Snake Oil

The liars at the NRA are at it again with a new television commercial. If you haven’t seen it yet, it features an attractive woman waking up alone in the middle of the night to the sounds of a shadowy intruder in her home.  As the voice over explains that it takes an average of eleven minutes for authorities to respond to a 911 call, she reaches for a gun in a gun safe on top of her dresser. But the gun vanishes as the voice over explains that “Hillary Clinton could take away her right to self-defense.”

It’s the same nonsense that Donald Trump has been spreading about how if elected, Hillary would “do away with the second amendment,” as if that were even possible.  While she has proposed relatively minor and common sense increases in gun control, unless the woman purchased her weapon from a gun show or one of the other loop-holes that don’t require registration, her gun will still be there. The commercial is more of the nonsensical paranoid “Obama’s going to take your guns away” fantasy that the NRA has been perpetuating for the past eight years. And as their subjects shoot each other up and as the body count rises, they and their gun manufacturing masters continue laughing all the way to their affluent suburban bank.

The simple fact is that president Obama has been the best thing to ever happen to gun and ammo manufacturers. Eight years into his presidency, there are more guns in circulation than ever before, and even as we’ve experienced the nightmares of Newtown and Aurora and the countless other mass shootings, even as we’ve made the jobs of law enforcement even more difficult with the passage of open and concealed carry laws, the extremism and fear mongering perpetuated by the NRA continues unabated, and as its constituency digs in, the second amendment becomes its shield.

This devotion to the constitution might be considered noble if it wasn’t so selective. One need only look at the other amendments that Trump has proposed violating:

  • His immigration policy of “mass deportations” would violate the Fourth Amendment‘s ban on “unreasonable searches and seizures,” as well as the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments by relying on racial profiling.
  • His proposed ban on Muslims would violate the First Amendment.
  • His proposed “database” of Muslims would violate the Fifth Amendment.
  • His advocacy of state-sponsored torture would violate the Fifth and Eighth Amendments.
  • His proposal for “opening up the libel laws” to enable  the executive branch to sue the media would violate the First Amendment.
  • His support for mass surveillance and the bulk collection of citizens’ data would violate the First and Fourth Amendments.

That’s a total of five amendments that Trump’s policies would trash – and there are probably more, as I am no constitutional scholar.  Yet the NRA would have us ignore these in order to protect ourselves from a moderate interpretation of the Second Amendment?

None of this makes any sense – especially when you consider that the supposed foundation of political conservatism is the prevention of government overreach. How can the very same people who fear the government coming to their homes and removing their guns be okay with the same government locking up and deporting millions of people?  How can they be so sensitive to perceived slights to their religion and support a ban on another religion?

The answer is that a large chunk of the modern conservatives in this country are fear ridden and selfish idiots who can’t see the forest for the trees. Only Jesus and guns can save their narrow minded white asses from the black and brown people who are so frightening to them that they’d throw away everything this country has stood for so that an orange haired lunatic con man can protect them. That they buy the snake oil he is selling is a reminder that there is no constitutional amendment against stupidity.

Death, Loss and Beer

(This is a very short fiction inspired by real events …)

One Saturday morning in the summer between my Junior and Senior years in high school, my Dad came and got me and said, “Come on with me, we need some muscle.” I must have still been half asleep, because the next thing I knew, I was in the back seat of Mr. P’s car. My dad was in the front passenger seat, and Mr. P. was driving.  Mr. P. lived two houses down from us on Yorkville Avenue. He was older, in his late fifties. He was always quiet and reserved, soft spoken. He didn’t drink and attended church every Sunday with his wife. He seemed to be the opposite of my dad, who loved being the center of attention, always with a story to tell.  They had one thing in common, though, that trumped all of their differences: they both drove the big rigs, eighteen wheelers, for a living, Mr. P working for a beer company out of Milwaukee and my dad for an over the road freight company.

I was only half listening to my dad and Mr. P’s conversation, and only picked up on a few nuggets.  I heard the word “cancer” and didn’t think much about it, as my dad had cancer the previous year but now he didn’t.  I assumed they were talking about him until I heard Mr. P say, “It’s a hell of a thing.  Only twenty five years old.”

Just prior to arriving at the southern edge of Main Street Mr. P pulled into the back alley and parked next to an empty wooden trailer parked in front of an old garage behind a two story house. We got out of the car, squinting in the bright sunlight as Mr. P led us up the back stairs to a porch. He pulled a key out of his pocket and unlocked the door.  Mr. P entered first, followed by my dad, then me.

We walked into the kitchen of an upstairs apartment that looked both lived in and abandoned at the same time. It was neat and tidy, yet it had a kind of musty smell, like it’d been shut up during the recent heat wave.

“This is a nice place,” Dad said.

“Yes, it is,” Mr. P. said.  “Maggie just loved it. But now, it’s just too much, for her alone …”

I recognized the name Maggie as belonging to MR. P.’s daughter, about eight or nine years older than I was. I didn’t really know her, other than she was pretty, with straight and long blonde hair.  Mr. P’s son, Bob, on the other hand, was in the same class as my oldest brother Mike, and had been one of Mike’s best friends since they were in grade school. Bob was a musician, playing guitar and bass in several garage bands over the years. Bob and his dad clashed like fathers and oldest sons so frequently did in the 1960s, the “generation gap” being a real and discernable thing.

Mr. P walked us through the apartment, showing us the living room, a small home office with a desk and chair, a bedroom, and the bathroom. The bedroom closet was filled with a man’s clothes, his shirts and trousers, and his razor sat on the edge of the bathroom sink next to a can of shaving cream, and it became clear to me where we were.  I vaguely remembered hearing that sometime in the past year or two, when Mike was still in the army, Maggie got married. I had no idea who her husband was, but it was clear that he was gone and wasn’t coming back.  At one point Mr. P opened up the refrigerator.  It was nearly empty, with just some butter, a couple of eggs, and an unopened six pack of Olympia beer.

Then we were back outside, in the glare of the sun again, walking across the alley until Mr. P took the keychain out of his pocket again and opened the pedestrian door to the garage.  There in the dusty streams of sunlight that burst through the door and the windows sat an early sixties vintage white Corvette.

“That was his baby,” Mr. P said. “Such a waste.”

“Way too young,” my dad added.  “Way too young.”

“Well, we’d better get to work,” Mr. P said.

We went back into the apartment, and we started with the big stuff, the couch and the bed, the overstuffed chair, the end tables, bending our backs as we walked them down the steps in the bright sunlight, and loaded them all on the trailer in the alley. Then we started on the smaller stuff, loading what we could into banker boxes that Mr. P pulled out of the trunk of his Buick. We’d filled the trailer to its capacity and fit whatever boxes we could into the trunk of the Buick, but there was still some random stuff left upstairs. We were all standing in the nearly empty apartment when Mr. P said, “Thanks, guys. After he gets off work, Bob and I’ll get the rest.” He said that Bob was borrowing somebody’s van and it had a hitch they’d haul the trailer with.

We got back in Mr. P’s Buick.  It was about 2:00 and it was hot out.  As he craned his neck to back out into the alley, Mr. P. said to me, “Thanks, Dave. I really appreciate your help.”

“No problem,” I said. They were the first words I’d spoken the entire day. I’d had a million questions I’d wanted to ask, about death, love, and life, and the things we leave behind, but I knew it wasn’t proper, I knew that this was not the place or the time to ask these questions, and that my dad and Mr. P weren’t the ones to ask anyways. It was obvious to even my sixteen year old self that they didn’t know the answers to these questions any better than I did.

Mr. P pulled the Buick into his driveway on Yorkville Avenue. Maggie was there.  She was wearing shorts and a white t-shirt and sunglasses. She smiled as we got out of the car, saying “Thanks, dad,” to Mr. P as he opened up the trunk.

“Don’t thank me,” Mr. P. replied. “Thank these guys. On such a hot day yet.”

“Thank you, guys” she smiled at us as she moved and stood next to her dad, facing the open trunk.

“You’re welcome,” my dad said.

Maggie reached down and pulled the six pack of Olympia out of the trunk.  She turned and handed it to me, smiling from under her sunglasses, and said, “Here, take this. Consider it payment for your hard work.”

I looked at my dad to make sure he was okay with it.

“Don’t look at me,” he said. “You earned it, take it.”

I replied a meek thanks.  Dad and I went home and I put the six pack in our fridge.

That afternoon and evening, every time I’d open the fridge, I’d see the beer.  It sounded good, especially on a hot day to a sixteen year old to whom beer represented freedom and adulthood, especially since I’d worked so hard to earn it, but for some reason, I left it untouched. I couldn’t bring myself to open it because it was his, and he had touched it, and death had taken him, and no amount of work I might have done could ever stand up to death’s infinite power.

That night I dreamt I was small again, in the third grade. It was the last day of school before summer vacation and we’d just been released out into the cool June afternoon.  The wind picked up out of the east and blew the helicopter seeds off of the big Maple tree at the end of the playground, and as they took flight and whirled and twirled in the warm breeze, I felt my feet leave the ground and I was floating, too, me and a thousand helicopter seeds, free, to wherever the random winds of fate would carry us. The dream ended and I woke up in the dark thinking about not just the places I’d be taken, but also about the things and people I’d leave behind. And I thought about Maggie and her dark glasses and her pale skin, and I wondered how she could find the strength to muster up a smile from so deep in the depths of the dark shadows cast by death.  And for the first time I wondered about him, what he looked like, I wondered what his name was, and I pictured the two of them riding on an open highway in his Corvette, the wind blowing Maggie’s blonde hair back.

It was 2:30 and everyone else in the house was asleep. I got up and crept through the darkness to the kitchen.  I opened up the fridge and ripped a can of Olympia free from the plastic grip of the six pack. I sat at the dining room table, alone in the dark, and raised a silent toast to Maggie and her dead husband before I slowly finished it.  It tasted good.


“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.'”  – Kurt Vonnegut

I’ve done enough whining on this site about the times when Parkinson’s is getting the best of me that it would be wrong not to write about the past week to week and a half. The simple fact is, that for some reason I don’t fully understand, over that timeframe, I’ve felt great.  Indescribably great.  Great as in how good one can feel when compared to how crummy I felt.  Great as in I’ve actually reduced taking my meds from once every three and a half to four hours to once every nine to ten hours. It’s been literally years since I’ve felt this good.  And while my voice and handwriting are both bordering on being illegible, those seem like minor complaints.

The balance problems that were not only getting me but actually literally knocking me down have largely vanished. Where I was prone to falling or crashing into walls or doorways or furniture multiple times per day, I now move normally and freely about 90% of the time. I’m sleeping six to seven hours a night, and while I still sometimes take a quick nap in the late morning (I’m convinced because  of the cumulative side effect of my morning cocktail of six different meds), I’m awake and alert the rest of the day, and avoid the afternoon naps I’d been taking.  I never imagined I’d feel this good again.  Ever.

Why am I feeling so good?  Well, I’m not sure. Here are my guesses:

  • On the cardiac front, I’m still watching what I eat, and exercising an hour to an hour and a half every day. I recently had my annual physical with my doctor, and the numbers are very good:
    • Weight: 212 pounds (down from 235 before my bypass surgery)
    • Total cholesterol: 120 (down from 230)
    • LDL (“bad” cholesterol): 48 (target:  < 100)
    • HDL (“good” cholesterol): 54 (target:  > 40, ideal > 60 – still have  a little work to do here!)
    • Triglycerides: 88 (<  100 optimal)

While exercise and diet have been big contributors to my improved numbers, my nightly dose of Lipitor has been just as big a factor.

Heart disease, while scary and deadly, has been pretty easy to prevent.  Just eat right, exercise, and take my Lipitor, and my numbers go down. These have been tried and proven methods, and the numbers provide an excellent indicator of progress.

Unfortunately, for Parkinson’s, it’s not as black and white. There are no proven biomarkers to determine how likely one is to get Parkinson’s, and once diagnosed, it’s known as a “snowflake” disease, as in everybody’s instance of the disease is a unique combination of symptoms and side effects that progress and evolve and react to treatments in varying and often times unpredictable ways. Treatment tends to be reactive and is dependent upon symptoms and is often trial and error.

So why am I at this point, eleven years into my diagnosis, suddenly feeling so good?  I have no idea.  What my guess is, is that after my recent appointment with my Movement Disorders Specialist (MDS), Dr. Z., we’ve arrived at a combination of meds, Deep Brain Stimulator settings, exercise, and physical therapy regime that are perfect for where I’m at in terms of the disease’s progression and how my unique instance is behaving at this time.  Specifically, Dr. Z added an additional med to my daily cocktail, which has enabled me to cut back on the amount of Carbidopa / Levodopa I consume.

I do know that I am incredibly lucky to be treated by a MDS, especially one as gifted as Dr. Z, at one of the premiere institutions in the country, Northwestern Memorial in Chicago. Because I treat there, I have access to resources that sadly aren’t available to too many people who are suffering much more than I’ve suffered.

The other thing I know is that I’m better off appreciating these days when I’m feeling so well instead of wasting time trying to figure out why. I don’t know when this “honeymoon” period will end, I just know that it will.  It might end tomorrow, next week, next month.

Until it does, all I can say is, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”