Sunday, July 31, 2011


Two young sisters played the the violin and viola at my church this morning. They were pretty good. Not remarkable by any stretch, but talented enough to get me thinking about my own little trip down the path of fiddling.
I was flipping channels sometime back in 2003 or 2004 when I happened upon an PBS special featuring a Canadian fiddling group called Barrage. They were fantastic, and if you've never seen or heard them I highly recommend that you give them a listen. They did one particular number during the show called 'Mountain Spring' that struck me as so beautiful that I decided I had to learn to play the violin.
The Mrs. got me a fiddle for my birthday and I started trying to teach myself the rudiments of fiddling with a couple of DVDs and instruction books. It was a slog. The violin is not an easy instrument to master. When you're trying to learn it on the cheap without benefit of one-on-one attention from a skilled teacher, it's even harder. I ran out of patience before I got very far along. The problem was that I couldn't stand the sounds I was making.
A well played violin is sweetness itself. The tones elicit an emotional response that we humans would scarcely be able to replicate without the dulcet resonance of a good fiddle. A well played violin can make women weep and strong men go weak in the knees.
Mine was not so powerful, and never so skillfully bowed. Mine made a sound that was most reminiscent of an asthmatic cat having its feet severed with a rusty saw. The sounds I was able to get out of my violin elicited an emotional response in me that has only been duplicated by sitting with my wife and watching episodes of 'The Real Housewives of [Insert the city of your choice. They're all equally strident.].

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Quitting smoking is easy. I know. I've done it nine times. Of course I had to start back smoking eight times to get to the ninth, which finally took. I've been smokeless now for thirty years. Still, occasionally, when I smell cigarette smoke, especially outdoors, I'm tempted to find a cigarette and light up. I haven't...yet. I try to stay vigilant. I already know that I'm easily seduced by a life seen through a haze of smoke.
The first time I quit was when I went to Air Force basic training in the Seventies. I threw out my Pall Malls and bought a pack of nicotine chewing gum at the airport before I got on the bus to Lackland Air Force Base. I figured the gum would give me the edge I needed. That's what the ads said, anyway. I had the gum in my locker for our first inspection as basic recruits. The drill sergeant doing the inspection saw the gum and decided to make an issue. He picked it up and turned to me.
You trying to quit?” he asked.
Yes, Sir.”
He got right in my face at that point, so that our noses were almost touching.
Then just $@#&%!? quit, Dumbass.”
He took my gum, and I just $@#&%!? quit. It turned out to be pretty good advice, even though it only lasted for six months or so. Every time I quit after that, including the last time when quitting finally took, I did it without any chemical assistance.
The second last time I quit, I used the buddy system with my friend, Trish. We both quit the same night and vowed to be each other's support system. The idea was to be on call 24/7 to talk each other out of smoking.
Now Trish was kind of a beauty. She was also a trust fund child, and not much use to herself or anyone else. She had the haircut of a sixty year old woman and the mind of a six year old girl. She was spoiled rotten. She use to pay me $80 a month to balance her checkbook because she couldn't focus on one thing long enough to do it herself. Among all her friends, I was the only one who knew how much she spent on therapy every week. The eighty bucks paid for my cigarette habit.
This plan was doomed from the start. Trish lasted about nine hours. She went by a convenience store and bought a pack of cigarettes the next morning. The only testament to her resolve was that she didn't open the cigarettes until she got to my place. She didn't come over to get herself talked out of smoking. She came over looking for affirmation of her smoking. I helped her smoke that pack of cigarettes. I'm not proud. We all have our weaknesses. Like I said, Trish was kind of a beauty.
The last time I quit, the time that quitting worked for me, I quit with my step-son. He was six at the time. He wanted to quit sucking his thumb. I wanted to quit smoking for his mama's sake. She is allergic to cigarette smoke, and since she was and remains the love of my life, it seemed prudent to give up the Kools that had become my preferred brand.
We made a pact and went cold turkey one fine and sunny morning. I haven't had a cigarette since, nor has my step-son sucked his thumb. He does smoke though. He's tried to quit multiple times. Maybe one day he'll find a way that works for him. I hope so. Meanwhile, every so often, when I really, really think I'd like to smoke a cigarette, I will suck my thumb instead.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Mother Lode of Righteousness Satisfied

Cystoscope: a lot scarier when you know where they stick it.
First off, I need to apologize for the delay in getting a fresh post up here. The reason I have been remiss is that I have been battling yet another kidney stone for the past three weeks. As you can probably imagine, this is a considerably more difficult thing to do without insurance than it is with. With insurance, you present yourself at a urologist's office, and they take care of the rest. There may be some pain and discomfort. There may be some unpleasantness involving a cystoscope. These will be short lived, however, and more than offset by a speedy recovery.
Without insurance you have to weigh your options carefully. If you have money you have more options, but mostly those extra options involve spending the money. Without money, job or prospects your options mostly revolve around managing the pain while you wait for nature to take its course.
I've passed so many kidney stones in my life that my ureters are almost entirely scar tissue by now. Unfortunately it is scar tissue with nerve endings, so it is still possible for me to experience considerable pain in the process of passing a stone. Having lots of practice does not make this any easier.
I've been thinking since my latest rocky episode began about putting up a post describing the pain. People are curious, and curious people have a right to know. This presented a problem for me because I couldn't think of a way to describe the pain of passage without using copious amounts of profanity. I certainly use a lot of profanity when I'm passing a stone, so it only seems appropriate to use profanity when describing the experience.
The problem is that I don't normally incorporate much profanity in this blog. It's not that I don't approve of profanity. I do. I read a lot of mommy bloggers who revel in the profane. There is something appealing to me about a young mother discussing her day-to-day interactions with her children, her spouse, and the rest of the world, while peppering her speech with vulgar, profane, and scatological phrasing like a drunken sailor. It's not a turn-on in the perverse sense, but it does tickle my funny bone.
My problem is that my nieces and nephews read my blog. (Hi, kids.) My nieces and nephews are a sanctified lot. They are home-schooled, parochialized, and sheltered. They are also brilliant, accomplished and beautiful, and I'm not just saying that because they are listening in.
In my sixty plus years on the planet I have never met children as polite, engaging, personable and interesting as the six being raised up by my brother and his wife. Think what you will about the supposed limitations of a conservative Christian family-value orthodoxy, I'm a believer. I will not, cannot, argue with success. This being the case, I am loathe to display my baser proclivities here. I don't want them to think less of me because I am unable to maintain a civilized level of decorum, even when discussing the acute %&!@##* pain associated with kidney stones. I need a better way.
I already knew of a better way it turns out. Back in the early Eighties, when I first started having kidney stones I found a 'Far Side' cartoon by inestimable comic artist, Gary Larson. It featured a man standing in an exam room with his urologist. Behind the man was a rhinoceros with its horn firmly embedded in the man's back. The caption reads, “Wait a minute here, Mr. Crumbly. ...Maybe it isn't kidney stones after all.”
I was blown away by the hilarity of the scene, and also by the accuracy of the depiction of the pain that I was then experiencing. I cut the comic out of the newspaper and sent it to my own urologist. He'd never had a kidney stone of his own, so he was less moved by the cartoon than I. There is no doubt in my mind that Gary Larson had suffered a stone though, and I don't feel the need to confirm this. It's perfectly obvious to me.
Remembering this, I thought all I needed to do was post a copy of the cartoon along with a little back-story and I would be through with this post. Not so easy though, as when I sought permission to use the cartoon here I was denied. It turns out that Larsen never permits his work to be published in electronic form. No exceptions. Ever. You can find it online if you put your mind to it. It's not like it's never done. It's just not permitted.
So I'm forced to resort to my own creativity, such as it is, to adequately describe my pain without profanity. I've decided that being impaled by a full-grown rhino is for sissies. My pain—this time anyway—is much worse than that. My pain is like having the pointy end of a pickaxe stuck in you back...and not just any pickaxe either. Certainly not a brand new pickaxe from a high-end adventure outfitter. Oh no. I'm talking about a rusty, decrepit pickaxe found lying at the bottom of an abandoned mineshaft, rusted and buried in a slurry of despair and self-loathing. A pickaxe with abandonment issues and retribution on its mind.
The pickaxe is wielded by an angry old miner even worse for wear than the pick itself. He's angry at me. He thinks I jumped his claim and spent the money wooing his girlfriend. He is not just out of sorts. He is aflame with retribution as well. And he is not content to just drive the pickaxe into my back either. He is twisting the handle to crack me open like an ore stone. I am the mother lode of righteousness satisfied. He's cussing up a storm while he twists the handle. Too bad I can't respond in kind.