor that made her dizzy and which she was sure wasn’t good for her health, made worse by the constant temptation of the food from countries she longed to visit but would never, but which she relived her pain by opening up cherry-gummy packages to see how many she could stuff in her mouth at one time – 16  – or eating a blood-orange chocolate bar one piece at a time by hiding it in her apron right next to a picture of her mother, whose house she would live in forever because no one would ever marry her if she didn’t find a way to lose the 35 pounds she had gained since she started sampling different foods from around the world with her five-finger discount.

Who was here first? I don't know. Did he just walk up? Hey, he's not with her. Line-cutting asshole.

So, did this dude pay for the chips when they were ringing up the endless stack of dishes? No, of course not. He decided to buy them after the first transaction was over, bringing my head close to the point of a total blood-swelling explosion. I watched the crumpled bills come out of his pocket one by one and his quest to pay with the exact amount of coins and the clock in my head slowed and I thought about paying for the chips to speed up the process or just smashing him across the face with my plastic bottle of wasabi mustard from Germany. But I didn’t.

When another employee, fresh from her nap in the stock room, opened another register I ran to it like a fire-starved pyro to a warehouse fire.

Then Sunday night we went to dinner in Topanga Canyon. At the restaurant, you stand in line and order dinner and drinks and they bring the food to the table. But you have to go to the bar to pick up your drinks. Madness at the bar, of course. No clearcut line, one bartender and every person for himself.

So I was patient, and a small line formed behind me. But other people came in and wedged forward, so I started moving forward, fighting for position.

After we received our drinks, a loud, attention-seeking woman who came into the line after us, made some passive-aggressive remark about “this guy (me) needing his drinks really bad” and that’s why she hadn’t been helped yet. I told her she came after us, but in the din of the restaurant and her own need for attention – this is, after all, a community of actors and artists – she didn’t hear me and I let it go.

I hate lines because they make deal with the clueless, the scammers, and the idiots in life who cut you off on the freeway then flip you off. They’re the people you can’t reason with, who see life in a way the rest of us can’t. The sky is blue, but they’ll argue it’s raining and believe it, or when caught in a lie will lie to cover the lie.

I like places with numbers. I take one and roam around. I don’t have to worry about jockeying for position or monitoring the line for anyone who tries to cut ahead. I just have to watch the display and listen for my number to be called.

And with numbers I get to go ahead of the people I see waiting with frustrated faces because they just F-1’d their Land Rover through traffic, making over 50 lane changes, to get to the grocery store. And they walked in knowing they were more important than anyone else there, and smarter and wealthier. But with the number system there was no way they could push forward, intimidate anyone or work their way to the front of the line ahead of the guy in dirty shorts and a ratty t-shirt smelling like he only takes showers every four days or so – what the fuck is he doing in a grocery store like this ahead of me, Mr. Range Rover thinks.

And I look back as I place my number on the counter and grin, ordering the last of Tuesday’s night’s delicious and highly sought after beef stew. Sorry about your bad luck, number 13,  I say and walk out into a world without order.

The two Hells of cystic fibrosis

There are two Hells of having cystic fibrosis.

There’s the first one, which includes all of the torture that comes from having the disease – the coughing up of blood, collapsed lungs, hospitalizations, sinuses filled with polyps, breathing treatments, and anything else directly related to the disease. It’s a long list and longer than I want to capture here.

And then there is a second hell, which is one created from the pain and suffering from ailments caused by being in the churn of the medical system and/or medical devices. Or, indirectly caused by CF. For example: Blood clots. That’s a good one. Cystic fibrosis didn’t cause my newest clot, a medical device I needed to fight CF did. Welcome to Hell 2.0.

Fox thought these shots were called "Love a Fox" and stole them from me. Had to break it to him that they were generic "Lovenox." Silly Fox.

And what about the gut buster known as C-diff? It’s a beauty caused by taking too many antibiotics and/or being in the hospital.  How many times have I come home from the hospital feeling all shiny and new only to have C-Diff spoil my party? Still in Hell 2.0.

There are other side effects of being caught up in the medical grinder. Burned kidneys from the tobra, different strains of bacteria, nurses that slide into bed with you at night while you’re sleeping.  You name it, anything goes in Hell 2.0.

And what about medical bills? Don’t they deserve a hell of their own? Nothing like phone calls to insurance companies and hospital billing departments. Ah, the empathy and understanding of a customer service rep when a claim has been miscoded or rejected. Collection agencies? Devil’s spawn. This is Hell 3.0.

We’re fighting on more than one front here. How many Hells do I have so far?

I have one more. There’s the hell when my wife comes in and lets me know she has an early meeting in two weeks and asks if I can bring our daughter to camp.

Then the asterisk leaves her gentle mouth – “if you’re around.” Not as in “if you’re alive” but rather “if you’re not in the hospital with a blood thinner enema running 24/7.” Ouch, that hurts. Planning two weeks ahead can be impossible in . . . Hell 4.0.

That’s it. End of rant. No fancy ending. Just the simple feeling I’ll never be able to communicate the complexity of this disease to anyone, even my close friends. But I’m grateful there are people out there who get it and donate their time and money to the fight. They’ll be going to nice cushy cloud palaces in the sky when they pass. Me? I’ll be frying in Real Hell where I have to do three treatments a day and stick blood thinner shots in my stomach and . . . hold it. Bloody hell, that sounds like what I have to do now. NO, I’m already there. Where’s the elevator outta this place?

[p.s. I do know things can always be worse. I’m just venting some steam, letting it out. It’s all good. This too shall pass.]

Eating wet dynamite while the universe shoots me in the groin

Gunshot #1: I’ll be saying goodbye to a tooth soon. It’s fractured and needs to come out. Gunshot #2: I have big clot in my neck from my four-month old port. Thank you, universe, for the double tap to my groin. It hurts so good.

A month ago I started having pain in one of my back teeth. I grind a lot and have been too busy to get a fancy nightguard to prevent it. I ate through the last one. Along with the pain, I noticed a lump on the gum that would fill up with blood and pop and repeat the process.

The first dentist called it a fistula, which made me think of Dr. Nanos’s research cows that still cause me nightmares. The third dentist, a periodontist, told me I fractured the tooth and it needed to come out. Oh, and better yet, I have very dense bone and the tooth is quite attached to its current location. No rusty pliers and go-go juice will pull this one out. Bring in the power grinder and drill.

Yet, that wasn’t the best surprise of the week. Tuesday during my treatments I felt pain in the right side of my neck and trap. I had been to the chiropractor the day before and thought the neck adjustment must have injured something. But in the back of my mind I thought that it felt like clot pain.

Wednesday, the pain was still there on and off. When it started throbbing on Thursday, I went to the mirror and looked at my neck and there was a large golf ball bulge behind my collar bone. When I pressed on it, a pulse of fluid shot up my neck.

What hellish medical practical joke is this, Universe?

This is the Urgent Care television. Why do they even have it on the wall? I felt like ripping it down.

The doctor at urgent care took one look at the bulge and told me to go to the emergency room because they had a scanner for clots.

Off to the ER, my favorite place in the entire world. What a joy. And the visit didn’t disappoint.

I was lucky enough to draw the doctor who watched too much of the TV show E.R. and longed for the drama of patients with fence posts through their heads and fifty gunshot wounds to the torso – not patients with bulging necks.

“Urgent Care sent you here?” she asked, letting me know my case wasn’t worthy of a visit and that she’d never seen a clot in the vein that was swollen. Clearly, I was a douche bag to her at that point and an interruption to her day of more interesting patients who needed their heads sewn back on.

She called for the scanner, reluctantly. The scanner scanned me and found nothing, which brought about relief on my part. No clot. Doctor Thrill Seeker hated me even more and couldn’t explain (didn’t care) why I had pain and a pulsating lump in my neck. Go away, uninteresting patient. Come back when a gang banger has put a cap in your ass and your blood is spraying like a Yosemite geyser. Then I’ll be interested in helping you.

Ah, the joys of the random ER doc. Wonderful and delightful. But luckily, I have a good CF doc who agreed to take a look at it the next day at the hospital, even though there was no clinic.

After he looked at it, he ordered another scan. The result: a clot at the point the port enters my vein. The ER didn’t scan low enough by a fraction of an inch. I couldn’t believe it. Instant depression in a cup. This meant more Lovenox shots, of which I’ve done over a 1,000 for past clots. And being prone to coughing up blood, the shots are the equivalent to me eating wet dynamite. It’s not if my lungs are going explode like a dragon spitting fire, it’s when and where

So, that’s where I’m at right now. 5 Lovenex shots down. Who knows how many to go. The banging sound you hear right now is my head hitting the wall.

Or, is it the sound of irony since I got my port to avoid the clots the PICCs gave me?

Stay clot-free.

Shallow thoughts from an idiot purple sheep

[WARNING: Adult language, themes, and childish thoughts – a bad combination. Read at risk to your mental health.]

The big monkey pays a visit

Life disguised as King Kong took its giant monkey hand, paw, whatever it’s called because I’m too lazy to Google it, and picked me up by my ankles and dipped me headfirst into a gas-station toilet. Then it slapped me to the ground like a wet fish and called it a head cold.

I have a bad case of mascot head, big and stuffy. My chest is congested, too. It’s not looking good for staying out of jail. I should know better than to go to the mall in March without a space suit – and one for my daughter, too. The term for “Mall” in my language is “Casa de Virus.”

Read the instructions on the soup can and follow them

Soups don't burn people, people do

I read the instructions to cover the soup bowl and let it sit for a minute before removing it from the microwave. But I didn’t let it sit or stay covered – hence the accurate title of this blog post. Instead I pulled it out and peeled away the plastic covering.

The escaping steam burned my middle finger, bad. Bad enough to override my mental ability to turn pain into pleasure, which makes me sound like I’m calling 900-numbers nightly to speak to dominatrices. It’s not nightly, just once a week, but even this level of pain overrides my amazing ability to withstand pain, which was honed by dozens of hospital visits and the hospital workers who think smoking crack and showing up to work is a good idea.

And, if Lizippy’s brilliant theory of “Google-search-word pervs” is true, I should get some new readers with this post. Welcome, slaves. Now sit down and shut up and beg for your beating.

“Leather-whip to the ass” fans aside, I will be borrowing my wife’s Vicodin, another key search word, so I can once again flip off Walmart when I drive by it. My thanks for selling me $5 rubber-hard pillows that make my head bounce up and down when I’m sleeping. Or, is it my rubber neck? Hmm, I did look at the accident on the freeway the other day.

Making a correct decision doesn’t mean a warm fuzzy feeling in return.

Yes, I made the correct decision not to go to Jersey yesterday. Still, today I stayed away from the knife drawer and was thankful California has a waiting period for handguns. Not a good day. The work team is in NJ and I’m not. Once again CF isolates me from the clan . . . of the cavebear – (more disappointed Googlers). CF has a way of doing that – for my entire life. I’ve always felt apart from others, someone who doesn’t belong, a purple sheep.

So, between my cold getting worse and not being able to travel, I’ve done a fantastic job of feeling sorry for myself today. I want a gold star and a meaty rib from the Woolly Mammoth we killed together, as a work team. We worked together to kill it. Go, Team Cavebear.

Guys, why am I by myself? Hello? Anyone? This cough isn’t contagious, you stupid fucks. Come back here.

Scare the people who knock on your door – if they’re not kids selling cookies or chocolate bars

Someone came to my door today selling steaks. Steaks? Are you f’ing kidding me? Who thinks of something like that? I know who – the guy who passes out on the couch with his hand in the front of his jockeys after drinking the entire 12-pack of Schlitz. Yes, my dad.

A dim Christmas bulb blinks while he’s sleeping it off, and he dreams: “I can sell steaks. I can sell steaks door to door. I’m a fucking genius. No one sells steaks door to door. I’ll be rich just like the person who glued sleeves on a blanket.” No, you won’t, Dad, because they sewed the sleeves on. My apologies to those Googling “selling steaks door to door,” but not to my dad.

The next time someone comes to my door selling shiate I don’t need, I’m going to put on my McDonald’s bag, or better yet, wear a bandanna, western bank-robber style. I’ll say in my happiest of voices, “I have highly contagious TB,” and ask them to feel my forehead to see if I have a fever, just like my mommy did. I’ll ask them if they’d like a whip to the ass, too.

Then I’ll call Mistress Honey with the news that some salesman who looked like my father dropped a box of $2 llama steaks on my porch. She’ll be angry because I’ve been bad again. Yes, I have.

Sunday Stories: Anger or CF? and Welcome to Liceland

Anger or CF? Which came first?

When the SUV stopped hard in the middle of the crosswalk, we and the crowd of families with soccer kids had the “walk” symbol. The hurrying driver realized he’d stopped too deep, a common mistake easily forgiven at that point. But then he looked over at us and decided to compound his mistake and step on the gas and make the right turn. My fuse burned fast. And I added to his mistake by yelling out “Jerk Off” in front of everyone and, I hoped, loud enough for him to hear. My wife looked at me in the way only wives can do, and I apologized to everyone. I meant to say “asshole.” But I caught myself, just not in time to keep quiet. I redirected the impulse and fired off another nicer term for the young impressionable minds, each of whom, thanks to me, asked their parents tonight: What’s a Jerk-Off, Pa? Well, son, that’s someone who yells “Jerk-Off” in public. I don’t understand, Pa? Well, son, let me make it simple. It’s the same as an asshole. Exactly.

In a perfect world, without CF, my wish would have been for the SUV driver to stop, get out, and for me to deliver a beating to ensure he wouldn’t run a crosswalk again with kids present. It makes me wonder if I were “cystic fibrosis free,” would I be blogging from jail right now? Is my anger created by the trials of cystic fibrosis, or not? I believe I would not have the degree of pent-up anger without the life CF gave me, or has taken from me, depending on one’s point of view.

Welcome to Liceland. Now go home.

If my wife owned a flamethrower, our house would be a pile of ashes right now. She would let rip with the weapon and scream, “Burn in Hell, lice, Burn in Hell,” until there was nothing left. My daughter and I would stand watching, silent, fearful we might draw her attention and earn a good singeing of our hair as a precaution.

This weekend has been difficult on my wife, who has the strength and courage of a frontierswoman. But even lice can break the strong. She’s cried several times from being overwhelmed. She is due. Her chromosome-challenged husband has mild hemoptysis and may be hospital bound. And, our house, garage and a car are filled with quarantined black plastic bags of anything non-washable. “Can you fit in one of these bags,” she asked me. I kid that she did, maybe. Yes, I kid. Stop it, Fox.

The bug bags will be here for the next two weeks (she wants four weeks) while the eggs, if there are eggs,  hatch and die. My fear is that my wife will have done all of this work to eradicate the lice, then my daughter will go back to school Monday and be infected again.

We emailed the school Friday. They’ll do an inspection Monday. What’s interesting is how many families don’t tell the school when their kid gets lice. We discovered this over the weekend: “Oh, yeah, so and so had lice, and so did they and them. Oh, and them, too.” Yet, we don’t remember the school mentioning them or they. Oh, well, what can you do?

So, we continue to vacation in Liceland and abide by the strict laws of the country. We strip down to our birthday suits before entering the house, then receive a chemical shower, a body-cavity scan from TSA workers, and fresh white space suits. In my Darth Vader voice: “Lice, I am your father.”

We’ll kick the lice problem, one day. Or soon we’ll be living at the Holiday Inn for a few weeks until we catch bed bugs and have to move to the moon, which is bug free I hear. But who knows? Perhaps here is a louse living there that burrows into your ear and eats your brain, which, for me, makes the moon the perfect place to live.

Tapping the Maple Tree

Lately, I’ve been tapping my anger like one taps a maple tree. I jab a spike in my right leg and let it drip sap into a bucket. Most of the time I keep the anger inside, contained. But slowly, I’ve been draining it, letting go of my fear of using it.

Does this hurt the tree? Because it hurts my leg.

We went to a restaurant a few weeks ago for lunch. It took forever to find a parking space. And when my daughter is hungry, that feels like forever and a day. The restaurant was half full; it was 2 p.m. The hostess came to take our drink order and they were out of fresh squeezed lemonade, their specialty. On a Saturday?

We ordered water and an ice tea. But the hostess never came back with the drinks. She walked by us a dozen times – we had transformed into customer ghosts. Then the waitress helped everyone except us. So, we got up and left. No one cared.

Not getting service made me feel bad because I take it personally. My wife says I shouldn’t because it has nothing to do with me – it was a poorly run restaurant. But I tell her the world revolves around me. It always has something to do with me. Was there something wrong with me? Look, I know there’s something wrong with me, but does it really show in the 10 minutes I’ve been in your restaurant? Are you clairvoyant? Did you read my mind and not like what you saw? I don’t like it either, but you don’t have ESP. If you did, you would have seen I’m a great tipper. So there, Amazing Kreskin.

Then I remembered rule #1 in the Book of the Unknown: Never leave the house without the paper bag on your head – you’ll only frighten people if you do.

So, I wrote the restaurant. I’ve written many emails to companies expressing my happiness or displeasure. I had never used the “F” word in one before. Never. Time to tap the anger tree. Bang. I showed it to my wife: “Are you really going to send it?” Bang, I pressed “send.” Then I thought, “What did I just do?” and panicked, a little. But something about it felt good, like they deserved it. The staff at the restaurant was incompetent and lethargic. They ruined our lunch and made us feel bad. The crappy restaurant needed a wake-up call, something with punch – an email capturing the emotion of how we felt. I did my best to communicate it. I never heard back.

We ate lunch at Jamba Juice next to the blenders. I offered my daughter 10 bucks to walk into the evil restaurant and throw her Mango-a-go-go on the floor. “Then, run like the wind. We’ll have the car ready.” Simple plan. She declined. At least she laughed and saw the humor in it. That’s my girl.