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Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

The fashion world seeks my input


I no longer get press releases about medical research in Scotland, but I still get some from far-flung places where I have trouble believing anyone even knows where Lenoir is.

On Friday one came from a fashion designer in Leicester, England. I’m sure your first thought is that this designer clearly recognizes that whatever the upper crust in New York, London and Milan might say, fashion isn’t fashion until the Lenoir News-Topic says so. I’ve heard it many times.

She wanted me — or presumably anyone anywhere in the world on the massive list of email addresses swept up by computers maintained by whatever public relations hacks she is paying — to interview her about “athleisure.”

I’ll give her this: She increased my word power.

Without the context of the press release, I might have thought “athleisure” was the sound of a complicated sneeze. Or it could be a term for a type of seizure common among athletes.

Instead, athleisure is defined in this press release riddled with punctuation errors as “modern comfortable sport’s inspired” clothing. In other words, leisure clothing that is vaguely athletic-looking. In the case of this press release, that would be leggings.

Leggings came to be in the news recently because United Airlines refused to let two girls who were traveling on a free ticket board the plane because they were wearing leggings rather than pants.

The English fashion designer argues that leggings ought to be allowed not only on planes but in a great many places: “As more people are becoming interested in healthy living, it is increasingly acceptable for dress codes to be relaxed in order to facilitate popular on-the-go lifestyles.”

My mother used to talk about how people once dressed up to travel because going on a plane was a big deal. Now, as Norm in the old TV show “Cheers” might say, it’s just another darn reason to put your pants on.

It’s not just air travel, though, it’s everywhere. Go to your local courthouse and see what some people wear when they have to plead their case before a judge.

There are places you shouldn’t arrive looking as though you either just rolled out of bed or are about to mow the lawn.

But I digress.

Curious about what athleisure — or, another term this designer used, “sports luxe” — looks like, I went to the designer’s website, www.okayla.co.uk. There on the home page it was: a young woman in a gray hoodie, her face pale, her heavily painted eyes closed, her head tilted slightly, her dark-purple lips parted, her shoulders slouched, hands hanging limp. She looked like a corpse in rigor mortis having been stood upright.

I wouldn’t want her on a plane either, but mainly because I’d be afraid she’d try to eat my brain.

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Let’s be honest: No one wants a camera and a hose shoved up his rear end.

And the very idea is why so many people are resistant to getting a colonoscopy, a procedure in which a doctor snakes a tube up inside you to see what business you have going on down there. Or up there, I guess.

The idea gave me the willies.

Turns out I was just being stubborn, ignorant and childish. If you’re worried about it too, don’t be. Here’s why.

When I was 49, the doctor brought up the topic as a suggestion.

No, I don’t think I will, I said.

When I was 50, he brought it up again.

Eh, I said.

Then last fall I had some sudden, severe abdominal pain. Frighteningly severe.

The pain passed, but the doctor now had allies in my wife and every relative. I lost the ability to choose. The colonoscopy was on the calendar.

I had to reschedule once. I hoped I would again.

No luck.

Last Monday, I went to the pharmacy to pick up the prescription liquid you have to drink to clean your system out, which means exactly what you think it does. The pharmacist talked to me about the process and what to do and said the box had not just instructions but IKEA-like picture instructions.

Then, as I was about to leave, she said, “I hope everything comes out OK.”

Of all the pharmacists in the world, I get Lenoir’s answer to Henny Youngman.

I chuckled.

As I walked away, she said, “Have fun.”

You stop eating solid food about two days before your procedure. My instructions said that I could have breakfast and lunch, but after that, for the rest of the day and the entire next day, I could have only certain liquids. The most satisfying of these was broth.

Broth.

Just broth.

Surprisingly, though, broth is pretty tasty as long as you don’t get the low-sodium kind. You can keep your stomach full and stave off hunger pangs, and it tastes really, really good.

But even if you feel “full,” you won’t feel full. A belly full of broth, water, 7-Up and Gatorade feels like someone stole your stomach and replaced it with a water balloon.

So by the evening before your procedure, when you are supposed to take the medicine, you may feel like a monk. You have been abstaining. You yearn for the sensual pleasure of pizza, or cheese, or a little meat. You look forward to the procedure just to get the whole thing over with and begin feasting.

Now, the medicine: It will clean you out. That sounds scary. You may remember bouts of stomach flu when you got cleaned out. You will dread it.

Don’t.

Remember: You have ingested nothing but liquids for well over 24 hours. And there are no cramps like there are with stomach flu.

In the morning you will take more of the medicine. But that morning is the hardest because after drinking the medicine and prescribed amount of water, you are now done. No water, no broth, no nothing, for hours. Time has rarely moved as slowly for me as those five hours did.

By the time I reached the gastroenterologist’s office, I was eager for the procedure, because once it was done I would be free. I could eat. I had fantasies of food like prisoners and castaways have. I plotted my lunch with the eagerness of a first date.

And my eagerness was rewarded: It was the shortest wait in a doctor’s office I have had in my entire life.

They took me back to a room. There were a few questions. Did I have any questions? I did not. I put all my clothes in a bag and put on the ties-in-the-back gown. Shortly, a nurse came back, told me to lie down and covered me with a warm blanket.

When another nurse came back and took me to the room for the procedure, the anesthetist greeted me and in a cheery voice explained what she was going to do. One thing she said was the name of the drug propofol, which triggered a memory, and when she paused I said, “Wasn’t it propofol that killed Michael Jackson?

“Yes,” she said, “yes it was.”

From across the room a nurse called out, “It was a cardiologist who killed Michael Jackson!”

And on it went.

I was just joking, but the anesthetist explained aaaaaaaaaaaalll about propofol and what went wrong with Michael and his doctor.

Then they had me turn on my side, get in a certain place.

And then I was asleep. It’s almost as if I was snatched by aliens, because my memory in that room simply ends at that moment I situated myself on the bed.

The next thing I knew, I woke in a different room with Mrs. Lucas.

I was groggy. It felt a bit like being drunk, except it wore off faster.

So much worry over so little. And on the bright side, I learned a lot about propofol. The whole thing was a win-win.

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nora
I don’t remember who told me I should write about Nora McGee.

I remember it had something to do with the 81-year-old woman’s woodworking, that she had taken it up as a child in an age when grown women rarely did that work. Among other things, she built several floor-to-ceiling cabinets for her kitchen. I remembered the feminist gist of what she told me about growing up as a tomboy in the early 20th century, but until re-reading the story not the wonderful phrasing she used.

“Back in my day, women weren’t supposed to do that,” she said. “I just decided, instead of knitting when I didn’t want to, I would hammer when I wanted to.”

I liked doing stories of women striking out into men’s territory. Around the same time, 1987, I wrote about the only four women in Lenoir who were criminal defense attorneys. It’s still a men’s field – I think I have seen more women at the Caldwell County Courthouse working as prosecutors than defense attorneys in the past three years.

Until a relative of McGee’s sent me a photocopy of her story recently I didn’t remember her name, but when that relative mentioned McGee’s name to me a week or so earlier I wondered if that was the woman I wrote about who did the woodworking. It sounded familiar.

When the photocopy arrived in the mail I recognized it, and yet it differed from my memory.

I shot the photo the News-Topic ran of her moving wood on a saw, but I remembered shooting it at a different angle. I remembered she wore a dress at the time, and I would have described it as sort of dark and plain, yet when I saw the black-and-white image I could tell it must have been gray or, more likely, light blue with a simple floral pattern. As I sat at home Saturday morning thinking about writing about the difference between my memory and the photo, I thought her hair was darker and longer than it actually is in the photo.

We all like to think of our memory as a video recorder. Everything that goes in is played back reliably and the same way every time, unless it gets erased. Then it’s just gone. But what we recall, that’s what was. That happened.

With rare exceptions, though, we have fluid memories. Even in the events we remember, details change. People change. Some things fade out, while new details may emerge.

I remember from that group of women defense attorneys just one name, Nancy Epstein, maybe because that stood out as not a local name. I remember I thought she was attractive. Maybe that’s the only reason she’s the only one I can remember – or maybe I have told myself she was attractive because hers is the only name I remember, and I can’t think of another reason I would forget the other three.

Or was her name Nancy? Google can’t find her.

Were there really four women in that group? Maybe there were three.

I don’t have the newspaper clipping of that story, only the memory of the photo I shot, the women standing together somewhere in front of the courthouse.

Maybe I was meant to work as a reporter because even as a teenager I knew that memories weren’t always reliable. I often said when telling people what I recall, “If I remember accurately …”

In a poetry writing class in college, one of our assignments was to describe our earliest memory. Mine has always been a few moments in a medical setting when I must have been an infant. I wrote my description of it as best I could but couched all of my details with qualifiers, saying that this is how I remember it, and pointing out the gaps that I didn’t remember. The professor read each student’s submission without telling who wrote it, and after reading mine he told the class he knew exactly the procedure being described – one that, as he talked about it, I had no idea existed. Then he declared that the careful insistence that the memory’s details might be flawed clearly indicated that the entire thing was a work of fiction because no one said things like that when describing a memory.

No one knew I had written it, so I could not feel humiliated at being called a fabulist (I should note I got a good grade in the class – lies in poetry are not a bad thing, apparently). Mainly I wondered: Had I learned about that procedure at some point and forgot about it? Had I seen it on TV and internalized the imagery? I’ll never know.

The memory feels as real as my interviews with “Miss Nora” and Nancy Epstein. That’s why I have to couch my words. That’s why we all should.

NOTE: After this was published, a reader emailed me and said I probably was thinking of Nancy Einstein, who now practices law in Morganton. She was correct.

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When they asked me to speak at the convention, they told me I should tell a story about the candidate. It should be something with real emotion, the candidate’s campaign manager said as we stood at my front door, the limousine parked with its engine running in my driveway. It should be something that would humanize the candidate.

I blinked and tried to think of something. “It would be a lot easier,” I said, “if the candidate were a human.”

“Ha ha,” the manager said. “You’re only the … (pausing while flipping through a small notebook) eighth person today to tell me that.”

The limousine driver honked. The manager raised a finger toward the car and told me, “You’ll go on the middle of the second night, with other old friends.”

“Who else?” I asked.

The limousine driver honked. The manager looked over, and a back window in the car rolled down a tiny crack, enough to shoot a look at the manager.

I knew that eye. “Oh, hey!” I waved. The window rolled up.

The manager began to turn. “We’ll be in touch. Think of a story.”

I watched the limousine pull away, my mind a blank. A story with real emotion.

I went inside. My wife was waiting in the kitchen. “What was that about?” she said.

“I’ve been asked to speak at the convention.”

“Won’t that get you in trouble at work? What will your boss say?”

“I don’t know, but I don’t see how I could turn it down.”

She poured me a cup of coffee. “What are you supposed to talk about?”

“I’m supposed to tell a story with real emotion that would humanize the candidate.”

She looked at me blankly, then crossed her arms. “That would be easier if you were talking about a human.”

“Yeah.” I sat down with my coffee.

She looked concerned and brushed my arm. “Do you have a story?”

I shrugged.

I thought and thought about it. I thought all day, and when I went to bed that night I stared at the ceiling thinking. That’s when I thought of something. I got up, went to my laptop and wrote the whole thing down, with much more detail than I thought would be needed in a speech, but I wanted to be sure I got everything down.

A couple of days later the manager called to check on my progress, and I said I had a story that I thought would do a lot to humanize the candidate. I told the whole thing.

Silence on the phone.

“Hello?” I said.

“That’s a terrible story.”

“Why is that a terrible story?” I asked.

“You end up bleeding all over a police officer. It sounds like a testimonial for the police officer.”

“But it’s very emotional.”

“Only because you’re crying almost the whole time.”

“But –”

“Nevermind. We’re running out of time anyway, so we won’t need you. Thanks very much for your efforts, though. We need your vote.”

And that was that.

I really should call to check on that police officer again. She was so kind.

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When I first heard that the local Republican Party was moving into the vacant space beside Lenoir City Hall that most recently was the Azteca Burrito restaurant, I had a thought.

Perhaps, I thought, the party is one-upping the Democrats, who lately have been having a number of functions at Howard Brewing. When Azteca Burrito was open, its owners built a bar, so that space not only has a bar to match Howard Brewing, it also has a kitchen!

“The Democrats have beer, but so do we, AND we have freshly grilled burgers,” the Republicans could say.

The Democrats then would have to raise the ante and find a way to provide food too, and probably more variety if they wanted to lure people their way.

Of course, I know the idea is too good to be true.

The result would be another bidding war between the parties, except the kind they have now tends to benefit lobbyists and interest groups, while the average person feels forgotten and left behind, as any supporter of Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders will tell you.

But how much better would it be if, instead of pandering by promising trade wars or free college or other trinkets costing trillions, what the parties provided was an ever-expanding list of options on an actual menu?

“Don’t go to McDonald’s, now GOP stands for ‘Get your Order Personalized,’ and we won’t make you use a kiosk either!”

The Republican menu might lean toward the bold, the barbecue, the Tex-Mex and brisket and steak.

The Democratic menu might have more ethnic specialties, more unusual spices and ingredients, plus vegetarian options.

Or maybe I’m exposing my preconceptions.

What they would cook would be less important than the fact that everyone would have no doubt at all what the effect of their political preference was. It wouldn’t be an idea or policy, it would be on a plate, right there in front of them.

“Make America Great Again”? Make America’s steaks, man. We’ll decide whether they’re great, and if they’re not we’ll go across the street and see if the other guys do better “Fighting For Us” against indigestion.

I’d work in the slogans of the Libertarian and Green Party candidates too if I could find them.

I think this is the ideal recipe, so to speak, for political reform.

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When I first heard that the local Republican Party was moving into the vacant space beside Lenoir City Hall that most recently was the Azteca Burrito restaurant, I had a thought.

Perhaps, I thought, the party is one-upping the Democrats, who lately have been having a number of functions at Howard Brewing. When Azteca Burrito was open, its owners built a bar, so that space not only has a bar to match Howard Brewing, it also has a kitchen!

“The Democrats have beer, but so do we, AND we have freshly grilled burgers,” the Republicans could say.

The Democrats then would have to raise the ante and find a way to provide food too, and probably more variety if they wanted to lure people their way.

Of course, I know the idea is too good to be true.

The result would be another bidding war between the parties, except the kind they have now tends to benefit lobbyists and interest groups, while the average person feels forgotten and left behind, as any supporter of Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders will tell you.

But how much better would it be if, instead of pandering by promising trade wars or free college or other trinkets costing trillions, what the parties provided was an ever-expanding list of options on an actual menu?

“Don’t go to McDonald’s, now GOP stands for ‘Get your Order Personalized,’ and we won’t make you use a kiosk either!”

The Republican menu might lean toward the bold, the barbecue, the Tex-Mex and brisket and steak.

The Democratic menu might have more ethnic specialties, more unusual spices and ingredients, plus vegetarian options.

Or maybe I’m exposing my preconceptions.

What they would cook would be less important than the fact that everyone would have no doubt at all what the effect of their political preference was. It wouldn’t be an idea or policy, it would be on a plate, right there in front of them.

“Make America Great Again”? Make America’s steaks, man. We’ll decide whether they’re great, and if they’re not we’ll go across the street and see if the other guys do better “Fighting For Us” against indigestion.

I’d work in the slogans of the Libertarian and Green Party candidates too if I could find them.

I think this is the ideal recipe, so to speak, for political reform.

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King for a day, or so

As I stooped over this morning, a plastic scoop in my hand and the smell of cat pee and poop rising from the litter box in front of me, I couldn’t help but think this was no job for a king.

And that’s what they called me less than 48 hours earlier – king.

I blame them.

They gave me what folks call “the big head.”

When I decided a few weeks ago to enter the Caldwell County Rotary Club’s annual chili cookoff, it had been partly just to get it out of my system. I love to cook chili, I have been to over a dozen chili cookoffs, from small affairs like Rotary’s to large events alongside Richmond International Raceway sponsored by a rock station and drawing professional teams, and I always thought my own chili stacked up relatively well. Finally, when Rotary sent out its cookoff entry deadline, I kept reading over it and I decided I should put up or shut up. Enter that chili or stop humble-bragging about it.

There were 12 other entries in Rotary’s cookoff. I stuck around to watch the judging, and as the minutes ticked by I noticed that the four judges seemed to keep going back for second or third tastes from other pots, but not mine.

After Rotary member Charles Beck told the judges that their time was up and they needed to make a decision, the judges huddled at their table, whispered a few things, and I prepared for disappointment. Then they straightened and looked at Beck, and I heard them say the number assigned to my pot of chili. My chili won.

It felt pretty good. It was my first-ever cookoff, and I joked that I ought to never enter another cookoff so I could say I am undefeated in chili cookoffs.

But people kept coming up to shake my hand. “What’s your secret?” I was asked under a spotlight on the stage. Praise washed over me, and it felt good.

My wife texted me, “Congratulations, chili king!”

Later that day at work, my boss came out of her office as I walked past. She smiled broadly and said, “There’s the chili king!”

“Chili king.” It had a nice ring. I called my mom and left a message starting, “This is the Chili King of Caldwell County …”

I got home before my wife. When I saw her walking to the door, I opened it to greet her and bellowed, “BOW BEFORE YOUR CHILI KING!”

She gave a half-smile, stepped slightly to one side and said, “’kay.” But she didn’t bow. Not even a curtsy.

It all went downhill from there, and at the bottom of the hill was a litter box.

Mel Brooks was right, “It’s good to be the king.” But it doesn’t last long.

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