End of January troubles

The man knocked on the door and yelled, “Maintenance.”

“Hang on, hang on, I’m coming,” a gruff voice said from inside of the apartment.

A large woman opened the door and narrowed her eyes in suspicion at the man. She held a grey cat in her arms and stroked its purring head. The cat stopped purring and glared at the man in suspicion, as well. The four eyes stared at the man in a moment of uncomfortable silence before the woman stepped out of the doorway and motioned for the man to enter.

Flustered, the man looked at his clipboard again, quickly trying to find the woman’s name.

“So the neighbors have been filling your apartment with meth gas?” the man asked as he scanned his paperwork and set a large black bag just inside of the door.

“Mrs. January, right?”

Her head bobbed up and down so vigorously the skin under her chin wobbled back and forth.

“So, that’s a yes,” he said with a smile.

Nice teeth, she thought, before continuing.

“And that’s not all,” the woman added.

Her confidence was quickly growing in the visitor. As a rule, she trusted people with nice teeth. He needs to know everything if he’s going to be able to help, she thought.

The man raised his eyebrows in question and nodded his head encouraging the woman to go on. He pulled a pen out of his coat pocket and poised it over the paper, ready to add to the existing list of complaints.

“They snuck in here and took my original birth certificate and I wouldn’t be surprised if they gave it to that woman who stays over there, so she can change her name.”

“And is that it?” the man asked as he made his notes.

“No, it’s not. They also took my heating pad and when I went over there last week, guess who had a heating pad?”

The man didn’t need to guess.

“Her,” she clarified, “you know, the one they gave my birth certificate to after they stole it from me.”

Nodding his head in understanding, “I see no reason to wait any longer to get started. Let’s sit at the table.”

She took his lead and seated herself at the table, with the blind trust that a sheep gives to its shepherd.
He unzipped the black bag and pulled out a machine with silver nobs and needle indicators. Setting it on the table, he flicked a switch on the back and the machine started to whir to life. From another section of the bag, he pulled out a handful of wires.

As he prepared the treatment, he turned to the woman and said, “Go ahead and take off your glasses. We’ll attach these to your temples and get you fixed right up.”

She stared at him with blue eyes of gratitude before removing her glasses. A tear splashed from the corner of one eye down her cheek.

“Thank you,” she said simply and closed her eyes.

Escape from the Midwest Winter

forest

“Here Nature is unapproachable with her green, airy canopy, a sun-impregnated cloud- cloud above cloud- and though the highest may be unreached by the eye, the beams yet filter through, illuming the wide spaces beneath, chamber succeeded by chamber, each with its own special lights and shadows.”

W.H. Hudson, Green Mansions

Bikers without bikes

bucket
Bikers without bikes gathered around a table next to us in a dark bar. It was too cold for motorbiking or for pretenses. Based on their snarls in our direction, it was clear that we were not going to be friends.

Each of the men had an arm around a bleach bottle blonde as they pulled out chairs and settled in for the night. The women wore black t-shirts and rough faces with dark eyeliner. No one in the group was easy on the eyes,

“Couple of buckets of Bud,” one of the men shouted at a woman whom he presumed to be a server.

The woman rolled her eyes and walked away.

He must have guessed right as three buckets of beer arrived shortly afterwards. The appearance of the beers produced a childlike delight in the group. They cheered joyously.

Our small table grew very quiet as we watched the group, uncomfortable and curious. We waited and watched with a certainty that something exciting would happen.

Before going on, I should note that we had no business in a strip mall bar without a proper name in a small country town. In truth, we were the outsiders as we watched like a cluster of flies on the wall but we were also well-behaved, paying customers. So we were tolerated for the night.

The gang delivered on our expectations.

“Shots,” another man shouted as a different female presumed to be a server passed by the table.

They no-name bar excelled in customer service because not much time passed before a tray full of cheap liquor in tiny glasses was delivered. This was good as the group had moved onto a new focus while waiting for the server to return.

A handful of pills were pulled from the pocket of one of the bigger guys and passed around to everyone at the table. It was surprising that everyone had the same medical condition and treatment, but this was a small town. I suspect it was something in the water and was glad they were treating it aggressively.

Naturally, the shots were used to wash down the medication. It was just enough liquid to push the little tablet down their gullets. One by one, the shot glasses were slammed down to the table with a celebratory yell. Although, it was in an unintelligible language, I believe they were cheering to one another’s health.
Then one of the bleach bottle blondes made a request. She grabbed the sleeve of the first waitress to make their acquaintance and drew her down within whispering range and made a quiet little request. A basket of celery, plain and pale, was delivered to the woman. She began to greedily eat as quickly as she could mash down the stringy sticks with her soft teeth.

All of this was par for the course. I felt a heightened sense of awareness but didn’t feel afraid until one of the guys took off his leather jacket. His arms and fingers were covered with tattoos, the homemade kind, like a person might get in prison.
He loudly complained, “This gun is really diggin’ into my side.”

Against my will, I had to look at the speaker to assess the threat. I didn’t want to look or draw any more attention to our table, but I had to see his face. I looked just in time, too. The man’s shirt was pulled up to show his friends how the gun that was shoved into the waist band of his jeans was indeed digging into his fleshy stomach.

Poor guy, I almost said, and then realized that was a real gun shoved into this guy’s pants. I think most people use some kind of a holster or holder but then again I’m naïve to gun carrying protocol. Perhaps the best way to transport a gun into a dark bar is shoved into one’s waist band. I’ll look into it and provide an update if I learn anymore on the topic.

In any case, the bouncer was just as interested in the gang as us. As soon as he noticed the man showing off his gun, he strolled over and grabbed the man’s shoulder for a one-on-one in the corner. I prepared to take cover under the table, fully expecting bullets to start flying in 3, 2, 1….

And then nothing. The biker without a bike who had just been mixing shots with pills and washing it all down with cheap beer totally understood the bouncer’s concerns. He shook the bouncer’s hand and put his arm around his massive shoulders.

I think he said something to the effect of, “I love you, man. You saved my life tonight.” Without another word to his group, he left for the parking lot where I assume he stashed his weapon in the glove box with the rest of his guns and drugs.

We watched him walk out and come back un-phased. Our friends who had been to this bar before promised, “Just wait until the band takes the stage, then we can really start people watching.”

In this, the bar did not disappoint.

Strangest Week: Top 5 Reasons

mon 2

Truly, this was the strangest week. Here’s why…
1.Meta-meta-metamucil
In trying to impress my husband with my culinary ability, I baked a squash with butter and cinnamon sugar for dessert. This seems like something that would be healthy and delicious, except for one thing. The cinnamon sugar turned out to be orange flavored Metamucil in an identical and unlabeled container. No one was impressed.
2.Neti no-no
I overhead a co-worker on the phone say, “So you put probiotics in your neti-pot and now you have a sinus infection?” So much for risk taking and alternative medicine.
3.Prison
At a client’s home in the middle of the woods, a dirty looking man with tattoos on his arms sat and had a conversation with himself about escaping from prison. I didn’t stay long and no one minded when I left.
4.Tables
Out of the five home visits of this week, no one had a kitchen table. When I asked for something to put my computer and paperwork on at the first home, the client offered to pull up another chair. This was in a room with chairs, boxes, bags, and trash lining the walls. I feared moving anything would release an avalanche of old soup cans, shoes, plastic furniture and random junk onto my head. My lap sufficed and I didn’t ask again.
5.Problems
Possibly the strangest thing – the realization that problems are never what they seem, especially when they belong to someone else. #not my monkeys, not my circus
mon

Morning Mister

man

The man whistled
In the bathroom
Pleased with his work

Wild Encounter

bear
The doctor looked at the woman and back to his laptop, unsure of his patient.  I’m pretty sure this isn’t just an American thing, he thought and adjusted his glasses. She wore a large fur hat that covered her neck and the sides of her face. Little round ears stuck out from either side of the hat. Dark eyes peered out from within the fur and as she watched the man.

She looked remarkably like a smallish brown bear, sitting with her legs crossed at the ankles. When she pulled her hands from the pocket in the front of her sweatshirt, he silently noticed the brown, furry mittens.

The smallish bear patient giggled when the nurse walked in and stated in a flat voice, “Well that’s cute.”

“Thank you,” she said, flattered. Large, square teeth were exposed as the woman smiled in a contrast of white against brown.

The nurse continued, “Here something else that’s cute,” she paused for dramatic effect and continued in the same monotone voice.

“Your blood sugar levels. I just checked your meter, and they’ve been out of control. Are you taking your insulin?”

The woman pulled the hat off with one hand and held it in her lap; it looked like the decapitated head of wild animal, lifeless and out of place anywhere but her head.

She had no answer as this was not her world.

Free Time

fly

Ida struggled with most everything. Her kids were wild-bad, her paycheck was too small, and now her health was in a downward spiral. She tried not to think about any of it too often. Like her ma, and her ma’s ma before her, she trudged forward in life until the day that she felt would come sooner than later.

Today, she quite literally trudged through the snow and ice up five blocks to her home from the bus stop. Her entire body ached. She cleaned all day, mopping and sweeping, scrubbing and dusting. Day after day, the routine was the same. It was easy. There was no thinking involved, she could check out and go through the motions. It was the physical effort that was slowly draining her of life.

All she could think now was how to put one cold foot in front of the other in order to reach her front door. Dull pain came from her frozen toes in the end of her cheap shoes. Snow had melted through the canvas and soaked into her thin socks. Ida tried to make herself remember to wear an extra pair of socks for the walk home tomorrow.

What does it matter? she argued with herself. You’ll be home soon enough, just like every other day. She chastised herself, Stop complaining. Think about those Johnsons, they have it worse than you on any day of the week. What you need to do is drop off a plate of food for them next time you get a chance.

Ida felt good about this plan. The Johnsons were her neighbors with too many kids and never enough to eat. They weren’t too proud to beg or above filching anything that wasn’t tied down for resale elsewhere. Somehow they managed seven people in a two bedroom apartment. It was more chaotic than cozy.

“Oh, Praise the Lord,” Ida shouted as she stepped onto the broken and cracked front steps of her apartment building. Almost there, she told herself and willed herself inside and up two more flights of stairs, one step at a time. Finally, she made it through the door and collapsed onto a ratty red couch. It was covered with a number of pillows in various sizes and colors, equally as ratty as the couch.

Silence greeted her. The wild-bad kids were out running the streets again. At least they turned off the tv before they left, she thought. She used to try and fool herself when she left them for work by saying, “At least they have that nice group of friends.” Now she knew they were in a gang, not that she liked it. There was little that upset or shocked her these days. What could she do?

A fly buzzed past her from the window and landed on the wall. It watched her with as much curiosity as a fly in a section-8 apartment could muster while navigating around drafts and strips of fly paper. Ida shook out a handful of pills from a bottle in her purse. The fly crept closer to see better, hopeful of something to eat. It flew to her shoulder in joyful anticipation.

“Shoo fly,” Ida said. “I’m tired and hurting. I need to rest.”

Disappointed, the fly buzzed by her face and off to investigate the kitchen again for real food.

Ida grabbed a crocheted blanket from the back of the couch and pulled it over her aching body as she gulped down the handful of pills and prepared to sink into the dark oblivion of sleep that would leave her rested just enough to get up and do it again tomorrow.

No more, no less.

Healthcare and Honey

med

It’s made up of two basic words, health and care. The word is a prescription in itself for its function in the care of health. Yet, when sitting in on a healthcare meeting today, the only theme that I could draw was the pursuit of money. They discussed reimbursement, incentives, and the bonus structure and barely touched on patient care. By the way, this was a monthly staff meeting, not a finance review.

What happened to doing the right thing for the right reason? Naysayers might respond with something like, the insane cost of med school and malpractice insurance happened, along with the need to live in a house nice enough to keep the wife/husband/life partner and kids/cats/dogs/exotic pets happy, along with the desire to drive a reliable luxury car to keep up the image of being a doc.

Healthcare workers (I’m referring to the specific workers who have an M.D.) are placed in a position of power over the sick and injured, as is any healthy person over the unhealthy. There should be a certain social responsibility to provide the care and treatment needed to restore balance to the patient, regardless of insurance carrier or plan. At what price to the country, community, and to the physician would this cost?

Stratification, statistics, disease, demographics, containment, outcomes and cost are all variables in the healthcare mess with only one element that really matters. If you guessed anything that doesn’t rhyme with honey, than you are likely not reading this post very closely.

In truth, it all comes down to money. Can you pay or can’t you, and yes, there will be a different result based on your answer. Perhaps a return to the barter system could be part of the solution, service for goods, like farm fresh eggs or an old cell phone for an exam. Surgery would cost a bit more, like an agreement to mow the surgeon’s lawn for a year or the gift of the patient’s first born son.

It certainly would be easier if we still needed each other to live instead of just for the accumulation of dollars and cents.

Often, I find myself wondering about the true cost of this value proposition on our souls and on the future.

And all for what?

dead eyes

Dead Eyes,the number cruncher,
Pleads for compliance
In a flat voice
Capable of compelling only those who are his equals into action.

He belongs with individuals of like minds, dull and metallic.

Dead Eyes is in the right field,
Surrounded by the wrong people,
As in people at all.

He is a robot trapped in a human body, deserving of the same amount of compassion as he is able to give.

Let us hope that the eyes are not the windows to the soul, for the sake of dear Dead Eyes, the number cruncher.

My neighbor’s keeper/active voyeur

spy

Every morning, I crack the blinds to sit on the couch with a bowl full of cereal to watch the neighbors. I might try to make it sound less creepy by saying that I’m keeping an eye on things for them, but it wouldn’t be true. To be quite honest, I’m not keeping an eye on things for them, I’m keeping an eye on them for my own entertainment.

They have quite the routine worked out between the two of them, which varies only if one of them is already gone. I can tell the order of expected events for the day by the cars parked in the driveway. If they are both home, the wife is the active one. She starts by tying the curtains back in the picture window, kicks the dog out, and sends her husband out to warm up the car. Shortly after that, she bustles out carrying a bag on both shoulders with a thermos of something in one hand and a baby carrier in her arms with what appears to be a bundle of blankets tucked inside of it. Although I can’t be certain, I have to guess that this is Baby Dum-Dum wrapped up and ready to go.

When it’s just the husband, the tried and true expression comes to mind that when the cats away the mice will play (or in this case, just the mouse). He usually emerges when my cereal is halfway gone, still rubbing the sleep from his eyes. It’s always the same old grubby green sweatshirt that he wears with the sleeves pulled over his knuckles and his thumbs shoved through holes when he lights up a cigarette and blows smoke rings into the cold air. I’m sure the wife smells the smoke on him, especially since he appears to only own one raggedy sweatshirt.

As I’m finishing up my cereal, he’s stamping out his butt on the concrete steps. He’s careful to pick it up and carry it off for disposal at a different location where his wife won’t find it. Effort counts for something, I used to think. At least he’s not a litter bug.

Then it snowed a few times and the routine changed. His car was gone every morning and his wife continued on as usual. Where has he gone? Is there a divorce in the works? He must have died or been arrested. There was a good deal of speculation from across the street that was quickly squelched out, like one of his secret smokes, when the truth was brought to light.

His car was parked in the tiny tool shed. It left one morning, completely ice and snow free while his wife remained in their gravel drive way, scraping away at her windshield while continuously checking in on young Dum-Dum, wrapped and ready to go.

What a chump. What a bunch of chumps. Yet, who am I to say anything as I rinse out my cereal bowl and wonder how often they peer through our blinds that open every morning at the same time as their curtains are pulled back.

“On the whole human beings want to be good, but not too good, and not quite all the time.”
― George Orwell, All Art is Propaganda: Critical Essays

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