Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Why You Should Oppose Sunsets

Being human means being pressured to appreciate sunsets. Sunsets are found on postcards, Taco Bell wallpaper, graffiti paintings by disadvantaged urban youths, and other surfaces that lack imagination.

The occasional sunset might be pleasant, but every chemically balanced person should object to them on general principle. Sunsets mean the disappearance of the sun; nature's happy pill. Does having the sky resemble a bad tie-dye t-shirt for 45 minutes really justify all the subsequent hours of mocking darkness? I think not.

It is unnatural to celebrate when joyous things come to an end. Do you sob with glee when you're putting the rocky road back in the freezer? When a woman is putting her pants back on after a one night stand, are you like, "Wow this is best part, let me grab my canvas and brushes!" No. There's a reason why women putting their pants back on is the only part of life that hasn't become a porn sensation.

I don't understand why we're not using today's technology to put an end to sunsets. I don't want to see an iPhone 6 until they've discovered a way for me to calibrate the Earth's movements so that it is sunny all the time wherever I am (if the iPhone 6 has that feature, fair enough).

I will no longer remain silent in the face of pro-darkness fascism. I hope to have your support at the next anti-sunset referendum.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Am I a zero dreaming that I am a hero, or a hero dreaming that I am a zero; meditations on meditation

The noticeable retreat of traditional religion hasn't lessened people's desire to recreate many of its trappings. Today people speak about green tea the way Catholics chat about holy water. In cosmopolitan cities many residents under the age of sixty have a bullpen of fasting/"enlightened" concentration/homeopathy/organicness they phone when in need of transcendent relief. They'll grind their bicuspids about how SOCIETY NEEDS TO PUT SCIENCE BACK ON THE FRONT BURNER...right before they tell you they need to run off to work on their qi.

Atheism--which some evidently feel can be best expressed by bashing "organized religion" (facing Mecca is more sound if always performed in solitude?)--is more public than it used to be. This hasn't resulted in people finally freeing themselves from the pursuit of "enlightenment." Instead of using atheism as a backstage pass to fun and folly, many instead still seek "transcendence" through painful rituals like fasting; something the religious have done for centuries.

Unlike the Buddhist monks who often withdrew from already simple lives, today's cosmopolitan transcenders dip their pinky toenails in similar antics while living a life of nonstop stimulation. They talk a good game about hating "consumerism," but have enough electronic devices  to make Batman's utility belt look like something that came with a Happy Meal. Phones that purr like kittens and apps that update you whenever your friend gains a pound do not change the fact that this life is all there is, same as it was before everyone looked like Inspector Gadget. Unsurprisingly, some people respond in much the same way as the ones who have long organized (cue Home Alone scream face) themselves into religions.

The sequence is simple. After some introspection, a would-be transcender comes to the painful realization that this is all there is. He then turns to more introspection and pain as a means of resisting the fixity of his existence. Unfortunately, attempting to overcome pain--that is to say life--by pursuing more pain is like overcoming aspirin by taking more aspirin. By fasting, you have not overcome anything. You have become hungry. You will eventually have to eat, because you are still bound to the same physical laws as all other Earthlings. You cannot meditate your way around this. Existence has no service elevator.

Many of today's capital A atheists are as judgmental of hedonism (put less scandalously: the pursuit of pleasure for its own sake) as subscribers to traditional religions. They can't believe everyone wouldn't want to "think of something greater than themselves." If this reminds you of statements you've heard from organized religion adherents, it isn't a coincidence. We cannot transcend what we are, but we can try to make ourselves feel better about it by trying anyway. All religious pursuit, organized or otherwise, could be given the same name: Placebo Effectism.

But fear not, there's no need to be so gloomy about it all. Humans want to feel they're more than a slowly sinking buoy in a sea of chaotic and indifferent energy. No problem. Here is an easy, relatively painless, (and cheap) form of "transcendence" you can try at home. Every morning when your alarm goes off, your initial urge is to go back to sleep. But instead, you get up. Why not tell yourself you have transcended sleepiness? And throughout the day, remember to pat yourself on the back for overcoming your urge to strangle your boss and seeing beyond your desire to take a six hour lunch. Everyday drudgery suddenly becomes triumphant when you feel you've walked in the bare feet of Parashurama.

And if you like your transcendence drastic, you can always go old school and set yourself on fire. Just tell everyone all that stopping, dropping, and rolling you did was just an advanced form of Bikram Yoga.

Firewalk with my Twitter feed: https://twitter.com/greatMikePayne

Thursday, April 25, 2013

That Time I Almost Died Part V

We take you back to 2008...

It was a rough, teeter-totter week leading up to Monday’s neurology appointment. My mind has been teetering between regret about things not done and tottering toward vows to do things differently if my health ever improves. Luckily I’ve had some new symptoms to keep me company; painful spasming in my legs, feet, and toes, along with episodes of slurred speech. One day at lunch I reached for some pepper packets, and realized I couldn't seem to grip them. I watched in awed terror as they slipped through my suddenly useless fingers.

The neurologist’s facility was in Whitechapel; home of Jack the Ripper. I don’t want to say Whitechapel has changed since the murders, but let’s just say if Saucy Jack were around today, he wouldn’t be slicing up any pork.

Once inside the building, I was batted around like a loitering fly until I was eventually routed to neurology. The first thing I learned was that the person doing the examination wasn't the person I'd been told I was supposed to see. The second thing I learned was that their computer system had been down for several days, so the neurologist wasn't sure if he even had my charts. The third thing I learned was that there wasn’t going to be an MRI that day.

The neuro guy and I went through a Q&A similar to the one I’d been through with the hospital doctors. He seemed mostly unworried about my complaints, and didn’t seem to grasp (at least not openly) how weak and generally diminished I’ve become. This seems odd to me now, since his first observation was that I had limped my way into his office.

He indicated I had a few “borderline” results in my bloodwork, but nothing that really stood out. My blood platelets, iron, and calcium were “borderline,” but not exactly abnormal and nothing to be alarmed about. He kept alluding to hematologists, and seemed convinced almost from the get-go that my decline was more of a blood issue. The only time an MRI came up was when I brought it up.

He wondered aloud if I had caught some sort of exotic viral infection that had ravaged my immune system. I can’t even recall a stiff bout of sniffles over the last 5 months, so to me this sounds unlikely.

Dr. Feelnothing all but rolled his eyes when I repeated the MS theory, which is obviously a good thing. The last thing you want to h ear when you mention a hopeless diagnosis is, “MS, thank you! That’s the disease I was thinking of! Couldn’t remember the name.”

While I’m very happy he didn’t detect anything MS-like, given his overall demeanor, part of me worries that has as much to do with lazy investigation as it has with the chance that MS is the culprit.

Before sending me off to get milked for several more tubes of blood, the neurologist said in 2-3 weeks I would receive letters updating me on when I could see the necessary specialists. In other words, I have to wait 2-3 weeks to find out how long I’ll have to wait to see someone again. If the tortoise and the hare had raced in the UK, the tortoise also would have stopped off for a nap.

I haven’t even mentioned yet what an ordeal it was just to get this fruitless appointment. If you remember, my NHS (“universal healthcare”) GP let me go last week with the assurance I’d get a call from the neurologist. That call never came. I had to leave five increasingly frantic messages with multiple people over the course of the week before finally hearing back last Friday afternoon. And remember, this was after the GP felt it necessary to explicitly consider MS; so presumably, the MS theory was forwarded to the neurology folks. I gather then that possibly having a condition debilitating enough to headline its own telethon still doesn’t make you a priority. with NHS ("not for profit healthcare").

I booked another emergency appt. with my NHS GP for this afternoon. My plan was to bellow until her ears rang with a plan for getting me faster treatment. Her response: “There’s nothing I can do to speed up the process. I am sympathetic to their not considering it urgent. Your systems are very vague. First it was the shoulder, then orthopedic, now the dizziness and the weight loss…”

So I because I have a lot of symptoms that continue to grow in number and severity, this actually makes me less of a candidate for priority treatment. Wouldn’t you think it’d be the opposite? Wouldn’t you think a patient whose condition keeps deteriorating in unconventional ways would be sent to specialists faster in hopes of preventing the appearance of yet more symptoms? “There’s nothing I can do,” says my GP. Had I just walked in from the beginning and attributed everything to Planter’s Wart, perhaps I would have glided through the system.

I am really afraid of dying in London. Not just because of the whole death part, but because I’m afraid not even death will work properly in this soggy and unknowingly backward dystopia. I’m afraid I’ll die and instead of heading towards the light I’ll hear an announcement saying, “Due to improvement works, there are severe delays on the River Styx."

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The clothes make the man forget how he bad he looks

It is not uncommon for folks to begin dressing more conservatively as they get older. Guys pass forty and they start wearing ties everywhere, even in restaurants where the waiters dress like personal trainers. Same is true of women. Menopause hits and they start flashing pearls in between the hot flashes.

I've heard it said that this change in style is a reflection of the aging person becoming wiser and more distinguished. Not true. It is to hide the fact that the ugliness of aging makes you turn heads for the wrong reason. Time is the worst makeover artist of all, and once you start to resemble a demolition site, your best interview suit is no longer saved for job interviews.

There's nothing wrong with using nice clothes to punch up a crumbling edifice. A man SHOULD turn to cufflinks when his beard has so many grey and white patches he resembles a squirrel who's had a baking accident.

But instead of investing in better clothing, perhaps older people should instead invest in poorer lighting. Or tinted windows on their cars. Or maybe they should just go all out and adopt the Invisible Man look.

As for older women, well, they should probably just do everyone a favor and stay indoors.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

That Time I Almost Died Part IV

"Has anyone in your family ever dropped dead?"

These were the sympathetic words of the hospital attendant when I reached Royal London Hospital. "No," I replied, "probably because they were never asked such a terrifying question."

Before boarding the ambulance (I had collapsed in the office), I had been told Royal London is one of the city's better, newer hospitals.
The morbid question and answer I had with the hospital attendant about my symptoms did little to allay my fears, though the talking helped ease my disorientation. I was wheeled into a wing and left sitting in the wheelchair. After maybe an hour, they repoed my wheelchair and left me to lounge on the chilly, awkwardly bent metal benches. With all the waiting people do in hospitals, you'd think it would occur to someone to install therapeutic chairs, rather than furniture that's likely to extend your stay.

I eventually got up to find the restroom. I had to wait a while to use it - it was occupied by some dude smoking a cigarette.
I think it was around three hours before a doctor came and lead me to an examination room. The examination table looked fine, but the plastic chair beside it contained a brown puddle of indeterminate origin. I wasted no time pointing this out to the doctor. It's not that I'm a snob. I like greasy spoon diners. I do not like greasy spoon hospitals. The doctor grabbed some plastic for the floor and advised me to leave my belongings there.

The doctor was quite thorough, and for the first time in my diseased voyage through the British medical regime, I was treated to an examination that featured follow-up questions! They must have thought I was a celebrity or something.
This doc's hypothesis was that I was suffering from an underactive thyroid, a condition I believe is fairly manageable. He extracted several tubes of blood (he even used a tourniquet!) and told me he was going to consult with another doctor before discharging me.

I can't remember exactly how long he was away, but when he returned with the other doctor, it was immediately evident from her body language that she was a lot more concerned than he. One of the first things she said was, "Are you always this thin?" She poked all around my body and kept saying I had muscle waste everywhere, not just in my back and shoulders. She was even more systematic and detailed in her approach, and had a follow-up query for everything I said.
She then changed gears from laser precision to stammering vagueness, and somehow I just knew she was going to mention an HIV test. Sure enough, the long, anxious monologue about why she was broaching the yet to be identified subject began. She probably thought she was being clever, but to me it was like hearing your grandfather tell a bad book joke where you already know the punchline.

It's not her fault, of course. Thanks to the PC lynch mob, doctors now have to watch their step when their examinations take them into territory that might offend the PC Theocracy (which is even more farcical in the UK)...hence the dog and pony show about HIV. In fact, the explanation doctors have to provide as to why they're testing you for HIV actually exceeds the total amount of literature on the disease itself.
Curiously, those same PC theocrats are the ones who bleat the loudest about religious groups stunting science with their actions against stem cells and the like. But just watch what happens to a doctor/researcher who relies on established stats about disease susceptibility.  

The doctor finally concluded her tortured waltz with the question of whether my sexual history was female exclusive. I confirmed that it was, and recounted the extremely ordinary stats of my extremely ordinary hetero antics.
She said she was leaning towards discharging me, but wanted to consult an outside doctor. When she returned from the consult, I was told they felt I needed to be admitted to the hospital. The good news was, NHS ("not for profit healthcare") was finally taking my condition seriously and responding like real doctors. The bad news was: they thought the condition was serious enough for them to respond like real doctors. To illustrate what a turnaround this was, after my emergency Nov. 11th, 2008 GP appt. (the one following my first semi-collapse), I'd been granted an appointment with a specialist for Jan. 5th, 2009.

I was given a bed and a heart scan, which came back normal. After stewing for several more hours, I was examined by a third doctor. She was even more hollistic than the others, There were more questions, more tests, and more obvious concern on her part. Eventually, she departed to phone a neurologist. When she came back, she said one theory the neurologist had was that I may have a rare form of migraine that appears in the limbs instead of the head. She then told me that all of the bloodwork that had come back so far had proved to be normal. I had another emergency appt. that Monday (Nov. 17th.) with my GP, so the doctor wrote a letter for me to hand to that quack. I was discharged around midnight.
Monday morning (Nov. 17th) I went to see the NHS ("not for profit healthcare") GP. First thing she noticed was, "You're limping." She was right, I was, and had been on and off for a few days, despite no obvious leg injuries. She then opened the letter from the third hospital doctor (which I hadn't read) and suddenly adopted a much more serious demeanor than she'd ever taken with me. According to her, the bloodwork that had come back over the weekend had revealed nothing unusual. She then said she’d have a neurologist call me to book a slot for the following Monday (Nov. 24th) for a scan of my head and back. As I was putting my coat on to leave, using the same tone you’d expect from someone telling you to remember your umbrella, she said, “It may be MS.”

How’s that for bedside manner? Here I am with seven days to wait before I see the neurologist, I still haven’t had a single brain scan, and as a parting shot she decides to namedrop an incurable illness. She may as well have said: “I know we haven’t done any tests or anything. I just thought you could use a sleepless week."

Monday, April 15, 2013

That Time I Almost Died Part III

In 2008...

When your general wellbeing is in freefall, it's amazing how quickly you just adapt to the latest symptoms. Ailments you shouldn't be adapting to you shrug off simply because you've forgotten what it's like to feel normal. For instance, I never used to mind cold weather. In fact, I was hot all the time and was the type who wore gloves maybe twice a year. But since October, I've been unable to keep warm. 55 degrees and I'm bundled up in a winter coat, gloves, scarf...and I'm still frozen.

People are like, "Mike, what's with the outfit? Going on a ski trip?" 

"Nope, just picking up my dry-cleaning."

It's quite dangerous, because you cease recognizing the gravity of symptoms you should be taking seriously. Instead of sprinting to the doctor, now when some new and sinister wrinkle materializes, I react the way you do when you find out someone's cousin is  from your hometown. "Really? Hmmm. How 'bout that? [Cue nondescript nodding]."

Probably the worst example of this is my recent weight loss. When I moved to London, I weighed about 130 lbs., a weight I've maintained since I was 18. I'm now down to about 114; a level I haven't seen since I was 14 and 4' 10". Strangely, this wasting away of my body didn't really alarm me that way it should have. Again, I just adjusted. Belts that droop to my crotch, suits that look more filled out on the hanger than on me...no problemo. Who made the rule that says undershirts have to be tight?

I mentioned I'd been having dizzy spells. Well, things came to a head the weekend of Nov. 7th;
I'd booked a weekend trip to Budapest. I was supposed to leave on a Friday, but on the train ride home the night before, I was having a hard keeping my balance. Immediately, I began picturing how this would fly in an unfamiliar city with an unfamiliar tongue. I opted to can the vacation, eat the losses, and do some touristy stuff around London instead.

On my day off I decided to hit the National Gallery. While there I suddenly felt faint and wobbly and had to flop onto to one of the Gallery's couches to get my bearings. I tried to make it look like I was just overwhelmed by the unfinished Michelangelo I'd been viewing.

The Monday following my museum episode, I had a bloodtest appointment with NHS ("universal healthcare"). It had taken weeks to secure, and fortunately, happened to be scheduled for when I needed it most. My appt. was at 10:52 Monday morning, so as per my GP's counsel, I consumed no food or water after 12:00 the night before.

I had the blood drawn, and was told the results would take 7-10 days and that I would either have to drop by the clinic or make an appt. to get them. Inconvenient yes, but thanks to my weekend wipeout, I was at least able to secure an emergency GP appt. for the next day.

The next day--Tuesday--I went to the GP's office determined to make it clear my health was in real jeopardy, and that I needed speedier care. I recounted the semi-collapse and everything leading up to it with as much animation and pantomime as my creaky physique would allow. The last time I had tried this all my GP had in the way of a response was, "Slow down." 

I begged her not to take her own advice.

Miraculously, my "7-10 day" blood results were already in. They seemed to rule out anemia, which was the leading initial theory for the dizziness sector of my maladies. Everything else they for tested for also came up negative; kidney/liver disease, diabetes, etc. In fact, the only thing my GP noted was that my blood showed I was a little dehydrated. I reminded her that the reason I was dehydrated was because she had specifically ordered me not to hydrate myself after midnight the night before. Had I not been given medical instruction to avoid hydration, I would have generously hydrated myself. This revelation failed to resonate. She repeated: "You were slightly dehydrated." I replied again that it had been HER IDEA that I that avoid fluids ahead of the test, and that it wasn't a habit of mine to arbitrarily deprive myself of precious fluids. We agreed to disagree.

She felt the next step was to test my thyroid function, so she wanted to draw some more blood. She said she didn't have a tourniquet, so she would just use a rubber glove to tie me off. Mind you, the room we were in was JUST ACROSS THE LOBBY FROM THE ROOM WHERE I'D HAD MY BLOOD DRAWN NOT 24 HOURS EARLY. WE'RE TALKING ABOUT AN EPIC WALK OF ABOUT 20 METERS WITHIN THE SAME BUILDING. THERE WERE NO DRAWBRIDGES OR FIREBREATHING DRAGONS TO WORRY ABOUT. Follow me on this: which sounds like the more sensible route for a doctor to take; a 20 meter walk and a precise blood draw, or staying put and playing it fast and loose with the old needle and vein? As it turned out, my GP was a risk taker. Apparently GP can also mean Gambling Practitioner.

She tied off my right arm with a common rubber glove (not a joke). Given my emaciated state, my veins were feeling a bit shy. Rather than recognize the error of her ways, she stayed the course and began swatting at my arm piñata-style. As you might have guessed, she failed to draw to any blood, though she did succeed in making my right arm look like a gopher-sacked golf course. Then, and only then, did it dawn on her to make that 20 meter walk across the clinic to fetch the proper supplies. The same nurse who drew my blood the day before wound up doing the honors. My GP said if I didn't hear from her, I was to assume the thyroid tests hadn't revealed anything.

I then requested the results of my first round of tests so I could take them to a private specialist. She told me I would have to make an appointment.

"Can't I just get a printout now?"

"You can, but I'm really behind today, so you'll have to wait in the lobby for 30 minutes."

What could I do? I waited in the lobby for half an hour before a receptionist, not the GP herself, performed the arduous duty of moving her mouse slightly, clicking File, moving the cursor down to print, left clicking, and letting those sweet documents rip.

That was Tuesday. Wednesday passed without incident. I even did a comedy show Wednesday night, my first in a while. I was slightly out of it and blanked a bit on some lines, but managed to have a respectable set. It's really too bad I've been too unable to hit the circuit hard. Given my hideous (read: memorable) new look and obvious frailty, I would now have the all-important POINT OF VIEW.

"Come see Mikey Malaise. You'd be bitter too if the only movement you could count on was falling flat on your face!"

I guarantee if I performed under that banner with the exact same act I've always done, rather than being deemed too dark, bookers would trumpet my act as a "brave learning experience."

Thursday afternoon and evening were kind of ugly, with a recurrence of right arm numbness and dizziness/disorientation. Friday morning I woke up with some light tingling, dizziness, and the occasional star shower in my field of vision. All were short lived.

Then lunchtime hit, and the dizziness came out swinging. I walked out of the office for a brisk stroll in the sunlight, hoping it would restore my equilibrium. No luck. I returned to the office, and now noticed that the ceiling lights were starting to get very dim. I changed floors to make sure it was me and not the lighting. It was me. I went back to my desk and attempted to will away the fuzziness.

Everything faded and I felt myself falling--

Sunday, April 14, 2013

That Time I Almost Died Part II

Written sometime in 2008...

Anyone remember when I was funny? Neither do I.

I finally managed to see my NHS ("universal healthcare") GP. After hearing my boxset of symptoms, she nonchalantly told me it would still take 46 days to see a specialist. That her referral was riddled with spelling errors didn't make me feel any rosier about my prospects of fast, adequate treatment through NHS.

By this time I was beginning to get desperate. I was becoming less and less mobile, to the point where I had to start weighing the pros and cons of every single daily task; carrying groceries, tying my shoes, taking things out of the oven, reaching for my shower head, you name it. One false move in any of these tasks would often keep me frozen for hours if not days on end.

Given the bureaucracy and delays I was facing with NHS (“universal healthcare”) and my private insurer, I decided I would try to rehab myself by swimming. I hadn't been in a pool in 16 years, and it showed. I used the Slow Lane at my gym's pool, which still turned out to be too speedy for me. It is never inspiring when decrepit grannies with the Reaper's reflection in their eyes are outshining you in a physical activity. I guess the lane I really needed was the one for amputees. Or maybe I should have looked for the lane marked Hearse Speed.

Unfortunately, even swimming soon became a tightrope walk for me, with random pain and weakness sometimes appearing after just a few laps. How do you injure yourself swimming? Swimming is what they prescribe for people who’ve injured themselves playing OTHER SPORTS. No one ever says, “Oh, you hurt yourself with the breaststroke? Yeah, just go play rugby for a few weeks.” Somehow, I’d managed to become too fragile for a default sport.

So we come to the end of August, or about the two month mark. Still haven't been cleared for treatment by my private insurer and NHS is moving slower than Mike Payne in the 400 meter butterfly. The early healing novelty of swimming also started wearing off, and my decline picked up steam. By the end of August, I could no longer sit at my kitchen table. Within 30 seconds of plopping down on one of my kitchen chairs, back pain would force me to my feet. Since then, I've had to eat all of my meals standing at my kitchen counter.

This was the time when I really began what I call "bargaining with my body." Every physical activity required I make a sacrifice somewhere else. My thought process devolved to this: If I mop the floor, I won’t be able to carry groceries back from the store. If I clean the fridge, I won't be able to take my clothes out of the dryer. If I do __, I can't __. Eventually, you just quit doing most things altogether. By now the floors of my flat no longer need a mop. They need a Zamboni.

Anyway, “summer” ends and the temperature starts to drop. I didn't bring much warm clothing to London, so I tried to do some shopping. As it is with everything when you're in a state of total decline, you start planning around your deficiency. For example, I went to buy a pullover, but then found that "pull" was an unfortunate verb for someone with my shoulder and back problems. What I needed was more of a drape-over. Actually, the ideal solution would have been for me to just grow a layer of fur, which at the very least would have secured me a spot on the catwalk (told you I wasn't funny anymore).

I gave up trying to hang up my clothes. I couldn't lift them to the hangers anymore, so I just started piling them up on the kitchen table.

I also had to stop working on my laptop for more than a few minutes at a time, as I couldn't find a comfortable position to sit with it, and could hardly risk moving its whopping 8 lb. mass. This and the fact that typing itself sparked pain and tingling canceled most of my writing plans.

My weekends became marked by panic as I spent them in constant fear of calamity. Remember, I live alone, and don't know anyone in London. I don't have a wife, girlfriend, or a roommate. No one is around to offer assistance, and the London medical system isn't one you would accuse of being overresponsive. When you're dependent entirely on yourself and functioning below 50%, successfully eating and showering each day become the foremost things on your to-do list.

One Sunday in mid-September, I awoke and was more or less unable to move. No seriously, I kept sending signals to my limbs, and they kept giving me the old line item veto. I wound up wasting a sunny weekend afternoon staring at the ceiling. When I did finally convince my body to move (and inch by inch process), I basically had to get up and eat what was on the counter. Luckily, I had some tuna cans and bananas within reach (bourgeois, I know). Even lifting a plastic cup of water to my mouth required two hands.

That little flirtation with paralysis triggered me to give up on insurance and NHS and begin going to a private physiotherapist outside of the system. Initially, it was marginally beneficial for pain relief, although I didn’t really feel stronger. Such mixed signals made the mindgames and bargaining even worse, because I’d have a few days of progress and would start saying to myself, "Ahh, the road back!" Then one morning I’d be taking the lid off the mouthwash and the pain would be so swift and brutal I’d see stars and go flying backward like a man tossed off a treadmill.

Soon after I asked a neighbor to pull down my Murphy bed for me. He eyed me with more than a degree of bewilderment, probably thinking he was about to land a starring role in a snuff film. Fortunately, he agreed to help, and once he brought the bed down, I had to leave it down, which meant the doorway to my bathroom was blocked (my flat is a studio), which forced me to crawl/roll over the bed each time I needed to get in. This caused its own kind of pain, but it was better than the pain of slumbering on the sofa. Another piece of bargaining.

The sheer randomness of the pain in my back and shoulders was the worst part. It made planning close to impossible. I never knew when or where the anguish was going to land, only that at some point it would hit...kind of like a V2 rocket. By late Sept. I became hesitant to leave my flat except when absolutely necessary, because like I said, if/when something went wrong, I had no one to call, and no immediate remedies. On the plus side, this has caused me to drink less coffee, since I have very little reason to be awake.

Comedy was a big reason for my move here, but as you might have guessed, I'm not doing many shows. I don't know anyone and can't exactly network from home. It's just as well, as I haven't been doing much writing. I'm not really thinking of jokes anymore. What bounces through my brain these days are heavy quotes from literature ("The weakest kind of fruit drops earliest to the ground"). Melodramatic? OH YEAH!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

That Time I Almost Died Part I

No decent man talks of his maladies.

--Turgenev, The Diary of a Superfluous Man

I'm dying, and at the point of death I really think one may be excused a desire to find out what sort of a queer fish one really was after all.

--Turgenev, The Diary of a Superfluous Man

I posted two old blogs on here about my June 2008 move to London. While there, I wrote some MySpace blogs about all the nonsense that was slapping me upside the head. During my time in Blighty (funny, when I moved away I expected it to be permanent) I became mysteriously and seriously ill, so the blog switched from wacky ranting to a kind of deathwatch. I have been going through the bits of it I could find, and have decided to post what I didn't delete. Some of it is mawkish, but whatever, it was a reflection of my frame of mind, and anyway, the majority of it still strikes me as entertaining. I have done some slight editing, and have clipped some parts that couldn't possibly be of interest. I hope you will also find it entertaining (clears throat)... 

Sometime in 2008...

There’s no doubt I came to London with reluctance. But still, there was an undercurrent of excitement to the move. New surroundings, new start; all the trappings of a soft rock hit without the synthesized sax solo. Quite soon however, I came crashing down like a dropped crowd surfer.

Just before journeying to the land of drizzle and drunks, I was diagnosed with a disc bulge in my lower back. It was painful, but the pain wasn’t constant and wasn’t interfering with my life. I was still going to the gym and doing most of the things I normally do. But immediately after arriving in my new digs, the pain began to escalate.

For the first few days, it was just random attacks of pain; just enough to freeze me in my tracks, but not enough to keep me there for any length of time. Within a week, the pain had not only gone into overdrive; it had oozed to my right shoulder. As with my back, in the early goings, the right shoulder suffered intermittent blips of pain, sometimes acute, but not crippling. Had it remained at that level, you would be reading the thoughts of a much different man.

By about week three in London, I could no longer lift my right arm about the shoulder, and my left arm was getting in on the action. The left was stiff and weak, but because it was still fairly fluid, it became my default limb (I doubt the left arm problems were helped by my favoring it so much). As month one concluded, my right arm was frozen to the point where I could barely use it to shave or brush my teeth.

Sometime in July, I put up my pulldown bed, only to discover I couldn’t lower it again. I simply couldn’t get either arm to perform the task. This left me with two options; hard floor or hard leather loveseat. Picky thing that I am, I went with the loveseat. As it wasn’t even long enough for a dainty sapling like me, you can imagine the kind of contortion act I was doing in my sleep each night. Perfect for someone with hellish aches and pains!

Coinciding with my back/shoulder agonies was another ticklish matter; the unpredictable dizzy spells that accompanied my relocation to London. Initially, I figured it was due to the change in climate, timezone, and food (eating eggs that taste like Satan’s earwax has been known to cause all kinds of problems. Whoever decided the English were going to be known for their breakfasts was either a sadist or the world’s first prop comic). I decided to up my fruit-veggie intake to seven servings a day. No effect. The dizziness continued.

Let’s make sure we're on the same page. Monstrous back pain, a right arm mostly immobile above shoulder level, and a left arm that was rapidly weakening and donating plenty of its own pain to the cause. Obviously, an upper body weak in all the wrong places wasn’t exactly well equipped to deal with the literal fall out of a dizzy, swimming head. Steps, or rather not falling down them, soon became an issue. For those who don’t follow the latest medical developments, using barely functioning shoulders to catch yourself on cement steps is so 1773!

What about treatment? Well, it took about six weeks to establish my NHS ("universal healthcare") GP. My London colleagues were surprised by the expediency. In the meantime, a coworker recommended I hit a private GP she knew who worked with my firm’s private insurance company and supposedly knew how to get things done. "They just refer you to this physio place, backdate it, and the insurance company eventually pays it." Multiple people I consulted seemed to be using this private GP for that reason, so I figured, WHEN IN ROME...

I went to see him and was mostly just told, "Hopefully, you don't have to have surgery." There were no tests and not much advice, but he did refer me to a physical therapist. I visited the clinic he recommended. Turns out, they don't participate with my insurance or anyone else’s, and it's about $116 per session. I was already there, so I figured "Who knows when I'll be able to see someone again, so let me at least get this guy's thoughts."

He didn't seem to have any. He had me touch my toes and gave me a stretch or two to try. That was it. His general advice was along the lines of "Try not to lift any safes for a few months." I went to the suggestion box and suggested they rename the clinic The Apathy and the Atrophy.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The correct answer to the age old question: What is time?

There are no beautiful clocks. Everything to do with time is hideous.

--Robert Aickman

Being a young adult is a time of hitting people with questions you think are mindblowing, but in fact are of little consequence. You walk around thinking you're a divining rod of truth, not realizing that most people have either thought through your earth shaking questions or simply don't care about them. Hell hath nothing more likely to cause indigestion than a 20-year-old muckraker.

A funny example I've witnessed a few times: Young Deep Guy hears someone ask what time it is, and comes out with this BIG little question:

"Hey man, the whole concept of time is all just made up. I mean, think about it, what is time? We've got lunar calendars, solar calendars, the Chinese have a lunar AND solar calendar. We've got daylight savings time where we just c-h-a-n-g-e the clocks! And I bet you didn't know this: American daylight savings time isn't even the same as English daylight savings time! They just make it all up man!"

Uh, sure, but this could be said of any measurement. America uses feet and inches, the rest of the world uses the metric system. The fact that they're different from each other and "made up" doesn't mean they don't still measure something. Whether you're using inches or centimeters, Shaquille O'Neal still bangs his head on doorways and Danny DeVito still uses the doggy door. Everyone knows daylight savings time causes us to SPRING forward and FALL back, yet this doesn't cause us to lose our minds; demonstrating how little the measurement of time matters.

But let's just say you're really onto something, Young Deep Guy. Let's say everyone woke up tomorrow and was like:

[yawn]. Hmmm. What did I do last night? I tell ya, that's the last time I snort Ritalin off a ouijia board. I wonder if I sent anyone any weird texts...wait, hold on...OH MY GOD. I just thought of something. Time as we know it, it's like all...man-made! What if the universe only has *gasp* two constants? AHHHHHH!!!

If everyone had that revelation tomorrow, guess what would change?


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Thatcher's Support for the Iraq War: Gone but Not Forgotten

Margaret Thatcher was an advocate for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Wasn't the first time she showed herself to be an champion of hysteria, but I think this particular bit of advocacy is what Americans should remember her for. The fact that she had a lot of foolish company when she threw her weight behind this obviously preposterous endeavour does not mean it should be forgotten.

It has been amusing to hear Thatcher discussed as "an inspiration to women everywhere" by women whose heads detach from their necks at the very mention of W. Bush; her foreign policy soul mate. I thought a key part of the "WE NEED MORE WOMEN IN POWER" movement was that women would bring a different perspective to power. So why are women celebrating a woman who was interchangeable with Reagan and Bush? If women in power are going to be as craven and incompetent as men, how exactly is electing them a step forward???

Conveniently ignoring Thatcher's resemblance to Reagan and Bush simply because she was a woman in power is a classic example of the mania for diversity showing itself to be a beauty pageant rather than a campaign for increased substance. I hope I live long enough to see the first female leader on trial before the world for putting her citizens in deathcamps. I love a good spectacle, and I relish the thought of seeing a cryogenically frozen Gloria Allred thawed out to defend Hitlerette.

The global power paradigm continues to get more diverse, and yet F.A. Hayek continues to be proven correct: only the worst members of society succeed in politics.

Enjoy the collateral damage found on my Twitter feed: https://twitter.com/greatMikePayne

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

'Cause everybody knows, she's a femme fatale

If you read the forward to any novel or short story collection published today, there is a strong chance it is going to read more like a psychiatrist's notes on a patient than a discussion of the fiction you're about to read. Especially if the author is a male author from the Bad Old Days.

You can be assured you're going to be treated to some Freudian wrongheadedness about the author and his mother. If she was in his life, she is the model for every female character he ever sketched (including the IHOP waitress featured in chapter two. Lotta mommy stuff going on there. I mean, c'mon, waffles with two scoops of ice cream? Do I have to draw you a map?). If she wasn't in his life, the "anger towards women" he evidently displays on every page stems from his anger about her absence. Where else would all these "femme fatales" come from?

Listen: until very recently, the vast majority of writers were men. What concerns most men most? Women. Hell, what concerns most readers most? Relations between the sexes. So if most writers were men, and men are concerned with women, and relations between the sexes have a long history of holding readers' interest, it is not that far fetched to think that maybe literary tropes like "femme fatales" have more to do with statistics than a deep seated, structural hatred of women. Plots have to come from somewhere.

Also, in the past fifty years ago many colleges have been reduced to liberal arts softball leagues built around kids who got a -17 SAT math score. This means MUCH bigger liberal arts/social science departments, many more people sitting through the witchcraft taught in those classes, and many more people graduating with useless degrees that train them to do what? Teach liberal arts foolishness to others, naturally. This means many more dunces getting graduate degrees in Liberal Arts Hypnosis meaning many more dissertations meaning many more contrived investigations into the alleged "sexual repression" and related "misogyny" found in every syllable put on paper prior to the Summer of Love.  

Not surprisingly, such an echo chamber has produced multiple generations of indignant dullards whose M.O. is to shout misogyny first and ask questions later. Even twenty years ago, the word misogyny was still fairly obscure. Now you find it in tweets about Matlock.

How did the word misogyny become more overplayed than Led Zeppelin? Statistics. More liberal arts "schooling" means more circulation of words like misogyny means more foolish Freudian analysis of every male author who ever lived. And with liberal arts-contaminated women now dominating the publishing biz, perhaps it isn't shocking that today's book reviews and literary essays take it for granted that if you scratch any male author hard enough you'll find a mommy-hating brute.

Let's look at the assumptions of all this pseudo-analysis, starting with "sexual repression." I--and most other men-- probably wouldn't mind sleeping with at least 1 out of every 20 women I see. But I can't, because that just isn't the way life works; not even in today's sexually free society. Does this fact of life equal sexual repression? After all, my urges are not being expressed as I would like them to be. And I would like to sleep with 1 out of every 1 supermodels I see. Unfortunately, I am only tall enough to come up to mid-calf on most supermodels, so I do not do well with that demographic. Does this automatically mean I'm walking around with Petruchio-like rage against supermodels? Of course not.

Lots of things were different back in the day. Many more women used to die during childbirth, so having a woman die in a novel could just as easily have been attributed to the realities of the day, as opposed to "matricidal urges" or an innate fear of lady parts. 

Imagine if every male reviewer (or student) approached every female author looking for...no, EXPECTING misandry. Imagine if every literary review and college paper about female writing had misandry as its baseline assumption. Well, to begin with, no one would know what that meant, because misandry--hatred of men--is a largely unknown word. How telling...
Fiction has to at least nominally be about something (even in French literature). Usually this requires imperfect characters (women and men). If the characters were perfect, there wouldn't have been any drama or suspense to keep readers' reading:

Meet Suzie. She's a self-assured, free thinking woman with an IQ of 180 and remarkable ability to match or exceed men in every physical activity. She meets Nathaniel. Nathaniel doesn't notice her looks at all, and instead immediately falls in love with her immaculate sense of self. The End.

Not exactly a page-turner. Drama requires flawed characters, and writing a flawed woman doesn't necessarily stem from hatred, yet this assumption is now as common as the cold. 

Another piece of flint off Occam's Razor: Lots of writers are just untalented, so they can only write one dimensional characters. To say that a hack was deliberately out to savage women by writing them crudely is probably overstating his abilities. No need to go spelunking through his personal life to find out why the female characters weren't fleshed out in a piece of hackwork called, "Scotch Egg, English Yolk."

Frankly, there's no need to even read novels anymore. The best fiction can be found in literary criticism.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

13 Slogans You'd See if Tourism Boards were Honest

State and city tourism boards concoct catchy slogans to bait people into visiting; "Virginia is for lovers" (ironic, considering Virginia had anti-sodomy laws until 2003), or "I love New York." National governments spend big bucks promoting themselves around the world: "Incredible India." Most of the time, these slogans either provide no incentive for one to visit--how does commanding me to love New York encourage me to show up?--or they present caricatures of the destination that the government of said destination (the one that financed the caricature) will later complain it doesn't deserve.

Anyway, here are some more accurate slogans to give you an honest picture of some of the places you might think of visiting:

Quebec: A sanctuary for Francophones who have discovered deodorant.

Paris: A place that guilt trips you for not loving your significant other as much as you claim to.

India: An "anti-materialistic" place that materialistic Americans visit so that they can feel better about being materialistic.

London: The only city improved by constant, obscuring fog.

Florida: The one state where being a resident can equally be a sign of big success or complete failure.

Delaware: A territory so desolate it feels the need to catch up to Maryland.

Virginia: West Virginia gentrified.

Pennsylvania: The only state where you can be Amish and not miss anything.

New Jersey: A bogeyman that exists to scare New Yorkers into working harder so they can afford to keep living in New York.

Massachusetts: Thanks to all the brains being turned on at MIT and Harvard, everyone else in the state feels comfortable turning theirs off.

New Hampshire: Live free of relevance and still die.

New York City: Because no one is from there, everyone who lives there wastes all their time obsessing about what it is to be a real New Yorker.

Atlantic City: A place to go when you've seen all the other rest stops in New Jersey.

My Twitter feed; a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there: https://twitter.com/greatMikePayne

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Public Service Annoncements for Euthanasia

I have said for years there should be Public Service Announcements promoting suicide. Many random shooters end up turning the gun on themselves anyway, so why not encourage them to cut out the middleman? A few Super Bowl commercials with this message would go a long way:

Are you a loser with a big important plan? Do you think trying to get the world's attention by killing a bunch of strangers is going to make up for all the years humanity treated you like the buzzkill you are? Well, before you turn that gun on others, think twice and turn it on yourself first. Charity begins at home.

Unfortunately, I am seldom consulted on these matters. Society is going to keep discouraging suicide, which will reinforce the anti-suicide stigma; a stigma that will probably prevent a few future random shooters from eliminating themselves before they start the shooting spree.

Oh well, we should still address of few classic anti-suicide cliches in hopes of spreading the good word:

1) When a person offs himself, sometimes family or friends will say: "It couldn't have been suicide! If he was going to kill himself, why would he do (insert normal behavior) beforehand?"

Self-preservation is the overwhelming norm in the Homo sapien world. Even the destitute and the deeply ill usually fight to extend their lives for as long as possible. Prisoners on death row fight for pardons in hopes of continuing to live, even though the rest of their lives will be spent in a ghoulish dungeon. They still prefer ghoulish dungeon to oblivion. All the evidence points to the vast majority of humans wanting to see another day.

Now along comes someone who instead chooses suicide; the most unusual and contrarian decision a person can make, and you're surprised that while making the most unusual decision available in the human experience, he exhibited a few other quirks along the way?

It's like being surprised that someone also snaps his fingers while doing a karaoke version of "My Way".

But why did he send that last rent check? Why did he clean his apartment first? Maybe he was worried about his place in the afterlife, which is why he made the "quirky" decision to tie up loose ends. Many people who are about to die of natural causes behave the same way. Folks worry about their reputations, both on Earth and wherever they think they're going to afterward.

Harakiri is the path least traveled. There is no telling what someone is going to do in that frame of mind.

2) Killing yourself is the most selfish thing you can do.

This is another blowhardy slogan that four out of five dentists recommend. Hey everyone: isn't it more selfish to ask someone to continue living in pain (emotional or physical) so that you don't have to deal with the grief of his disappearing from your life? Because you're going to miss him, he should remain alive against his will? He no longer owns his body because of his friendship with you?

It gets better. People are always stressing that mental illness is a disease like any other. Daytime talk shows regularly focus on elevating mental illness to the same status as cancer, AIDS, etc. And nowadays everyone has 85 bracelets on each arm to raise awareness of diseases of which every Earthling is already aware. We've got to bring these diseases out of the shadows.

Many advocates for euthanasia point to the pain of disease as a reason it must be legalized. You know, human mercy and all that. Great, but how about euthanasia as a response to the disease of depression? [Dial-tone] Hello? Hello? Anyone there?

So mental illness is a disease, but when someone wishes to be relieved of this disease the same way he might wish to be relieved of cancer, suddenly everyone gets on their high horse. Suddenly euthanasia is no longer merciful; it's selfish. And the people who want you to suffer on their behalf? Not selfish. OKEY DOKE...

Getting back to public service announcements: We've already seen the driving safety slogan "55 saves lives." What we need now are a few billboards that say "86ing Yourself Saves Lives." Or if billboards are too much trouble, we should at least print that slogan on every copy of the unofficial murdering losers' bible The Catcher in the Rye.

My Twitter feed also saves lives: https://twitter.com/greatMikePayne

Friday, April 5, 2013

MAD MEN: Madison Avenue 90210

Mad Men is the only show I make a point of watching. Despite all that has been written about it, it is really just a soap opera for men. It is a melodramatic romance saga built around the drives and desires of men; sort of like High Fidelity is chick lit for men. But because MM is self-aware, and because soap operas are usually for women, Mad Men isn't seen for what it is.

Despite knowing this, I keep watching. Afterward I have dishpan hands.

Yottabyte after yottabyte has been dedicated to analyzing the show, mainly because it revolves around the illiberal corporate world of the 1960s, those murky, perilous days before sensitivity videos and feng shui conference rooms (if Genghis Khan were alive today, he'd quit his emperor gig to work in Human Resources). It takes a moralistic tone toward its era, and tries very hard to flaunt the sins of the past (you might call it anti-WASP porn).

I think this makes it a guilty pleasure for some conservatives: "Wasn't it great when everyone smoked? When you didn't have to walk on egg shells all the time? When this was a m-a-a-a-a-a-a-n's world!"

And for liberals, gawking at the bad old days is their raison d'être, so any opportunity to dig on how evil things were is not an opportunity to be missed! I knew things were bad, but I didn't know they were that bad. We've come a long way, baby! [Clap-clap-clap]

Because the producers are smart, Don Draper is kept more "modern" than most of the characters. He may be a dipsomaniac that constantly cheats on his wife, but because he exudes less WASPy evil than the other characters, he comes out ahead. Draper is kept pure so that progressive female viewers can guiltlessly fantasize about sleeping with him. It would be harder if Draper looked like John Hamm but talked like George Wallace (female viewers would still push through the guilt, possibly by first purifying their vibrators with fair trade chai).

I said the show was self-aware, which is why it loves to play with the "bad old days" theme. Overplay is more like it. Every episode has at least once ham-handed THINGS USED TO BE DIFFERENT moment. It'd be like if Star Trek had a point in each episode where Captain Kirk looked at the camera and said: "Can you believe we're in space?!" 

We get it. 1963 was different from 2013.

All this hyperbole keeps Mad Men from being the edgy feast it thinks it is. Because the show is full of subtle and not so subtle apologies for the material and the era in which it took place, at times it almost feels like an afterschool special. Contrast that with a show that was actually edgy like The Sopranos. The Sopranos never felt the need to write in the margins that "Murder is wrong!" It also offered no apologies for the politically incorrect conversations. You were either along for the salty, violent ride or you weren't.

Mad Men may be a soap opera for men, but its sensibilities can be downright girly. And I'll be watching the season premiere with bated breath.

Drink, cheat on your wife, and be merry while reading my Tweets: https://twitter.com/greatMikePayne