Nostalgia on Rolling Wheels

A week or two before the shutdown, I found myself at the local skating rink.

In fact, it was literally days before society ended. Maybe the Friday before the Friday when the toilet paper ran out. I remember it clearly because the skating rink had hand sanitizer out and one of the local parents kept doing shots of that alcohol-based substance like we were experiencing a Friday night in our twenties, not our forties. How silly she’s going to feel, I remember thinking, when this whole thing blows over in a week or two.

And our kids still haven’t returned to school.

Sorry, I might’ve buried the lede on that story. Did I forget to mention that my town has a skating rink?

No, I don’t mean a skate park. I’m also not talking about some tennis court that’s been turned into a roller hockey court or a running track that’s been turned into a roller derby course. Nor is it ice skating.

I’m talking about an honest-to-goodness, slick wooden oval roller rink. Like with roller skates and shit. Straight out of 1978!

And let me tell ya, the decor is straight outta 1978, too. Check this out:

Can it be called retro if it’s the same it’s always been? You gotta give props to a company that keeps the same decor so long that it comes back into style again as a chic throwback. Imagine how much I’ll be crowing when those jean shorts in the back of my dresser come back around. Of course, it’ll all be moot if my 32-inch waist doesn’t come back at the same time.

My COVID hairstyle is looking suspiciously close to what all the hip dudes were sporting on MTV in the mid-1990s. Or how Keanu Reeves has looked his entire career. 

Keanu: the Jorts of Hollywood!

I actually went to the skating rink five times in the twelve months before lockdown. She became a kindergartner and all of a sudden we had to engage in spirit nights. And if skate nights worked to pass some cash the elementary school’s direction four decades ago, then they still serve that function now. The more things change, the more they stay the same. My daughter informs me on a regular basis that the floor is still hot lava! You’d think somebody would’ve done something about that since I was five years old. But nope. I’m sure the next politician running for office will promise to fix it during Infrastructure Week.

It’s not just for school, though. Only two of those five visits were supporting the school. One was for the girl scouts, the other two birthday parties. But I tie it all back to the elementary school, because without them leading the way with three or four fundraising nights a year there, I don’t think the girl scouts would’ve organically thought up a pastime from the early 1980s. Neither the six-year-old nor the seven-year-old could explain to me the finer points of trickle-down Reaganomics. 

The first time we went, Wife told me we were taking Daughter to her school’s skate night. 

“Ice skating?” 

“No, roller skating.”

Eyes narrowed, looking for TV cameras from a prank show. 

“At the school?” 

“No, this town has a roller rink.”

Blink. Blink.

“Do we have to buy…”

“Rentals.”

And before you ask, yep, they’re the same rentals you remember. Literally the same ones. Remember that one pair with the frayed shoelaces? I think I was wearing that exact pair in March.

Daughter had a great time and ended up asking Santa for a pair of skates for Christmas. Santa gave her what she wanted, which kept alive the streak of new wheels for every birthday and Christmas. I’m not kidding. Since she was two, every gift exchange has had some sort of wheeled travel item. It went from tricycle to balance bike to bike with training wheels to scooter to taking the training wheels of the bike. Last Christmas came the roller skates, which she promptly took out to skate on the street Christmas morning. She got a big-girl bike for her birthday this year, so I guess we’re up to car this Christmas? Is something else supposed to bridge the wheeled gap from six to sixteen?

I tweeted out a joke that it was also my fifth time at the skating rink in the past year, and also the fifth time at a skating rink since the Reagan administration. I was going for hyperbole, trying to be funny, but the more I thought about it, it might’ve been spot on. I remember roller blading a few times in college and beyond, but that was always done around the college campus, or on one of those aforementioned basketball-court-turned-hockey-rinks. Never did we go to a private entity designed exclusively for skating round and round in an oval.

So maybe in high school? But I don’t remember any skating rinks being open during high school. And my four years in high school matched the four years of the first Bush presidency. So yeah, snar-casm (snarky sarcasm) aside, I think it’s legitimately been since the Reagan administration since I’ve been to a skating rink. If I had to pinpoint a precise year for my last trip, I’d maybe say 1985. “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” seems like a good final song to red-light/green-light to.

Sorry, not “final” song, since I’ve now red-light/green-lighted to “High Hopes,” or maybe it was “Old Town Road” or “The Middle.” Or maybe “Don’t You (Forget About Me).” The DJ has to still have it.

In addition to red-light/green-light, they still play four corners. The DJ also referred to something as “bitchin’,” a word I haven’t heard since the last time I was at a skating rink. Now I know where it’s been hidden all this time. Jesus, this place really is like Goonies and Ghostbusters trapped in amber. 

Speaking of retro, the roller rink had an advertisement (on one of their 12-inch box TVs) for an upcoming “Retro Night.” I didn’t check at the fine print, but I imagine the date was listed as January 1-December 31. I don’t know what they could do to make themselves more retro. Except maybe clean up some of the dust. And put out lines of cocaine.

Unfortunately, my skating skills aren’t what they were in 1985. Gotta admit it’s a little wobbly. Plus I’ve gotten used to ice skating, where you can more or less stop on a dime by turning your feet sideways. If you turn your feet sideways while the wheels are still moving forward, you’re in for a crash course in Newton’s Laws of Motion. I’ve also become more used to rollerblades, where they’re smart enough to put the brake in the back. Roller skates still have the rubber brake knob on the front. This makes no fucking sense. If you’re moving forward and you have to lean farther forward to slow yourself down, you’re just going ass over teakettle. Back brakes slow you down. Front brakes work like a pole vault. 

One thing that’s different is the tweens out on the rink. Not the concept of tweens, because skating rinks have always been the haven for “too young to drive, but old enough to be dropped off by parents for two hours.” But the big difference between tweens now and tweens then (aside from Day Glo) is that nowadays they have phones. And they’re on said phones while they’re skating, which is an action they don’t perform all that often. Do you see where I’m going with this? They crash because they’re looking at their phones. It’s fucking hilarious. Plus, I don’t have to feel guilty about laughing at them as I speed past. I can justify that they’re learning valuable lessons before they have a car around them.

The birthday party was scheduled to wrap up at 8:00. I figured that was just a suggestion, but around 7:40, they mentioned that we only had twenty minutes left. They were kicking us all out. Ah, I figured. The place closes down at 8:00. Kinda makes sense if you cater to kids and birthday parties. Then let the teenaged employees out before its too late. Maybe they need to head home to start up their weekend homework. I’m sure that’s what all my students do with their Friday night. 

Just kidding, they don’t start their homework Friday night. That’s what third period on Monday is for. 

My assumption about closing time at the roller rink was just as off-base. They told us we needed to get all the rentals and crutches (they’ve fashioned PVC pipe into triangular “walkers” for beginning skaters, of which there are quite a few at a sixth birthday party) back to the front to be ready for their next session. Next session? You mean the skate rink is open past 8:00 on a Friday?

And boy howdy, they are. When we left, we walked past the line waiting to get in. There had to be at least fifty people. Maybe closer to one hundred. Many were those very same teenagers who were supposed to be home working on school work. But there were also twenty-somethings and parents. Some people even looked to be my age. Just like 1978, if the skating rink is ROCKIN’, y’all better come knockin’!

Makes me wonder why there aren’t more roller rinks around. Sure, they can’t pull like they did in their heyday. I remember at one point my little town of 20,000 or so had its own roller rink and there was another one in the town of 30,000 a few miles away. That’s a level of glut that golf courses are now trying to draw back from. When Tiger was big, every municipality wanted five new golf courses. Now they need to figure out what to do with acres and acres of manicured land. One of the ones nearby turned into a soccer golf course.

But most towns have room and demand for one golf course. And they probably could stomach a skating rink, too. The problem, of course, was that most of them didn’t make it through the 80s and 90s to the point where they became retro chic. I imagine if you found yourself at a roller rink in, say, 1990, it was skeevy as hell. Cocaine in the bathrooms is groovy, but hypodermics are just a drag, man. I imagine the one in my town must own the land it’s built on. There’s no way it made it through the Clinton administration if it was paying monthly rent. 

But now the few remaining rinks have come full circle to wholesome family entertainment again. The type of place where they have elementary school nights and children’s birthday parties. In 1990, the only children having birthday parties at roller rinks were probably giving freebase spoons away in their goodie bags.

The range of “cool in the 1970s, later a joke” runs the gamut. On one end, you have bowling alleys. Somehow they’ve survived in spades. Not that bowlers are hip these days. Were they ever? But if I started this blog by saying I went bowling last weekend, you wouldn’t be all that surprised. Nobody’s ever looked at me with an odd expression, asking, “Did you just say there’s a bowling alley opened near you? Like, with pins and shit?”

On the other end of the spectrum is the old drive-in theater. Those used to be in abundance and now they’re only remembered as shrines to date rape. 

Actually, Sacramento still has a drive-in theater. Not sure how, cause I’ve gone a few times and, unlike the roller rink, I wasn’t pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t curious as to why they never made it to Y2K. 

The only reason drive-ins have value (aside from the fact that blow jobs in crowded movie theaters are frowned upon) is for families with kids. The kid can fall asleep in the back seat and the parents are finally able to see adult entertainment without taking out a second mortgage to get three hours of babysitting. 

But movies have gotten too good to be wasted on the shitty screen quality of drive-ins. Our TV screens are better. Our phones are better. And the only movies that we even bother to see in the theater anymore are the ones that are visually stunning enough to be wasted on our home screens. If my TV can’t do it justice, then the drive-in is straight-up insulting the director. Especially when some jackwagon drives up late to the movie, or leaves early, shining their headlights on the screen right when the boobs pop out CGI space-battle explosions reach their climax. 

I guess that sentence was going to end with a climax, either way.

Actually, the drive-ins managed to reopen long before the indoor theaters. It turns out the Sacramento drive-in is owned by a company that has seven or eight of them throughout the western U.S. I remember when they reopened in mid-May, making me ponder why a business where I stay in my car the entire time was closed to begin with. 

Of course, when they reopened, there were no new movies coming out. That’s been a problem for other movie theaters as they’ve reopened. Wasn’t “The Empire Strikes Back” the top grossing movie of April? I think when the drive-in reopened, it had a double-feature of two Spiderman movies – Tobey McGuire’s and Andrew Garfield’s. Or maybe it was “Goonies” and “Ghostbusters” trapped in amber.

But skating rinks should have gone the way of the bowling alley, not the drive-in theater. It’s a shame, because as I rediscovered over my daughter’s first year of public schooling, there’s still a place for zipping around in circles in this app-laden world. 

Maybe I should do something about that.

Right after I finish this petition to bring back lawn darts.

It’s a Holiday Trilogy, Charlie Brown

Trilogies come in all shapes and sizes.

Scratch that. They all come in the same shape and size, that being “three.”

What I meant to say was they have a variety of styles.

You’ve got “Back to the Future,” which has the same basic plotline, but in three different genres. Time is broken because someone’s driving the 1980s version of a Tesla, and Alex P. Keaton needs to fix it before midnight, when he turns into a Teen Wolf. But they tell it as a teen comedy, then dystopian sci-fi, then a western so we wont notice. 

There’s “Superman,” where they also played with time travel. No, I’m not talking about Superman spinning the world backward to save Lois Lane. I’m talking about how “Superman III” was so bad that it went back in time and made “Superman” and “Superman II” worse. As in, you would never set out to rewatch them as a complete saga, so as to avoid needing to watch the third movie. It also went forward in time, making sure “Superman IV” flopped so hard that I often need to remind myself that the original “Superman” trilogy was not, in fact, a trilogy.

Don’t forget “Indiana Jones,” which was three entirely unrelated movies. I’m pretty sure “Temple of Doom” takes place a decade before “Raiders” and nobody noticed. Yet still they stopped at three (not counting the geriatric sequel and newly-announced “Indiana Jones and the Artificial Hip.”).

More recently, there were three Iron Mans, three Captain Americas, there’s about to be three Spiderman movies for the third time. Except the second Spiderman 2 was so bad, they didn’t make the third. But you know they were planning to. Thor is filming its fourth, which feels wrong. Ironically, the MCU killed off all the characters who could have aged along with their actors, but is keeping the one who’s supposed to be immortal.

Three is the magic number. A trilogy is a great way to space out a story, making each entity distinct while still fitting an overall narrative and theme. If you go beyond three, you’re getting into James Bond territory. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Bond franchise. But prior to Daniel Craig, there wasn’t much cohesiveness from one movie to the next. We never questioned how the character went from a suave Scot in the 1960s to a pull-my-finger prat for most of the 1970s and 1980s. Come on, Roger Moore NEVER would’ve landed Ursula Andress. And I don’t think Sean Connery would’ve fucked Grace Jones.

Despite some lousy writing (and some pretty poor acting, to be honest), Star Wars is probably the definitive trilogy. Sure, sure, Fellowship of the Ring, blah, blah, blah. Let’s talk about Star Wars.

The first movie is a standalone. It’s a complete story of a terrorist whose home is destroyed by an uncaring empire, so he finds solace in an ancient religion. Han Solo redeems himself. Nary a midi-chlorian in sight. Nobody gives a second thought to Alderaan appearing to be both a democracy and a monarchy. If “Empire Strikes Back” never existed, we wouldn’t have given two shits about balance in the Force or chosen ones. Luke Skywalker was just an orphan farmboy, not a hugely-important lost son of a world-famous… orphan farmboy.

The second movie is the darkest one. It expands upon the worldbuilding, throws in some twists and turns, delves into the lure of evil. Han Solo being frozen in carbonite was quite possibly the cliffhangeriest of endings in cinematic history until “Avengers: Infinity War” came along. Of course, we all knew Harrison Ford would be back for the finale. What we really didn’t know was whether or not Darth Vader was lying when he said Luke was his son. I know this might shock anyone under the age of 40, or anybody involved with any of the subsequent movies except “Last Jedi,” but for three solid years, grade schoolers debated that question endlessly. It was never a forgone conclusion that two families, the Skywalkers and the Palpatines. were the only ones who mattered and everybody else should go fuck themselves.

“Return of the Jedi” gets maligned for being cheesy, campy, featuring too many characters chosen for their cute cuddliness moreso than their ability to add to the storyline. I speak, of course, of Jabba the Hutt. But seriously, the third part of a trilogy is supposed to be happy. It’s resolution. It’s catharsis. The heroes are fulfilling their journeys while the villains receive their comeuppance, at least until Episode IX. If that doesn’t call for some walking, talking teddy bears, then I don’t know what does. 

So while I might nitpick some of George Lucas’s character beats, for the most part he nails the proper emotional beats of a trilogy.

I don’t know why it was so tough for Charles Schultz.

What’s that? You didn’t know there was a Charles Schultz trilogy? Sure you did. You watch the three holiday episodes in the same order every year.

Much like Star Wars, the Peanuts holiday specials feature a cast of characters each moving through their own arcs. Charlie Borwn and Lucy go through their Han Solo and Princess Leia “will they or won’t they” tete-a-tete. Peppermint Patty and Marcy go through their… scratch that. The lesbians are the blossoming, unrequited love story. Charlie Brown and Lucy are C-3PO and R2-D2, incessantly bickering while having little impact on the plot.

But the true focus of this trilogy, the unassuming hero, is Linus. A little dab of Frodo and a vast heaping of Luke Skywalker, all rolled into one. He even has his own lightsaber-esque weapon nobody else comprehends in his blanket. And, again like Luke, he struggles with the meaning of purity, of life, against a myriad of ancient philosophies preaching right and wrong. 

Except the order makes no fucking sense. Schultz starts with “Empire Strikes Back.” 

We all know the plot of the Peanuts Halloween special. It’s even in the title. “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” Linus is a pagan who believes in plant gods, despite everybody around him arguing against it. He even drags Sally into his heresy, hoping to start his own Jim Jones-esque sex cult. Fortunately, she doesn’t drink the Flavor-Aid, and in the end, he’s the only one clinging to his pagan gods, staying in the pumpkin patch all night. Even after his sister rescues him, with a force-connection similar to Leia at the end of “Empire Strikes Back,” he’s unconvinced. As C-3POS whines about the Halloween Party, implying that getting rocks instead of candy is every part as bad as Linus’s near hypothermia and shaken faith, Linus still believes, shouting about the true meaning of Halloween. As he tests his new robotic hand and looks out the window to see the imposing phantom of Darth Vader. 

See what I mean? Totally should be the second story in the trilogy. Especially when you consider where his story arc is going.

In “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Linus again takes center stage (literally) for his deep-rooted faith. Only this time, he’s quoting Christian scripture. “For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” He goes a little overboard, requesting a spotlight. Clearly his conversion never got around to the whole Sermon on the Mount shit. You know, “do not [pray] like the hypocrites; for they love to stand… at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others.” 

Then again, it’s been less than two months since he was a full-on pagan, so give him some time. I assume his Christian sponsor hasn’t made it to the Gospel of Mark yet. We’ll never know how his conversion happened, because the Jan Brady of the Peanuts holiday trilogy doesn’t give us shit for answers. 

I’m talking, of course, about “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.” Our hero doesn’t appear too much in this one. Maybe he’s off on Dagobah learning about the Easter Bunny. However, his brief appearance is profound, providing the plot linchpin. Peppermint Patty invited herself and others over to Charlie Brown’s for Thanksgiving, but he’s supposed to be at his grandmother’s house. In a Solomonic decision, Linus suggests he cut his Thanksgiving in half, giving the first half to his friends and the latter to grandma.

Is that why he can only quote parts of the New Testament come Christmas? Was he wasting his two-month crash course on the Old Testament? C’mon, man, the Ten Commandments are sooooo 4,000 BC.

He still has some fallacious understandings of the social sciences. Instead of whatever religious studies class he’d failed or sociopathic breakdown he was having at Halloween, this time he only exhibits a minor misunderstanding of history. Not surprising, considering he was likely a product of a jingoistic post-WWII education system with a tendency to hire teachers incapable of enunciation. 

What he espouses is the typical Thanksgiving bullshit. That the Pilgrims were kicked out of England because evil Anglicans didn’t allow Puritans, even though there were Puritan members of Parliament. Hell, twenty years after the Pilgrims, one of those Puritans raised a damned army and captured and killed the fucking king. Yeah, that sounds like a society where poor Puritans just couldn’t exercise any rights. In reality, the Pilgrims were seditious rabblerousers. Not only were they kicked out of England, but the Netherlands, too. Can you imagine being kicked out of Amsterdam? That’s like being banned from Vegas. And they weren’t even card counting! Oh, and the Dutch? They were Calvinists, too.  So the “religious freedom” the Pilgrims sought was freedom from their own fucking religion. Or at least the people in their religion who felt it was okay to live among other religions.

But whatever. Linus wasn’t spouting anything that the average American doesn’t still believe today. Like that the Pilgrims were the first British colonists, despite the fact that they’d been down in Jamestown for thirteen years already. Blame that one on old “Honest” Abe, who made Thanksgiving up during the Civil War. He couldn’t have the country originating from Virginia for obvious reasons. So he glorified the Pilgrims and pretended they came to America for freedom, something the North claimed to be fighting for. In reality, Jamestown was founded for money, that TRUE American ideal. While I may quibble with some of the claims of the 1619 Project, one thing I’m grateful for is that there is finally an official acknowledgement that there were non-natives in British America before the Pilgrims, who didn’t show up until a year later, in 1620.

Linus also chose to ignore the whole genocide thing. Y’know, the natives gave the Pilgrims a shit-ton of food and in return… well, there aren’t a lot of Native Americans left in the Boston area. They must’ve been so full of love, appreciation, and turkey that they all… they all… 

Hey, don’t forget! The Pilgrims killed all the witches in Salem, too. Who loves baseball and apple pie and racial co-mingling?

But like I said, I don’t understand the character progression.

Because much like Luke Skywalker’s conversion to the force, the Peanuts holiday trilogy is the story of Linus’s personal journey from paganism to the righteous might of Christ. It makes sense, given Schultz’s uber-evangelical Christianity, right? I mean, Schultz doesn’t even think Marcie and Peppermint Patty are lesbians. How d’ya like that? Wrote the best star-crossed lovers since the Capulets and the Montagues, but didn’t even realize it because they were both Juliets.

It’s only the order of the stories that’s missing. How does Abraham Lincoln’s errant, white-washed version of Thanksgiving serve as the middle chapter. Does it begin the transition? Like the Native Americans themselves, they once had pagan beliefs of Great Pumpkins, but after they shared some turkey (with a side of smallpox), their pagan beliefs magically disappeared. 

Along with their lives. 

But let’s focus on the gravy.

If Schultz wanted to tell a proper, and literal, come-to-Jesus trilogy, I feel like he shoulda put Halloween in the middle. Sure, it might be tough with that whole “calendar” thing, but hear me out.

Linus starts with some vague misconceptions about Thanksgiving. It shows he’s not a bad guy, maybe a little bit gullible, too trusting of dubious stories. Then in the second story, he follows those personal foibles down a deep path, finding himself outside, alone, praying to a pagan deity of autumnal squash. Doesn’t that make his “Return of the Jedi” conversion more triumphant? And the lord said, I give unto thee a jedi, like my father was before me.

Then he signs Marcie up for conversion therapy.

I know what you’re saying. It’s not supposed to be a trilogy. They weren’t written in the same order we watch them in.

But ready for me to blow your mind?

The Christmas special came first!

That’s right, Charles Schulz wrote Linus’s beautiful Christian soliloquy first. A year later, he decided that the only member of the Peanuts gang who could properly quote scripture should become a druid of the Great Sky Gourd. Is there some hidden message there that Chuckles was secretly tired of going to church every Sunday and would rather be home watching the Vikings game?

The Thanksgiving special didn’t come till a decade later. More “The Phantom Menace” than “Return of the Jedi.” And I suppose that makes sense. Less redemption, more Jar Jar Binks.

What a picture perfect portrayal of modern America. Both halves of the country think they’re speaking the True Word of Wisdom while the other half spouts gobbledygook that’s going to get them hurt. 

But they can all agree on one thing. 

A complete misunderstanding of history.

Some Statins, Stat!

Earlier this week, I wrote about my wife’s summer-long ordeal with her bored general practictioner, who spent his COVID Vacation searching through her medical file to find shit to tamper with. I also touched on tipping your servers and hookers. Well, not tipping your hooker, but the economics of prostitution. Although you should probably tip your hooker. And no, not “just the tip.”

Regardless, after living through Wife’s own medical-solution-in-search-or-a-problem, I probably should’ve been more on guard when my own doctor asked to set up a phone call. To be fair, although I’d like to be a writer, a chronicler of the human condition, I’ve never claimed to be all that observant.

Doc wanted to talk to me about cholesterol medicine. Doc’s been wanting to talk to me about cholesterol medicine for quite some time. A few years ago, I went in for something, probably gout, and he pulled a “Hey, I don’t give a flying fuck about what you came to me for, your cholesterol’s a smidge high, so let’s randomly prescribe you some statins.” 

Sure. Why not? He sent me over to the pharmacy and I left with the drugs that very day. On the way home, Wife told me I miiiiight want to look up some of the side effects of statins. Umm, okay. I’m sure I’m not the only person who approaches the medical profession with confused acquiescence. 

Okay, here’s what my robot overlord, Google, tells me are some statin side effects:

They might spike blood sugar. Hmm, I’ve been prediabetic for five years.

Liver damage. Hmm, I’m a borderline alcoholic.

Kidney problems. Well, at least it won’t make my gout worse.

At least I’m at Kaiser. One of the reasons I chose the Kaiser, aside from my love of old-tyme handlebar mustaches and pickelhaube helmets, is that you can see your test results online. Back when I was on a different plan, my doctor would tell me something in my blood was “a little elevated,” which could mean just about anything. 

“So it turns out there’s some extra lead in your system.” 

“Yeah, Doc, I came to you for a gunshot wound.”

But at Kaiser, I can see precisely where I am and, even better, what the standard range. When I got home from the “quick, take these drugs before you ask your wife about it” appointment, I looked more closely at my last blood test. The standard range for cholesterol is listed as anything under 239. My horrible, sky-high cholesterol that needed drugs right the fuck now was a whopping… 219. 

Except, you see, it’s not just a matter of overall cholesterol. You’ve got to look at the good cholesterol versus the bad. Your HDL, or good cholesterol has to be over 40 or else you’re unhealthy, and mine was only at a measly 52. Oh, and that LDL, it’s the bad cholesterol and we should really look for a way to get it under 159. So maybe some drugs will improve my reading of… 150.

I’m not saying I’m the picture of health. But if all of my cholesterol readings are within the range that’s deemed “normal,” it doesn’t seem to be something I should be pumping my body full of side effects for. Sorry, Kaiser Wilhelm, if you don’t want me making uninformed decisions, then maybe you need to not let me see the information.

Why are they giving me pills to fix something that ain’t broke, especially if there’s a good chance it’ll break something else? I mean, if I take these pills to drop my cholesterol from an “on the high end” 219 down to an, I don’t know, 200? While at the same time spiking my blood sugar and losing both my vision and my feet to diabetes, I wouldn’t necessarily call that a “win-win.”

So I came home with the prescription but never used it. That worked for a while. Doctor got his kickback from the pharmaceutical company and I kept my liver. Actually, the next two times I got tested, my cholesterol went down, first to 199 then to 189, despite never touching the statins. Maybe I’m so magical that just convincing myself I needed to lower my cholesterol was enough to do it. It’s some Jedi magic. 

Or else maybe my cholesterol fluctuates inside the normal range. There’s a reason it’s called a range, right?

But eventually they caught onto my duplicity. Not because my cholesterol changed, but because I never refilled the prescription for something I’m supposed to be taking every day. Or maybe they were onto me because my blood sugar didn’t spike enough. “People who take our drugs can’t be as healthy as you are.”

After a year or so, doctor sent me a nastigram that I better take my fucking medicine like a good fucking boy. I ignored him, so he referred me to the big boss. I started getting emails from some random dude, inside Kaiser, listed as “Pharm.” That might stand for pharmacist, but I assume he works for Big Pharm, which is where this entire push must be coming from. My doctor needs to get a new Porsche or something, and the gout medicine people just ain’t willing to cup his balls the way he likes on the reach-around. I mean, if there ain’t kickback going all the way up the wazoo, then why the hell are we not only prescribing cholesterol medicine to people who don’t need it, but actually following up to ensure that said individual is taking said unnecessary drugs. 

By contrast, I also have asthma (hurray, mid-forties!) but I’m really bad about using my inhaler. Not the emergency inhaler. I use that one often. But there’s an inhaler I’m supposed to use every day that will prevent the need for the emergency inhaler. Problem is that when I’m breathing fine, I forget. So that’s another prescription I’m supposed to fill every six months or so but regularly go two years between refills. And not a single email from doctor nor pharmacist nor Pfizer lobbyist. Because if you can’t breathe, meh. But if your cholesterol is normal, well then that’s a problem we need to solve! 

So there I was, foolishly accepting the call from a doctor with way too much time on his hands, knowing full well that he had some drug kingpin breathing down his neck to make sure he gets all his little cretins hooked, and wouldn’t you know it, he doesn’t want to ask me how my breathing’s going with all of the fires going on, like the snazzy new “Glass Fire,” proving that I’m a fucking Nostradamus who nobody heeds. Nope, what he really wants to talk to me about is how important it is that I get my normal cholesterol under control.

This time, however, I was prepared for the statin conversation. I asked for clarification, like why the fuck am I supposed to risk making some of my medical conditions worse in order to fix a problem I don’t have. It turns out that cholesterol medicine ain’t got shit to do with controlling cholesterol. Studies have shown that prescribing statins to people who don’t need them severely lessens the likelihood of, I don’t know, heart attacks and stroke and scurvy or something. 

Honestly! Why, the drug company who has the patent for this drug has run bazillions of tests and, wouldn’t you know it, they all came back proving that their product rivals only the flush toilet and electricity in the advancement of the human race. And the proof is that, when they prescribed it to people who didn’t need it, those people ended up STILL not needing it. It’s kind of like saying that stitches help people who’ve been stabbed by a sword, but our tests show that unstabbed people who were given stitches ALSO didn’t exhibit signs of sword punctures. Stitches greatly reduce your chances of bleeding out in a medieval dungeon.

My doctor assures me that the DHS has signed off on this whole cholesterol-medicine-for-non-cholesterol-purposes thing. And boy howdy, if COVID has taught us anything, it’s that government agencies devoted to our health always know what they’re talking about.  Like when the virus was airborne for, like, an hour before the CDC took it off their website because the president complained. A week later, it was airborne again. Hopefully you weren’t breathing in deeply for that week that the virus was noncommittal. 

And yeah, I know that the Department of Health Services ain’t the same as the Center for Disease Control, but the only reason we’re focused on the latter is because they’ve kept us hostage all year and we’re suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. Even if the DHS whims can’t keep me chained to my refrigerator for the next fortnight, my eyebrow’s still rising over them suggesting what we really need in this world is more random, never-ending prescriptions. Those bacteria ain’t gonna develop antibiotic immunity by themselves, y’all! For all I know, the Orange One has a bunch of stock in the statin company and that’s why they’re now suggested for everything from hemorrhoids to gunshot wounds.

Then again, I’m just now realizing that the DHS is the British single-payer system. Shit, is my doctor running my blood tests in metric? Maybe that’s why my numbers don’t match what he’s saying.

Or maybe he’s talking about the other DHS, the American one that likes to look at your browser history. In which case I better get me some statins, because unlike some mamby-pamby doctors and pharmacists, you DEFINITELY don’t want to ignore the suggestions of the water-boarders. 

Then again, if it’s the Department of Homeland Security, then they need to update their sales pitch.

Lower your cholesterol! Avoid heart attacks! Now with fewer anal probes at the airport!!!

Sold!

Pandemic Pill Pushers

I worry about all the professions who are suffering during COVID, workers who can’t go through their normal day-to-day routines.

We hear a ton about the Uber and cab drivers, although I’m sure they’re all getting bonus shifts with Doordash. What about those retail cashiers, the restaurant servers? Am I the only one who struggles with what to tip for takeout orders? Look, I waited tables for most of my twenties. I know those servers get paid shit and rely on their tips to survive. My standard tip is 20-25% and you have to be phenomenally shitty to get less than 15%, but the most “serving” you’re doing on takeout is grabbing the bag, already prepped by the line chef or expediter, neither of whom are likely to a sniff of whatever tip I left. Is that worth 15%? I didn’t get my iced tea refilled once!

I still tip, but only as a nod to solidarity. And taxes. Did you know your server has to pay taxes based on what the government thinks you should’ve tipped him? If the bill is $100, the government is adding $15 to his W-2. Think about the next time you stiff a server – he actually lost money by serving you. 

But for takeout? I don’t know, man. I usually err towards 10%, enough to cover the stiffers and the IRS, but not enough to work as a dialogue about quality of service. Yeah, I feel a tinge of guilt, but I figure I’m not taking up one of his tables for an hour. He should be able to burn through 30 or 40 orders in an hour, as opposed to five. 

But then the restaurants are going to twist that little guilt knife by only giving me “pre-filled” options of 15%, 18%, and 20%. So now I have to write in my 10% number, making me go out of my way to stiff my server. Who isn’t really serving me. Shit, I bought donuts the other day, and she did that thing where they swivel the tablet around so I can select the tip, but then I had to tell her what the tip was and she would select it, so the customers don’t have to touch the screen. What the fuck am I supposed to say? “Write in 10% for yourself” or “No, I don’t think you deserve a tip”? So I told her to select 15%, the lowest option and now I just tipped more than I tip for takeout to a lady who only put six donuts in a goddamn box!

Donut-shop swindlers notwithstanding, making people write in any number below 15% probably results in more people paying zero.
“Skip” is just as easy to hit as “20%.”

I’m not here to talk about the servers though. At least they’re on most people’s radars. Some of them were probably laid off and reaping the rewards of the bonus unemployment before Congress yanked it away after a heartfelt and impassioned debate about the long-term consequences and short-term tradeoffs associated with paying people more to not work than they would make working. Ha ha, just kidding, politicians never articulate arguments for or against their actions, preferring the more nuanced “nan-nah, boo-boo.” Democrats wanted a $3 trillion bailout, which Republicans wanted $1 trillion, so they settled it like adults and made it zero. Maybe somebody should’ve given them a “$2 trillion” button.

So the Uber drivers are probably thriving and the servers will find a way to muster through. But what about the prostitutes? 

Meh, the prostitutes are probably fine. At least the illegal ones. For once, they’re economically better off than their legal counterparts in Nevada. I assume the brothels are shut down, but the place of business behind that dumpster on Broadway remains just as accessible as ever. It’s always on Broadway, right? Doesn’t matter which city, the whores hang out on Broadway. 

Plus, it’s not like their johns are overly concerned with health and cleanliness. I have a friend who’s a deputy DA, and one of the hookers she used to prosecute on a regular basis charged extra for sex without a condom. So I can have sex for twenty bucks, or I can have sex AND chlamydia for forty? What a bargain!

 Plus, you’re not allowed to kiss a hooker, right? So might as well keep that mask on.

So maybe the prostitutes are okay. But what about the drug dealers?

And before you tell me that pill pushers should be in the same boat as hookers (that ain’t a boat, it’s a yacht, baby!), let me clarify that I’m not talking about the same dealers you’re thinking of. The guys pushing meth and heroin are probably fine. I’m talking about doctors and Big Pharm.

You would think that primary care physicians would be overworked and malnourished during a medical emergency like we’ve faced the last six months, but it might turn out to be the exact opposite. Sure, those ICU Units are filled to the rafters, but the guy or gal you go to for the sniffles or tennis elbow is stuck twiddling their respective thumbs. After all, we’ve been told that all non-emergency situations don’t matter and are wasting the medical community’s valuable time. I went three months without allergy shots, and I don’t think my allergy doc was being drafted into front-line duty. So sorry about your pancreatic cancer, Grandma, but Aiden once drank a Corona, so you need to give your hospital bed up to him.

So now none of us are calling those doctors who normally take Grandma’s temperature long enough to refer her to seventeen other “specialists,” thereby maximizing insurance premiums whilst minimizing efficiency. Now those general practitioners are bored, and the news is doing their job for them, cause ain’t nobody questioning that 20% increase in insurance premiums this year. And just like a teacher who decides that the only time to clean the house is the day before grades are due, when doctors are bored, they find shit to meddle with. And since they’re probably not allowed in the Admiral’s Lounge with all the cool ICU doctors and patients, they fill their time consulting those nanobots they placed in our bloodstream the last time we peed in a cup.

What? There isn’t supposed to be blood in my urine? And I’m not supposed to put it back in my body when I’m done?

My wife got hit with BDS (Bored Doctor Syndrome) first. Her blood has always tested positive for a clotting risk. But her “askew numbers” have pretty much stayed consistent since her early twenties and she’s never had blood clots. It was certainly something we kept an eye on during her pregnancy, but if anything, overreacting to her bleeding risk is probably what caused them to radiate her after delivery, subjecting her to seven hospital trips over the first six months of Daughter’s life. So maybe sometimes we shouldn’t tinker with phantom ailments. 

I run into this all the time while I’m curling. We time the delivery to determine where the rock should end up and whether or not we need to sweep it. But you still have to watch the rock, walk alongside it. Sometimes the ice is frostier on one route than another. You gotta be ready to start or stop sweeping as the reality on the ice amends what your stopwatch told you. You can’t just say that it’s blood platelets was 3.6 seconds so the diabetes will end up right on the button.

Sorry, mixed my metaphors there, but you get what I mean. And in normal times, the doctors understand this, and don’t go out of their way to fix problems that only exist in the data.

For the most part, Wife’s blood issues are like a birthmark – always there with no discernable affect on her life. If the numbers had gone up as she got older, or if she ever experienced any of the many symptoms listed in the brochures, we would’ve done something. The health issues she does have, like some lactose intolerance that leads to some nasty IBS after a Starbucks trip, has nothing to do with blood clots. But obviously they aren’t concerned with that, because IBS isn’t covered by most insurance plans. Somehow that’s considered a “quality of life” issue like a boob job. Unlike boners, which are TOTALLY covered by insurance. Because, I suppose, senators have trouble getting it up. But let me tell you, needing to visit the toilet every five minutes is every bit as destructive to the libido as a little flaccidity amongst friends.

But somewhere in her medical file bored doctors were thumbing through, it said that Wife has clotting potential. So they called her up and told her that, you know, what with all this COVID stuff… 

I didn’t really see the connection, seeing as The ‘Rona attacks the lungs, not the blood. But you’ve heard the media reports. Everyone who dies is either old or had a pre-existing condition. What they don’t report, however, is whether that pre-existing conditionis in any way related to COVID. Hey, did you hear about that 25-year-old who died two days after catching the ‘Rona? Yeah, but he broke his arm as a teenager. And that teenager who got it? Her orthodontist said she had braces.

So whatever. Wife decides to play along with their blood-thinning regimen. But then she sliced her foot on a boat prop, so she had to wait a week. Seems a pretty big loophole there. All she has to do is cut herself once a week and she won’t have to go on blood thinners. Then again, if the shit they’re about to give her is going to turn her into a hemophiliac, maybe it ain’t worth it. Unless we get some medieval duchy out of it.

Instead of following my advice and becoming a cutter, Wife finally goes on the blood thinners. In addition to pills, she must give herself shots in the stomach. What the fuck kinda home remedy is that shit? I get allergy shots every few weeks and never once have I been expected to plunge that shit in myself. Aren’t there trained professionals who can give shots? Or are they too busy going through old medical boxes next to the Ark of the Covenant to sell Nefertiti on some meds?

Every few days, she gets her blood tested again. Fortunately they don’t make her take it out herself. On her first test, she overshot her mark. The number that used to be too low is now too high. This could be a great time for them to step back, realize Wife knew what she was talking about, that these were phantom numbers to begin with, an anomaly that remained consistent with no symptoms for twenty years, and that they were trying to fix a problem that didn’t exist, quite possibly creating a new problem, whereby my otherwise healthy wife now has to steer clear of a wall corner lest it break her skin and cause her to bleed out on the floor with nary a Russian orthodox month in sight to cure her.

Or, you know, they could just cut her down to one shot a day, then test again on Thursday.

So for the last month or so, Wife’s been heading to the lab to get her blood taken every three days. They adjust her dosage, rinse, and repeat. The good news is she doesn’t have to give herself shots anymore. The bad news is she’s never gotten down into the “healthy” range. Again, they’ve made her less healthy. Or maybe they’ve just made her equally as unhealthy, but on the other side. She’s gone from having slightly viscous to slightly runny blood. No big deal.

Except that all of those blood tests have her bruised up like a heroin junkie. She’s always had this problem where the technicians can’t find her veins. Sometimes they need to stick her three or four times before they get the good stuff. Add to that the fact that they won’t go in where the earlier bruises are and it wasn’t too long before they had to take blood out of the back of her hand! I’m a blood-giving pro. I don’t give two shits about getting shots, but holy hell, that sounds excruciating. Especially if it isn’t doing jack diddly to improve her health or quality of life. And since they haven’t done anything about her IBF, she still has to wipe with those hands!

So I should’ve been on guard, a couple weeks after Wife’s regimen started, when my doctor wanted to set up a phone call. 

Check here to hear about my own frivolity. At least I won’t bruise ya!