How the LA Times drove me mad (or madder)

I am a huge advocate of newsapers. But when the LA Times Marketing department kept calling me, I kept hanging up.

They called at the worst times and it became a game of seeing how fast I could disconnect the call: Hi, LA Times-. Click. Hi, LA Tim-. Click. Hi, LA-. Click.

Then one weekday a newspaper appeared on my driveway – unusual, as I only subscribe to Sunday’s paper. I once received the paper daily until this little invention called the Internet came along.

It must be a mistake by the carrier, I thought. Then another paper fell from the sky, and so on. And into the trash they went, unread, as each one contained yesterday’s news that I’d already read on my computer the day before.

It must have been ordered by one of the operators I hung up on, I realized. Kudos to him or her for the practical joke, which I couldn’t help but appreciate. Respect. You got me. You got me good.

So, I called the LA Times to tell them to cancel the paper I never ordered. When the rep connected, she told me I was receiving the paper as gift from the LA Times for being a loyal subscriber. I told her I didn’t want it and to cancel it. please.

Like a computer that doesn’t understand a command, she couldn’t compute the input of me not wanting a free paper. Can’t compute, can’t compute. After five minutes of back and forth, she transferred me to another operator who had the authority to cancel my free paper.

The second operator did everything she could to convince me to the keep the free paper. As I don’t like to get mad at polite, hardworking people doing their job, I patiently told her to cancel it. She held her ground and stated all of the great reasons I should keep it, ignoring my logic, pleas and, eventually, my crying like a baby.

At this point, I’d spent 20 minutes of my life in newspaper hell. So, I decided to cancel my Sunday paid subscription, which glitched her computer programming and made her admit defeat in trying to save two orders. After 25 minutes of my life wasted, she canceled the free paper and Sunday’s paid subscription, which put me in the doghouse with my wife, as she uses the grocery coupons.

Now this happened over a week ago. And I expected it would take a few days for the cancellation order to happen. However, each day I walk outside and guess what’s there – a newspaper. And it stares at me and speaks directly into my feeble brain and says in a soothing voice: Hello, I’m here, and will be forever. You’ll never get rid of me. Enjoy me. Read me. Kiss me. Burn me. Or, roll me up nice and tight and use me to beat yourself in the head.

My advice: Never hang up on the LA Times. You’ll be sorry if you do. I am.

The woman with the blue hair

I wish I could tell you the exact words spoken by the woman with the blue hair, but I was bending over having an argument with my daughter about not shutting off her Nintendo DS and I didn’t see the woman when she spoke to me. She said something like “If you spank your daughter in public I can only imagine what you do at home.”  Let me clear this up first: I don’t spank or hit my daughter, nor did I on the streets of Ventura that day. But somehow this woman in her late twenties with bright blue hair and a coffee in her hand thought I did. Somehow her mind saw something that did not happen and she felt the need to comment on the illusion.

“Sorry?” I said. “What did you say?”

She told me I shouldn’t spank my daughter. I guess at this point I should have just walked away and ignored her. But as my daughter had already wound me up by continuing to play her game and giving me attitude about it, I was already in “fray mode.” I won’t go into all details of the loop that started at this point, but it started with me explaining that my wife and I don’t believe in spanking and never do it, which is true, as I got spanked a ton growing up and wasn’t going to inflict that on my child. So, this complete stranger accusing me of something like that got me pretty heated fast. My voice was loud and I was pissed, but anything I said was followed by something to the effect of “I saw you spank her.”

Now had this been an argument with another man, it would have escalated into a fist fight, which would have caused me to cough up blood, of course, and the police would have come and it would have been a mess. Fortunately, I realized two things: I couldn’t get in a fight with a woman, as that would cross a line I would never be able to live with; the argument was becoming pointless, as arguing with her would never change her mind of what she thought she saw.

My daughter started crying at this point, which should have a been a major clue for the woman that she was wasn’t crying before, a good indication she didn’t get spanked. “You made your daughter cry,” she said. “You made my daughter cry,” I said, which doesn’t sound that cool on the page but I said it with such intensify that the woman didn’t say anything after that. I hugged my daughter and looked back at the woman one more time. She flipped me off. I just waved her off in a way that said you’re not worth my time and walked away with my daughter, who had never experienced anything like this heated argument in her life.

We went for pizza and it turned into a great teaching moment. We spoke about how we couldn’t let the woman ruin our day. We could have gone back to the car and gone home, but she would have defeated us if we had done that. It also allowed me to discuss the types of people that exist in the world and how you have to be street smart, which is another reason you don’t walk along with your head down playing your DS. People and situations come at you fast. Head up, eyes open.

If there is a karma side to the story it’s this. As my daughter and I got back to the car later, a woman called out to me. She and her two friends were there when the argument was going on. She told me she had seen me standing with my daughter and I hadn’t spanked her, which is amusing as I didn’t need confirmation, but I understand she meant it as support. She said I was controlled and had it happened to her she’s not sure she could have managed it like I did, which is funny as I felt wound up and bordering on a lack of control, but I didn’t use foul language in public and in front of my daughter, which I was happy about.

This nice woman told me she debated getting involved and stating that I didn’t spank my daughter, which deep down I would have liked just to prove the blue-haired woman wrong. But who knows what would have happened or if the annoying woman would have even believed the witness. It may have escalated the situation. So, I let my witness off the hook and told her it was best that she stayed out of the situation. It seemed she needed to hear this, as her inaction was bothering her. I was happy to help her let it go and absorb all of the burden.

Now if I could just let the damn thing go. It’s several days later and I still replay the situation in my mind. It taps into my CF anger and OCD and I keep thinking about it. I like to win and perhaps that’s where my frustration lies – there was no way to win, but I still want to. I also have a new appreciation for the fact many witness statements in court are incorrect. Somehow this woman saw something that did not happen, yet was convinced it did. Or, she just wanted to mess with me, which is possible. Or who knows what her motivation was – and that bothers me. For as long as I live, I’ll never know what really happened that day or understand human behavior, including my own.

And now for today’s grift


"Diamond teeth make me feel pretty, oh, so pretty."


My wife went to the dentist today – an honest dentist who shares a lot of interesting stories. One was about an elderly patient who brought in his more elderly mother for an exam. The woman was a few weeks out of bypass surgery and didn’t look like she was doing well and might not have much time left. They had gone to another dentist who recommended $35,000 worth of dental work. (It must have been same the diamond package Kayne West recently added to his lower teeth.)

Fortunately, my wife’s dentist did the minimum needed to make her comfortable and saved her enough money to buy a new Cadillac, if that’s what she wanted to do with the leftover money. Whereas the other dentist wanted to buy a new Cadillac for himself or perhaps the Ukrainian mistress he keeps in an apartment in Van Nuys. That’s how I see a person like that who tries to hose an elderly woman in the last stages of her life – he probably cheats on his wife too.

My wife’s dentist shared other stories about the methods dentists and doctors use to bill for money patients don’t owe per the contract of their insurance – if patients pay the bill great, if not and they complain, it’s wiped away like it should have been in the first place. That one really gets under my skin because we get those bills trying to trick us into paying what we don’t owe. It’s unethical.  Yet, it happens. And I wonder who allows it to happen. It’s not some computer that thinks up a great idea to rip people off. Computers aren’t assembled evil and ready to program devious billing practices. It’s a human who thinks this stuff up and somehow finds a way to live with him or herself, along with the pile of money made from the deception.

All of this makes me wonder how ethical we are as a society. Every day I read stories about people skirting the edge of what’s legal and a gray area of almost being illegal, but justified as a billing error or clerical mistake or medical recommendation. This isn’t a robbery of a 7/11 or someone embezzling a million dollars. It’s not an obvious crime that shows up on a grainy video on the 11:00 p.m news. This is a different kind of robbery. It’s not glamorous. It’s not easy to detect. And yet, it feels like it’s happening more often and some justify its financial “cleverness” and ignore it unless by some miracle of detective work it’s exposed.

It’s modern-day grifting and the victim is our bank accounts and faith in others. One’s not so easy to recover.

Not feeling so hot

Though it’s good that I’m out of the hospital, the bad news is that I don’t feel well. During the hospitalization, I suffered from chills, low-grade fevers and sweats that would leave me soaked like I’d stood in a downpour for 20 minutes. In the afternoons, early evenings I would crash hard, which explains the lack of blog posts during the stay as it’s hard to write when you’re curled up in a ball hoping a bolt of lightning will strike you and end your misery. No such luck.

All of this mystified the doctors and they never really came up with an explanation. When I went off the Tylenol a few days before they kicked me loose, they looked at that as a positive sign. So did I. But they never really asked me how I was feeling when they surprised me Friday and sent me home. They made an executive decision that 20 days of IVs was enough. They must have entered it into their mental program and processed it – Send him home, he should feel better by now. I guess I should, but I don’t.

I brought the low-grade fevers, chills and body temperature swings home with me. What a bonus. Now the question is whether I have to go back to the hospital or not. I lived with them over the weekend hoping they would magically go away. Finally, I emailed my doctor this morning and he replied with a few questions about my stomach, which is fine. Then I didn’t hear back. He must be hoping this will pass, go away without explanation, which is what they all must have been thinking while I was in the hospital. Well, it didn’t go away tonight. And tomorrow I go back to work and I feel tired and 50 percent. It’s going to take everything I can muster to get through the day.

This is the first hospitalization where I feel the decision-making system during my stay failed me. It took them six days to embolize me. I wish I had had the courage to force the decision sooner. I didn’t. But I knew I needed to be embolized from day one. They kept throwing the possible dangers of the procedure at me. Yet, my lungs decayed by not doing treatments. I may never get that lung function back. It’s one thing to be hosed by cystic fibrosis; it’s another to be hosed by the medical process. The latter makes me angrier.

I’ll be tortured about this visit for the rest of my life.

Home at last

After 20 days in the hospital, I returned home Friday night. But not in great shape. You’d think after that period of time in the hole and amount of IV antibiotics, I’d be walking in, refreshed, strong and ready to get back to life as normal. Instead, it felt like I’d run some kind of endurance race or Ironman and barely had the strength to cross the finish line or threshold of my front door. I fell over the line exhausted and disoriented.

Three weeks ago, cystic fibrosis picked me up in its monster hands like I was a rag doll and tossed me hard to the ground. I didn’t see it coming. And after 20 days of sitting in a room the size of some walk-in closets, my body and muscle mass have deteriorated and my mind feels twisted and tired. The physical bruises of blood draws, the PICC area and embolizations will heal over time, but the rebuilding of everything else will take longer. But still I feel lucky. I survived. And that has to be enough for now.

Thank you for all of the comments and well wishes. They made a difference each day. A big difference. My apologies for not replying yet. As the stay lengthened, it turned into both a physical and psychological battle that sapped my energy. Most of the time I escaped into episodes of Dexter and Californication, movies or reading, when I had the energy. Anything that took my mind off of cystic fibrosis and the situation helped and became my mental Band-aid. Now it’s one day at a time as I come back to life.

Despite everything that happened, I still stand by my claim: I am the luckiest guy in the world. CF hasn’t beaten that mantra out of me yet. It’s my F.U. to the disease. CF can choke on it.

Digging holes

Strange that the bottles on the web site don't match the ones I bought.

The morning started out rough with me feeling like the Human Torch. Tylenol acted as the bucket of water. I resisted filling the Vanco Rx, which was the right decision, so far. I’m feeling better tonight. I spoke to my stomach doctor on the phone today and he allowed me to move up to Ensure, telling me that four of these a day would provide me with the protein and nutrients I needed. (But not much eating satisfaction.) Unfortunately, they don’t come in an M&M’s flavor. So, I had to violate the liquid diet this afternoon and eat a handful, or two, or three of real M&M’s. Though I did chew them up until they became liquid-like.

*               *                 *

My gardener came by in the afternoon. I hired someone else to do some water-saving landscaping. He did a crappy job and I got hosed for over $1,100. I didn’t really complain to my gardener about it. I just mentioned it in a matter-of-fact kind of way. I may have to go to small claims court for the first time in my life and my gardener may get the job after all.

So, there I was mentioning the botched job the other guy did when my gardener told me that he had purchased over 100 acres of land way north of here where he and his family would one day create a farm with corn and cows. And he’d retire there. Watch his kids work the land. Milk the cows. Eat the corn.

That’s really cool, I thought. Really cool.

He needed water on the land to do all of this. Of course. Corn needs it to grow. Cows drink it to survive. Makes sense. So he hired a guy to drill a well, which was going to cost him around 50K. He gave him 10K to start, then inspected the progress which was going fine. He gave the driller another 24K. The work stopped and the lawyers came out and the driller declared bankruptcy. My gardener got a half-dug hole and lost his life savings.

I knew he worked hard for that money, in the dirt. It didn’t come easy.

He wanted me to know because, I think, he, like many of us, wanted to share a painful story. And because he wanted to give me some perspective on what losing real money is like. I didn’t lose my life savings. He did. I wasn’t complaining, but my story triggered his.

When he told me it was going to cost him 25K to fill the hole, well, what can you say at that point. Of course I said something stupid like, can’t you just fill it in with dirt? Wrong, you can’t. According to the government, a 50K hole has a proper way it has to be filled. That put an end to my talking about my $1,100 hit to the wallet.

The situation reminded me of the times over the years when I’ve listened to someone talk about their health issues – they had the flu and had to stay in bed for three days, or they had knee surgery and stayed overnight in the hospital. Of course I’m thinking if you only knew how many days I’ve racked up in the hospital, my friend, if you only knew. But I keep my mouth shut in those situations. And I wish I had today.