Music Suffers, Baby, The Music Business Thrives

If you’ve ever snapped a bone, split it or twisted, chances are good you have your own internal weathervane. The spot I fractured in my foot predicts precipitation fairly well, but, strangely, my sinuses are better than Doppler Radar. I can be going about my business and – whammo! – blinding, crushing pain cuts me down. Most times, if I screw my eyes shut for thirty seconds to three minutes, the pain burns off like a fog under the morning’s first rays, and I know it’s going to rain. I don’t take anything for it. Whoosh! Gone! What happened?

Sometimes, like tonight, the rain’s fallen, the clouds moved on and what Siobhan and I refer to as The Headache remains. Yesterday started out pretty well. Mom answered the phone when I called at 8:45 a.m. because the telemarketers are still annoying their own families. She was still gooey from anesthesia and Tuesday’s procedure. Her friend Erin was just walking up the steps to Mom’s bedroom with a book. Tom was off to work, Erin was staying. Mom wasn’t supposed to be alone after surgery, which she hadn’t told me. Anyway, Mom was making woozy jokes about …something… and that was good news. I waited a few hours and called Dad’s house, where his fab wife Darla answered but she was still sleeping. I promised to call back later.

When I talked to Dad after 2, he was cranky, swearing, firm in his opinions and scathing in his assessments. In other words: he sounded great. I told him if he stopped swearing I’d be really worried. We had a lovely conversation, during which I laughed a great deal. Then Darla sent out a group email stating that she’d started a blog, where you will be nice, damn it, to keep all kinds of people informed about Dad’s treatment. I was thrilled. Then I read the words “[Dad’s] life expectancy is between a couple of months and a couple of years, depending on how he tolerates, and how well he responds to, treatment.”

I didn’t take that well.

The rest of my day was pretty well screwed at that point. I lay down to nap after work and sat up straight when fear shot all through me. Later, I called my brother Todd.

Tata: You’re going to work in a few hours, right?
Todd: Hey! You remembered!
Tata: I didn’t until a little while ago. I panicked and went to the liquor store for a bottle of wine. While I was there, I asked the clerk what day it was. So that’s the only reason I know.
Todd: Don’t let go of that Slinky!
Tata: …always good advice, but what prompted it?
Todd: I was talking to my daughter, who’s got a Slinky by the end her baby brother’s not holding.
Tata: Baby brothers are science projects. You ought to know that better than most.
Todd: I’ll always treasure the memory of you putting ExLax in my Halloween candy.
Tata: I had to do it – for SCIENCE!
Todd: Remind me to send SCIENCE a bag of flaming dog poop.

Todd reminded me that Happy Hour comes but once a day, and we have but a short time on this earth. So drink up! This was excellent advice on an evening I felt like I’d stuck my hand in a socket over and over, and when I feel this shitty, I do something about it. So last night, like every night for over a week, I lit a candle and asked whoever was listening for fucking strength. Since I am completely aware that I know absolutely nothing, I don’t want to offend anyone by calling them someone else’s name, which everyone knows is terrible form –

You: Oh baby baby you really do it for me, Tory…
Pat: I’m Pat. Oh, and so outta here.
You: This here is a valuable life lesson. Shit!

– so I just ask anyone who’s listening for help, damn it! Help! I put down the candle. I sat on the couch and typed something. Ten minutes later, the phone rang. A woman who rescues stray cats called to tell me she’d found two cats together, and they could be available in mid-March, and would I mind if they were both black? I burst into tears, which has become my indoor-outdoor sport, and said yes yes yes.

There was nothing else to do but stand in the middle of my living room and say, “Thank you. Thank you.” So I did.

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Know Your Part’ll Go Fine

Yesterday, I heard today’s weather with great anticipation. Since the cold snap a month or so ago, I’ve felt cooped up and penned in; neither cooping nor penning suits me. Thus, when the meteorologists promised I could lace up the Adidases and walk to work, though not in so many words, I considered writing them love letters. Then I thought, ‘No, they’re the Doppler-assisted tools of the Man! Get up, stand up! And take a leopard print umbrella.’

I got no further than thirty feet from my front door, flush with victory over mid-winter sloth, when I realized the sidewalks were frozen over in transparent, invisible sheets and if I didn’t confine myself to visibly salted sidewalks or blacktop, I was skipping work and going directly to the Emergency Room. That was exciting. A few times, I nearly landed on my head, which would ordinarily be merely hilarious but yesterday, I put in a full day at the salon and bandages would interfere with my mission to beautify America one room at a time.

Anyway: hairstyle intact, I made it to work without lascerations and I can’t wait to walk home. Tomorrow, umbrella in hand, I can prowl the quads and sidewalks to take pictures of black snow and torpid tree limbs. They’ll perk up soon. I feel better already.

In the Night Out Of Sight In the Day

Having the internet phone service pays off.

Dad: Happy Valentine’s Day. You know how I’ve been seeing doctors and couldn’t get a diagnosis? Now I have one. I have cancer.
Tata: Cancer?
Dad: I have lesions on several of my internal organs. We begin chemo on Friday.
Tata: You do?
Dad: That terrible taste in my mouth the doctors should have been able to identify? Cancer.
Tata: It was? And the fever you’ve had since before Christmas?
Dad: Yep.
Tata: Phantom debilitating pain?
Dad: Yep.
Tata: How do you feel about this?
Dad: I could be dead in a year.
Tata: You could?
Dad: It’s within the range of possibility.
Tata: I am actually relieved that you finally have a diagnosis. I didn’t believe it for a minute when the doctor said you, you know, just had a fever. For two months.
Dad: Oh. Also: Happy Birthday. What are you doing to celebrate?
Tata: I was thinking of drowning myself in the Raritan.
Dad: Don’t be ridiculous. That river’s frozen and paramedics are tougher to please than Ukranian judges.

We hang up after exhanging tender words both of us would deny under oath. I immediately call Daria, who is still sobbing. Daria calms down and tells me to call Auntie InExcelsisDeo, who is also still sobbing. To distract her, I mention the braces came off and I can’t stop doing that ridiculous Pearl Drops Tooth Polish “It’s a great feeling!” gesture with my tongue, which will eventually make me very popular in town. Then I call Daria back. Daria asks if she should call our mom, who divorced Dad in the seventies. I say yes. Daria calls me back later. We do this again and again for five days. No way could I afford this with regular phone service.

Thursday was my birthday, which is usually a very big deal in my family because it has for the last decade kicked off a long series of birthdays. We have a season. Every two weeks, we go somewhere and celebrate. All that festivity can really suck the life out of a clan, plus now Anya’s husband Dan’s birthday is a week before mine, so we’re all receipts and wreckage. In any case, I could have been perfectly content to let go of any claim to birthday-based overeating but Mom insisted on taking me out to dinner.

Tata: We’re expecting snow and ice like nobody’s business. Are you sure?
Mom: I’m sure. Where would you like to go?
Tata: There’s an excellent Thai restaurant blocks from here.
Mom: I don’t love Thai.
Tata: …Or we could go to…um…
Mom: How about the new Greek restaurant? How about 6?
Tata: Terrific. I’ll be ready at 6.

At 6:30, Mom and Tom picked me up, which I knew would happen and for which I was totally prepared. It was just dinner, and ya gotta eat. They gave me a 16-quart stock pot with a glass lid and I was content to let it go, again. We keep trying to get as much of the whole family together before the next series of birthdays and it just isn’t working because Mom’s having her Annual Harvesting of the Melanomas. Our next proposed date is Tuesday, the 27th, and the proposed get-together is at a fondue place for cheese, meat, seafood and chocolate fondue. Last night, I told Daria if the date moves again, we’ll be celebrating Anya’s and Corinne’s birthdays, too, and everyone will have to eat twice as much. We should just suck it up and fondue.

On Saturday, Siobhan took me to a spa in Livingston, where we got facials and massages. I’d spent five weeks crying my eyes out and I looked like it. I’ll write about the facial and the massage some other time because…because. Another time. Suffice it to say that after two hours of soothing smells and gentle music and charming people saying nice things, the masseur whispered many times, “Let it go, Ta” and I couldn’t. I realized I was a giant, clenched, terrified knot, which is exactly what I don’t want to be, and what I know will not help. The result: I forced myself to calm down and consider a way forward.

In less than two months, my dear pussycat was terribly ill, then I put him to sleep. My best friend nearly died. My son-in-law and by extension my daughter suffered a career trauma. My father started cancer treatment. My mother’s post-cancer treatment regimen has become a little less low-key. A friend moved away. Daria keeps saying to me, “I’m fully cognizant that I have Tyler and you’re over there in your apartment alone.”

I am fine. I have no regrets about the pussycat, the career trauma will pass, I’ll get used to the missing friend. The treatment is being aggressively pursued by a family of Type-A fighting freaks with oncologist friends. And last night, I spoke with a woman who rescues stray and abandoned cats about my desire to have two feline companions. I have appointments with the dentist to get one of my teeth fixed, and this afternoon, I will see Carmello for a new coif. I’m drinking lots of broth, miso shiro soup, juice, water.

The future arrives, whether we fear it or not. I intend to greet it with composure and a healthy mix of ferocity and acceptance. My manicure will be perfect at all times. My hand will be open.

We Found You Hiding, We Found You Lying

Courtesy of Mr. Blogenfreude comes this nearly rational bon mot from Jonah Goldberg:

I don’t trust Dana Priest that much, and I am suspicious of some of possible motives behind the series, so with those caveats in mind, I still think the Post’s series (See here and here ) on what some of our wounded troops go through is must-reading. Hospitals for vets returning from the front should be palaces and the last thing in the world any of them deserve are bureaucratic hassles. Though I should say that I’ve visited wounded troops and from my very limited experience they are surrounded by people who really do care.

Still, here’s an idea for Fox News. Take Geraldo Rivera off the Anna Nicole beat and put him full time on this one. I’m not exactly a huge fan of Rivera’s but he launched his career exposing the scandalous condition of mental hospitals if I recall, and he has just the right amount of preening self-righteousness (see Hurrican[sic] Katrina) to scare the bejeebers out of the relevant bureaucrats and politicians.

“Bejeebers”? Jonah, you can say “shit” like other grownups now.

See, even if we spot him a few points for attempting to behave like a human, Jonah’s still a mouth-breathing, basement-dwelling blob. He does, however, have a point: Geraldo’s insufferable. I’m suprised those Hurrican[see above] Katrina survivors Geraldo carried out of the wreckage didn’t slap him, at least a little. That, friends, is every bit as important as Jonah’s trust issues and specialized language-mangling. What’s “must-reading”?

On the worst days, soldiers say they feel like they are living a chapter of “Catch-22.” The wounded manage other wounded. Soldiers dealing with psychological disorders of their own have been put in charge of others at risk of suicide.

Disengaged clerks, unqualified platoon sergeants and overworked case managers fumble with simple needs: feeding soldiers’ families who are close to poverty, replacing a uniform ripped off by medics in the desert sand or helping a brain-damaged soldier remember his next appointment.

“We’ve done our duty. We fought the war. We came home wounded. Fine. But whoever the people are back here who are supposed to give us the easy transition should be doing it,” said Marine Sgt. Ryan Groves, 26, an amputee who lived at Walter Reed for 16 months. “We don’t know what to do. The people who are supposed to know don’t have the answers. It’s a nonstop process of stalling.”

Soldiers, family members, volunteers and caregivers who have tried to fix the system say each mishap seems trivial by itself, but the cumulative effect wears down the spirits of the wounded and can stall their recovery.

“It creates resentment and disenfranchisement,” said Joe Wilson, a clinical social worker at Walter Reed. “These soldiers will withdraw and stay in their rooms. They will actively avoid the very treatment and services that are meant to be helpful.”

Danny Soto, a national service officer for Disabled American Veterans who helps dozens of wounded service members each week at Walter Reed, said soldiers “get awesome medical care and their lives are being saved,” but, “Then they get into the administrative part of it and they are like, ‘You saved me for what?’ The soldiers feel like they are not getting proper respect. This leads to anger.”

There is, once again, no excuse for this bullshit. When you consider the costs of war, you take for fucking granted you will be caring for the injured decently. If you don’t, you haven’t calculated your probable costs correctly. Now, tack on some bigotry.

Family members who speak only Spanish have had to rely on Salvadoran housekeepers, a Cuban bus driver, the Panamanian bartender and a Mexican floor cleaner for help. Walter Reed maintains a list of bilingual staffers, but they are rarely called on, according to soldiers and families and Walter Reed staff members.

Evis Morales’s severely wounded son was transferred to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda for surgery shortly after she arrived at Walter Reed. She had checked into her government-paid room on post, but she slept in the lobby of the Bethesda hospital for two weeks because no one told her there is a free shuttle between the two facilities. “They just let me off the bus and said ‘Bye-bye,’ ” recalled Morales, a Puerto Rico resident.

Morales found help after she ran out of money, when she called a hotline number and a Spanish-speaking operator happened to answer.

“If they can have Spanish-speaking recruits to convince my son to go into the Army, why can’t they have Spanish-speaking translators when he’s injured?” Morales asked. “It’s so confusing, so disorienting.”

And how about some plain incompetence?

Three times a week, school buses painted white and fitted with stretchers and blackened windows stream down Georgia Avenue. Sirens blaring, they deliver soldiers groggy from a pain-relief cocktail at the end of their long trip from Iraq via Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and Andrews Air Force Base.

Staff Sgt. John Daniel Shannon, 43, came in on one of those buses in November 2004 and spent several weeks on the fifth floor of Walter Reed’s hospital. His eye and skull were shattered by an AK-47 round. His odyssey in the Other Walter Reed has lasted more than two years, but it began when someone handed him a map of the grounds and told him to find his room across post.

A reconnaissance and land-navigation expert, Shannon was so disoriented that he couldn’t even find north. Holding the map, he stumbled around outside the hospital, sliding against walls and trying to keep himself upright, he said. He asked anyone he found for directions.

Shannon had led the 2nd Infantry Division’s Ghost Recon Platoon until he was felled in a gun battle in Ramadi. He liked the solitary work of a sniper; “Lone Wolf” was his call name. But he did not expect to be left alone by the Army after such serious surgery and a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. He had appointments during his first two weeks as an outpatient, then nothing.

“I thought, ‘Shouldn’t they contact me?’ ” he said. “I didn’t understand the paperwork. I’d start calling phone numbers, asking if I had appointments. I finally ran across someone who said: ‘I’m your case manager. Where have you been?’

As if that weren’t bad enough, contempt for the injured is standard operating procedure.

Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, commander at Walter Reed, said in an interview last week that a major reason outpatients stay so long, a change from the days when injured soldiers were discharged as quickly as possible, is that the Army wants to be able to hang on to as many soldiers as it can, “because this is the first time this country has fought a war for so long with an all-volunteer force since the Revolution.”

That emphasis is mine because I just can’t stand it. That is so far beyond the bounds of decency I want to sit up and bark like a dog so I don’t have to share a species with douchebags like this:

Part of the tension at Walter Reed comes from a setting that is both military and medical. Marine Sgt. Ryan Groves, the squad leader who lost one leg and the use of his other in a grenade attack, said his recovery was made more difficult by a Marine liaison officer who had never seen combat but dogged him about having his mother in his room on post. The rules allowed her to be there, but the officer said she was taking up valuable bed space.

“When you join the Marine Corps, they tell you, you can forget about your mama. ‘You have no mama. We are your mama,'” Groves said. “That training works in combat. It doesn’t work when you are wounded.”

Whether you are military or civilian, you know – or you should know – that in their most vulnerable state, patients absolutely need someone watching out for them. Even the most attentive medical practioners make mistakes, let alone caregivers who can’t actually find their patients. It should be the military looking out, but apparently the military cares more about keeping up its numbers than caring for its constituent individuals.

I could toss my waffles. I could just puke.

You Fail, We All Fail

This morning, my co-worker handed me a baggy of Box Tops For Education. I wish I could say the baggy was filled with something far more exciting in a socially recognized sense, like Peruvian marching powder. You’d say, “What an invigorating life Miss Tata leads, and just look at all that danger! The possibility of imminent arrest! The eventual need for reconstructive rhinoplasty! That tears it! I’m going to run right out and develop a drug habit so I can be just like her!”

Well, of course, you’re dying to be just like me, and who can blame you? Today is one of those days you’re going to have a new and delightful idea. Yes, you will! And here it is: despite our early conditioning that leads us to think otherwise, teachers are not actually locked in closets at night, only to emerge each morning, a little L’Eau du Mothball dabbed behind each ear, to bore us senseless. No! They’re our friends and neighbors. Teachers live among us, just like normal people. There’s just no shame in it anymore. And these teachers struggle with taxes and budgets and equipment-this and expectation-that more than you might realize – especially the really good ones – to educate children each and every day.

You can help, even if you can’t bring yourself to go to one of those stultifying school board meetings where they’re planning a universe-changing vote on chalk. If you live in a wealthy school district, you can even help level the playing field for poor districts. It is breathakingly simple: put an envelope in the corner of your kitchen and when you see this logo on something you bought in the grocery store, cut it out. Drop that little piece of paper or plastic into the envelope. As the envelope fills, you now have an exciting opportunity to be – yes! you’ve been so patient! – just like me.

The Box Tops For Education site offers you credit cards, if you want to go that far but I can’t see how creating personal debt for public finance makes sense. You can create an account, they offer coupons. If you use a whole lot of these products: good for you! If not, you may fill up that kitchen envelope once in a great long while – which is fine. Kids will still need school supplies when you’ve finally finished that bag of flour in two years.

I don’t have school-age children. Miss Sasha is 23, married and living on an Air Force base in the Deep South. There’s nothing personally in it for me to save and send off these things in a capricious manner to a random school in a struggling school district or hand them off to friends who teach. There’s hardly a stigma anymore to meeting them in public! Since I’m always in a mood to have a delightful secret, I mail them off anonymously and smile for a week.

So I’m staring at this baggy and thinking: do I send this to one struggling school? Divide it in half and mail it to two? Where can it do some good? I’m breathless, just thinking about it.

Shadows On Our Eyes

Tonight’s new moon wipes clean the slate. We begin again, rewriting creases in now-smooth palms. You don’t have to say anything. We have been here before, between breaths, the heartbeat drummed by the stylus from song to song. And I know you. I have always known you. This balance, this hunger, quiet inside first morning light. The blue light of centuries has been nothing but hazy dreaming, though I’ve said that a thousand times, in a thousand lives and in a thousand voices, and now, your itinerary is off. Write all of our names in the dust by the train station.

Come to me, while there is still time.

Pulling Mussels From A Shell

Dear Accountanting Family,

How are you? I’m well. I’ve given it some thought. I’ve been your customer or client or adorable mess for more than twenty years now and you’ve done an admirable job of keeping me out of the hooskow. Everyone has a reason to be very pleased.

When we first started out together, getting my taxes done was pricey for a single mom making $5.50 an hour but well worth it, considering that gal couldn’t add and subtract. The cost of a simple tax return is still kind of pricey, but I propose we look at this from a long-term perspective. Chances are, your grandchildren will be doing my taxes in another thirty years because why mess around with success, eh? Whenever someone asks me about accountants, I send them straight to you!

Please consider charging me a bulk rate, by which I mean if we stacked up my tax returns for fifty years, that might constitute adding a wing to your office.

My proposal is very silly, but so am I, and that’s why we need each other. Happy Tax Season, friends!

Hugs and kisses,
Princess Tata