Pet Cobra

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Thursday, December 30, 2004

This will be my last post of the year, and some reflection is in order.

I finished reading Neal Stephenson's massive (917 pages) novel "Quicksilver" last night, and highly recommend it. The first in a trilogy, it takes place during the late 1600's and shows us the true beginnings of our current Information Age, when alchemy was replaced by science and finance became both a link between nations and a new type of international battlefield. Sounds dry, but is actually a fun (albeit exhausting) read, and my choice for the best book I've read this year. It occured to me that had I gotten an infected hangnail back in 1689, my dad's diagnosis most likely would have been correct. (As it stands, my right forearm is red and swollen, and I feel like shit from that and the antibiotics I'm taking, but hey, it beats being "bled", as they used to do.)

I'd be hard pressed to find a shittier way for the year to end than having a tsunami wipe out over 100,000 people. And the fingerpointing has already started - the New York Times ran an editorial today chastizing the Bush administration for both its late response (Bush waited 3 days to make a statement - I agree with the Times on this; Bush's team was amazingly stupid here. A brief, sympathetic statement by the President immediately after the disaster was needed - when most of the world despises you, you need as much good PR as you can get. This was an excellent opportunity for Bush to step up and show the world that we are still the driving force behind every major humanitarian relief effort, and he dropped the ball. Not surprising, considering his myopic worldview, but a disappointment and an embarassment nonetheless. George Bush - a true shithead.) and what the Times perceives as a "miserly" amount of aid. That I disagree with. It's pretty clear that a). we still don't know the extent of aid that will be needed, nor have we gotten a handle on the logistics of getting that aid to the countries that need it and b). Colin Powell has repeatededly said that the $35 million is an initial sum, to be followed up by long-term aid to the region. What's more, this $35 million does not include the costs that the Pentagon is incurring to move equipment and personnel to the region. In addition, the aid donated through the private sector will be considerable:
(I don't, however, see Nike's name in this article, and considering that they lost a good chunk of their workforce in the disaster, they'd better be prepared to pony up. And I'm looking forward to seeing the lineup for the inevitable Live Aid II. Maybe Phish will reunite for it!)

So the year ends. Do I have any resolutions? Not really. I'll just do what Bob Dylan suggests, something I highly recommend to you, Dear Reader: keep on keepin' on. See you in '05.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Beth has taken our child and fled to L.A., leaving me alone for the evening with my parents. The horror. The HORROR.

There's a theory that adult children tend to regress when they see their parents after a prolonged absence. That's crap. The opposite, as this story will illustrate, is true.

While visiting the family last night, I made a comment about my right middle finger, which is swollen and hurts like hell thanks to an infection caused by a hangnail. It's been like this for a couple days, despite putting neosporin, peroxide, and even rubbing alcohol on it. Nothing's helped, so of course I'm going to see the doctor to get some antibiotics (which I did today). Now, I'm a 35 year old married father with a key job at one of the largest defense contracting companies in the U.S. Despite this, my dad tells me that I need to stick my finger in hot water with epsom salt. No, I say, hot water is only going to make it hurt more, and that I'm going to the doctor tomorrow to get some antibiotics. This does not prevent my dad from loudly chastising me for not sticking my finger in hot water with epsom salt, and then telling me that if I don't the doctor is going to have to cut my finger off. (Later, I was told that if I swallowed an orange seed a tree would grow in my stomach, and if I continue to make that face it would freeze and I'd be stuck looking like that forever.) Earlier in the day Beth received a lecture from my dad about not getting the car smogged on time ("They'll impound your car and take your license!") and another from my mom about how she won't stand for Bob (my sister's husband) swearing around the kids (he said "shit" in front of his 2 year old son earlier) and how she'll put her foot down if he does (my mom is not particularly good at thinly veiled threats directed at the rest of us; also, it seems that my mother didn't get the memo that was sent to both sets of parents - that if we want their opinion on how we're raising our kid, we'll give it to them).

Ugh. The Parents Game is exhausting enough when you only have to deal with one set of them. Why did Beth go to L.A., you ask? Partly (and understandably!) to get away from my folks, partly to appease her mother, who's afraid that her status as Alpha Grandma is being threatened by The Other Grandma's visit. Beth and I did The Nice Thing - we proposed that both sets of parents get together on New Year's Day, I'll make a big dinner, it'll be fun - and neither set seemed all that excited about it, and so Beth's parents won't be hanging out with mine. Damn! Another opportunity for an awkward, forced social encounter between the in-laws has been lost!

More tomorrow - gotta go find Dr. Phil's website and see if he can help me deal.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

What a way to end the year. The tsunami disaster is only going to get worse, as the death toll will rise thanks to the after effects - no food, water, shelter and sanitation for the survivors. Add to that the logistical nightmare of providing aid to the many countries affected, and this may well turn out to be the most catastrophic natural disaster in history. I read, maybe on the New York Times website, that as many as a third of the dead are children.

When you become a parent, your perception of things like this shifts, and there's a much more visceral aspect to the news and the images. You see pictures of grieving Indians and Indonesians, and suddenly it hits you - an image of your nine month old boy being swept away by a wall of water - and the magnitude of it all becomes impossible to grasp. Imagine some 20,000 parents facing such horror.

The U.S. has pledged some $35 million in relief, which some would say was prompted by U.N. relief coordinator Jan Egeland's comments that Western nations were being "stingy" with aid money. I'm as crass as the next guy, but let's be clear - no other country in history has done more to aid both ally and enemy as the U.S., and such comments are baseless, not to mention tacky.

The last thing I'll say about this disaster: according to the folks at CNN, it could have been much, much worse: we could have lost (gasp!) a SWIMSUIT MODEL! (scroll down to the bottom of the page for yet another example of our horribly skewed perspective)

Monday, December 27, 2004

First, my apologies for failing to deliver on the promised "dispatch-a-day-from-Holiday-Hell". To my utter surprise, Christmas with both sides of the family didn't suck (although I didn't get any Xbox games - what the hell? And I was shot down in my attempt to buy ESPN NFL 2K5 - on sale for a mere $17.00! - during our foray to the mall yesterday. Beth chided me for not spending money on things I "need", like nice clothes for work. Apparently, when you have a kid, Christmas becomes less about "you", which runs counter to my Cartman-esque view of the True Meaning of Christmas.)

I am tired, though, as we were driving all over SoCal this weekend - up to L.A. for Christmas Eve with the in-laws, then back down to San Diego for Christmas Day with my family. Thankfully, as evidenced by the fact that I have time to do an entry during work hours, things should be pretty slow this week. Other than massive tsunamis wiping out the eastern Pacific Rim (I don't mean to be insensitive here, but I don't think I'm alone in my initial reaction upon hearing the news: I hope somebody got some kickass footage of tidal wave action. On a serious note - no one should be surprised at the massive death toll, as the fact remains that the respective "governments" of Indonesia, India, Thailand, and the other affected nations have for years shown zero concern for the plight of their impoverished citizens and their infrastructure. Ask the Sultan of Brunei how much cash he's invested in disaster preparation programs.)

Anyway, as we draw closer to what's been a year of mixed blessings, I'm thinking that I'll be like every other hack and put together some "Best Of..." lists. First up is my personal "Best Of Guilty Pleasures" list. Lest you think I'm one of the Cultural Elite, here are a few things that helped me to keep it real this year.

Best Bad TV Show: "Las Vegas". I don't have the bandwidth to truly describe how wonderfully awful this show is. James Caan, the ex-CIA-operative-turned-"president/director"-of-Vegas'-top-casino/hotel. Josh Duhamel, the part-time-Marine-war hero/part-time-private detective/full time hotel security chief, who solves crimes that the LVPD can't handle. And the hot chicks who work for them (although what they do is never quite clear - one of them is like a consierge to the uber-rich gamblers; in one episode, she went "rogue" to break up a money-laundering ring).

(The runner-up here was "Star Trek: Enterprise". It's not that bad, as far as "Star Trek" shows go, but what sets it apart is the theme song, which is sung - sung! - by a person named Russell Watson who sounds a lot like that band Survivor ("Eye of the Tiger", remember?). Here are the lyrics:

It's been a long road
Gettin from there to here
It's been a long time
But my time is finally here
And I will see my dreams come alive at night
I will touch the sky
And they're not gonna hold me down no more
No they're not gonna change my mind
'Cause I've got faith of the heart
I'm going where my heart will take me
I've got faith to believe
I can do anything
I've got strength of the soul
No one's going to bend nor break me
I can reach any star
I've got faith
I've got faith
Faith of the heart

(I often wonder who is the "they" - the 22nd Century's version of "The Man" - that the singer refers to. The Klingons, perhaps?)

Honorable Mention: "Smallville". Because, as regular viewers know, it's all about Lana. The show makes the list thanks in small part to the episode where she and Chloe and Lois (yes, Lois Lane) are possessed by the spirits of 16th century witches.

(Best Good TV, BTW: "Lost". )

Best Bad Band: Maroon 5. Goddammit, now I have that song going through my head. She WILLLLLLLLLLLLL be loved...she WILLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL be luh-uh-oved...

Runner-up: Modest Mouse. I for one welcome any band that does for the Talking Heads what Oasis did for the Beatles, i.e. shamelessly but entertainingly rip them off. Sadly, their appearance on "Saturday Night Live" showed their weakness - good on record, bad on stage.

Honorable Mention: Foreign Born. Never heard of 'em? Hopefully you will - they're actually really good, and do for Echo and The Bunnymen what Modest Mouse did for the Talking Heads. I'm opposed to the current trend in alt-rock of bringing back the 80's sound, but if you have to go that route you may as well draw inspiration from the best English band of that era. (No, U2 doesn't count - they were Irish). Foreign Born is unsigned, and making the club rounds in L.A. Their website is, go see them if you can, and my endorsement has nothing to do with the fact that their guitarist is my brother-in-law.

Best Bad Song: This is a subcategory, and the award goes to Snoop Dogg, for "Drop It Like It's Hot", off of his aptly titled masterpiece "R & G: The Masterpiece".

Best Bad Movie: "Eurotrip". Even funny without the aid of certain mind-altering substances.

Runner Up: "National Treasure". Apparently the most revered document in U.S. history is remarkably easy to steal. Nicholas Cage and Halle Berry should do a movie together, and really bring it all together - a story of an alcoholic racist (Cage) who finds his unlikely soulmate in a welfare crack-addled mother whose child died horribly (Berry); together, the two use their martial arts skills to foil a plot to steal the Mona Lisa, which holds the key to finding the Lost Ark.

Honorable Mention: Blade: Trinity. I haven't seen it yet, but really, do I need to?

Friday, December 17, 2004

Embrace the chaos. My parents descend upon San Diego tomorrow, and so it begins - Christmas With The Families. For you see, we will be travelling up to L.A. to spend Christmas Eve with Beth's family, and back down here on Christmas Day to spend Christmas Night with mine. With all we've been through over the past two weeks, can you blame me if I'm feeling a bit of trepidation over the whole thing? But I have no intention of dealing with the usual drama of hanging out with Beth's family coupled with the guilt trips (courtesy of my mom) and jealous sibling rivalry (courtesy of my younger sister, with her accompanying complex - oh, and I did I mention she's married to a bona fide Bushie?). No, dear readers, I'm dragging you along with me, and together we'll hop on board the Bipolar Express. Ho ho ho! Expect nightly updates starting tomorrow, and if I veer away from my usual rants about the schmucks who run our country, forgive me.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

We're doing much better this week.

Certainly better than Rummy. John McCain has been eviscerating The Real Donald (when I think of Trump, I think of Brando's line in "The Godfather" - "Tataglia is a pimp." That's Trump - a pimp, with his cheesy gold penthouse and horrid combover. The Real Donald is Rumsfeld, the Master of War who is overseeing this generation's Charge of The Light Brigade. But I digress.) in the press, righteously tearing General Magoo a new asshole in light of his heinous comments to the soldier who asked him, in a nice way, why he's so insistant on sending our guys into battle in vehicles that have about as much armor as an AMC Pacer.

Of course, things are rarely as simple as we hope. Then again:

Yes, Rumsfeld is a senile old fool, but one also has to wonder why it took the Air Force months to step up - especially considering that in many circles that branch of the service is considered an anachronism. Naval and Marine Air have been able to project power much more efficiently (i.e., if France and Turkey say "sorry, can't fly through our airspace or use our bases", all that needs to be done is sail the carriers up into the Persian Gulf and presto! Shock and Awe!). The Air Force's prime mission - strategic nuclear deterrance through long range missiles and bombers - has been replaced by it's most useful aspect, heavy airlift. C-130 and C-17 cargo planes were built to fly cargo and personnel in and out of "hot" airstrips, and are well-suited to move gear and troops in the mess that isIraq. Hopefully this will result in fewer casualties. And hopefully Rumsfeld will be fired for not doing this sooner.

Speaking of getting fired - tough times if you're a Laker fan. Kobe is cementing his reputation as the biggest jackass in professional sports. Y'know, if you're having sex with/raping teenage white chicks, you're probably not the guy who should be accusing teammates - especially the ONLY one who even tried to be your friend - of hitting on wife. Karl Malone has his faults, but he brought some much needed class to the Laker soap opera. Good on him for wanting nothing to do with Buss and Kupchak's Kobe Show.

And finally, Scott Peterson is going to ride the lightning, metaphorically speaking. Or would, anyway, if he were convicted in any state other than California. We'll all grow old together, Scott and the rest of us, and I think that the Rochas know this, as does Scott. But he'll live with the fear that any day his last appeal could run out. (Is that as bad as living with the fear that your 300 pound cellmate is going to bugger you senseless? Discuss.) The real winner: Garragos. Lots of billable hours when your client is on Death Row.


Thursday, December 09, 2004

Two things you need to know.

One - occupying a prominent place in our living room is a blue rug. It's designed for a kid's room, incorporating a maze design and various pictures of animals, toys, etc. It's hopelessly out of place, but since we have hardwood floors in the front room it's great for Lucas, who at nine months old is still grasping the nuances of crawling, and thus the rug gives him a nice area to sit and play. The nine month old mind works in mysterious ways, and to our horror Lucas has acquired quite a taste for his rug, lifting it up by the corners and chewing on it whenever he can. (Mick, our dog, also enjoys lying on the rug. Thus the added enjoyment of pulling dog hair out of Lucas' mouth after he's had a good gnaw on it). The same kid who loves the taste of spaghetti equares that with the taste of rubber and plastic fibers. Go figure.

Two -

It started on Thursday (and if my timeline is off it's only because I've been through Hell over the past couple of days), when it looked like Lucas was getting a cold. By Friday, he had a fever. Saturday morning we woke to find our little boy with a hacking cough, a higher fever, and - how do I describe this? His eyes were bright red, no whites, like something out of a Stephen King novel. His lips - cracked, puffy, and bleeding, like he'd been crawling in the desert for days. I felt a slow, creeping panic - we gave him his sippy cup with water, and called the hospital, who told us to bring him into the pediatrician later on that evening. When we got to the doc's, they told us they thought it was a virus, keep giving him fluids and Motrin, and see your pediatrician on Monday.

So it continued on Sunday, the fever, the cough, the red eyes, the crying (his and ours), lack of sleep (ditto). Monday we take Lucas to our pediatrician, who gives him an antibiotic - she still thinks a virus, and that the red eyes and the bloody lips are due to dehydration and fever - and drops the first hint that this may be something else, something called Kawasaki Disease, which sounds like a bad joke or a marketing slogan but is horribly serious, as we were to find out.

I get the phone call at my desk Tuesday morning - it's Beth, she's crying, I can can hear Lucas moaning (moaning - dear God, this is like nothing I've hear before, and I'm suddenly so terrified I want to scream), and I am dialing my boss' extension even before I'm off the phone with her. I'm as calm as I can be, letting my boss know that we need to take our kid to the ER, and then I'm out the door. I have this thing when my kid is in pain - I get ANGRY, and it's helpless anger, this rage directed at God or Fate or who or whatever has decided that it's somehow OK that my little guy suffers. Dads out there will know what I'm talking about. So as I'm driving as fast as my POS Ranger will go, I'm screaming at the fucking stoplights to change, at the slow assholes who are in my way, at my truck itself for being so fucking slow. I get it under control once we've loaded up the Xterra with Lucas and our stuff.

This is where it gets surreal, silver lining type-stuff. We arrive at Children's Hospital at about 9:30 a.m. The nurses check us in, and as they poke and prod Lucas, checking his vitals, there's that name again - Kawasaki, Kawasaki, Kawasaki. It's all I hear, even though Beth and I are being bombarded with questions by the staff. A young Asian doctor comes in at one point (I think around 11:00 - time has become one long agonizing moment); he tells us all about Kawasaki disease, and says that Lucas' symptoms are indicative. (If you didn't spend some time on the website, do it now, as I'm not going to go over the particulars) He knows this because he is on a research team that is working on KD and has developed a treatment. His boss, a Dr. Burns, is here at the hospital. She's one of the nation's leading experts on this bizarre, rare disease that 1 in 5000 kids comes down with and that it's pretty clear has infected ours.

Everything else comes in fragments. My little son is subject to a series of tests - he's stuck with needles, has plastic swabs stuck up his nose causing it to bleed, thermometers and swabs are stuck up his butt. The whole time he's crying, but it's a weak, tired cry, a whimper, and somehow that makes it worse. At some point the doctor tells us about the treatment - he'll be on an IV drip of gammagobulin for 10 hours, and will get heavy doses of aspirin to combat the high platelet count and arterial dilation. We're told that we'll be at the hospital for at least three days. The treatment is usually (and I don't want to hear "usually", I want to hear "always") successful and we should (will?) see a near immediate change in his eyes and lips. He'll need an electrocardiogram to make sure that there is no damage to his heart (a comment that cause my own heart to momentarily freeze, for as Dr. Burns will put it to me some hours later, do you you those news stories you hear about the high school athletes who drop dead in the middle of a baskeball or football game? Chances are they had KD and weren't diagnosed or treated properly.), and for that he will need to be sedated (and again I have to force myself to keep control - sedating my 9 month old is not something I ever wanted to have to deal with). We're led up to our room. There are things going on around me that I have to consciously screen out. I see a little boy, maybe 4 years old, being pulled around by his dad in a little Radio Flyer wagon. He is hooked up to an IV and he is missing large patches of his hair. All of this is drawn out over a span of hours, and I still have no sense of time passing. At some point Beth goes home to get some extra clothes and bathroom stuff. Lucas gets his IV and they start with the standard saline mix to keep him hydrated. He struggles with it - the nurses have the needle taped and wrapped, his hand is in a split, and there's a cotton sock over it that he keeps trying to pull off. The nurses come and go, constantly checking his vitals. He is lying in his metal crib, a tube stuck in his arm. And he keeps looking at me with so many questions in his eyes, questions that I can't even begin to answer.

Beth and I don't get a lot of sleep; there's a chair that folds out into a "bed", it's made for one person, and we share it. Every hour the nurses come in to check his temperature and his blood pressure, as the gammaglobulin does its work. It's a long and quiet process. There's nothing for us to do but wait and worry. Morning rolls around. And this: his fever is gone, and his eyes are almost clear - that horrific red has receded. Even his lips look better, as if he'd gotten some of God's personal stash of Chapstick. So I make the decision to go back to work that afternoon; the doc tells us that the EKG will be an easy, straightforward procedure. I'm feeling a good amount of guilt over leaving, even if it's only for a short while, but the cold fact is that I started my new job a week ago, and that's business. And the doctors are pleased with the way the treatment went. It's an excellent sign that Lucas has beat this thing.

I'm at work for about a half hour, and am sitting in my boss' office discussing where we are with our job openings when the cell phone rings. It's Beth. She's sobbing. Lucas is screaming in the background.

I'm on the road. This time I'm in the Xterra. And it hauls ass. Beth has told me what happened: the sedative wore off about a half hour earlier than it was supposed to, and Lucas woke up shrieking and thrashing around uncontrollably. Beth describes him as acting like a heroin addict going through a bad withdrawal. The dayshift nurse was snippy with Beth, telling her that this was "normal". When I get to the room he is still crying and struggling in her arms. I take him to give her a break, and sit with him. He is, to put it mildly, not a happy camper. Eventually events catch up with him and he dozes off.

We catch a break. The doctor tells us that things look positive; the thing with KD is that like chicken pox, once caught it never comes back. The thing to be worried about are the lingering effects on the heart and circulatory system. We won't know more until we get the EKG results back later on in the evening, but I'm cautiously optimistic.

Evening. We have been on the phone constantly with friends and relatives. Beth's parents offer to come down, but Beth talks them out of it. I am selfishly glad. They are crazy about Lucas, but this is our nightmare to deal with, and our job is to be here for Lucas. My grandma came by earlier and spent some time with us. Our friend Carin stops by dinner - Greek chicken salads from Daphne's.

After dinner, we get a call from Dr. Burns. The EKG shows that Lucas' left ventricle, in his heart, is dilated. It's too early, she says, to draw any conclusions. We'll be following up with her over the next several weeks, doing another couple of EKG's (this time with a different sedative) and more testing. I tell myself that if this was serious, she'd have come up to tell us in person. But the good news is that the treatment seemed to work, and the virus is gone. We'll be taking Lucas home tomorrow morning. Beth and I agree that I need to go home and sleep - we left Mick home alone the previous night, and I am going to try to go in to work again tomorrow afternoon. I need to be somewhat less exhausted than Beth.

Which brings us to today. I got up early, showered, fed Mick (who spent a blissful night asleep next to me on our big bed - doggie heaven) and drove down to the hospital. We packed up - and waited. It took a few hours for them to process us out. During that time, the staff that had worked on Lucas all came in and marvelled at him. As did Beth and I - the kid was climbing, crawling, babbling, all the things that he was doing prior to the past ghastly few days. (It's not trite at all to look at those doctors and nurses in awe - medical skills aside, that they are able to work day after day, night after night, with all those ill and injured kids is inspiring. There's no other way to put it.)

So we scooped up our resurgent little boy and left. A last thought on Children's Hospital, one that will stay with me for a long time. By the lobby, there's a glass case, with a large book on display inside. It's called the Book of Remembrance, and it's pages contain the names of the kids who didn't get to go home with their parents. It's a thick book.

Earlier this evening, Beth ran out to the store to get some groceries and to the salon to get her brows done (this is yet another reason why I will never fully understand the female mind; you've spent the past few days watching your baby son battle The Mystery Asian Virus, and the way you unwind is by having your eyebrows ripped out). Lucas spent his time crawling around our place, playing with his toys, and chasing after Mick. But he seemed happiest just sitting on his rug, and chewing on the corners. And that was just fine by me.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Many moons have passed since last we spoke. Some noteworthy departures to mention:

Ken Jennings. Let's play Two Degrees of Separation. KenJen (as he is known to the fans) to Alex Trebek, Alex Trebek to Yours Truly. Yes, as the old song goes, I lost on "Jeopardy". Way back in 1999, I was a contestant on the World's Greatest Game Show. I have the dubious honor of losing to Robin Carroll, who became (at the time) the highest money winner in the show's history. She was the Ken Jennings of her day. I lost handily, but cannily - in second place going into Final Jeopardy, the gal who was in 3rd and I did not have enough money to bet to win against Robin. So the consolation prizes - and our honor - were up for grabs. The Second Place Prize was a week in Ireland, to be spent at (drum roll please) the Merv Griffin Resort (yes, there is a Merv Griffin Resort in Ireland, and judging by the photos of the guests that frequented the place, walkers and portable oxygen tanks were all the rage there). The Third Place Prize was a Complete Home Entertainment System, with a 24 disc CD changer, surround sound stereo, and a 36 inch TV. Now, as this prize was announced, my mind bifurcated (look it up - great word) and I thought back to the "home entertainment system" that Beth and I had at the time - a 14 inch dorm room sized TV. So honor be damned - I bet enough to guarantee that I'd lose, didn't answer the "clue", and am currently watching "Joey" on my Jeopardy Third Place Prize. So Ken Jennings, I salute you, for we are part of the same noble few, we band of brothers.

Tom Ridge is also leaving us. I can't think of anything bad to say about him. He seems like a decent fellow, and unlike our boy J-Ash, was only guilty of providing the goofy color-coded terrorist warning system that's still good for a few laughs. Bernard Kerik, his replacement, is a competant and interesting guy - his autobiography "The Lost Son" is worth reading.

Tom Brokaw hung it up as well, which makes me sad. He's been a reassuring presence through the mess of the past four years. I'm looking forward to Dan Rather's final broadcast. I predict he will lose it, and hop around the studio shrieking and throwing his feces like a rutting chimp.