Monday, October 31, 2016

When Parents Become Their Kids' Friends

My mom NEVER would have done this, but she found her own ways of embarrassing me.

I was talking with a close friend a few days ago about the kid/parent dynamic. The friend with whom I was conversing spent part of his career as a professional interrogator.  Being in that line of work will inevitably impact a person's style of parenting. When a parent is adept at most of the techniques available in the information-gaining trade, whether the techniques be trickery, intimidation, ability to read body language, ability to trip someone into inconsistencies in their answers and the ability to very quickly recognize those inconsistencies, and all sorts of related tactics, and the ability to remain revoltingly calm throughout the process, such skills make it next-to-impossible for a child to pull very much wool over the eyes of a parent. 

My parents were not in law enforcement or a related field, but my mom was a school administrator in my district of attendance from the time I was in middle school until I graduated from high school. Her background as a licensed clinical psychologist (in addition to school administrator) may have made her a slightly better-than-average interrogator, but there was nothing legendary in her questioning skills. What she did have going for her was connection with every school employee who had any dealings with me at school. If I went so far as to break two pencil leads in a single class session, my mother knew about it before she came home that day. I could forget all about cutting a class; being thirty seconds tardy was enough to precipitate World War III. I'm making her sound like a Nazi among parents who are school employees, which she totally was, but while she was tough in that regard, she was fair.  There were times when she came to the defense of me or of my brother. Just because she was able to act as though the world as I knew it was going to cease to rotate, revolve, or to remain in its proper place in our solar system because I became very hungry one morning forty-five minutes before lunch and [I thought] discreetly slipped a small strawberry from my lunch container in my backpack and popped it into my mouth did not mean that she was OK with teachers treating me unfairly. (In retrospect, what was it with the gestapo teacher who had nothing better to do than to run to her computer and rat a kid out to her mom because the kid, who went through high school with the nickname of "Anorexis,"  dared to sneak a strawberry into her mouth in the middle of dealing with a calculus theorem involving functions that agree on all but one point, when the kid in question was the only one in the class doing the actual work while the others were either copying my work or playing with their cell phones? Life is inherently unfair, but it was probably just as well that I learned such to be the truth at an early age.)

My dad is smart and weird enough that he probably could have been a solver of crimes in the style of the TV character "Monk," although we really didn't make him work that hard to solve most of our "crimes." On the rare occasion he had reason to believe either of us was up to something of which he would not have approved, he could usually figure it out and put a stop to it before it happened. For example, a huge unsanctioned after-graduation party for the "cool" kids (I wasn't a "cool" kid, but the organizers of the party didn't think it would be a very cool party with only about twenty kids there and were thus forced to lower their standards of coolness by inviting a few nerds) was planned to be held with booze, drugs, sex, and and God only knows what else (what else IS there?) in a largely unused barn owned by relatives of one of my classmates. My dad sometimes drove on the road past that barn to get from one of his work locations to another, and happened to notice some unusual activity, including the unloading of kegs by a couple of kids in my graduating class, there earlier on graduation day. I won't go into any more detail, but he followed us in his car on the way there. At one point we pulled over to find out what he wanted. He told us he knew all about the "cool" party, and that everyone in the car had the option of showing up at the real party (which he and my mom had signed up to chaperone; there are few things in life that are less cool and more embarrassing than  having one's parents volunteer to chaperone at one's after-graduation party) or having their parents notified that they weren't at the "official" party. (My dad paid the entrance fees for two kids who had already given all their cash to the organizers of the "cool" party. It may have been "cool," but it wasn't free. Booze and drugs cost money. As far as the sex, I have no clue as to whether or not anyone was charging for that.)  The "cool"  party was ultimately busted by the sheriff's department when neighbors down the road noticed the heightened  activity, and suffice it to say that the cool kids didn't have much fun that night.

My mom wanted perfect kids at school, but her standards at home were, by most standards, laid-back.  Hard liquor was kept in a locked cabinet, not because either my brother or I had ever gotten into it, but because of the "ounce of prevention" principle.  Curfew wasn't a huge issue because Matthew and I both went off to college at 16 1/2, though at least one of my parents remained awake and out of bed until both of us were home. They basically trusted us to do the right thing, but their trust had its limits. Most of my friends were about a year older than I and some had drivers' licenses, but in California a minor must be a licensed driver for a full year before being legally allowed to transport other minors without an adult licensed driver in the car. It was only near the end of our high school days that we were legally allowed to go out with friends without being transported by an adult. Matthew took advantage of my parents' trusting natures in that regard far more than I did, but even his exploits were tame compared to what I heard from others when I got to college.

Whenever either of us was grounded for some reason (I once had an A- on a mid-quarter progress report, which resulted in my being grounded until the quarter grades came out with a regular A [which was silly because pluses and minuses weren't even an option for teachers on quarter and semester grades] or until the teacher made unsolicited contact with my parents to inform them that the grade had risen to a full A]; a couple of other times I was caught making unauthorized departures [i.e. sneaking out] from the residential  facility for which I was treated for PTSD). I was grounded for those instances, but the grounding mysteriously was forgotten while my dad was away on job-related business. It resumed once he returned. Strangely enough, I was still happy that he was home again even though it meant a loss of freedom. 

The trouble I got into with my parents -- mostly my dad  -- was over things I said and did right in front of them, usually to make a point.  My brother and I were allowed to discuss and plead our cases in situations in which my parents wouldn't allow us to do what we wanted to do up to a point, but eventually we either had to shut up or go to time-out. My brother usually chose to shut up. I usually opted to push the issue and ended up in time-out. I spent considerable time confined to my parents' library upstairs in our house.  Many of the odd facts I still carry around in my brain are related to my frequent time-outs. Do you know the make and model of the car Ted Kennedy drove off the Dike Bridge on Chappaquiddick Island? It was a 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont 88 4-door sedan. Who was probably the most unlikely candidate Richard Nixon considered for the #2 spot on his 1968 residential ticket? It was Vince Lombardi, though the vetting process was shorter even than that of Sarah Palin, because Lombardi was a Democrat. I could share all sorts of additional useless knowledge, but you're already bored enough as it is.

Then at some point kids grow up. The dynamics of the relationships change. There's that (hopefully) very long interval between the obnoxious years of adolescence and the point of revenge of which many adolescents dream, which is the time at which a child must choose a care facility for his or her parent. It's an interesting phase in one's life, in part because it's often happening when both parties, but particularly the kids, have barely enough time to brush their teeth, much less to build new relationships with their parents. (For the record, as busy as I am at times. I DO find the time to brush my teeth.)  

When I'm texting or emailing friends, I might occasionally use the "B" word in reference to my mother. I may even have done so in this blog. i don't remember, but I would never, ever do so in person, however true it might be in a particular situation. We curse liberally in our family, but we don't direct epithets at one another. It has nothing to do with authority or with the idea that I'm living in a condo owned by my parents or that I'm not certain i have quite enough scholarship and grant money left to make it through medical school on my own. It's just a respect thing. You don't call your mother the "B" word.  I'll say that my dad is eccentric; hell. I'll call him bat-shit crazy on occasion, because he is, but that's as far as my insults directed toward him would ever go. Civilized people don't call their parents SOBs or MFs even if the shoe fits, which it doesn't in my father's case. He IS bat-shit crazy at times, but he's not any of the other things I've suggested.

My mom said once that the "friendship" between parents and their young adult children is tenuous in that the "friendship" can exist only as long as the "kids" are conducting their lives as responsible, mature adults, at least to some degree. Once drug abuse,  gambling problems of the sort that can cause large people to hunt a person down and break his or her limbs, or serious mental health issues enter the picture, the relationship reverts from mutual friendship back to more of a parent-child relationship whether either side likes it or not. Some parents may be able to look at a strung-out nineteen-year-old and say, "I did my job; it's his problem now,"  but most of the parents I know wouldn't handle such the situation in that way. 

My parents are lucky in that regard right now. Matthew and I don't have time to get into trouble. The worse thing either of us would have time to do (and it's a pretty seriously bad thing to do, I admit) would be to get behind the wheel of an automobile while under the influence of a mind-altering substance, but we've both been committed from an early age to do whatever we had to do to avoid driving while under the influence or being in a car driven by anyone else who is impaired. I know how seriously I feel about drunk driving, and I'm fairly sure that Matthew, too, understands the gravity of it.  

So for now my parents are essentially safe to go on cruises (which my dad hates; he thinks there's something sinister about them, and also thinks it's all about walking from one extravagant meal to another; he thinks people should just go to Vegas instead of going on cruises, because it's essentially the same thing minus the norovirus; remember, I never claimed he is sane) or to tour whatever parts of the world they want knowing that they have done their jobs and that we are sufficiently mature to manage our lives. That doesn't stop them from rushing up here to their home-away-from-home every time they hear that one or the other of us has sneezed, but that, too, shall pass.  Sooner or later the roles will reverse, and we will need to rush to wherever they are whenever one of them sneezes.  I hope it doesn't happen too soon, as  I like things the way they are right now and wish they could remain this way forever.

This is something I could actually have seen my dad do to my brother.

Friday, October 28, 2016

I'm very happy that Patient Zero was exonerated, even if however many years after the fact

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In terms of medicine, particularly with especially such scary and ugly illnesses as AIDS, the answer is rarely as simple as the medical scientists charged with finding its genesis initially concluded. I'm glad that, however many years after the fact, poor Gaetan Dugas has been exonerated as the absolute link. From available information, he probably did his share in spreading the illness (not at the time having any idea even of the existence of  AIDS ) but sharing the disease and being its very introduction to the north-western world are two entirely different things. 

In a related topic, an AIDS (or HIV -- I'm not sure which) vaccine is to be tested in South Africa.  While I'm glad someone somewhere is developing the vaccine, I'm equally glad that the initial activity is taking place somewhere other than here. I'd prefer for the guinea pigs be those who have less to lose because of their incredibly high incidence of the illness in the first place. 

I am a bit afraid of medical personnel -- particularly third-and-fourth-year students, interns and residents, having the vaccine forced upon them before the safety of the vaccine as been established. (Having it be FDA-approved and having the safety truly established are not necessarily one and the same.)  These are people -- med students, interns, and residents -- who are especially vulnerable and who have little job or continued program participation protection.  It's not beyond credulity (is this correct use of the word? Where is Jaci when I need her? I'm not sure if she's speaking to me right now) that a program would toss out med school students, residents, or interns for refusal to undergo the vaccines before they're proven to be safe enough for general use. There's a limit to how far institutions could be allowed to push it where we're concerned, but whatever the limits are, some institutions would push to the very extent of those limits. My school is one of the more forward-thinking and student-oriented schools around, yet my well-being hasn't entirely been first and foremost in the decision-making processes of anyone here regarding my prophylactic treatment in my current situation.

Ultimately a vaccine needs to be available. Before its use is widespread or before it is mandated for anyone, whether it be for medical personnel or incoming kindergartners, it needs to be examined thoroughly for safety, including longitudinally. In our endeavor to rid the world of this ugly malady, let us not unintentionally give the illness to an entire generation. Furthermore, let us not give the autism/vaccine link anti-immunization zealots any more ammunition that they already have.  Society does not need to deal with a world-wide outbreak of pertussis or measles just because the AIDS vaccine was forced on the public before being adequately researched and scrutinized. While there might seem like little to no connection, I assured you there IS.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


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I believe I shared this incident with Knotty several months ago in the comments section of one of her blogs shortly after it happened, though I don't think I blogged about it here in great detail. If I did, just write me off as one of the old people who tells the same stories repeatedly. At the rate at which my cerebral cortex, hippocampus, medial temporal lobe, and basal ganglia system cells are being consumed and summarily killed off by the cocktail of drugs I'm taking, I'm going to have the mind of a very old person sooner rather than later. I may as well start behaving as though it is happening now. Let us, or at least me, hope that I can hold off on mail-ordering Depends (I'm not ordering those Tena Twist products if they're the last incontinence product on the market) until I'm in my residency at the very least. anyway.  I'm sharing this incident to the bulk of you for either the first or second time, depending upon the rapidity of my decline in memory. I'm not sending the link to Judge Ferrer, as I seriously doubt that it impresses him in a positive way when his Twitter followers either quarrel with one another or essentially declare Twitter War. What happened was somewhere between the two extremes, though the incident was short in duration.

The nature of this dispute had its origin, in my mind, anyway, in two divergent circumstances. The first was that I made sent a tweet to Judge Alex to which the tweeter took exception, indicating that I was way out of line in making the comment. Judge Ferrer didn't seem to think so, though I cannot know his actual reaction. Perhaps he was either seething or foaming at the mouth over what I tweeted to him, and he managed to moderate his response so as to appear not offended.  He receives so very many tweets, though, that I find it hard to imagine that he'd have the time to devote a great deal of ire to any given tweet that was not an ugly epithet directed at a member of his family. Furthermore, had this person been a close member of the judge's family, I would have taken what she said under advisement. There was no indication in any way that she was or is a close Ferrer relative. Had the judge's wife, daughter, son, brother-in-law, nephew, or any other bona fide relative taken exception to anything I tweeted, I would be very careful not to say anything along the same lines again. I don't have any desire to offend or to hurt the feelings of anyone in Judge Ferrer's family.  

For the most part, I can say the same of almost anyone.  As much as it seems I'm perpetually embroiled in controversy, since I've been about sixteen years old or so, I've gone through life walking on eggshells in effort to offend as few people as possible, with the obvious exception being a large selection of my paternal relatives and now this particular follower of Judge Alex's. I should note that from what I read of her between the time she first upbraided me over what she considered a seriously inappropriate tweet to the judge until the time the two of us blocked each other, she was frequently if not constantly embattled with other tweeters, and blocked someone on an average of once a day. She was upset with a particular TV journalist who had blocked her for some reason or other even after she prayed for his child when the child was ill. It seems, then, that if one prays for a family member of someone else, one is supposed to be granted a free pass from being blocked on Twitter regardless of how much one annoys or offends another tweeter.

As I briefly recounted, the first circumstance that made enemies of myself and a fellow tweeter was when I tweeted something to Judge Alex that this Tweeter seemed to find highly offensive. (Just to make things clear, it didn't even approach PG-13.) The second circumstance was that the rival tweeter tried to bolster a particular point with the assertion that she is a CONCERT PIANIST !!!  I admit that at this point, I was lying in wait, poised for the perfect moment to go on offense. In this blog, I recently explained why the term means essentially nothing except in regard to an almost infinitesimal number of pianists. Taken literally, the term can mean virtually anything a user desires it to mean. A person who takes over the grand piano in his or her church's sanctuary after a Sunday a.m. service to offer an enthusiastic rendition of "Heart and Soul," with or without a duet partner, has a right to consider himself or herself (somehow it seems like more of a himself thing to do, though) a concert pianist. In a sense, I am a concert pianist, though I would never (except that I just did) use the term to describe myself. The attendance at my senior piano recital (for which I was given the honor of the outstanding piano performance graduate of my university for the year, and, following my senior violin recital at my commencement ceremony, was honored as the outstanding graduate of the music department of my university for the year) was too large to be accommodated in a recital hall. The university's largest concert hall had to be reserved for the event. Technically, recitals do not take place in that particular hall. Only concerts do. Even the cover of my program read "Senior Concert" as opposed to "Senior Recital." That would seem to make me a concert pianist.

Except that I'm not. A pianist may be classically trained.  A pianist may be a highly skilled classically-trained musician. For that matter, a pianist may be a highly skilled non-classically-trained musician, though the term concert pianist equates in the minds of most with classical training. A pianist's skill level may even reach the somewhat arbitrary distinction of "virtuoso."  A legitimate concert pianist, however, would almost have to be  person who pays his or her bills by doing nothing but performing solo concerts in concert halls to standing-room-only audiences. If there is such a thing as an actual concert pianist, that would probably define it. Merely being classically trained or even at the virtuoso skill level of such does not necessarily bestow upon a person the title of concert pianist, except that it's not a protected title; whomever so desires to call himself or herself a concert pianist may do so with essential impunity.  Let me know when and where you plan to hold your next piano concert. I'll make every effort to show up with refreshments to share with others while we listen to your artistic interpretations of "Chopsticks," "Frere Jacques," and  "Lean on Me."

She was public enough in how she conducted herself online (I would have no clue as to whether or not such is still true, as we blocked each other) that she could at the time be easily tracked as an actual person who conjoined her business Twitter account to her personal one. There was no indication in any way that she was or is a close Ferrer relative.  She could easily be a fourth-cousin-in-law-twice-removed-and-thrice-divorced, but, as such, I won't consider that she has the authority to arbitrate the propriety of my texts to Judge Alex or to anyone else until I'm told so by Judge Alex, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, or at least Donny Osmond.

Even though it may make me look every bit a rude as I am capable of being in the first place, i'll recount what was said that escalated this war of words.

It was several months ago when, in an especially onerous mood, I called a fellow tweeter and Judge Alex follower who routinely proclaimed serious musical sophistication on a technical misuse of a musical expression. I could and arguably should have let it go, but this person had harshly criticized something quite innocuous that I had tweeted to Judge Alex, telling me that it was a terrible thing to have said. One wouldn't be too far from the truth if one surmised that I was lying in wait for the perfect opportunity to insult this woman. It came. The fellow Judge Alex follower used the word forte with a single quotation mark following the word, obviously representing the French accent ague, in the sense of indicating a person's (probably a conservative politician's, though I don't remember for certain) area of strength. Forte pronounced /for-TAY/ is derived from the Italian language, as are most musical expressions, and indicates that a note or passage is to be played loudlyForte when used to indicate an area of strength is of French derivation and is pronounced with the silent, as in /fort/,  pronounced in its anglicized version as would be in Fort Sumpter or in Fort Knox.  I called her attention to the discrepancy, which is something I would never have done had she not butted in between a conversation between Judge Ferrer and myself to tell me just how out of line I was in making a comment to him. The woman responded that she speaks fluent French and Italian and obviously knows the difference between the two terms.  She continued that she didn't recall articulating the word aloud for me to hear which pronunciation she used. I then reminded her of her makeshift use of an apostrophe as an accent ague. She then attempted to trump (pun possibly intended; she's a HUGE Trump supporter unless she has changed courses in the ensuing months) me by letting me know that she of course knows the difference between /fort/ nd /for-TAY/ because she is (prepare yourselves to be impressed) a concert pianist

Instead of leaving well enough alone, I told her that in an amazing coincidence, my cat Ashley Madison was a concert pianist as well (she does walk across the keys from time to time, especially if she's nervous because people she doesn't know are in the condo) -- that many people showed up for her impromptu concerts in our living room, but that she was going to give up the concert tour because it simply wasn't paying all that well.  I asked my tweeter enemy how the financial side of her concert pianist tour was going, and if she had plans to give up her day job as a realtor at any time in the foreseeable future. 

I'm not as unkind as I could be if I really put forth concerted effort into the endeavor. I refrained from noting the discrepancies between tweeting enemy's recently botoxed or perhaps retouched glamour shots she posted in her realtor ads and in the recent casual photos she posted of herself at a sporting event. i am an @$$hole, but I have my limits. I, too, will age eventually (possibly sooner rather than later at the rate this medication is taking me out of commission), and I'd probably prefer that not everyone on the face of the Earth take every available opportunity to point out the rapidity of my aging process. Furthermore, tweeting enemy is an attractive-enough woman, for her age or otherwise. It's just that I find realtors' glamour shots a bit amusing if not off-putting.

Tweeter enemy  apparently read my profile. "You're in medical school," she tweeted. "Ugh!"  At that point the two of us blocked each other. I'm not sure who beat whom to the punch.

If Judge Alex comes across this by chance, I can own my actions.. I like basically all of his followers that I know, but that particular one was one that I didn't really like. I'm not proud of my behavior, and I hope the woman is not a close friend of his, but she started it, and furthermore, sometimes it feels REALLY good to be a complete @$$.

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Monday, October 24, 2016


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This is a bit of a departure from my usual somewhat snarky posts, or at least I hope it turns out to be such. Almost anytime I begin a post, I don't always know where it's headed, and this particular blog is no exception in that regard. Writing has always been that way for me. (Perhaps it shows in each final product, though I hope not.) Even when I was in high school and in college, I never followed the recommended format of creating an outline for what I planned to write about, and then more or less using that outline as a blueprint for my composition. I created the outline if it was required, but not until after I finished my composition. No teacher or professor ever complained, so my method must have worked out acceptably --  either that, or what the teacher or professor had to read and evaluate from my peers was so dismal that my failure to stick to an outline was the least of his or her concerns. Writing in general, and the mechanics of writing in specific, are not the strength of my generation, albeit with some very notable exceptions.

My ninth-grade English teacher, Mr. Guest,  taught a poem by writer and editor Douglas Malloch. I still recall the work verbatim, though I won't anesthetize you by quoting all four stanzas here. The poem is not one of my favorites -- it's a bit trite for my tastes (which perhaps sounds odd coming from someone who admits to being a fan of the work of Dr. Suess) but still, I there's something within its content that, despite its stale overtones, has allowed it to remain lodged in some unconscious recess of my brain for the past nine years.

It starts with these lines:

     If you can't be a pine at the top of the hill
     Be a scrub in the valley . . . but be
     The best little scrub by the side of the rill;
     Be a bush if  you can't be a tree.

Mr. Guest had a captivating lesson to go with these verses. He  was a nature boy and a hiker,  a respectable amateur photographer and videographer, and an adept user of technology before were most teachers of his time. He used his talents to create photo montages and videos captured in the wild or in not-so-wild settings in attempt to create interest in the literature he was compelled to teach us. (Why could he not imparted his skills in some of these areas with me in place of sharing this poem?) Kids of nine years ago (was it really nine years ago when I sat in the metal-and-plastic combo desk-chairs in Mr. Guest's classroom? It seems more as though it was last week.) like kids of today, were far more visual than auditory. When my parents went through school, simply telling a kid something, or maybe writing it on the board as well, sufficed as teaching. Today (and probably nine years ago as well) a literal picture at the very least is needed. A video is better than a still photograph. The real thing is better than either a still or moving picture, but such isn't always feasible.

The final stanza of the poem was:

     If you can't be a highway, than just be a trail.
     If you can't be a sun, be a star;
     It isn't by size that you win or you fail . . . 
     Be the best of whatever you are!                       
Most of us would agree that the poem is hackneyed -- perfect for the twelve-to-seventeen-year olds (my brother and I were the twelve-year-olds in the class; the other students were sixteen or seventeen). Mr. Guest was given a somewhat fixed curriculum and was charged with exposing us to it (and with all the exposing that is reported in the media to be going on between teachers and their students i today's schools, I suppose I should consider myself most fortunate that literature and related ideas were all Mr. Guest exposed us to), so I cannot entirely place the blame upon him. We paid attention for the most part, though not on a sit-on-the-edge-of-one's-chair sort of way. Then, for most of us anyway, we promptly forgot all about Douglas Malloch's work.  I allowed it drift from my conscious memory just as my classmates did, but the OCD part of my brain leaves me stuck with lines upon lines of verbatim poetry that will probably never be erased from my memory unless I develop some major form of dementia, and possibly not even then. I'll be sitting in an old-folk's home sixty-eight years from now reciting Ozymandius or something meaningless by T.. S. Eliot to an audience of a blank wall.

Something -- I think it might have been footage of a beaver building a dam I saw while channel-surfing last night --  made me think of a footage shot by Mr. Guest, and then of the poem associated with the footage.  It all came back, but not in the positive "the world is yours; you just have to reach out and grab it" sort of way that Mr. Guest probably intended, but in a much darker and more burdensome sense.

Will I ever be the best I can be at anything? Right now I don't  know what it is at which I might want to be the very best. I don't mean I must be better than everyone else in the world at any given thing. I wonder if I will or even can be merely the best I could ever be at any given thing. Is it possible? Do I have inside me what it takes? And how important is it, anyway? For me, is it so much more important to be the best at any single thing thatn it is to do many things appreciably well?

I play the piano very proficiently. I play the violin well. I'm learning to play the viola well. As much as I love the sound of the cello and will always play it because I love the sound so much, I'll never be the best I can be at it because the bowing action hurts my right hand. It would have been nice, perhaps, for the cello to have been that thing at which I excelled to my capacity, but it isn't going to happen. I'll have to be satisfied with getting out my cello and producing very nice sound for  few minutes until it hurts my hand to play it any longer. As far as the other musical pursuits are concerned, am I taking unnecessary time away from my future profession by using them in any way other than as a casual diversion -- as perhaps a release from the stresses incurred fro practicing medicine? 

Or is it medicine getting in the way of what should have been a formidable musical career? Almost no one in my musical genre (and by that, I mean percentage-wise among proficient musicians leaning toward skills in the classics; obviously someone supports himself or herself playing for late-night TV shows, working as professional accompanists, or at similar gigs) earns a decent living playing piano professionally. By this I'm referring primarily to the ubiquitous yet ill-defined concert pianists of the world. (I believe I've previously expressed my disdain for the term concert pianist. What precisely defines the term concert pianist? If a person were to hold a concert in his living room -- perhaps even charge admission and serve popcorn -- then play his or her rendition of "Chopsticks" for the audience,  would that person not, technically at the very least, be a concert pianist?  Few skilled pianists of the classical variety tour the world and solo at enough venues to pull in sufficient earnings to live in  high-rent districts. The vast majority, however, must supplement their earnings by teaching -- usually in conjunction with a university if they're sufficiently talented as to be considered world-class artists. 

And what about medicine? I haven't firmly decided upon a specialty. Should I choose something that goes along with what my dad is doing and the foundation he has built up, or should I blaze my own trail in an entirely different field of medicine, knowing just enough about what it is that he does that I can effectively supervise the employees we hire once my dad is out of the picture if my brother and cousin and I all decide on branches of medicine that have nothing to do with oncology or hematology, assuming we don't sell his business. I hate to refer to my dad's foundation as a business, but with the money it brings in, that's what it really is -- an altruistic one, but a business just the same.

And where does family comes in, if I even have one? I picture myself as someday being a mother, but is bringing children into this world the best thing to do if they're going to live in a world in which nations are at war with one another over something so basic as water?  And, presuming I even  find a suitable father for any children I might attempt to produce, am I a suitable vehicle for bringing children in this world?  While many people struggle with more far physical and mental drawbacks than those with which I have been cursed, I have a midsection the size of the average girl of twelve years, six months. (My height is in my legs and neck.) I am aware that Warren Jeffs and his Band of Merry Pedophiles have been conceiving babies with girls approximately twelve years, six months of age, give or take a month or two, since long before I contemplated the prospect, but that, in and of itself, does not make the practice optimal.The midsection is where a baby grows. Is it fair to a baby (or babies; I'm genetically predisposed to twinning) to have to survive in such cramped quarters until birth? After the child is born, a sane person wouldn't place the child in a shoe box created to hold ballet slippers made for a five-year old. That's essentially what I would be doing to the poor baby (or babies) before it (they)  was (were) born. Am I predisposing any children I might bear to inferiority?

Then, once the child is born, presuming it survives and thrives, what does a parent do? Continue to practice medicine full-time, letting hired help raise my child or children? Hope for a man who  is willing to be a house-husband and is capable of doing a decent job of it? Compromise, as in practice part time. Quit practicing medicine except for the required number of hours per year to maintain licensure, hoping that my little family can live off the spouse's salary plus what I have put away until the child or children is or are old enough for me to work part-time?

How do I even survive and keep my head above water, much less pursue excellence in any way, shape, or form? The big idea of having it all is a myth.Thanks, Mr. Guest. You may have thought you were doing us a favor in teaching that little blurb that hardly qualifies as a literary work, but you've opened a can of worms where I'm concerned. Now can you please tell me how to shove the worms back inside the can and slam the lid shut before I come up with any more bleak thoughts about my future?

P.S. I can already guess Judge Alex's response: read the Desiderata. (It, too, I have committed to memory. I cannot even remember if it was intentional.)

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Coffee and Obnoxious LVNs

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I really don't have an opinion about coffee drinkers as long as they don't try to force me to pay for their habit.

Some hospitals supply employees with coffee free of charge. It's just part of the hospital's budget. If it's a teaching hospital, and if they, the hospital
administrators, consider that they're expecting interns and even second-year residents to make intelligent life-or-death decisions while working an insane number of consecutive hours with very little sleep, paying for the coffee is probably the very least the hospital management can do. Some hospitals even make coffee available in certain waiting areas -- usually for the families of patients in intensive care units or in surgery.

Other hospitals are less generous. Both staff and visitors of patients are very lucky to get free toilet paper; assuming coffee will be provided is pushing expectations a bit far. Some have vending machines that provide -- for a fee -- what is reported to be among the worst coffee on the planet. At that point, were I a caffeine addict, I'd take a few steps further down the hall to the next vending machine and just get a Red Bull or its equivalent.

The hospitals at which I do the vast majority of my work are all part of the same system run by the same governing board and financed by the same operation. One would think their coffee policies would be the same, or at least similar, at the respective hospitals. One would think wrongly.

I should explain at some point that I am a non-coffee drinker. Many people say they don't drink coffee. By that, they mean they don't have it every morning, or maybe not even once a week, but if it's cold enough and they're sleepy enough yet expected to work, they'll down a cup. Or if they're with a group that decides to visit Starbuck's on the way to wherever they're going some morning, they'll order something coffee-related -- cappuccino, latte, espresso, whatever, or just plain coffee; I couldn't identify one from the other if someone held a gun to my head and demanded that I do so -- even if they might not otherwise do so.  

if I were with a group that insisted on making a Starbuck's pit stop, I'd order orange juice if anything, and I'd drink it with trepidation. I once, in perfect health,  drank just half of a Starbuck's small hot chocolate. Within fifteen minutes I had fainted, and I spent to remainder of the day either clutching my stomach or worshiping the porcelain goddess. And that was the hot chocolate. One time someone -- I cannot even remember who, which is probably a good thing -- insisted that I at least try coffee.  Someone prepared a cup of it for me with cream and sugar. I didn't particularly like the taste, but it wasn't so bad that I couldn't at least drink a couple of sips. I probably ended up finishing maybe half of one of those standard-sized styrofoam cups of the stuff. That is the point at which I began  barfing. It's unfortunate that I didn't barf sooner and more, because some of the coffee inevitably made its way to my colon, where it inflicted major damage. I'll leave out the gory details, but I ended up admitted to a hospital for what I will euphemistically refer to as a  procedure. That was the beginning and the end of my relationship with coffee.

So I was caught by surprise very early Saturday morning when an especially officious  LVN (The woman is twenty-five years old now and seems to feel that she accomplished a feat nothing short of amazing by having become a licensed vocational nurse [in some other states referred to as a "licensed practical nurse"] at the age of twenty-four. I'm not denigrating LVNs, as they're an essential part of the collective medical team. It's just that, for example,  my friend Caitlyn, now 23, who currently holds a bachelor's degree in nursing science and is pursuing a master's, graduated from high school as an LVN. There's nothing especially astounding about having achieved the rank as a twenty-four-year-old.) hollered out to me from down the corridor, "I don't know your name, but I need twenty-five dollars from you." I looked in the opposite direction, assuming the LVN must be extorting money from someone other than me.

When I saw that there was no one beyond me in the corridor, I turned and responded to the LVN, "I don't know your name, either, but perhaps you should find out what my name is before you demand money from me."  I then walked back to the main intake area of the E.R. and promptly forgot about the interaction. I took a few more patient histories and documentations of symptoms before receiving my injection and heading to my locker to retrieve my belongings and to leave. 

Officious LVN was waiting for me outside the med student locker area holding a a clipboard and pen. "I need twenty-five dollars from you," she demanded.

"I could probably use twenty-five dollars from you as well," I responded, "but I'm polite enough not to ask for it."

Officious LVN sighed. "The money isn't for me personally." she explained with mock patience. "It's for the coffee fund."

"I don't drink coffee . . . ever," I answered, trying hard to do so without even as much as a trace of attitude.

"Everyone says that, but everyone drinks it," she replied, not bothering with even a phony half-smile.

"No. I really don't drink coffee," I clarified. "A little over two years ago I tried it for the first time because a couple of my cohorts insisted. Half of  cup of the watered-down version landed me in that hospital [I pointed to the adjacent children's hospital]. My gastroenterologist told me never, ever, to drink as much as a sip of the stuff again, and I haven't. He's in the E.R. right now if you want to verify my story."

"No," she laughed. "It doesn't matter. Nurses, medical students, and interns pay for the coffee. It's the way it's done. Even the Mormons pay the fee." She paused. "Some of them drink it, too." She giggled.

"Does the coffee fee cover the cups or the costs of hot water?" I asked her. I do occasionally use the cups that are stacked next to the coffee for water when the cones provided for that purpose haven't been re-stocked, and I can see possibly bringing a package of instant hot chocolate (the very mild kind -- not like what Starbuck's serves) when I have to report for duty on an early winter morning, although I prefer bringing one of my own mugs to using styrofoam. 

"No," she replied curtly. "The hospital pays for the cups and the water.'

"I'm not paying for coffee that I'm not going to drink. I'll even make a deal with you. If anyone catches me drinking your coffee -- and the person has to look inside the cup to ensure it's not water or hot chocolate -- I will pay ten times the annual coffee fee, payable within twenty-four hours of the time the person catches me drinking the coffee. You'll probably have to find me in the E.R. or on the gastro floor to collect, because that's how sick I'll be, but I will pay two-hundred-fifty bucks if anyone catches me drinking your coffee. i'll put it in writing if you want."

"You don't need to do that," she grumbled. "It's just the point of the thing. Everyone pays. I don't see why you need to be so difficult."

"I'll remind my brother to pay. He'll probably actually drink some of your coffee," I offered.

"What's his name?" she asked. I told her. "He's already paid," she conceded.

"Then I'll remind my dad to pay. He works here sometimes," I added.

"Oh, no!" she exclaimed. "He's a doctor!" Doctors don't pay for coffee here!"

By then i was curious. "Exactly who does pay for the coffee here?" I asked.

The list was apparently so exhaustive that she needed to count on her fingers to keep track. "The nurses. The nursing aids. The student nurses. The custodial staff. The medical students. [She added a hint of vocal disdain, apparently for my benefit.] And the interns!"  she concluded.

I thought for a moment, then commented. "The people who are paid the very least [meaning the custodial staff] pay for the coffee. The people who pay for the privilege of working here [the medical students and student nurses] pay for the coffee. The people who, when you factor in their hours of indentured servitude [the interns] earn practically less than minimum wage, pay for the coffee. but the doctors don't?'

"No," she replied. "And the nursing directors don't, either." She seemed almost proud of the concept.

"Is it because you don't have the guts to ask them to chip in?' I questioned in response as I walked away from her and out of the hospital.

I suppose I'll be on some sort of nurses' shit list from now on, but I don't care. Had the LVN asked me nicely in the first place, I would have just handed over the twenty-five dollars without comment, but she didn't, so I didn't.

It's not my issue, but if I ever find the time and energy, I'll print a flyer to be posted in residents' and attending physicians' of various departments' locker rooms asking if they would mind pitching in a small amount for the coffee so that the custodial staff isn't supplying coffee for people who earn five-hundred grand each year. Of course I won't word it that way, and I'll have people with far more authority than I have post the flyers. 

I don't care about coffee. I don't think who drinks it and who does not drink it is in any way a moral issue. It is my opinion, however, that people who drink coffee should pay for their own coffee. If my stating such causes a few people to dislike me who otherwise might not have had an opinion of me, so be it. I can live with the consequences.

For obvious security reasons I cannot post an actual picture of the officious LVN, but this is a close facsimile I happened to find.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

When Med School and Family Merge

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I believe that I've shared this story from my family's archives. Nonetheless, I'll share it now on the outside chance either that  I dreamed having shared it but didn't actually do so, or that I did share it and you happened to miss that particular blog.  If I did share it and you didn't miss it, either skip this blog or prepare to be bored. I apologize in advance.

My grandmother was in the hospital a couple of summers ago with pancreatitis. In her absence someone probably grocery shopped for my grandfather, in addition to preparing meals for him, because I cannot imaging that he possesses the mental faculties required to transport himself to and from a supermarket, much less to navigate his way through the various sections of a grocery store and to make purchases of food he could either eat without cooking or, God forbid, actually cook. (The Earth might cease to rotate if my grandfather were ever observed or even rumored to have done woman's work.) Someone usually goes inside his condo and disables the microwave if my grandmother is ill or otherwise away from home for a significant amount of time because he doesn't understand the concept of not putting metal inside a microwave and then operating it, and he has destroyed multiple microwave ovens and nearly started an equal number of house fires. Whoever came up with the idea  that a person would need to possess intelligence in order to help to direct the upper levels of a church has very little association with reality.

Anyway, when my grandmother is ill or otherwise indisposed, someone comes into the condo to bring food, clear away the old food, or what's left of it, anyway (my grandfather cannot be bothered even with carting his dishes to the sink; he's too holy and has to much of of the Lord's business on his mind to be bothered with such mundane chores), clean up the mess that my grandfather has made of the place while eating (once we brought our dog to my grandparents' condo while we were visiting; in a two-hour visit, the dog managed to gain nearly a pound just from lingering near my wherever my grandfather stationed himself, and it wasn't as though my grandfather was deliberately slipping treats to the dog, either, as my grandfather hates dogs every bit as much as he hates people; it's just that he's such a slob that an entire meal may be made  of the food that he drops while feeding himself; and yes, he is senile, but not THAT senile) and take care of other basic cleaning chores (I'd be really surprised to find out that my grandfather even flushes the toilet after himself; his excuse is probably that Jesus didn't flush toilets, so why should he?).  Come to think of it, except for cooking and cleaning up after meals. and most of their meals are restaurant meals, someone does almost everything for them even when my grandmother is at home and is well.

Anyway,  my grandparents receive all this pampering at the hands of a church membership that, in theory, cannot  afford even to pay for professional services to clean its local buildings and instead requires its local members to show up on designated Saturdays with their own cleaning products to scrub toilets and take care of other cleaning chores. My dad keeps eagerly anticipating the time when two different members unwittingly pour incompatible cleaning products into the same toilet and cause either an explosion or unintentional chemical warfare, killing god knows how many. It's not the incidental deaths that my dad eagerly anticipates (at least I hope it isn't, though he may be more morbid than I know) but, rather, the opportunity to highlight just how parsimonious this very wealthy church is in its ways of dealing with local members. The head honchos in Salt Lake City, however, are treated in anything but a penurious manner. (I would have loved to have used the word niggardly here, but the very last thing I need is for my  less-than erudite relatives to accuse me of overt racism in my blog.) They, the Salt Lake city elite, are not scrubbing their own toilets, much less those of the the churches they attend. 

I digress again. The hired help does a good job of taking care of my grandparents, and particularly of my grandfather during the times when my grandmother is not around to manage even the basics, but one thought never occurred to me pertaining to any of these domestic helpers: I really wonder if these workers are documented, i.e. possess green cards; it's neither here nor there, but my curiosity is piqued. One thought that never occurred to the domestic helpers, apparently,  was  to clean out the refrigerator when my grandmother is not around. In at least one instance, they clearly did not.

My Uncle Lee paused in the kitchen for long enough to notice that my grandfather had seated himself in the breakfast nook of the condo and was feeding himself one spoonful after another of mold-laden cottage cheese.  The idea of eating cottage cheese in its pristine state is more than enough to make me gag, but my grandfather was helping himself to a full carton of a mold-enhanced version of the vile concoction. "Trogolodyte!"  *** my Uncle Lee said to his father-in-law [my Uncle Lee obviously did not address my grandfather as Troglodyte, but since I cannot use his actual name here, Troglodyte seems as fitting as any other pseudonym], "You can't eat that! It's full of mold! Can't you see the mold there?"

"Mold, schmold!" Troglodyte answered him. 'What do you think they make penicillin from, anyway? Everyone knows penicillin is good for you, so mold is obviously good for you, too! Didn't your dang medical school teach you anything?"  Uncle Lee was and is a doctor, though not necessarily a very good one. Troglodyte continued spooning one bite after another of the puce-green-and-white mixture from the carton into his mouth. Meanwhile my Uncle Michael walked into the room.

"Trogolodyte is eating moldy cottage cheese," I told my uncle. My Uncle Michael took one look at the situation, grabbed the cottage cheese container from his father's hand, walked over to the sink, turned on the water, flushed the stuff into the garbage disposal, then flipped the garbage disposal's switch.

"Dagnabit!" Troglodyte yelled. "What in the Sam Hill do you think you're doing, throwing away perfectly good food?"  He stood and moved toward me, as though either to kick or slap me, considering that this incident was in some way my fault.

"Don't touch her," my Uncle Michael warned Troglodyte as he stepped between the beast and me. "She didn't do anything to you." "Ihere are enough bacteria and mycotoxins in that cottage cheese to kill you if you eat enough of it," my uncle said to the Troglodyte. Then he whispered under his breath where only I could hear it, "But he's probably been eating that garbage far so long that it probably wouldn't even have any effect on him. It's just that the rest of us don't need to get sick from watching him eat it."

I hadn't mentioned in an earlier blog that I learned very recently that my paternal grandmother has been giving extravagant birthday, Christmas, and other  gifts and checks to my brother but not to me. My parents kept this information form me for quite some time, but I eventually learned of it when Matthew left a sizable check lying from her around that was a gift for passing the USMLE. Matthew didn't leave the check where I would find it to be hurtful to me. He had no idea I didn't receive one as well.

I initially kept this information from my blog with the rationale that if my feelings were hurt, it would be a source of mirth to many of my less-than-kind relatives. instead, I decided to share the information. I'm probably not the only black sheep in this loosely-bound organization to which some would euphemistically refer as a family. We, my grandmother's progeny, deserve to know where we stand. My guess is that roughly 80% of us have been on the receiving end of generous gifts and checks from my grandmother.  I could have erred in either direction. Perhaps I really am the only one who is not a regular stipendiary of her fortune.  If such were the case, though, I'd be very surprised.

I wrote a sincere and heartfelt letter to my grandmother in which I expressed my hurt feelings at her preferential treatment in favor of Matthew. I sent it by certified mail. She received it. I have have no way of knowing for certain that she actually read or even opened it. In any event, I gave her ample time to respond. She chose not to do so.  Cousins, if you're among the recipients of our grandmother's generosity, you can either consider yourselves to be fortunate, or you can consider yourselves the beneficiaries of a cold-hearted woman who uses her considerable financial resource to the betterment of some while deliberately disregarding others, perhaps even for the sick pleasure of pitting the haves against the have-nots.

I hope that if I ever possess sufficient means to make a difference in any way, that I will use what I have to help rather than to hurt people.

*** Thanks to Judge Alex Ferrer for the inspiration for my grandfather's new name. Judge Ferrer observed that some people are not very evolved.  That description certainly fits my grandfather, who shall be known in this blog and in any future references in or out of this by me as Troglodyte.

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Couldn't enlarge it any further. Sorry!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Get Thee to a Nunnery!

I was especially feeling the effects of the medication I'm currently taking earlier this evening and missed out on the presidential debate, which I had really wanted to catch. Now I'm limited to the reviews. Fox News says it was an overwhelming victory for Trump. MSNBC says it was an equally overwhelming victory for Clinton. The rest seem to think it fell somewhere between the two extremes.

It's a really good thing that I have done nothing that would have exposed me to the possibility of becoming pregnant because were such not the case, I would be almost 98% certain I was pregnant and suffering from hyperemesis gravidarium. There are few advantages to practically living the life of a nun, but I suppose I'm now reaping the benefits.

My job still consists for the next couple of weeks of non-physical contact with patients for liability purposes. I can take vital stats while wearing gloves, but that is the more or less the extent of physical  contact. I can't insert IVs, which is an area of strength for me, and makes it hard for me to watch when someone else is having trouble with a difficult vein, such as a child's or a vein belonging to a dehydrated adult. I'm confident in my skills, and I knew I could have nailed either the little girl's or the sick guy's IV in one attempt tonight , but I'm not permitted to do so right now.

I walked into a messy situation when I arrived a couple of hours earlier than usual tonight. A fatal auto accident had just happened. I didn't even see the drunk driver who didn't make it, but was left to deal with survivors. I held a five-year-old girl on my lap (with a blanket between us minimizing the contact) while her parents were both being treated for more serious trauma than she was.  I sat with her and attempted to keep her calm (with the help of drugs) through the radiology, neurological assessment,  and setting of a bone. Someone had to be with her until relatives from out of state arrived to assume custody of her, and that someone was I.  The family was visiting on a work-related trip from Nevada and had no local contacts. I read to the little girl for a bit, but mostly we just watched TV. She kept dozing off, but anytime I tried to move her to the bed, she woke up and cried to be held again. Her parents will recover from their injuries. Father had  three  broken vertebrae and a more significant head injury, but no resulting paralysis; mother had some internal injuries in addition to [or because of] broken ribs, but she, too will recover. They were hit head-on while driving on a state highway by someone who crossed the center line while driving under the influence. As I mentioned earlier, he didn't make it, so there will be no criminal trial. I was told he had insurance. The family  should be compensated for their medical bills and time off work. They have insurance as well, so they don't have to fight the battle themselves, though they were advised by one of my supervising physicians, once the father was coherent, to seek a competent attorney to insure that their financial needs were met. It turned out that the dad IS an attorney, so he's well aware of the idea of seeking legal representation.  

I was relieved to hand the child off to her grandmother, who flew in from Nebraska as quickly as she could get here. The child was initially reluctant to be handed off, as she hadn't seen grandma in over a year,  but grandma knew how to handle it, and the child was soon comfortable. We put together a gift basket with a stuffed animal, soft quilt, a few small toys, juice boxes, snack foods, books, and little games and activities. We offered the grandmother the option of admitting the child and putting a recliner for grandma in the child's room, or discharging the child and helping them to find a hotel room. The grandma thought they'd both be more comfortable in a hotel, and grandma seemed competent to manage the child's medications. Other relatives are to arrive later today. The parents will probably remain in the hospital into early- or mid-week of next week.

The grandmother assumed I was a nurse, and then was most apologetic when she learned that I was a medical school student. The lady had no idea how flattered I was that she had thought I was an actual medical professional of any kind and not some variation of a candy striper.

I'll be most relieved when this phase of my training is complete. It is incredibly difficult to stand by and watch something be done less well than I am capable of doing it.  This probably sounds a bit overly self-assured perhaps to the point of conceitedness.  I have weaknesses, both related to my future profession and otherwise. Likewise,  have strengths related to the profession (and otherwise), and I'm aware of what they are. I know when to step up, and when to back off and allow someone else to handle something if someone else more qualified is available.  Unfortunately, even when I'm more qualified than is the next person now, I'm forced to step back. I am becoming quite the baby- and child-calmer, the interviewer of teens extraordinaire, the one who is called on to attempt to have rational conversations with individuals under the influence of God knows what, and the long-suffering person to listen to senior citizens when there's little else we can do for them.  Perhaps all of these things are very necessary skills, and maybe I would never have perfected them to the degree that I now might without my current "situation."  That's the positive spin I'm trying to put on my present limitations.

It appears that my barfless night is not to be, tonight anyway. The good news is that the dentist who was handling my orthodontic adjustments here, who lives maybe ninety minutes away, heard of my plight, and he used my most recent molds to make two sets of protective teeth-guards for me to wear while throwing up in order to minimized the erosion of enamel from my teeth. Sometimes all one can do is to count one's blessings, however small they may seem. Right now a teeth guard seems like as much of an inconvenience as a blessing, but the time will come when I am grateful for the preserved enamel on my teeth.

So it's off to lose the contents of my stomach, and then back to work. Such is the life of a third-year medical student.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

A Half-Mormon Catholic Mennonite?

Dwight Schrute has to be a Mennonite, or at least a lapsed one.

Just to spare you for a moment from my health-related complaints,  I shall share with you that I'm thinking about becoming a Mennonite. I won't be an old-order Mennonite who dresses in prairie clothing and covers her head at all times (probably even when she's sleeping and shampooing her hair), but one from one of the more normal conferences of the faith. I even ordered one of their hymnals. I've been watching some of Katherinethe19th's videos on her youtube channel, and I've become quite taken with the culture. The problem is that if I look up "Mennonite"  in the book section of Amazon, most of what is offered is literature related to the Amish.  

I've been to Amish country, and my curiosity of the Amish has been thoroughly satiated. My family spent a night in a town called Intercourse, Pennsylvania. Matthew and I were just old enough (nine, I think) to know the meaning of the word, or the most popular meaning of it, anyway. Matthew loved telling everyone for months afterward about our night in Intercourse. I think he described it as "our night OF Intercourse," which probably made it all the more scandalous to the Mormon relatives he regaled as we made our way westward to Utah.

The night in Intercourse was especially miserable for my dad. It's a dry county, and while I exaggerate my dad's alcoholic tendencies, I will admit that he does not drink every single night of his life. The past two nights he hasn't had a drop of anything stronger than Grape Crush as he monitored the status of my state of hydration. When he was stuck in a car all day with two bored and slightly contentious nine-year-olds, at the end of that day he didn't merely want but genuinely needed alcohol. I had tried to warn my dad that he should pick up something he might want to drink before we reached Amish country, as anything truly potent might be difficult to come by once we got there. It was just one of those odd facts I knew at a young age for no particular reason, but my dad thought I was merely trying to come up with an excuse to stop at any store that might sell candy. (My usual method of operation in those days was to score candy in any way I possibly could.) He had to learn the hard way that on that particular occasion  I was not merely looking to feed my own sugar addiction. To top things off for him, because of a motorcycle convention for which people were traveling from all four corners of the nation to get to Sturgess, South Dakota, we were unable to get a suite or adjoining rooms in the little motel. We were lucky to get the single motel room with two double beds that we got.  The point is, not only was my dad sans alcohol  on that night in Intercourse, Pennsylvania,  he was also, ironically enough,  sans intercourse.

Because she's a prolific producer of kidney stones which can strike with no warning, my mom never travels without Vicodin. My dad doesn't like narcotics even when he legitimately should take them, much less as a recreational outlet, but that night he pulled a "House, M.D." maneuver and self-medicated with Vitamin V from my mom's stash.  

Hydrocodone does not have a soporific effect on my dad (a trait the two of us share), but he was a happy insomniac that night. My mom drove most of the rest of the next day.  Before departing Intercourse, my mom insisted we have a proper breakfast at the restaurant adjoining the motel where "we" had eaten dinner the night before. I had refused to eat anything from the restaurant because pig stomach was a featured entree on the menu. My parents tried to explain to me that just because an item was on a restaurant's menu -- that they had no intention whatsoever of eating pig stomach, either -- didn't mean that the chef slipped a bit of pig stomach in as a secret ingredient in every other entree or side dish he or she prepared, but I was taking no chances. My mom picked up a few piece of fruit and a loaf of some sort of German bread at a grocery store across the street so I wouldn't starve. Curiously, I recall a sign posted directly outside the entrance of the store. The sign read, "Please do not photograph or videotape the Amish inside this establishment." Even at the age of nine, I recall wondering what sort of a person would  snap pictures or videos of people going about their business just because they happened to dress differently than most of the rest of the U.S. Obviously someone must have done such things, or the sign would not have been needed.

We couldn't cross the county line soon enough for my father's liking the next morning. He never drinks in the morning or even really in the mid-day, but that day at about 10:00 a.m., he had some form of libation he called a Bloody Mary, concocted with tomato juice, some form of booze (probably more booze than anything else; the tomato juice probably existed primarily to lend the appropriate coloring to the cocktail), tabasco sauce, olives, and a bit more booze. He dozed comfortably in the passenger seat that day as we made our way across the Pennsylvania countryside. I do recall him dragging himself out of the car so that he and Matthew could sneak onto the main field at Williamsport, where the Little League World Series is annually played. Rain was coming down in a drizzly fashion as I recall, and nothing seemed to be happening there that day, so my brother and my dad  were able to make it onto the field without detection. My dad and Matthew took turns pitching to one another as my mom and I chased down the balls that they hit. My dad can pitch and  hit even when he's over the legal limit for driving.

That was a most labyrinthine way of explaining that I've seen all I ever need to see of the Amish or of the Mennonites who look and dress so much like the Amish that they may as well be Amish. My interest lies in the mainstream branches of the fold, as in  Mennonites of North America, who, curiously enough, live primarily in the prairie and plains provinces of Canada, in Pennsylvania, Kansas, Nebraska, and in, of all places Fresno, California and communities immediately south of Fresno. Some also live, oddly enough, in New Mexico, and in a region of Paraguay and Bolivia known as el chaco, or simply the chaco; those are the ones in whom I have an interest.

Mennonites needed to leave regions of the Netherlands and Germany because of their leader Menno Simons' insistence upon "believer's baptism," which contrasted sharply with the popular Catholic (and later Lutheran) perception of the day that infants or children who died without having undergone the sacrament of baptism were lost.  This disagreement became so contentious that followers of Menno were literally on a regular basis losing their heads over their refusal to denounce their new-found beliefs.  Many escaped into less-populated parts of Prussia and to Russia. Russia welcomed them with open arms because they were skilled farmers and industrious workers.  For generations Catherine II's successors continued to welcome Menno's followers to their nation and to grant them waivers for military service because of their pacifist beliefs. Sometimes alternate service was substituted.

It should be noted that by this time, as is typical of religious groups, while still in Prussia and Russia,  Menno's followers had broken into numerous groups, from the Amish, to the Older Order Mennonites, to what became the Mennonite Conference USA, to the Mennonite Brethren. Canada has roughly equivalent denominations. There are probably more Mennonites in Canada than in the U.S. The fractures were less contentious than religious splits typically are. (Mennonite Brethren and Mennonite Conference USA have a tendency to accuse the other of being more legalistic, but it's still largely an amicable relationship. Menno's followers are a peace-loving people.) When worshiping together as a group became difficult because of differences in interpretations of doctrine, one group would quietly move from another group and begin worshiping separately. This was usually done without either group condemning the other to hell. From what I've been told by my former violin professor, if  Mennonite USA family were to move to a location in which only a Mennonite Brethren congregation is located nearby, the family would typically attend the Mennonite Brethren Church, or vice versa. Contrast this with the Mormons, who either broke off with or were broken off with (who did the breaking depends upon whose version one chooses to believe) the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  If a family belonging to one branch of Joseph Smith's movement moved to a location in which their own branch was unavailable but the other branch was, the family would either hold a religious service by themselves in their own living room, drive three-hundred miles every Sunday to attend the '"right" church, or give up on religion altogether. The Mennonites believe that the differences that separate their respective denominations are possibly trivial, but their desire for peace and harmony outweighs practically everything else. They have their separate lists of items that are considered tests of faith, but belief in the Bible, belief in baptism only of individuals old enough to make a faith commitment, and refusal to go to war are central among them.

At some point after the onset of the 1905 revolution, the military waiver for Mennonites was eliminated in Russia. Mennonites of all factions needed to leave Russia in order to avoid going to war. Because of their skill as farmers, Canada welcomed to them, as did states in the U.S. plains that were in need of farmers to farm the land and build up homesteads. Pennsylvania's offer of  religious freedom was something many of the branches found especially attractive. Eventually Menno's people ended up all over North America, though larger concentrations are still found in the Canadian plains and now even in Ontario, in Pennsylvania, in the U.S. plains and prairie states, and in the greater Fresno area.

At some point in my life  when the time I'm at home is not limited to times when I am either sick or asleep, I shall check out a couple of Mennonite churches. I'm not sure of what is available in my area, but their greater denomination is worldwide enough that I'm reasonably certain of finding some aspect of their denomination. I'm just very curious.  I'll probably never formally join any branch of their faith, as I don't think I can ever be a total pacifist. The issue of me personally going to war is probably a non-issue. Any branch of the military that is desperate enough to accept me into its ranks, much less to mandate my inclusion, is an army that is doomed for defeat. And if the military branch isn't smart enough to figure that out on its own, I have health conditions that would stand in the way of my military service, not the least of which is my weight. Military uniforms are not made in my size.

Beyond my own personal means of escaping service, and perhaps this is hypocritical of me because I'm not in any big hurry to sign up if the draft is reinstated and women, too, are required to register, I believe that a cause for war can be just.  I wouldn't say that of every war that's ever been fought, but someone probably needed to stand up to Hitler. World War I was probably similarly needed. I can't ever seriously place my faith in a religion that cannot accept that a despot must be stopped.  I'm not sure exactly what is their justification for maintaining peace at all costs, especially when it's not true peace when a despot is ruining the lives of those living under his reign. Perhaps the Mennonites have a perfectly clear explanation for how this should be handled, but I've yet to hear it. Peace should always be the ideal, but we all know the ideal cannot always be achieved.

Still, I'm highly intrigued by the faith, and particularly by what must be a genetically influenced  ability to sing in four-part harmony from a very young age. 

Should I ever have a son, I'm considering naming him Menno.  What do you think? Would a little Menno be bullied because of his name, or would he be cool? Regardless, I'd rather have a little Menno than a little Liam any day. Today's Liams are becoming  the Jasons of 1.5 generations ago. Thirty years ago it was easier to find D.B. Cooper's discarded cash than it was to find a well-behaved child named Jason.  The same can be said of little guys with the name of Liam in today's world.