07 December 2008

Riverfront Memories

When I was younger, I was taken to just a few baseball games in Cincinnati to watch my Reds.  I can confirm three of those occasions were games against the Atlanta Braves, because they were my dad's and brother's favorite team (which is why we went to two of them). The third game against the Braves was pure happenstance, but more on that in a moment. There were, of course, souvenirs from those games. I have in my possession today the Khan's sponsored team baseball card sets that were given away in 1988 and 1989. I would have a poster commemorating Tom Browning's perfect game (16 September 1988 vs. Los Angeles Dodgers) except that it rained the day that was given away and the poster was in rough shape before we even got out of the ballpark.

Armed with this knowledge (and nothing better to do), earlier yesterday I collaborated with a buddy of mine to research what dates those games were actually played. See, one of those games happens to have been a highlight of my entire thirty years on this planet. I won tickets via an Arby's/Fox promotion to a Reds/Braves game in 1989. It was perfect; all we had to do was meet the group at Mall St. Matthews and hop on one of two buses which would take us all to Cincy. The visiting team was my brother's favorite team, so everyone was happy. Until the morning of the game, and my mother was miserably sick with a severe migraine, something digestive and possibly Ebola.

To her credit (and to this day I not only don't know how she did it, but she won't let me forget it), she managed to endure the bus ride to and fro, and the intervening game itself. For this alone I would be indebted to her beyond reason, but it doesn't end there. On the ride up there, they passed around Arby's roast beef sandwiches and RC Cola (a combination I love to this day), and somewhere between Louisville and Cincinnati, the organizer of the promotion saw how jacked up I was about the game. He asked if I would like to go down on the field before the game.

Asking me that made it impossible for me to even think, much less speak. I think my smile might have actually begun to consume the rest of my face at that point, but whether I could say anything didn't seem to matter; he understood that I was communicating an acceptance of his offer. That day was Khan's team baseball card set giveaway day. I know, because I'll never forget rushing through the turnstile, handing my set to my mom and dashing into the souvenir stand to buy a baseball to take with me to get signed. Again, demonstrating valor above and beyond the call of duty, mom had the foresight to go back later and buy a ball holder.

I was escorted through the clubhouse and down onto the Astroturf during batting practice. In those days, the home team wasn't afraid to hit in front of the fans, and I got to watch Todd Benzinger hit. He trotted off before I could snag his John Hancock, but I did manage to get Dave Collins, Chris Sabo and Eric "the Red" Davis to sign my ball. There are three or four pictures that were taken by a photographer of this, and one of them quite clearly shows Eric Davis signing my baseball. We were then invited to tour the dugout, where we met the man himself, Peter Edward Rose.

Contrary to whatever stories I've ever heard about Charlie Hustle, the man could not have been more gracious and welcoming to us kids. I was surprised, even at the age of 10, that he was so willing to take time out to chat with us about being Reds fans when it seemed like he would have more pressing issues on his mind just before a game. His signature cemented the ball's place in my heart, and it is one of my three prized possessions to this day.

Shortly after this once-in-a-lifetime encounter, Rose accepted his lifetime ban from Major League Baseball, and I only bring this up because it was helpful in establishing the chronology of events as we worked to pin down the exact dates of these three games. His banishment went into effect on 24 August 1989, and I knew that the game I met him took place on a Sunday. There was only one Sunday game in Cincinnati with the Braves in town prior to that date, and that was 6 August. I was greatly disappointed to know that the Reds will not be playing at all on that date in 2009; I had rather hoped to celebrate the 20th anniversary by trekking up I-71 for another game.

That seemed rather early in the year to me for a baseball card team set giveaway, but then things have changed over two decades. Working backward, there was only one series against the Braves shortly after Browning's aforementioned perfect game. I know there was rain, so that eliminated the dry Friday and Sunday games; ergo, I was at the 1 October 1988 game. Eric Davis's 21st home run of the season powered the Redlegs to a 3-2 victory.

Since I didn't get the 1988 card set and the Browning poster in the same series (one was with mom, the other with dad), the only other series I could have attended in 1988 was in August. That also checks out with the card set in '89 having been given away in August. Again, being a Sunday game, I was able to determine that I was there on 14 August. Jose Rijo started that game, but got a no-decision in a 2-0 shutout.

Now, here's where things go south. I have a clear impression of watching Hal Morris hit a rare home run in the last game I saw as a kid in Cincinnati. I can close my eyes right now and see it hovering, then climbing up into the right field seats...the universal applause, punctuated by fireworks...it's right there in front of me. The problem is, Hal wasn't a Red until 1990. He only hit seven home runs that year, four of them on the road. I know I didn't go back to a game until 2000, so there are only three at-bats I could possibly have witnessed in 1990. Here they are:

5 August 1990 vs San Diego Padres - H Morris (4, off C Schiraldi; 4th inn, 1 on, 0 outs to Deep RF Line).
11 August 1990 vs San Francisco Giants - H Morris (5, off J Burkett; 2nd inn, 0 on, 1 out to Deep RF)
12 August 1990 vs San Francisco Giants - H Morris (6, off S Garrelts; 3rd inn, 0 on, 1 out to RF)

Now, here's the thing. I remember mom took us up to Cincinnati for an overnight stay one weekend. We saw a Reds game one night, and planned to go to Kings Island the next day. The next day, though, it rained all day long so we stayed at the hotel and swam. They had an indoor/outdoor pool, where it extended beyond the building, and you could actually swim right under part of the hotel itself.

So, I checked the schedule. The fifth and twelfth of August were Sundays. The reported conditions for the twelfth were dry with no precipitation, so I could not have attended the game on the eleventh.  The conditions were likewise dry on the thirteenth, which means I could not have attended the game on the twelfth, either. That leaves the 5 August game, and there was no game played the next day (a Monday), so I don't know if it rained in Cincinnati that day. The timing does, however make sense as our family's shop was closed on Sundays and Mondays, and this would have been the last chance to get away and do something before the school year started.

Looking at the game recap, I see that Eric Davis doubled, Paul O'Neill was caught stealing and Billy Hatcher homered in the seventh. It seems to me that someone else did homer later, and I kind of recall being disappointed that my favorite players failed to be more productive (they being Davis and O'Neill). So, until and unless someone can refute that I attended this game, it's going down in my log that I was in Cincinnati on 5 August 1990 to see Hal Morris hit his fourth home run of the year.

24 November 2008

I Hear the Train A-Comin'


Friday (21 November 2008) I kept my appointment with my GI clinic at U of L Hospital. They were typically overbooked, so I was delegated to one Dr. Lauren Briley. She spent the first two minutes apologizing for shuttling me around doctors and explaining the whole thing, to which I kept responding, "I'm fine with it." The truth is, when you visit a clinic and not a doctor's private practice, you really shouldn't get too excited about seeing different doctors at different times. It's part of the nature of the thing, and to be honest, I had only met the guy that passed me on to her once, anyway.

Until this October, when I was admitted to Norton Suburban for a couple of days with an obstruction, none of my GI's had been women. While I'm certainly above stereotyping, I also have to say that if these two are any indication, I actually prefer them to men. At Norton, I was seen by Dr. Shiela Rhodes, and she and Dr. Briley both exhibited the characteristics I look for in a physician--interest in whtiiI had to say about my condition, decisive action when a clear picture emerged and a dash of compassion. They would never make it as surgeons, who generally must be required to be condescending and self-absorbed, but they're wonderful GI doctors.

Anyway, Dr. Briley agreed with me that Imuran isn't cutting it and it's time to move on to biologics. I'm supposed to get a TB test and the usual blood work in the next week or so, and then I return to see her on 12 December. What sucks is that the social worker through whom I will be applying for financial assistance to pay for the Humira took off this entire week and was already out of her office when I finished seeing the doctor on Friday. That means it won't be until Monday (1 December) that I'll even have a chance to get that paperwork going. Still, we're hopeful that I'll have my first Humira injection by Christmas.

I also reached the point where I knew it was time to do something about being depressed. I've dealt with depression for years, and for a while several years ago I was on Zoloft (after a deflating experience with Celexa). I'm not governed by popular opinion, but there is something disconcerting about telling a perfect stranger you think you need to be on an anti-depressant. Maybe it's a stygma that will die with my generation, but I'm still not fully comfortable discussing such things generally. (Yeah, I realize that's all in a public journal; just move along.)

To her credit, Dr. Briley's response when I asked about a Crohn's-friendly anti-depressant, she simply began consulting her electronic pharmaceutical guide. That was about the most sensitive thing she could have done for me, and I intend to let her know that I appreciate her doing that when I go back in December. So, by New Year's I should be feeling the effects of Humira and Prozac. Hopefully, this means I'll start actually feeling better, too.

16 November 2008

Film: Quantum of Solace

Quantum of Solace
Directed by Marc Forster
Written by Paul Haggis and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade
Starring: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Giancarlo Giannini with Jeffrey Wright and Judi Dench as "M"
Theatrical Release Date: 14 November 2008
Date of Screening: 15 November 2008
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (For Intense Sequences of Violence and Action, and Some Sexual Content)

Favorite Line: "When someone says that they have people everywhere, you expect it to be hyperbole.  Lots of people say that.  Florists use that expression.  It doesn't mean that they have people in the bloody room!" - M

Daniel Craig returns as Ian Fleming's James Bond in Quantum of Solace, a direct sequel to 2006's Casino Royale.  And when they said it was a sequel, they meant it--the film starts roughly ten minutes after the end of its predecessor.  Bond works his way up the food chain of Quantum, the SPECTRE-like organization behind the events of Casino Royale.  Along the way, he uncovers a plot by faux environmentalist Dominic Greene to engineer a coup for a military general in Bolivia in exchange for a seemingly worthless chunk of land.  Everyone speculates that Greene is after oil, and no one bothers to consider that he is instead working to dam up water.

Historically, Bond films have always flirted with reality but have sidestepped real issues; according to many environmentalists, water resource management may well eclipse energy as our leading concern in the 21st century.  Ian Fleming's stories always sought to show us the hidden danger of a seemingly useful operation, and the idea of a world leading environmentalist conspiring to engineer a drought for profit is certainly up there with men like Hugo Drax in "Moonraker" (who created a rocket in the name of defending England, with the intent of instead levelling London).

What we had all heard going into the film was that it eschewed the Bond formula, that it had the shortest running time of any Bond film and that it ran at a quick clip.  Most importantly, though, the buzz on QoS (its Bond-fan shorthand) was that Bond would work through the aftermath of the events of Royale.  Previous "This one's personal" Bond movies are a mixed bag--often the death of an ally has simply been an escalation of violence along the way rather than effective character-developing storytelling.

Daniel Craig has spoken the classic line, "Bond...James Bond" once in his two films--it was the final line of dialogue in Casino Royale.  Nor has his Bond continuity included a Miss Moneypenny or Q.  For that matter, if they ever reintroduce the latter, they ought to consider calling him (or her) "S" instead, because the only technology present have been items commercially produced by Sony.  What matters, though, is that Quantum of Solace manages something that too many moviegoers may not appreciate: the 22nd film in the series proves that James Bond is not defined by the Bond formula.

Quantum of Solace's run time of 106 minutes makes it the briefest 007 outing to date (previously, the shortest was Tomorrow Never Dies at 119 minutes), and saying that it moves quickly is like saying Michael Phelps can swim.  When the end credits began to roll, my freinds and I were able to count three scenes in the entire film that we thought may have lingered for perhaps as many as five or ten seconds.  Was this an example of catering to an increasingly short attention span, or was it simply the style of storytelling favored by director Marc Forster?  Ian Fleming's original novels rarely reached 200 paperback pages in length and were meant to be read on a train.  That being the case, then, Quantum of Solace does perhaps the best job of the entire cinematic series of conveying that sense of working quickly while disbelief is suspended.

12 November 2008

Trailer Response: "Quantum Of Solace"

Originally published 30 June 2008

After waiting all year for anything official from the forthcoming James Bond film Quantum of Solace, Sony has finally complied and put up the first trailer on Moviefone.com today.  I've watched it thrice already, and it appears to me that it's less Casino Royale II and more Casino Royale Again.  We all knew that QoS was going to be a direct continuation of CR; there is a sense from the trailer, though, that we're going to get much the same film this time, however.  M chastises Bond about setting out for revenge; laments, "I thought I could trust you" and orders him grounded....  It's fine for M and Bond to not be on great terms all the time, but it seems that ever since Robert Brown took over the role in The Living Daylights there's been an increasing amount of almost hostility between the characters and a lot less mutual respect.  Fleming's M and Bond got on fairly well; Bond found his boss a bit of a social bore, yes, but would have gladly gone to hell and back for the guy.  For his part, Fleming's M had nothing but respect for Bond's talents and abilities and made sure not to waste them, or to risk Bond unnecessarily.  This cinematic trend of a lack of any kind of relationship between them has gotten tiresome, and it's sad to think that Tomorrow Never Dies is the only entry in the Bond series since 1987 in which the relationship is pretty consistent with Fleming's world.

Having said all that...the rest of the trailer appears to be about what we had in mind for this picture.  It opens with Mr. White (the guy Bond tracked down just before the credits rolled at the end of CR) being interrogated, baiting Bond.  The rest of the clip is a quick montage of Bond-on-the-run-again set to the aforementioned M-doesn't-trust-Bond-and-wants-him-restricted voiceover and ends with a shot of Bond hoisting an assault rifle as he walks across what appears to be the desert.  Looks fun, looks intense, looks...like the last movie.

I know I sound disappointed with this trailer, and the only reason I actually am disappointed with it is because of the emphasis on the Bond/M tension about which you've already grown tired of reading me complain.  I am greatly relieved that, from the trailer at least, they've kept the tone of this film consistent with its predecessor and haven't gone Roger Moore on us.  No outrageous gimmicks, no slapstick humor, just good ol' fashioned gritty spy stuff.  It remains to be seen, of course, how Fleming-esque the film actually is, but it appears to be a candidate for Bond "best" lists.

Thanks, JOEM

An article arried in the most recent publication of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine has calculated the cost to employers of having an employee with Crohn's disease.  The study took into consideration everything from short term disability costs to absenteeism, from hospitalizations to out-patient emergency room visits.  Want to know how much costlier us Crohnies are?
Annual medical expenses for Crohn's disease patients were $18,963 versus $5,300 for a matched comparison group. Ulcerative colitis patients' annual medical expenses were $15,020 versus $4,982 for the matched comparison group.
That's just for having Crohn's or colitis.  Now, add in surgery and those figures become unimpressive altogether.
Annual medical costs for patients with a gastrointestinal surgery were $60,147 for patients with Crohn's disease and $72,415 for patients with ulcerative colitis.
I would love to know why us Crohnies are more expensive than colitis patients except in the case of surgery.  The only thing I can figure is perhaps, since colitis is strictly located in the colon (whereas Crohn's can present literally anywhere along the digestive tract) that the colon is slower to heal and/or some Crohn's patients need surgery in more resilient areas?

Regardless of why there is a differential, what is plain to see is that no human resources director will read this information and want any part of hiring a Crohn's or colitis patient.  I cannot fault the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine for publishing these findings, nor can I fault the authors of the article for conducting the research.  The facts are what they are.  Still, as a Crohn's patient who has been out of work entirely too long already, I cannot help but wonder what impact these findings will have on the already limited employment opportunities available to my digestively challenged brethren.

Note: Clicking on the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine title in the first paragraph will link you to a Market Watch article detailing the findings of the original article.  Medical trade journal articles are not regularly made available to the public, so this is the best I can do for those who would like to review the information for themselves.

04 November 2008

Baseball & Presidents

The polls have just begun to close on Election Day 2008, and I am just now getting to this little curiosity of mine.  I wondered during the World Series what relationship, if any, might exist between crowning the Major League Baseball champion shortly before voting a president into office.  The World Series began its modern incarnation in 1903, near the end of Theodore Roosevelt's first term of office.  While 1904 was an election year, the second annual World Series was boycotted by the New York Giants.  This year, then, marks the 100th anniversary of the first time that a World Series was played during an election year.  You can look up the particulars for yourself, but this is the relationship between leagues and parties winning their contests:

Major League Baseball
American League: 17 wins
National League: 8 wins

Presidential Politics
Democratic Party: 12 wins
Republican Party: 13 wins

By Combination
American League & Democratic: 7 wins
American League & Republican: 10 wins
National League & Democratic: 5 wins
National League & Republican: 3 wins

As the polls roll in, it bears noting that the 2008 World Series was won by the National League's Philadelphia Phillies.  Just sayin'.

Edit: Democratic nominee Barack Obama has won the 2008 Presidential Election.  The revised totals now read:

Major League Baseball
American League: 17 wins
National League: 8 wins

Presidential Politics
Democratic Party: 13 wins
Republican Party: 13 wins

By Combination
American League & Democratic: 7 wins
American League & Republican: 10 wins
National League & Democratic: 6 wins
National League & Republican: 3 wins

31 October 2008

Attack of the Crohn's

For about a week, I've felt incrementally more miserable to the point that Tuesday night (28 October), I realized that I felt comparable to how I felt back in April.  [For the unintiated, I was hospitalized for five days with a bowel obstruction in the middle of that month.]  My wife, upon hearing this, insisted that I be checked out; I eventually did.  I said I knew what the problem was, and that the solution was to get back on Prednisone.  I happen to have a supply of it remaining from this summer that is still good to take.

The next day, after she and her employers (she works at an urgent care center) insisted that I needed to be checked out, I relented and let her take me to be examined.  We paid out of pocket (with a check to be cashed later, 'cause, you know, we're broke) and had a series of X-rays taken of my abdomen.  The doctors for whom she works took a look and determined immediately that I had some bowel loops formed and the beginnings of another obstruction.  So far, so good--I had pretty well determined based on how I felt that that was the case.  Then I was admitted back to Norton Suburban, and stood little more than 15 feet from my wife's boss as he spoke with the physician through whom they admit patients.  He described exactly what was going on with me, and my need for steroids and antibiotics; we left and expected to arrive to a planned course of treatment consistent with what I just described.

We were in the room by 5:30 PM, and no physician saw me until 9:00 that night.  This was not the admitting physician, but rather a second shift lackey who took one look at the X-rays we brought with us (then less than six hours old) and said they looked "perfect" to him; that just because I have Crohn's did not mean my current woes were related to my condition and that it may be gastroenteritis since that had been going around.  Did he test me for this theory?  Well, he ordered some lab work done on my blood, but the only real way to know what's going on in the guts is with imaging.  He wrote orders for X-rays, and depending on the outcome of those, a CT scan.  My X-rays were still current and as an out-of-pocket patient, I had no desire to pad their radiologist's pockets, or to expose myself to unnecessary radiation.  A woman arrived to take me to radiology; I explained that it was superfluous and that I would not go for X-rays I didn't need.  At this point, the lackey doctor canceled the CT  (the only useful test I could have taken) and deferred my case to someone in the GI department the following morning.

7:00 AM brought me a visitor--not someone from GI, but a surgeon who--surprise!--thinks I need to let him cut on me.  Leave it to a surgeon to look at a traffic jam and decide to fix it by rebuilding the road.  He specifically said that the admitting physician called him in on my case.  That's funny, because her only information on me was either what my wife's boss told her on the phone--which everyone denied she ever relayed to anyone else--or what her lackey told her.  If she was acting on the former information, then I want to know why a lackey had the authority to dismiss everyone else's understanding of my situation and withhold any further testing--to say nothing of treatment.  If she was acting on the lackey's perspective, then I want to know why she would call in a surgeon if her man on the ground says I'm fine.  The truth is, she likely called in the surgeon when she was originally called and planned to get him in on the action regardless of whether I needed surgery.  In any event, when I explained that I know enough about my condition and surgery's role relating thereto that I know surgery begets more surgery and would only consent to it if absolutely mandatory, he left, disappointed.  I suppose his portfolio hasn't gone well lately and he was hoping to generate some income by cutting on the Crohnie.

By 9:30, a GI doc finally arrived.  She heard my story to that point, took one look at my X-rays (you know, the ones the lackey said looked "perfect") and her eyes bugged out.  I was drinking contrast for a CT scan within a half hour; by 1:00 she had ordered the steroids I said I needed all along.  I had two bowel movements before I even had the CT.  I had my first shot of steroids at 4:00 and a second at midnight, by which time I'd had a third bowel movement.  Sometime that night, the lackey returned and attempted to cover his tracks by explaining why he did not want to test me without knowing if I could handle being tested (referring to the effect of ingesting the contrast).  This is lame, because the bloodwork he ordered was to determine that I could handle it; certainly there were no red flags in those labs because that's all the GI doc had to go on the next morning when she ordered the CT.  He agreed this time with me, though, that everything appeared fine and that I should be able to graduate from a clear liquid diet to a low residue diet and plan on leaving the next day.  Great.

The nurse came in shortly thereafter to explain that the GI had overruled the lackey's ideas and I was restricted to a clear liquid diet until morning.  By now, I've had more than enough of doctors ignoring what I have to say about my own condition and deferring to one another.  It's like asking your mom about something and she says to ask your dad; you do, and he says to ask her.  At some point you get fed up and shout, "I can't give myself permission, so would one of you grow a spine and exercise your authority?"  Finally, this afternoon (Halloween), the GI returned.  She insists that no one contacted her about increasing my dietary intake, and that it would have been her on-call doctor who elected, as had others the previous night, to take no action and leave me in the hands of someone else to deal with later.  She gave in, though, and conceeded that I seemed to be fine, wrote me a prescription for Prednisone and discharged me--pending the approval of the medical doctor (chiefly represented by the lackey).

My wife pointed out that the lackey had said the night before that he was content to defer entirely to the GI; the GI insisted she was "just a specialist advisor" and that he--or at least someone in his group--had the final say.  Again, we're back to doctors yielding authority to other doctors.  Eventually, though, the whole thing was resolved and I was allowed to leave.  It's funny, because I started Tuesday saying I needed Prednisone and by Friday I had a prescription for...Prednisone.

The entire debacle was a microcosm of the American health system.  Doctors say they want patients to be involved in their health care, but the truth is that doctors like people who don't question them.  After all, they spent a lot of time and money to wear that white coat, and it means they're above reproach.  "Maybe you're the one living with this chronic disorder, but you don't get to tell us what's going on."  Doctors do, however, look out for one another.  That's why surgeons are called in by doctors who have no compelling medical reason to call them, and that's why on-call doctors are the equivalent of tech support.  You don't even have to know about computers to work tech support; you just have to know how to read the pre-written cue sheet, and I think it's even less demanding to be an on-call doctor because you never have to actually get involved at all.  Instead, you simply say that you're unwilling to alter the course of treatment or order tests, regardless of whether or not the course of treatment even exists or is effective, or whether tests are clearly necessary to treat the patient.

During my stay, I watched Barack Obama's half-hour long infomercial.  I had been working on finishing Plato's The Republic, which had cast some doubt on his candidacy for me.  Then I watched and listened as Senator Obama reminded me that he feels the American health system does not do enough to take care of patients, and I was vicariously reminded that John McCain--whom I, at one time, sincerely trusted would oppose a lot of the things I have described in my own recent experience--has taken the opposite tack on health care.

Will Obama improve our health care?  I don't know that he can or will, but I do know that he says he wants to try.  So, too, does Senator McCain, but his proposed way of improving the health care system is to emphasize the heartless, money-grubbing side of it.  Will a vote for Barack Obama mean not having to fend off a surgeon peddling a procedure that does not guarantee an improvement in one's health?  I can't say that it will, any more than I can say that having 10 cm of my intestines cut out will make me feel better.  What I can say, though, is that I do believe that we have to let Obama try to improve things.  We often content ourselves, saying that America is the greatest land on Earth.  While this may be true, I think we continue to sell ourselves short by not striving to always make it better.

27 October 2008

Closing of the Duerson Library

For 40 years, Oldham Countians have checked out books and other media from the Duerson Library in LaGrange, KY.  On November 29, 2008 at 12:00 PM, a brief ceremony will commence to recognize the history of the facility.  The community is invited to gather, and participate in a Passing of the Book ritual as we help the staff begin the process of transferring media to the new Oldham County Public Library building.  Unfortunately for those of us used to checking out materials from the LaGrange branch will have to wait until January 2009 for the grand opening of the new facility.

Looking back, I cannot recall all of the titles I checked out from the Duerson library.  I distinctly recall checking out an instructional video on VHS hosted by Pete Rose when I was a kid learning about baseball.  In 1991, when I became interested in Star Trek, I was able to check out Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home on VHS as I got up to speed in anticipation of that year's theatrical release of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.  Last year, I checked out Star Wars: Allegiance by Timothy Zahn for myself and Brother Odd by Dean Koontz for my wife, as we prepared to leave for a weekend trip to celebrate her grandmother's 80th birthday in Ohio.  That rekindled my relationship with the Duerson library, and 2008 was a banner year for us.

This year alone, I have checked out a host of graphic novels, works of fiction and non-fiction, CD's and DVD's.  These have included:
  • Jeff Smith's Bone series of graphic novel collections (all nine volumes, plus the prequel Stupid, Stupid Rat Tails: The Adventures of Big Johnson Bone, Frontier Hero)
  • Stan Lee & Jack Kirby's The Essential Fantastic Four, Vol. 1
  • John le Carre's Call for the Dead and A Murder of Quality
  • Burt Ward's autobiography Boy Wonder: My Life in Tights
  • Kanye West's Graduation [CD]
  • Mrs. Henderson Presents [DVD]
The new facility will not only continue to offer a deep catalogue and current releases, but will also offer a state-of-the-art design that will itself attract attention.  Features include:
  • Drive-through dropoff and pickup window
  • Walking trail through property (which sprawls across 8.49 acres)
  • Reading terrace
  • Bridge over on-site existing stream
  • Floor-to-ceiling windows to take maximum advantage of sunlight
  • Rainwater collected for use in toilet flushing and landscape watering
  • A central, double-sided fireplace surrounded by small groupings of chairs and tables
Click on the title of this blog to link to the full press release .pdf file.  I can't wait until January to sit near the fireplace with another John le Carre novel!

18 September 2008

Autumn

Ah, Autumn.  That wondrous time of year when the last vestiges of Summer yield to the birth of Fall.  Mornings are brisk, afternoons are breezy and nights are crisp.  The misleading vibrance of the color of leaves as they begin to die.  Shorts go into storage under the bed; longsleeves and sweatshirts replace them in drawers.  Baseball teams compete for the postseason (the Cubs/Rays Series we've all joked about may not be far off!).  TV series return (or, in the case of the ones I actually watch, wrap up until January).  Looking ahead to scary movies and bonfires, but not there yet.

For me, this time of year is marked by classic country music and spy stories.  It seems I'm drawn to Johnny Cash around now...Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, Johnny Cash at San Quentin, the Unearthed box set.  As those who know me are aware, ever since I got into James Bond in 1995 I have permitted myself to read one Ian Fleming Bond novel annually, and earlier this week I finally gave in and read You Only Live Twice.  It was excellent, but not enough, so I proceeded to read my third John le Carre novel of the year, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.  (For the record, yes, it's every bit the masterpiece you've heard it is.)

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to grab my iPod and take a walk with the Man in Black.  While I'm out and about, be sure to comment on this post with your own thoughts on Autumn.  What do you associate with this time of year?  What habits do you have for it?  The first person to respond to this post will be entitled to a free gift.

04 August 2008

Skip Caray


Atlanta Braves. TBS. Skip Caray. The only other triumvirate of baseball team, network and announcer in the same league would have been the Chicago Cubs, WGN and Skip's dad, Harry Caray. An entire generation was born, came of age and begat a new generation while Skip called the Braves's games. I never met the guy, and I don't have any more connection to him than any other viewer.

I learned from watching and listening to various people over the years about the value of baseball. I learned from Pete Rose the importance of playing hard every time out; from Cal Ripken, Jr. the value of just going out at all; from Joe Torre the reminder that it's "just a game" and from Field of Dreams how it's more than that. And from Skip Caray I learned that it's entirely okay to watch a baseball game and talk about movies.

I don't mean this in a disparaging way, but whenever I think of Skip Caray, I think of a guy who spent more time talking about what movies were on TV in the hotel room after the game the night before than about the game going on now. I always wanted him to publish a movie review guide. In no other sport is this even acceptable from a commentator. Imagine John Madden discussing anything other than football for a moment. That guy could be in a conference with his doctor, finding out that an alien has deposited its eggs inside him, and I think he'd have a hard time discussing it because it's not "Football!" In baseball, though, because of the pace of the games and the length of the season, you can be forgiven for not talking about the game ad nauseum.

It's thanks to Skip Caray that when I go to a ballgame, I've perfected the ability to follow along what's happening on the field while discussing something else entirely. I can't stand spectators that discuss their own things and frequently ask to find out what's going on; if all you want to do is talk, why did you spend the money to come to the ballpark? I also can't stand sitting near the guys that feel the need to discuss every single pitch of every at-bat like they're wanna-be scouts or commentators. You know these guys; they're the ones yelling, "Twenty million dollars and you can't hit an 0-1 breaking ball?" in the fourth inning. But Skip Caray, like Baby Bear, had things just right.

16 June 2008

Film: "Dick Tracy"

Dick Tracy
Directed by Warren Beatty
Screenplay by Jim Cash & Jack Epps, Jr.

Based upon characters created by Chester Gould
Starring: Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Madonna
Theatrical Release Date: 15 June 1990
Screening Date: 15 June 2008

MPAA Rating: PG
Cinescope Personality Types: Courageous Detective, Passionate Maverick

Firstly, thanks to Baxter Avenue Theaters for screening Dick Tracy as part of their "Revenge of the Return of the Summer 'Splodin' Series" last night. Kudos also to Beau Kaelin for bathing the lobby in vintage Tracy materials from lobby cards to masks, from stand-up displays to posters.  Walking through the front door was like stepping back in time eighteen years, and it couldn't have been any cooler. Seeing the film on a big screen for the first time was especially rewarding, because I finally got to read the billboard signs, and really appreciated the cinematography. I was already in love with the production design, the sets, the costumes and the music.

Dick Tracy also featured something no other movie I've seen in a theater this year offered: a rewarding ending. Today, of course, the film would be done with a heavy reliance on CGI and it would not have been nearly as impressive. Like The Wizard of Oz, Dick Tracy is rewarding in part because it is clearly a production that required a lot of hard work from creative people to produce it. In an era where CGI has lessened the demands on filmmakers, this kind of movie-going experience is truly special.

The nice thing about Dick Tracy is that it has a clear storyline involving well over twenty characters, and even though secondary and lesser characters may not be particularly well developed, the principal characters are given ample storytime. Dick Tracy is committed to bringing down Big Boy Caprice; Tess Trueheart is committed to domesticating Tracy; The Kid is committed to not going back to the orphanage; Big Boy is committed to running a city-wide crime syndicate; Breathless Mahoney is committed to turning Tracy's dedication to herself. Each spends the duration of the film pursuing those goals, and each succeeds (at least at one point or another in the film). Ultimately, of course, Tracy gets his man, as does Tess.

Coupled with the overwhelming production values of the film, the plot's simplicity becomes charming; a nice throwback to earlier times. The film harkened back to 1938 Chicago (though never identified as such; paystubs are dated November 24, 1938 and the climax occurs on New Year's Eve; the name Chicago is absent entirely); the screening took us back to 1990. As an added treat, the original Roger Rabbit short, Rollercoaster Rabbit played before the feature!

10 June 2008

Junior Griffey

In the century-plus history of Major League Baseball, only six players have accumulated six-hundred or more career homeruns.  Ken Griffey, Jr. became the sixth yesterday.  He needs ten to pass Sammy Sosa for fifth place, all time.  Whether his career will last long enough for him to tie or pass Willie Mays for fourth is questionable, as Mays ended his career with 690.


What does it say about us as fans, or even us as a society that at the same time we applaud this magnificent accomplishment, we cannot help but ponder how much farther along the all-time list he might have been, were it not for that bum hamstring of his?  This is, after all, only the sixth player ever to hit 600 homeruns out of all the players who have ever worn a big league uniform.  Mark McGwire didn't do it.  Reggie Jackson didn't do it.  Mantle, Maris, Yaz, Teddy Ballgame, neither Iron Horse, so on and so forth: none of them did it.  And nobody holds it against those guys.  Why, then, does Junior's accomplishment feel hollow?  Why can't his 600 (and counting) simply amaze us?

Perhaps because there was never any doubt about his potential.  Junior has always had the single sweetest swing in all of baseball; watching him is more than watching a well-oiled machine, more than watching an artist.  Many predict that it won't matter how many homeruns anyone hits in a few years, that Alex Rodriguez is destined to become the all-time homerun hitting champion.  That may be, and yet one cannot help but wonder...if A-Rod should reach 600 and we doubt his health and ability to keep going much farther, will that milestone, too, be hollow?

Incidentally, Dusty Baker has managed three of the six members of the 600 Homerun club: Junior, Sosa and Barry Bonds.  Baker also managed Bonds in 2002, when he set the single-season record.  Surely, that will earn him a spot in a trivia game somewhere.

05 June 2008

John Smoltz

"It wouldn't surprise me if he came back as a left-handed pitcher." --Fredi Gonzales on John Smoltz's 2008 season-ending surgery


Every generation has its heroes and villians, its legends and myths.  For baseball fans of the last twenty years, it would be difficult not to include John Smoltz on a list of heroes (unless, of course, you couldn't stand the Braves, in which case he probably makes your villians list).  Forget the stats (only pitcher with 200 wins and 150 saves, 3000 strikeouts, most post-season wins ever, 1996 Cy Young award winner, etc.).  Unless someone exposes something about the guy that hasn't surfaced in his lengthy career to cast a dark shadow over him (which can happen; ask Roger Clemens), it's a foregone conclusion that they'll cover up some wall space in Cooperstown with a John Smoltz plaque in a few years.

On the field, Smoltz has always been a team leader, and in this day of prima donna athletes, it has always been refreshing to hear and read his comments about his teammates (protecting those who were struggling, encouraging young players) and to see a guy who was willing to say, "I can't be a starter anymore, but I can help from the bullpen."  Then, when the Braves' starting rotation was dismal, it was Smoltz who again spoke up and said, "I can be more help to this team as a starter, and I know I can handle it now."  This year, when he went on the disabled list, he again spoke up, recognizing that his ability to help the team as a starter was diminished, but hoped he could help from the bullpen.  Unfortunately, that has not worked out and he is out for the season with his fourth career arm surgery.


Off the field, Smoltz has long been recognized for his humanitarian work; he probably has more Home Depot Humanitarian awards than he has MLB awards.  Simply put, this is a guy who has demonstrated time and again a willingness to work hard, to put the team first, and to offer a helping hand when he could.  Maybe that's what caused all the inflammation that is now plaguing him.  In any event, much like Cal Ripken, Jr.'s consecutive games played streak, John Smoltz has been a model of athlete we may not see again.

Will John Smoltz return to baseball next year?  If he does, will it be as a starter or closer?  We won't know for some time yet, and I for one sincerely hope that he is able to return.  If, however, his playing days are finished, one hopes that at least one of the thirty ballclubs is smart enough to recruit him as a pitching or bullpen coach.  Don't forget: not only does he know a thing or two about starting and closing, but he knows how to hit and he knows his way around the bases, too, having been called on from time to time to pinch hit and pinch run.  These are little things that American League pitchers aren't required to know, but a National League staff can benefit greatly from honing.  The bottom line: John Smoltz has given baseball quite a lot of himself over twenty years, and it would be a shame for that not to continue next year.

01 June 2008

The Disappointment of Not Attending

No matter what the event was or is or will be, each of us with Crohn's knows what it's like to be all set to go somewhere and do something...and not make it. A few years ago, I had tickets in my hand for a sold-out end-of-tour Kenny Chesney concert that our neighbor ended up using because the morning of the show I felt too miserable to brave the state fair traffic and parking on top of the concert crowd. My last major league baseball game was in August 2006 for our honeymoon; I've had arrangements fall through and even had tickets to three other games since then. Yesterday (1 June, Sunday), I was set to take my baby brother to Cincinnati to see his Atlanta Braves visit my Cincinnati Reds for an early 25th birthday present. You can probably tell where this blog is going.

Sure enough, about 2:00 AM Saturday night, I started to feel miserable. I finally drifted off around 4:00-4:30 AM and hoped it would clear up by morning. It didn't. Some of our friends and my wife's mom and step-dad were also part of the entourage, and my wife met with my in-laws for breakfast. By the time she got back, it was apparent I wasn't going to be up to the drive to the ballpark, the game and the return drive. Once I made it clear I wasn't going to chance it, she tried to bail, too, but eventually she gave in and went and, from what I was told afterward, had a great time.

When we ordered tickets, she spent at least a half an hour on the phone with the box office person to find us seats that not only would put the seven of us together, but were in a location that would allow me to quickly get up and to the restroom if needed. I have to say, from what I was told about the seats, the Cincinnati Reds' box office person did a great job finding us accomodating seats. My wife said that all they had to do to get to the restrooms was to, basically, walk down the steps into the concourse and hang a left (or was it a right?). I'm glad the seats didn't suck, because I would have felt even worse if everyone had been corralled into seats that sucked just because of me, especially since I ended up not even going.

About ten minutes after they left, it turned out I was right not to have gone with them; I spent most of the next hour in and out of the bathroom. It settled down around the time the game started, but about an hour later I was right back in there. I went in and the Reds had a 3-0 lead; I came back out and found out that Johnny Cueto had given up back-to-back jacks and put a runner on second. Fortunately, the Redlegs prevailed, but still...it's an eye-opener to realize you've spent so much time in the bathroom that two guys have homered and a third guy has made it to second base. Then, consider that I originally went to the bathroom at the end of the previous inning, with the Reds still at bat!Briefly, it appeared that Cueto was going to pitch at least a no-hitter (he was perfect through the first four and two-third innings of the game when he gave up a walk) and there was much hope that Ken Griffey, Jr. would hit career homerun number 600, becoming just the sixth player of all time to reach that milestone. Like my day, though, despite the hope and promise, neither was meant to be. Still, Cueto and Junior oughtn't complain; Cueto got the win and Junior will get another couple of cracks at 600 in Philadelphia tomorrow; I didn't even make it to the game. My brother celebrated his 25th birthday with two of my friends, my wife and my in-laws; I'm sure he had fun, but I'm also sure it was somewhat disappointing for him at the same time.

Am I blogging about this to invite you to my pity party? No, and I don't think I'm having one. This profile exists strictly to discuss the impact of Crohn's disease on my life, partly to give others insight into what it's like to live with this obnoxious, stupid disease and partly to let those of you who can relate to share your experiences and discuss our mutual frustrations. So, how about it: What was your most recent Was-Gonna-Do-It experience? Any suggestions on how to handle that particularly deflating feeling that goes with knowing your friends and family are all there, with an empty seat? Sure, no one ever says anything to you, and they know better than to question you when you spend the money to buy a ticket to something, but you know. You know the next time something like this comes up, you'll either take a pass outright (which sucks) or you'll fork over the cash...and wait to see where the ball in the roulette wheel in your terminal ilium lands.

01 May 2008

My Latest Hero

I was discharged from the hospital two weeks ago yesterday. I am just now beginning to consistently feel back to my version of "normal." Sometime a couple days ago, after cleaning out one cabinet of the entertainment center completely exhausted me, I had an epiphany. A couple of months ago, my wife and I spent the best $38 we've paid for anything in our lives and had our cat, Muffin, neutered. When we picked him up, he was so doped up he could have passed for dead. He was so out of it--even after they gave him whatever stimulant it was they give post-op critters--that we had him in his carrier in the bed with us that night, just to make sure he was safe and we could get to him quickly if needed.

Within about 24 hours of having his anatomy severed, however, Muff was leaping on to the desk to look out the window and yell at the birds. He was tentative about things for another day or so, true, but he wasn't slowed down much, or for long. It'll have been three weeks ago Sunday that I went into the emergency room. Three weeks--and I wound up not having surgery! I've never been neutered (despite what my brother will tell you), but somehow I expect that were I to endure such a procedure, I would not bounce back from it half as well as our cat. It's given me pause to think: Why would I, a human being posessed of self-consciousness, take so much longer to get over something?

I have two ideas: 1) Maybe he just played through the pain that well and 2) Maybe not thinking about it helps. Since I haven't mastered the Vulcan mind meld, I'll never know how much pain he's pushed himself through to recover so well. That leaves "not thinking about it" as a lesson learned. Based, then, on my cat recovering much more quickly to surgery than I have to not having surgery, my advice to you, dear reader, is to think less about things. Or should you think more about other things....?

16 April 2008

Released from the Hospital

You know how it goes. Two weeks or so ago, I get hit with strep. As I recover from that, I develop a bowel obstruction. Grand prize for my troubles? Over 48 hours in a hospital. Here are my abbreviated thoughts on my recent stay at Norton Suburban Hospital in Louisville, KY:

The Emergency Room

Pros: Dr. Pringle was efficient and pleasant.

Cons: Spending an hour (literally) in an exam room before anyone ever even checked on me to see that I was in the room, much less why I was there. It wasn't until after I was admitted to the hospital that anyone even got around to measuring my height and weight, to give you an idea how little attention the E.R. staff paid me. Also, they left the previous occupant's chart in the room after she left, a major medical no-no. Fortunately, I'm not the snooping type and didn't violate another patient's confidentiality.

The Hospital

Pros: Most of the nursing staff that attended to me was friendly, and that first day when I had to request pain meds to receive them, they responded quickly.

Cons: Having blood drawn from the wrists (yes, plural) instead of my ACL (that's the elbow area for those of you who don't speak anatomy or medical) for no apparent reason. Sharing a room with one old guy after another who could not make it through the day without the TV going. I swear the next person who wakes me up with a small claims court show should have already made his or her peace with the Lord. It didn't help that, even after being told the nurse(s) would try to get the TV turned off at four in the morning, that no one ever even asked either guy to do so.

The Surgeon

Pros: For a guy who pays his summer home mortgage slicing and dicing people, Dr. Pokorney was actually very reasonable about trying to keep from having to operate on me. It was his determination--not the G.I. doctor, mind you--that I should be given time for the antibiotics and steroids to work. He is to the point without being rude, and was quick to respond yesterday to my insistance that I was well enough to leave.

Cons: My only real nitpick is that I felt as well Tuesday as I did yesterday and if he--or anyone else with the authority to do so had listened to me--I might have been spared an unnecessary 24 hours in the hospital. Also, being restricted from any food or drink from Sunday night through Tuesday afternoon was frustrating. It was understandable when surgery was still being considered, but after that was ruled out as a treatment option, my restrictions should have been revised.

The Gastroenterologist

Pros: I only had to see him twice.

Cons: Dr. Martin D. Mark is surely the world's foremost Remicade salesman. He insisted that I should have been on the drug all along, and that had I been on it, I would not have been in my present condition. That may or may not be (despite its high success rate, Remicade is no more an absolute guarantee than any other drug), but that's also not the point. Surely, as a gastroenterologist, Dr. Mark realizes that the standard treatment for Crohn's patients is to start with the small stuff (5 ASA drugs, immunomodulators, tapering dosages of steroids) and to give them time to work. There are currently only a handful of treatment options even available, and rushing through them is not practical. Besides which, Remicade is quite expensive (thousands of dollars per dose). It's like taking your Ford Taurus to a mechanic and being told you should have been driving a Bentley instead. Well, yeah, but there's probably a reason I'm driving a Taurus and not a Bentley, so let's live in my world for a minute. Dr. Mark runs a clinic that gives Crohn's patients Remicade treatments, and I found his manner so abrasive and condescending that even if it were the only avenue open to me to receive the drug, I would likely opt instead to suffer.

Final tally

Pros: The nursing staff's overall friendliness and Dr. Pokorney's measured reactions to my condition were the most important things I got from the people at Norton. My wife only left my side for necessary errands, and even then only after I insisted to her it was okay to do so. I could not have made it through this ordeal without her support. And, whether you share my spiritual convictions or not, I know this was a test of me by a greater power and I can only conclude that God found something about my response to this test to His liking, because He spared me the surgical fate medical science had pronounced.

Cons: I don't care if a guy has lost a leg to flesh-eating bacteria or is suffering extraordinary pain from cancer: there should be reasonable hours of the day in which a patient's TV is turned off for the comfort of whomever is in the bed beside him. Rest is one of the most important components to any patient's recovery, and it's hard to do that when your eyes are bombarded by flashing TV lights through the night or, unlike the guy who insists on having the TV turned to Judge Judy, you can't doze off because she's too obnoxious. And, of course, I wish someone had taken me more seriously Tuesday when I tried to tell them that the antibiotics and steroids were working and that I was making tremendous progress.

24 January 2008

2008 Grammy’s: Field 19, Category 79

It's a category most people aren't even aware exists. It's a category whose award presentation is never done on TV. And in 2008, it's a category that may well decide the fate of the entire planet. It's Field 19, Category 79: "Best Spoken Word Album." I noted in an earlier Grammy's post that the competitors are two former presidents, a presidential hopeful, an actor who has played at least one president and a presidential hopeful, and Maya Angelou.

Since that original post, the novelty of this one category has captured my fascination and so I have researched the field and the candidates to make a researched prediction. Yes, I'm aware that people who actually follow the Grammy's care about other fields and categories like "Album of the Year," but for analysis like that, you've got Rolling Stone. Ten to one says they don't say a word about Field 19, which is why I have to do it.

Consider that, since 2003, Grammy voters in this category have awarded entries by three Democrats (all of whom are nominees this year) and Al Franken, for his Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. Grammy voters were clearly influenced by their strong liberal leanings when they awarded the Dixie Chicks four Grammy's in 2006. In many respects, this year's Grammy's could amount to a second primary election for the state of California. More on that later. Here are the nominees, along with impressions of their chances:

Alan Alda, Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself
Alan Alda has six Emmy Awards, but to date no Grammy. Alda's Things is more than a continuation of his memoirs; it is a collection of reflections from a man of considerable experience trying to gain perspective on his life and the world around him. Subjects of aging, births of children and September 11 are themes that should resonate easily with listeners. Grammy voters may find his message more accessible, and that could give his '06 Emmy for The West Wing some help standing up to the five Emmy's on his mantle from M*A*S*H.

Maya Angelou, Celebrations: Rituals of Peace and Prayer
Angelou has the strongest track record with the Grammy's of the five nominees, having won thrice already. Her wins include The Pulse of Morning (1993), Phenominal Woman (1995) and A Song Flung Up to Heaven (2002). Interestingly enough, Celebrations includes "The Pulse of Morning," the poem Angelou composed for, and read during, President Bill Clinton's first inauguration in 1993. Angelou's subjects are more similar to Alan Alda's than to the rest of the nominees, but her different medium may be the key to her collecting her fourth Grammy award.

Jimmy Carter, Sunday Morning in Plains: Bringing Peace to a Changing World
President Carter is the defending champion of Category 79, for Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis. The fact that he has won so recently could cut either way; some voters will feel he's on a roll and give him another nod, while others will consider his '06 trophy a reason to eliminate him from the pack. Grammy voters like to let their politics be known, and it's difficult to imagine them not awarding this to either our potential next president or our potential first-ever First Gentleman.

Bill Clinton, Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World
The other president in the running, Bill Clinton has already won two Grammy Awards. His abridged reading of his autobiography, My Life, won in 2004. President Clinton also won the year before in the Childrens categor as a participant in the Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf with Mikhail Gorbachev and Sophia Loren the year before. Like Carter, Clinton's subject material is one in which he is established as an authority, working through his Clinton Foundation since leaving office. Hillary Clinton's name may be absent on the Grammy ballot, but voters may consider expressing their support for her candidacy by awarding Mr. Clinton his third Grammy.

Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream
Senator Obama's previous work, Dreams from My Father, won him his first Grammy in 2005. I'm not sure how Audacity qualified for this year's Grammy awards, since its publication date was November 6, 2007 (September 30 is the cutoff date). The fact that Senator Obama is running for the highest office in the country may encourage Grammy voters to endorse his candidacy by giving him the nod for Best Spoken Album; then again, they may feel they've heard this speech by Obama too many times and reserve their vote for the ballot booth in November and award the Grammy to someone else.

Final prediction: Senator Barack Obama wins his second Grammy award. Grammy voters who favor Hillary Clinton over Obama may be inclined to vote for her by proxy by casting their vote for Bill, but the fact that Obama's name is on both their ballots gives him the edge. Besides, they included him despite having been published after their eligibility period anyway; if they went to all that trouble to get him into the final round, then there's enough support to get him a trophy.