The Assessments

Due to all my recent travel, two pretty routine appointments got slammed together this week, lined up like God was my scheduler.  I had little to do with it, in other words.  I only had to show up.

A dental cleaning on Thursday morning, and a yearly physical exam on Friday.  Both of them required me to set an alarm clock, an anomaly usually reserved for early flights.  Oh, but it gets worse.

And not really worse, you understand.  I’m just skimming here on the perception.  They were fine.

Not fun, though, not consistently fun.  Some fun.  It was nice to see people again.  My hygienist was the sister of someone I work with regularly.  Both my dentist and my doctor are close enough to my exact age to share similar stories, and all of us are aware that I’m progressing on something that feels pretty much like borrowed time, a gift of health that shouldn’t necessarily still be giving.  I was bad, and bad for a long time.

My teeth got nice and clean, bright and shiny, although it had only been six months and most of that had been without coffee.  Coffee loves my teeth.  Coffee wants to marry my teeth.  Coffee and its intimate relationship with my teeth is the only reason I stopped drinking coffee last spring, and my upcoming forced hygiene the reason I was willing to drink a bit in the couple of weeks before my appointment.  Not again, though.  Or not until I need it.

My physical exam felt unnecessary, but it’s free (to those of us who like to parse current discussions of healthcare and zoom in on certain terms like “free,” let’s stop that now.  I pay premiums in case I need the attention of medical professionals, although I never do.  A benefit of my policy is a physical exam once a year with no out-of-pocket costs to me.  I shall call that “free” for clarity, but of course nothing is free) and it’s not exactly a bad idea.  I don’t think, though, that my doctor would find something that wouldn’t have already come to my attention, given that it’s just a well check and not hyperfocused.

But you never know, some random lab test could always send up a red flag, and it’s possible there’s a lump somewhere I might have missed, an early sign, the whole point of preventive care versus crawling into an emergency room way too late.

And then there’s the prostate.

Again, I would probably have symptoms.  There are a bunch of them – urgency, frequency, dysuria, hematuria, nocturia – and I imagine I’d notice, but it’s a good idea to have the old prostate given the once over.

Note: It’s a bad idea.  As well as being a good one.

I’m certainly not comparing my experience with that of being a woman.  Women undergo all sorts of invasive exams on a routine basis.  Definitely not comparing.

But men are made a certain way.  When it comes to reproductive organs, important stuff that makes babies and inspires great art and leads to awkward first dates, men are pretty simple creatures.  Our organs mostly hang outside the body, where they’re easily accessible and perfectly positioned for self portraits if you’re that kind of an asshole.

Not the prostate gland, though.  It’s very important and prone to disease as men get older, so it’s best to get it assessed by a professional just to keep tabs on it.  Hard to do yourself.

And God has also intervened to make the prostate also pretty accessible, although try telling that to me.

This is stupid.  A prostate exam takes maybe 15 seconds, tops.  Still, it’s not like listening to my lungs or looking at my ears.  My doctor doesn’t just check to make sure my prostate still exists, I mean.  This is an assessment, a measurement.  It’s a hands-on experience.

Otherwise, though, my exams are always fun.  They were sad for several years, all sorts of solemn conversations, and now they’re not.  No drinking.  No smoking.  No dozens and dozens of unwanted pounds, crowding my health.  Lab values I should probably post online, like pictures of my grandson, they’re so cute.  I am a picture of health, knock on wood, wait until next year.

Which I intend to do.  Barring something unexpected, I’ll see my old friend the doctor, now a comfortable couple after 15 years, around this time in 2014, just before Thanksgiving.  I’ll be back in the dentist chair in May, just in case I get a caffeine monkey on my back again and just because.

And in the meantime I have much to be thankful for, including my nice doctor, who is a woman around my age, very witty, very relaxed, athletic and tall-ish and with very slender and small fingers, which matters more than you might think.

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The Boy on Elm St.

I wrote essentially my assassination column this week; if you’re interested in a “where I was and what I was doing” story, that’s what I remember.  Which is not much, and a lot of that is suspect, like everything else I think I remember.

The boy I refer to in the piece was Joe Brehm, who was 5 years old and standing with his father on Elm Street, almost directly opposite Abraham Zapruder and his 8mm movie camera, when the president was shot.  His father was a well-known figure to assassination buffs, being a close eyewitness and also a pretty reliable one, who always claimed he thought the shooter was to the right and behind of the motorcade; i.e., the Texas School Book Depository.

I wrote about Joe 10 years ago, on the 40th anniversary, and this provoked a little coda.  Mr. Brehm’s daughter’s college roommate was watching a show on the assassination, a few years ago, and realized that her friend’s father was on the scene.  A quick Google pulled up my original 2003 piece, and she sent me a message.  We chatted a little, enough for me to find out where I could locate and contact Joseph Brehm.

I just never could figure out a reason why I should.  And that’s why I’ve tried to minimize putting his name out onto the nets, or associating it with the assassination.  He probably doesn’t have much to say, or a desire to say it, and I don’t feel like adding to his footprint without asking.  And, again, I could never think of a reason to ask.

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Seat F11

It’s a balmy 32 degrees in my neighborhood this morning, making everyone feel better about saying I’m freezing.   A little bit helps.

And while I’ve reached the age where my body temperature apparently drops one full degree for every year I continue to breathe, I appreciate the reorientation.  For the past two months, I’ve had suitcases open and ready for loading up, along with a handy checklist sitting on my desktop with REMEMBER CHARGERS having a prominent place.  I’ve been a travelin’ man, and it’s time I got used to being back in the Northwest.

Not that I minded the sun and warmth, at all.  Last week I flew into Phoenix for my niece’s wedding, leaving 48 degrees and drizzle behind to find 83 degrees and bright yellow waiting for me, three hours and many layers of clothing later.  I could get used to this, I thought, but then I used to be used to it, and comfort is sometimes the enemy of the efficient.  I do better when I know where I’ll be tomorrow.

I’m glad to be home, in other words.

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I’ve been interacting at arm’s length with the rest of life during this on-the-road interlude, aware but not all that engaged.  Like millions of other Americans (well, about 15 million, I guess), I had my individual-market health insurance canceled by that dumb Obamacare nonsense.

Or, to put it another way, like millions of other Americans I had my prior plan upgraded to be ACA compliant, which means they offered me slightly better health insurance, playing by the new rules, for about the same price.  This is important, and I went to the Washington state exchange to shop for a better option, of which there were several, and I haven’t made a decision yet and none of this feels compelling, frankly.

It’s possible I could have an anecdotal opinion about all of this, considering that I’ve bought health insurance on the individual market, off and on, for almost a quarter of a century.  I could certainly toss in some horror stories of having an employer-based insurance policy canceled due to benefit changes, and then facing the impossibility of buying a new policy given my spouse’s serious preexisting condition, and how that has changed our lives and not in a good way.  Those are stories, right there.

But I can’t work up the energy, at least at the moment.  Life has been too eventful to dwell on the mundane, if still important.  I might dwell later on.

And I also can’t work up the necessary passion to more than note the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination, other than to write a column about it this week, driven by deadline.  Fifty years seems a long time, and I do think that event was nation changing in scope, but as with health insurance: There’s plenty out there already.  No need for commentary from my cheap seat.

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But speaking of a cheap seat: I like to fly in a window seat, because I like to look out the window.  I usually manage to snag one, too, and I’ve often been frustrated by some spectacular images that I can’t even attempt to capture with a camera because my cameras, like everything else, are electronic devices.  I can take pictures from 30,000 feet, sure, but it’s often the first and last moments of flights that produce the nicest sights, down close to the ground.

The recent FAA relaxation on this, though, came just in time for me to fly to Phoenix.  I could now point my iPhone out the window whenever I damn well felt like it without breaking any rules, and so on the trip home I did.

The original footage actually stunned me, once I uploaded it to my computer and watched it on a bigger screen.  The film I assembled below (about nine minutes; indulge me, or fast forward, if you’re so inclined) had to be rendered in less than stunning HD for size-limitation reasons, but I still like to rewatch it.  It’s amazing that we can fly, that we can travel quickly, that we can reunite with family and friends with relative comfort and ease, and that we can go see new babies, and have new babies.  Of course.  Here’s to miracles all around.  Health insurance is not one of them, although, as I say, it’s important.

 

Seat 11F: Phoenix to Seattle from Chuck Sigars on Vimeo.

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In Search Of Lost Time (Found).

On three of my last four flights, I’ve been nudged into the TSA prescreened line, a new program that makes security checkpoints almost fun.  Shoes stay on, as do belts and jackets.  Your bags stay closed, with your shampoo safely tucked away, and it’s just a quick walk through the metal detector.  No more the vague feeling that I’m getting dressed in a public place, trying to slip into my shoes while looping my belt on and shoving my unmentionables back in my bag.  I could get used to this.

And to traveling, with certain TSA-like rules: No flights longer than 4 hours, no trips for sad reasons, and no trips that make me worry so much about the money I’m spending on them that I don’t have a good time.

But happy trips?  Trips to see family, old friends, new babies?  I could get used to those.

This last quick one was to my niece’s wedding in Phoenix, a spontaneous decision in the midst of all the baby planning.  I’ve been trying to get to Arizona for months now, where my mom lives, and while Holly has always been a bright and lovely girl and now young woman, I don’t know her all that well, haven’t spent much time with her, and ordinarily it would have probably been an event I’d reluctantly miss.  Although now I think I need to try harder not to miss such things.  I enjoy my family and rarely see them, and I’m reminded of just how rare that is.

It made for convenience, though, an opportunity to do several things at the same time, and the price was right.  For mostly practical (i.e., getting a ride to the airport) reasons, I left on Thursday for a Saturday wedding, arriving in Phoenix to 80 degrees and blue skies.  And for the next 48 hours, I indulged my inner Proust, and dusted off the past.

I saw a few old friends, and quantity informed quality: I got several very long and personal conversations out of this, just fun and enlightening and sweetness.  Spend a few hours with people who remember you from 40 years ago and you might be surprised.

That’s the key, too.  None of these visits were reunions in the sense that decades had passed; I’ve seen most of these people in the past few years.  But our meetings are rare enough that while we recognize each other on sight, ignoring the extra pounds and folds and lines and hair color and lack of hair and lenses and gaits that seem maybe less sprightly and more cautious, what I mostly see is the way they were.  I remember them when they were 15, or 18, or 20; I hold that in my heart, the image, and I have to assume they feel the same way.  They mostly think of me, when they think of me, as the way I was.

And this cheers me up, somehow.  Knowing that my younger self is preserved, not in an album but in organic matter, in brain cells, in that mist of memory that we don’t understand but cherish.  I like that we’re conservators of each others’ pasts, and I like opening the safe deposit box from time to time, just to make sure I’m still there.

Of course I am, but it’s still nice to be reassured.  I will keep your secrets if you’ll keep mine, and they’re not really secrets, and none of us felt the need to take pictures to preserve the memory, funny.

Me and the father of the bride, my big brother.
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Where The Heart Is

Autumn leveled out the distance on my recent Austin trip, a sort of air-lock synchronicity, although that’s probably going too far.  Autumn is autumn, even in Texas.

So when it dipped into the 40s at night there, it felt familiar.  Ah, 40s.  I know you, dude.

But it was different when I walked out of Sea-Tac last night.  The chill is different here, even though it’s not particularly chilly.  I got cold, and then I was home.  Trip over.

I have dozens of observations. Of course.  I spent nearly two weeks with my daughter and her husband during the last days of her pregnancy, and then nearly another two weeks in the presence of my newborn grandson, as my son-in-law had to travel to sing back east with the amazing Roomful of Teeth.  Another pair of hands would be helpful, and I hope it was.

But yeah.  My observations would be mostly about this little life, and remembering how it’s done, how fragile we are, pushed into this world before we’re ready, our big brains and small birthing canals forcing us to grow up outside the womb.

It’s too early on a Saturday morning to fully engage tautology, but it is what it is: This infant is my child, once removed.  That simple.  I am intimately connected to this new person but in a slightly detached way, not that I could be detached.  It’s fun, and enlightening, and at the end it’s just about a baby.

And a bicycle.  We climb back on and let the muscles remember, and that was what it was, too.  Suddenly my hips swayed when I walked with him, keeping the rocking motion, dance moves I’d forgotten I knew.  Balance is everything, meaning that resources are diverted to one occasionally cranky little human, and everything else has to subside on scraps.  Sleep in particular, although I did fine, and God knows I can’t complain compared to his mother and father.

I’ll let these observations simmer.  I’m not clueless; I know that however amazing my personal experience with this is, it’s still a perfectly ordinary experience, and no glossy Instagram filter will make it look special to somebody else.  It’s a baby.  Babies are neat, but they’re a dime a dozen unless they’re yours.  I have some other filters.

But it was nice to remember this stage, and to watch this little person become fully human during my stay.  At some point he forgot about his gestation, in whatever way that’s possible, and he learned the lessons we all do.  The night before I left, Beth handed him to me and then walked away, and his eyes watched her as she moved out of sight.  He knew she’d be back, the way he sort of knows now that his hands belong to him.

Forgive me, then, if I can’t help the blue fairy analogy.  Little August Bix is now a real live boy, and if he doesn’t quite understand it he should know that I’ll be back, too.

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Be Very Afraid

I just read this book, an easy few hours, nothing much about not so little. I was a fan of Johnny Carson, and of course I’d heard of “Bombastic Bushkin,” the butt of monologue jokes about questionable financial advice. Write a book about your former boss? Why not?

And why all the fuss? (There is fuss.) He paints Johnny Carson as something of a womanizer, and if that surprises anyone then I wonder what they think about, say, random strangers who’ve been married four times. In fact, Buskin describes Carson as being sentimental about the institution, so much that he rejected the concept of a prenuptial agreement with his third wife, something that in retrospect cost him millions.

But then he also describes Carson as not being particularly interested in money, turning his back on all sorts of opportunities (in contrast to the Bombastic Bushkin jokes) just because he didn’t want to do what it took in terms of time and effort. It’s not a hatchet job, regardless of how accurate some of the stories are (everybody’s got a story, everybody’s got a memory).

It wasn’t a great book, just mildly interesting, and it’s only on my mind because I’ve been thinking about comedy.

In fact, one particular comedian, and that would be Robin Williams, a guy I saw for the first time on New Year’s Eve, 1977, my sophomore year in college. It was a “new young comics” sort of TV show, and Williams was hilarious, unusual, different. The rest of the world would catch up nine months later, when “Mork and Mindy” premiered.

And I’ve been thinking about Robin Williams because he made a joke once, about cocaine, and how it becomes unnecessary when you’re a parent, because you’re paranoid and up all night anyway.

Yup. I have it easy here, but that doesn’t keep the sleep deprivation and paranoia away, particularly when the worst storm in 30 years hits Austin while I happen to be here, in the same house as an infant and his mom. There might be a funny story in here, about wandering around the house by candlelight, trying to salvage a turkey that we were roasting, tossing the rest of the bird in a big pot and making soup at 2am on a gas burner, and many other fun and exciting stories from ground zero.

Not to mention the washer breaking (do you think we might need a washing machine? I think we do), the roof leaking big time during the storm, and a pretty serious windstorm hitting the Puget Sound area while I’m 2000 miles away and in a perfect state to worry.

Paranoia. Somehow I forgot the joys. Maybe I need more sleep.

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The Importance of Everything

So much to say.  So little need to say it.

Also?  There are priorities.

I came to Austin this time because I could.  Because my son-in-law was heading east for a gig and Beth could use a hand, and I had hands to spare.  I can work from anywhere with an internet connection (i.e., I can work from anywhere), and so I came to Texas with a couple of jobs and a willing spirit.  Also a pure heart.

I understand more clearly now, after 55 years, how seduced I am by imperatives.  How uneasy I’ve always been with choices, and how reassuring it is to know exactly what I have to do and when.  Babies make this easy, then: They cry.  You wake up and do something, and pretend that two hours of sleep is plenty, thanks anyway.

So while I have plenty of thoughts on this old and new experience, living in a house with a newborn, I’m not in any hurry to spill.  I’ve got another week to experience this, to stuff what remains of my brain with images and emotions and strong coffee, and eventually it’ll leak out in various places, but for now?

Did somebody say something about strong coffee?  Let us rejoice and be glad.  We can talk later.

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