Archive for the ‘Not Only in Palm Beach’ Category

The anti-Semitic acupuncturist
January 3, 2013

When half my face stopped working suddenly, the morning after the worst headache I had ever had, my first stop was to my periodontist, who had recently extracted a tooth on that side, and with whom I had an appointment with anyway that day, as a hurricane headed for our town. He said I should see a neurologist, and got me a name but when I called, the neurologist’s receptionist, unmoved when I told her that half my face was sagging like a tragedy mask, said if I wasn’t already a patient, tough luck. I told her out the side of my mouth, talking like a gangster by then, that they should be ashamed, and called my regular doctor.

They were boarding up their windows against the oncoming storm by then, but said I could come — one of the major moments of my life, along with finding out I got jobs and fellowships I wanted. My doctor took one look at me, which is all he ever takes, whisked out his prescription pad, wrote me a prescription for the antiviral drug acyclovir, told me I had Bell’s Palsy, that it would be all better in a couple of months, and sent me off. If there wasn’t a hurricane coming, he added I could go get a brain scan, “just to play it safe” — but there was a hurricane coming and the brain scan place was closed.

So the next day I went to work, which people in my business were then required to do when there was a hurricane, and everyone winced when they saw me, and when I told them what I had they inevitably told me who else had it — the Crazy (with a capital C) boss’s noncrazy wife, the cross-eyed, high-strung photographer who, if he were an inch shorter would be a midget, the really nice, calm, pretty woman who got it when her father was dying. The common denominator amongst all my fellow victims seemed to be stress. The last was the one who told me she got acupuncture for it, and she thought it helped.

So two months later when I still couldn’t open and close my right eye without using my hand, I looked up an acupuncturist. He offered an introductory set of four sessions as a package that was cheaper than two, or something like that, which made it hard to do any other way.

He was a stocky little guy with black hair swept back with a little height, had a broad purple satin tie, a white shirt and creased black trousers that looked like they were part of a suit, all of which stood in contrast to the faux Asian — rattan screens, bamboo — windchime-driven decor. He took a medical autobiography, that had a police interrogation feel to it. I told him about my succession of petty ailments: tonsilititis, headaches, menstrual cramps, one succeeding the other, and now this. “Good, you get it then,” he said at one point, in one of the last remarks indicating approval of my mental status that I heard from him.

I hastened to assure him that sometimes I do very well — walked on the beach daily, am limber at yoga, and that when the job made extra demands — 12-hour days, travel with multiple 12-hour days, spending months staring at a screen for a database project — that I met those demands. He looked at me with pitying disgust.

“You give it away,” he said.

Well no, I like succeeding at the  . . . I tried to tell him.

This didn’t translate well. In fact, later it was returned to me in the course of discovering that my outer thighs were sensitive to having needles stuck in them to a connection to an over-active adrenal gland common amongst the original hunter-gatherer types, whose mission was to “go out, kill it, bring it back . . .” Something like that.

“What’s your favorite color?” he asked early in our initial interview. I told him I didn’t have one — I like all of them. He didn’t believe me, it became clear, in our two remaining appointments, when he would ask suddenly, while sticking needles in my back, ” What’s your favorite color?” like if he caught me off guard I would confess that it was  — God Knows .. . the color of sandpaper? sharp metal? Perhaps something to do with one of my chakras, in retrospect.

At the same time, he taught me a few things, that perhaps equally connected to new age psychobabble as the rest of his leanings, were things I latched onto, and that helped.

He told me about the Eat Right For Your Blood Type book, which has some potentially silly things in it, but also coincided with my dietary leanings, and when I followed it, I became stronger and lost some weight I had been wanting to lose for a while. He mentioned that it did me no good to stare at a computer screen all day long, and I should take breaks frequently when working on a project that required that. He told me to pay attention to how I felt, and instead of trying to over-ride exhaustion and pain, stop and rest. He taught me, in those few sessions, things that you probably shouldn’t have to teach anyone, but I’ll guess I’m not entirely alone in ignoring in pursuit of some greater attainment than health and peace of mind. For all of those reasons, in spite of the new-age psychobabble, adversarial, and, to some extent just plain old snake-oil salesman bullshit quality of some of our time together, I remain the better for having seen him.

During our last session — our third of the paid-for four — he suggested I get one of those bead-filled microwavable shawls to warm the neck and shoulder area in the event I overdid. I asked, as I left, where to get one.

“You can get them online,” he said. “or at the mall.”

“Thanks,” I waved, as I walked toward my car.

“If you get one at the mall,” he called out, across the parking lot, “you can Jew them down on the price . . .”

I never returned for the fourth session. When I called to cancel it, the receptionist asked me why. I said if he couldn’t figure it out, he could call himself and ask. He didn’t, so he never got to learn that, in my family, when we talked about negotiating for a lower price we called it “gentiling down.”

I got one of the shawls, and for the fun of it, since I am equal parts gentile and non, asked if the price was negotiable. It was not. I got the thing anyway, and use it whenever I feel a twinge. I think it helps, and I think of the acupuncturist, and all I learned from him, every time I use it.

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RSSF, Part Deux
March 15, 2012

This is what the guy who wrote the look at me I’m quitting my job as a money pimp at Goldman Sachs because I have more integrity than any of the other pimps I work(ed) with reminds me of.

The guy, who “isn’t highly paid by Wall Street standards — earning about $500,000 last year . . .” or about 10 times the salary of a veteran public school teacher, figured out a business that produces only money — is built around greed. Well, I’ll be. Since it took him 12 years to figure that out, I’m sure glad he isn’t handling my money.

That an economy built around finance rather than products and services that benefit the larger society is not a healthy one is something many of us figured out a few years ago when we lost our jobs, our property values plummeted, and our tax dollars were diverted to corporate welfare cheats.

I kept hoping for something juicy, at least, something I didn’t already know from this guy’s story, and I’m sure there was more to tell. Like what he was thinking about during the Occupy protests.

Downton Abbey, Rich Selfish Stupid Fucks
March 13, 2012

South Palm Beach, Fl —We were walking along State Road A1A, talking, when we heard a noise best described as CRUNCH, and looked up to see an SUV had hit a bicyclist, knocking him to the ground, about 30 feet ahead.

The car pulled over, the bicyclist stood up, we saw the driver get out of the SUV. The shoulder of the road is slender there, and as we headed over we looked back to make sure we weren’t going to be hit by the next car. So we missed completely when the driver made the executive decision to get back in his gigantic car with which he had just hit a bicyclist, and take off.

The bicyclist had a rip in his shorts and was trying to get his bike working again, but something about it wasn’t quite right. He thanked us for coming over, said he was fine, just shaken. Literally while he was talking, the scraped bruise exposed by the rip in his shorts swelled and took on more colors. It was going to hurt terribly later, and the main reason it didn’t yet was that he was  too shaken to feel it. The main squeeze offered to call the cops, or someone, to stall him, but he insisted he was fine. Eventually he got his bicycle going and wobbled off.

We went ahead and took our walk on the beach, Manalapan beach, where mansions that look like hotels line the shore, and where one of the mansion-dwellers on the other side of the road is spending millions of dollars to build a tunnel from his mansion to the sand so he won’t have to cross the street, and I found myself thinking of Downton Abbey.

I was talking to a relative, with whom I grew up, so who not only shares but instilled some of my values, on the phone recently, when I said I had to go and watch the show, which we had just discovered we could watch Season One of, on Netflix.

You can’t do that, my relative said, more instructionaly than dictatorially, it was created/written by a “Tory Piece Of Shit,” she went on to explain.

I expressed that objection to the main squeeze, who asked if she would prefer a “Labor Party Piece of Shit, like Tony Blair,” and, in that negative way having settled the issue, we settled down to watch Downton Abbey.

Since I became unemployed, we longer have cable, which means no live tv at all here, so we have few outlets of entertainment. Season one is basically free via Netflix, although my relative pointed out that our selection is registered somewhere, adding support for this Tory-Piece-of-Shit, overated soap opera. And I did feel bad about that, as I agree, watching it was like voting for a Tory Piece of Shit.

But I really like the costumes. And I have wasted enough of my life watching soap operas that it seems unfair to myself somehow to stop now, when everyone is talking about this one. So we watched again, and again.

You can’t help but notice it’s Father Knows Best on a grand scale. With the funny little gimmick, also an axis of plots for Father Knows Best, that Father Fucks Up. Like when he fires the valet who was his comrade in arms in the Boer War, because he has a limp (which he got in the Boer War). And like Father Knows Best, these dunderheaded fuckups are resolved by Father’s wisdom, like when he snatches the valet’s suitcases off the carriage just as it’s going to take him away forever, reversing his heartless decision (which he held firm to while the valet begged for his job), telling him “we will say no more about it.”

You also can’t help but notice that because it’s on a grand scale, it’s not so funny when the lord of the manor realizes he fucked up by taking away a loyal employee’s livlihood without thinking it out. The employee, surely, is always going to know now that his life work is maintaining the constant comfort of a twit who doesn’t give enough of a shit about his welfare and his dignity to think things out before firing him.

But that’s not only entertainment, but history — and of course, also the way things happen now. So we keep watching. Then, the other night, the Lady of the manor finds out that some of the servants have used one of the mansions on the property to start a soup kitchen for poor hungry veterans straggling back from their service in World War I. She looks stern, after the servant heading the effort tells her we didn’t use food from the main house, or something like that, and then, surprise, she says, something like that will have to stop immediately — yes you can use food from the main house to feed these poor men. Well it shouldn’t be a surprise that she has a heart of gold, since she probably has a lot of stuff made of gold. But then she says she will help, points out that they can serve the men more efficiently, by using another table or something like that. So now it turns out that even though she can’t get dressed by herself, and has probably never so much as gotten a glass of water unassisted, she knows more than the servants on how to serve food efficiently. Good thing she came along. The stupid servants weren’t doing it right.

It’s hard to imagine that reflects history, but its easy to imagine that it reflects the Tory Piece of Shit leanings that I had been warned about. It is a philosophy seen here in what has become the raison d’etre for the Republican party: The Rich are Different from You and Me; They are better.

The premise that rich people are not only rich because they are better, but deserve to stay richer than the rest of us at all costs of fairness, opportunity and decency because they will do the right thing is the fiction on which trickle down economics was based, as well as regressive taxation. We need to support the rich people at our own expense, because they can be counted on to do the right thing.

Yet you see evidence to the contrary, that just like the rest of us, the rich act from self interest all the time. Duh. Except on a grander scale than the rest of us so it’s more damaging.

Which is why the SUV and the bicyclist made me think of Downton Abbey.

I don’t know that the SUV driver was rich — I have no reason to think so. The problem, like the problem with Downton Abbey is on a grander scale than that. The problem is that, for years bicyclists have tried to get the next round of necessary improvements to the coastal road to include a bicycle lane. The property owners along the way have fought this hard, with little logic. There is no logic that can be spoken frankly of their objections over safety: they don’t want people who aren’t in cars to have the run of their island. There is no other reason.

But the premise of their objection is that people will do the right thing — that drivers will stay in their lanes, and if they hit someone, they will stop and make it right.

It doesn’t work that way. Even the Tory Piece of Shit who made Downton Abbey, who made the lady of the manor suddenly better at running a soup kitchen than her servants, knows that, because without those silly little fuckups that people, rich and poor alike do, there wouldn’t be a story. And the more inured they are to the impact of their own fuckups, like the gazillionaire who is building a multi-million dollar tunnel just so he won’t have to cross the street, the likely they are to err on the side of selfishness.

Personhood and Peace in Our Time
February 24, 2012

I got an idea that could end the whole Republican war on women. In fact in the essence of bilateralism, that’s where I got the idea. Call it the sincerest form of flattery, if you will, the idea is this: A Personhood Amendment for Women.

It would define women as people, too, and make any effort to wrest control of their bodies away from them a Crime. Propose legislation that would take away women’s reproductive choices? You’ll be impeached. Consider making women pay for prescribed contraception? You lose your own cushy congressional health plan. And do your community service in a daycare center. Suggest crazyass, rapist-minded laws requiring vaginal ultrasounds for healthy women? Off to pound-your-ass penitentiary for you.

Sounds crazy, but it just might restore dignity to our discourse, allow us to focus on real life and death issues, and bring peace in our time.

At Church
February 24, 2012

MegaChurch, Fl — I learned at church the other day that you can buy a set of highlighters specifically marketed to use on your bible. The thin pages may require a particularly delicate highlighter. I don’t know, but you also can get a four-color pen that is sold as a bible underlining tool. In the same place, which is the bookstore of the particular church I was visiting, you can choose from a great number of books written to provide guidance with life’s choices. “Eat the Cookie, Buy the Shoes” was the title of one, the subtitle “giving yourself permission to lighten up” providing a hint of the good news inside, Chapter 4 “God Likes a Party.”

Which is good news, to the extent that it is news. I’m not sure. What kind of party? Not like a Sodom and Gomorrah one, I’m thinking. Depending on your interpretation of that story. Anyway, it was all reassuring that inside the church could be just like outside the church, which can be a good thing.

I was in this one because, having been raised as an orthodox atheist, I want to know more about shared understandings of the sacred and spiritual. I’ve been to Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Episcopalian, AME, and synagogues — in New York, Zambia, Dublin, Richmond, Virginia, for that reason.

“A house of worship is a house of worship, to me; I’ll go to all of them, Baptist, Methodist, synagogue, ” one of the women clustered in my coop’s pool surprised me by saying today. She was in the midst of a conversation of who had gotten ashes yesterday. I was reading a book and didn’t want to talk so I didn’t chime in to say “two minds one thought,” but also because they really are different. Churches are like a box of chocolates — you never know what you’re going to get.

In Zambia, (Baptist and Pentecostal) the services are long, crowded, tend toward fire, brimstone and homophobia, and the benches are hard. In the synagogues I’ve been to, I had to sit in the balcony and couldn’t follow most of what was going on. In the Episcopal churches I can follow most of it, my mind wanders, and I love the melodies of the hymns. Aside from that, I can’t generalize.

A guiding principle of the one I went to the other day — with the bookstore, the cafe, the band, the ladies room with a line, the jokey delivery of the sermon — seemed to be to minimize the distance between inside and outside. But also to feel part of something by going in. The problem was I didn’t. The pastor resorted to tired sexual stereotypes for humor. That bothered my friend slightly more than it did me, but only because having grown up in an era when that kind of kidding peaked, my scar tissue has impaired nerve endings. I don’t think its a helpful way to make us closer to each other and our higher natures though. And it is at least as alienating as being sent to sit in the balcony. I didn’t get the joke.

That night, by some coincidence, I saw “For the Bible Tells Me So” an exploration of the interaction between organized religion and homophobia. It followed five families, all of whom suffered, in varying degrees because of what they believed, or didn’t know about homosexuality. In some cases their churches fostered outright hatred and intolerance. In the case of Bishop Eugene Robinson, the church gave its parishioners a chance to be part of a better world. In most cases the church did nothing.

And nothing, amid the tired jokes, no greater knowledge of how we can realize the promise and purpose of our shared humanity, is what I walked away with Sunday. The sermon was about the church being the bride of Christ, and how we all should work to get the bride ready, because He is coming soon. I don’t know how He will judge what he finds, but I believe history will judge the churches that stay silent or rooted in the past.

 

Skin in the Fight
February 9, 2012

West Palm Beach, FL — The expensive leisurewear that the comfortable retirees wore to plead their case at a county commission meeting made their turnout countable, but otherwise did them no favor. I, who am hoping not to spend my retirement years in a nursing home, am sympathetic with their plight. They worked hard, maybe inherited well, saved judiciously, and then, sadly, purchased property right on the beach. Unfortunately, apparently, the realtors forgot to tell them that the second-largest ocean in the world borders their backyards, and comes crashing in everyday, stealing some of their sand. What a crummy deal. Boy did they get screwed.

So they came before the county commission and pointed out that they pay taxes for a bunch of things they don’t even use, like roads and schools on the other side of the bridge, which they’d rather attend their own funeral than cross, evidently, so it’s time they caught a break. The break they want is for the county to build some groins — picture them — to hold the ocean in place for their convenience at a nearly quarter of a billion dollar cost. Yes some uncountable costs come with that plan — to the sea turtles who make up part of our earthly family, to monitor whether their numbers are decimated, to tear the things out if they are, to taxpayers who will have to pay exponentially more if some part of that doesn’t go right, but this is urgent.

One Islander put it this way, with a catch in his voice: “I stand on my balcony and all I see is water.” Oy! It makes you picture those who stood on their roofs in New Orleans in 2005, doesn’t it? Except that it’s a balcony and not a roof, and it’s like, 27 stories up, instead of one, and when he says see, he means  “see,” he doesn’t mean “drowning in it and my bloated body not being found for three weeks.”

The highlight of the evening was when an otherwise majestic elderly gentleman, dressed for golf, with absolutely no doubt that he was making the best point ever, said that the issue should not be decided “by outsiders with no skin in the fight.” Well, that wasn’t really the highlight. The highlight was when the gadflies, who live way in the hell and gone out west where there is not only no beach, but nothing else to write home about, and who pay for their own dank nasty canal cleaning and road improvement, got up one after another and said, I do, in fact, have skin in this fight, I pay taxes, I go to the beach, except, you’re right, usually not yours, because you’ve fixed it that there’s nowhere to park anywhere near there.

The county commission has gotten much better at listening since three of them went to jail (charges are pending on another) in the last few years, so they voted for the people who didn’t have any skin in the fight except for their own hopes and dreams of how their tax dollars could be spent to make a better world on both sides of the bridge.

Sidyevle
February 3, 2012

Multicultural County, FL — As the Republican road show moved west, its two stars left Florida, having agreed only that if you can’t vote in English, you shouldn’t vote at all. Besides showing a desire to rid our democracy of millions of pesky voters, and reject existing law, this served as further proof that the main choice Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich offer Republican primary voters is a poke in the eye with a sharp stick or a poke in the other eye with a sharp stick.

Apart from the anti-democracy mean-spirited thing, whatever happened to self-interest? You would think these two would want to cut down on the number of people they have to apologize for their “gaffes” to, by having as many people as possible who aren’t fluent in English eligible to vote.

In any case, why, of all the issues compromising our quality of life is getting down to one language supposed to be a good thing? What a dull place a Yiddish-free New York would be — meshuge. Or a New Orleans that can’t laissez les bon temps rouler. Or a South Florida without the music of Spanish, not to mention Kanjobal, Kreyol.

Currently the Kreyol class I am taking has among its students a woman married to a Haitian man, a health worker, and a real estate agent. We could all just say we don’t care what these Haitian Kreyol speaking people in our midst are talking about, but aside from how nice it is to meet people halfway, we would miss some nice turns of phrase. When you ask a friend S’ak pase? (how’re you doing?) a common answer is M’ap boule (literally “I’m burning,” but actually, according to the teacher, more like “I’m making it through the fire”) or M’ap kenbe (“I’m maintaining”). You emphasize things by repeating them a lot, as in “Mesi anpil, anpil, anpil, anpil” — Thank you very, very, very, very much.

And if you say, see you tomorrow, you add “sidyevle” (if God wishes), a reminder not to take life and plans for granted.

Which brings me back to the English-only ballot and the two hate-mongers who found that to be their point of agreement while visiting our great state. I’ll be happy to see the last of them, sidyevle.

Classism
February 2, 2012

I always knew there was something I didn’t like about the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. I thought it wasn’t it, though, it was me. I thought it was how detached the pink water bottles, t-shirt, caps and especially the annoying ubiquitous ribbons left me feeling from what the actual point was. I always felt bad about myself, with my jaded view of pink marketing. The frothing good will and sentiment the race managed to whip up did, at least resemble solidarity. Now its directors have proven that classism can override solidarity, as they cut off Planned Parenthood, severing money that only had the purpose of helping women who didn’t otherwise have access to the screening — that they say they feel is necessary. Absolutely sickening. Saying “I’m not concerned about the very poor” is not a gaffe, and acting on that sentiment, as Susan G. Komen has, is not a “pro-life” statement either. It is a statement of fact.

Growing Old
January 25, 2012

LAKE CLARKE SHORES, FL — The waiting room for my mother’s new Mohs surgeon is like an illustration for the aphorism “Growing old ain’t for sissies.” Nearly everyone there when we walked in today wore a big bandage on his or her face. The only ones who didn’t were the people who had accompanied them there. All the bandaged people were old and very pale. All were sitting there around a table covered with magazines, looking like nothing had happened. If that had been a room full of children wearing bandages like that the din of hysteria would have been deafening. If it had been adults in the prime of life mirrors reflecting grimaces of pain would have been part of the picture. Everyone with a bandage also had a cane or a walker, though, and this was a still life of stoicism.

The nurse called my mother’s name, she went in and emerged shortly with a big bandage. Then she sat down and waited. The way Mohs surgery — excising basal cell carcinomas — works is that the doctor removes some suspicious tissue, examines it, usually removes more, examines that, and that can go on several more times until instead of any suspicious tissue there is a great big gaping bloody wound instead, which at the end of the whole ordeal, like a graduation ceremony the doctor stitches up. My mother has had more of these than I can count, has somehow retained her extraordinary good looks, and is somehow able to make herself continue to go back and having more of these done. The alternative would be that it continues to spread, possibly settling into bone and eventually necessitate more disfiguring surgery. My mother has had this great number of basal cell carcinomas because her skin is suited to Ireland where her anceestors survived and bred, but she grew up in California. It also is her reward for living long. She is 87, has lived longer than anyone in her family that we know of, and has outlived all her relatives of her generation — her younger brother, two cousins with whom she was raised and her husband. She has reaped rewards for living that long — a great love (who sadly also predeceased her), the chance that gave her to learn to enjoy companinonship, the satisfaction of helping, well earned leisure, the chance to see the world improve in some ways and to become more open-minded on some topics herself.

In addition to the sad obsolete experience of outliving people, she has paid the prices of infirmity and some dependence. She has become a target of condescension. A waitress shouted into her ear as we entered a restaurant recently “Good morning Sweetheart,” earning a wondering glare, an entire staff at one doctor’s office spoke only to me about “her” as if she was drooling on herself in the corner, and a huge number of people who don’t know her at all tell me how “sweet” she is, which she is sometimes, but we all know what that means.

We don’t go to that doctor’s office anymore, and quickly boycott any other where we sense a hint of the same. So we like this doctor’s office because no one called her sweetheart or talked to me instead of her, or offered to help her when she didn’t need it even. All good. But some coffee, pastries, perhaps some comfortable recliners, and a less over-booked schedule that kept us there all afternoon would have been nice. Even if growing old ain’t for sissies, it merits an attempt to provide rewards in balance with its trials.

Other people’s madness
January 22, 2012

LANTANA, FL — I don’t think I’m the only one who left the last meeting of our homeowner’s association feeling good about our community. It was a model of protocol. We not only had a quorum, but every single person there behaved with consideration and decorum.

We did of course catch a few lucky breaks. The one resident gets particularly loud and belligerent by the time of evening we continue to hold our meetings apparently got too drunk to show up. The resident who could have taken the most offense at some of the proceedings (we were discussing his unsuccessful lawsuit against the association, and our plans to sue him back for attorney’s fees) has become increasingly distracted and wasn’t paying attention during that part. Also, though, some people made a real effort. One old woman, who has in the past issued such comments as “why don’t you go have another drink,” and “shut up,” held her tongue. The resident who on the last meeting I attended charged on another elderly woman with a balled fist, kept his seat during the whole meeting. And the resident who second guesses the board at every item at every meeting did so without actually saying “you don’t know what you’re doing,” as he has in the past.

So I couldn’t have been more impressed with our little community. I admit to being invested in that pride, having just become our community’s First Lady; the main squeeze was elected at the end of the meeting to succeed the outgoing leader (who completed his term, although, his wife shared with us, he had been urged to step down sooner by his doctor). Then the next day the new president shared with me a new resident’s impression of the meeting: “He said it was madness — sheer madness. He wanted to know if they were always like that.

How embarrassing. We had become, as people everywhere do, inured to our own madness, and think our best day is good enough.

I thought about this when wondering how to answer an African friend of mine who just wrote to inquire about the political scene here. I take it he has picked up some hints that our Republican brothers and sisters face a difficult choice — which of their prejudices to surrender. It would be easy to point to their madness when I respond to my friend — a different mean-spirited, unprincipled incompetent has won each of the primaries they’ve held so far. But then I think how unfair. To them, perhaps, each of those forays into democracy represented progress — as they got rid of the woman who said HPV vaccines make you retarded, the guy who can’t count to three, the one who upon dropping out of the race immediately began to trash his former boss (and who is one of the two who believe in magic underpants), and having already lost the one who doesn’t know where Libya is, but sure would have handled things differently than our president, if he did.