Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Monday, January 24, 2005


I vaguely recall a moment in one of my sociology courses when the professor observed that those who are most insecure with their own sexual identity are the most likely to attack those whose sexuality differs from the norm. Keep in mind this was pre-Woodstock, pre-Stonewall, pre-just-about-everything. I've seen the argument proven repeatly in the thirty-odd years since I first heard it.

Whenever we run short of politicians and talk show hosts willing to prove the hypothesis, up pops the American Family Association to take it to pathological extremes.

Anyone who is obsessed about the sexual orientation of an animated sponge needs more help than this aging blogger can provide. I find myself wondering whether AFA members dare look under their kitchen sink. Not only are there square sponges there (Well, rectangular really, but what's a little poetic licence in a discussion like this?)...some of them are pink.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

TN Milestone

Went to the Salem Beer Works tonight. It was a struggle avoiding Hercules, the barley wine that is usually one of their better offerings. Instead, for my experimental beverage I chose Muddy River Porter. On the one hand, it's debatable whether stouts or porters fairly belong under a prohibition like the one I've been living with. They are arguably more food than beverage. On the other hand, I got a 22 ounce glass and put a liberal interpretation on the idea of "one beer." Maybe next time I'll get a growler.

All's well. Head's a wee bit sore but nothing worse, so we have progress.

This is a nice step up for a week in which, otherwise, I've been falling apart. Wednesday I woke up to the personal fireworks display that can warn of a detached retina. Of course it did, and in the left eye. I already unhinged the right retina two years ago. Turns out I'm peculiarly prone to this sort of thing. This from my opthamologist, who was unable to fix it with his laser toy. From the glee he gets using the thing, I wonder if the good doctor's comment didn't harbour a bit of resentment.

On the way home from that I broke a tooth, thereby assuring myself of several expensive dental visits. What bothers me here is that I'm skidding rapidly past the mere "arrr" level of piratical re-enactment, and heading straight for Blind Pew. I'll have to get out Treasure Island and learn the lines. Arrr!!!

I see I left this in cliffhanger mode. On the Saturday the blizzard started, I trekked out to Peabody for the next eye surgeon to have a whack. That turns out to be a fairly accurate description of the procedure. Seems they all like their toys. Got both eyes dilated (this was a surprise part of the programme, and it's good my wife came along). Examined by a nurse, then a preoccupied intern, finally the Great Man. The intern's preoccupation was the snow, then starting to fall. It developed she was from Southern California, and was not comforted by hearing snowfall predictions in feet. So, two MDs, two machines and about an hour later (an hour spent staring at an imaginary spot over my left shoulder: try it sometime) the deed was done.

The big trouble with this business is that you're not 100 percent afterward. All concerned maintain this polite fiction that you are. You can still see, anyway, and you have your own private visual display that travels with you and is a conversation piece to compare with other people who have had the job done. The flashers don't entirely go away, and there are always a few floaters, mostly leftover blood and damaged tissue that still rattles around in the aqueous humour, having nowhere else to go. You do get rid of the really annoying black spots, which are the fresh blood. Arrr, 'tis bad enough bucking for Blind Pew without having the Black Spot to contend with, matey! What I want to find out is whether you can get the flashers synchronised. At the moment, the left and right eye are syncopated. The left set are still fairly frequent, the right ones less so, out of time. I'd like them to flash together. If we could incorporate a backup beep as part of my neural arrangements, between the two things I'd qualify for commercial plates. The floaters also raise hell with viewing through a light microscope, making it easy to see things that aren't there and miss things that are. On the other hand, in 10th grade Biology I seldom saw anything but my own eyelashes, so I figure I'm still ahead.

Huzza! Two beers today! We do progress. The side effects of Tegretol seem to be diminishing one by one. It's a tad annoying that the two most persistent are bouts of really spectacular depression, and zero (I mean ZERO...Dim...Nada...Bupkis) libido.

Monday, January 10, 2005

MRI Tunes

My Neuralgic adventures included my first MRI, which merits some reactions.

1. I'm kind of weird about what makes me claustrophobic and what doesn't. This didn't.

2. Once there, the only thing that made it hard to follow the instruction "don't move" was laughing at the instruction "don't move." This was a brain MRI, after all. First they wedge you into a neck brace, then cover your head with a clear plastic mask, whose chief communication with the rest of the universe is a mirror. Moving, apart from eye-blinking, was not an option.

3. Your instructions will suggest bringing your own CD for background music. When making your choice, I suggest something that blends with the experience. The acoustics of the experience cover a range from banging apartment pipes to being stuck below a steel deck with someone dumping scrap metal above. Depending on your inclination, I suggest recent American Minimalism, off-tempo electronica or industrial rock. None of these options would make any pretence of drowning out sounds which simply can't be drowned out. They would enhance the existing sonic experience, and seamlessly fill the silent spots between the pipe-banging, spots which otherwise are very distracting.

MRIs belong to that class of experience which become more unpleasant the more you resist them. If you approach an MRI intent on comparing it with, say, an evening with your feet up reading a good book, you'll probably find it disappointing, even upsetting. However, if you consider it as an event in itself, something you can properly compare only to other imaging, and turn your curiosity loose to probe the experience, the outcome will be a lot different.

I can't say I want another MRI real soon. At least, I want enough time to compile suitable background music.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Modified Rapture

Next step in trigeminal officialdom. I have classic, idiopathic trigeminal neuralgia. (say what?) That's to say, it is because it is, and is not caused by a) a brain tumor b) an aneurysm c) MS. The good (very good) news is that I'm responding to a sane dose of Tegretol with minimal side effects and haven't had an episode for over a week, even when I go outside. This goes on at least for another two months before we see if I can leave off the stuff for a while.

The other bit of good news is that if I go on adapting to Tegretol as I have, I can have a beer now and then. My reading (focused on other beer fanciers in similar straits) suggests that my two-a-day routine is off for a bit. A reasonably-sized beer or two once or twice a week is more like it. That sounds like heaven after weeks of being dry. Once can only drink so much sweet cider or diet ginger.

Which reminds me. This site alleges some above-mediocre to very respectable low-alcohol beers exist in Europe, most of which seem to have more promise than the average low-alcohol offering available here. Two problems are cost and availability. Wisdom welcome, especially when I get the frickin comments working.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Agiocochook and friends

One of the benefits of idleness enforced by illness is reading. Part of my holiday haul this year is Nicholas Howe's Not Without Peril. The subtitle explains it all: 150 years of Misadventure on the Presidential Range of New Hampshire.

The deadliness of the Presidentials isn't exaggerated. One of its chief dangers is that people from other places take the range so lightly. I remember, as a child, hearing one of the state's most experienced mountaineers explain what happens to Justice William O. Douglas, who was no slouch at climbing. The mountaineer held up a kitchen funnel, pointed to the large part, and said, "this is all the weather systems of North America." He pointed to the point where the funnel body meets the nozzle. "This is New England." Then he pointed to the narrow end of the spout and said, "This is the Presidential Range." The Justice paid attention to the local knowledge, and finished his trip alive.

Having all those meteorological ingredients at hand, Mount Washington is able to add another trick: it makes its own weather, which is on record as the worst in the world. The combination of unspeakably violent weather, and supremely self-confident, unprepared climbers, explains why the range has killed over 120 people in the 150 or so years of its recreational climbing history. The native peoples called it Agiocochook, and dreaded it. Puritan Darby Field climbed it (in 1642) to demonstrate the white man's power. One wonders what would have happened if he had been the first white man the mountain snuffed out.

I love the White Mountains, but I don't take much to the Chamber of Commerce view of the place. Of the parts I've most frequented, Waterville Valley has always seemed the most open and accessible. You have to climb, and climb high, to step out of a persistent sense of claustrophobia. In some parts, especially Crawford Notch, which defines the southern boundary of the Presidentials, there is a palpable sense of danger. When I first discovered Poe's Ulalume ("It was hard by the dark tarn of Auber... in the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir") I thought of Crawford Notch immediately.

I don't expect I'll be going up immediately, but a prepared climb of the Presidential Range needs a spot on the to-do list.