More Meanderings

Posted April 20th, 2010 at 12:24 pm (UTC-4)

I have discovered the latest medical fib, on the order of “this won’t hurt a bit” and “the doctor will be with you shortly.” 

I recently went under the 21st Century equivalent of “the knife,” involving assorted probes and scopes and zapper devices rather than scalpels.  But the prep hasn’t changed: Strip buck naked and “slip” into a gown that exposes your backside to inspection by medicos, cleaning staff and startled hospital visitors.

Shiver on a gurney, toes a-wiggling, stare upward at chilly-white lights, and await your doctor’s pre-surgical pep talk.  While prone, sign enough forms to insure that the HOSPITAL’S backside is covered in the event the coming sleep is your last.  Agree with the nurse who is digging into the top of your left hand to tap a vein for the saline and anesthetic drip that — ouch — yes, the Spring thaw has been — yow -—lovely.

Then follows the medical equivalent of the “perp walk” in which criminal suspects are paraded before cameras on their way into or out of jail.  This, though, is the “patient roll” down the hall on the gurney, as passersby avert their eyes and wonder what you’ve done to yourself.

Soon you’re in the “surgical suite,” not to be confused with honeymoon quarters at the Mandarin Oriental.  Through a surgical mask, the anesthesiologist introduces him- or herself.  Mine happened to have sung in a quartet with a former VOA colleague of mine.  So as he hooked an ominous-looking bag to the drip line, we compared notes, so to speak, about “The Pirates of Penzance.”  He had once been Frederic, the pirate trainee.  I had sung the “Modern Major General” patter in high school and might have shown off with “In short in matters vegetable, animal and mineral, I am the very model of a modern major general” had not the surgeon, standing nearby, glared at both of us.  At least it looked like a glare behind his mask.

There would be no facemask or tanks of stinky ether for me.  Just that medical fib to which I referred earlier, as the singing anesthesiologist turned a lever and assured me, “I’m just going to give you a little something to make you drowsy.”

Drowsy, as in instantly insensate.

The instant lasted two hours, after which, batting my boyish eyelashes, I awoke groggily in a recovery room, surrounded by other surgical survivors and their relatives. 

“Recovery” is a relative term.  There’s no lolling or snoozing.  Chop-chop, there are decisions to be made: ginger ale or Coke?  Regular or diet?  Feel like a cookie?  (“No, I feel like a stuck pig.”  My weak sense of humor was coming back.) 

Then came the drill straight from the old “Rawhide” television show’s cattle-driving theme song: “Head ‘em up.  Move ‘em out,” driven by today’s tight budgetary, insurance, and bed-space demands.  Here are your undies and pants.  Put ‘em on.  Sign this.  Initial that.  Get you a pain pill for the road?

My doctor was just as soothing “post-op.”  As he cheerfully outlined my rehabilitation regimen, I couldn’t help thinking, first, “Easy for YOU to say,” and then of the old Vaudeville gag:

“Will it hurt, doc?”

 “Only when you get my bill.”

Not in the Bag

Now I know how expert jugglers feel.  If you visit Washington, D.C., and see somebody exiting a grocery or drug store with his arms piled high with products, say hello.  It’s me.  Or more grammatically, it is I, but how geeky does that sound?

I’m balancing a bag of catfood, a jug of milk, a six-pack of beer, one or two prescription bottles, a container of fresh salsa, some sort of crackers, and the daily newspaper because the District of Columbia — whose near-doubling of parking-meter fees has not produced enough pain to close a budget deficit — has ordered retailers to charge five cents for each bag that they dispense to customers.  Paper or plastic?  Doesn’t matter.  Each one will cost you an extra nickel.

This is a “green” initiative. The money raised is earmarked for periodic clean-up of the Anacostia, a polluted branch of the Potomac River.  We’re not talking agricultural runoff in this urban stream.  It’s household trash — including plastic bags that take a few millennia to break down, discarded wood scraps and oil filters and enough tires to run the Indy car series for a year, and various unmentionables.  Let’s just say it takes more than a swimming-pool skimmer to clean up the worst of it.

In January alone, D.C. pulled in $150,000 from people who paid the new bag tax. 

But it didn’t get a nickel from me.  I’m too busy and forgetful to become a Green Warrior, toting one of those biodegradable bags.  And I won’t pay for a plastic or paper one at the store.  So feel free to laugh at the guy with parcels stacked to his eyebrows, stooping to try to retrieve a dropped item.  That would be me.

All I know is, I’m not alone. Washington stores and vendors dispensed an estimated 22.5 million bags each MONTH in 2009.  But in January, when the bag toll took effect, they passed out only 3 million.  That’s 18.5 million fewer bags filled each month.  Or 390 million nickels that stayed in our pockets in the District of Columbia alone.  

I’m not too cheap to pay the nickel.  This bag tax is the straw, the breaking point in the onslaught of government and private-sector surcharges: connection fees and “early withdrawal” tariffs, penalties for using or not using the Internet, fees for checking suitcases and even, from one airline — Spirit — a $30 charge to carry one’s own bag onto its planes.

Other passengers had better hope that I don’t have to book a Spirit flight any time soon.  I’ll be the guy in 22C with no suitcase stowed overhead but his shaving kit, underwear, three days of clean shirts, six folders bulging with newspaper clippings, a large soft drink, two news magazines, the daily sports section, a sandwich, and a big bag of peanuts in his lap. 

And since I won’t pay even a nickel for one, none of those items will be in a paper or plastic bag.

Bouncy, Bouncy

I’m fascinated with obituaries.  Not out of celebrity fascination or as some morbid countdown of the dearly departed in my age group.  Rather, I like to read about those who have brought something unique to the world.

I’ve written about the demise of the inventors of TV dinners, flying Frisbee discs, hula hoops, blinding Day-Glo colors, and the children’s sport of T-ball.

Now, farewell to George Nissen, who died in California at age 96.  Though an American, he is best-remembered as the fellow jumping high into the air for the cameras alongside a kangaroo.

They were bouncing on a device that Nissen had invented.  As a young gymnast and diver in rural Iowa, he loved to watch as visiting circus acrobats sprang from springy safety nets onto their perches.  This looked like good exercise, so he built his own bouncing contraption out of rubber inner-tube straps.  Before long, his University of Iowa swim team pals were having a ball, somersaulting on Nissen’s “trampoline.”  He patented that name — Spanish of sorts for “springboard” — but it soon became the generic term for this bouncy platform.

With two friends, Nissen toured for a time as “The Three Leonardos,” bounding up and down throughout the Midwest, before quitting the road to concentrate on making and selling trampolines.

In 2000, trampoline debuted as an Olympic sport, fittingly in Sydney, Australia.  Russians won the men’s and women’s gold medals.  An Australian, a Ukrainian, and two Canadians won silver and bronze, besting, for all I know, a couple of Outback kangaroos.

It’s Not a Diet, it’s a Lifestyle

I learned something the other day from Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist.  And not about international politics, global economics, or human rights, his usual frames of reference. 

Kristof wrote about the wild dogs of Africa.  As he pointed out, people bond with cute, fuzzy, or imposing creatures — pandas, ducklings, tigers, whales.   But while turkey vultures, tapirs, dung beetles, blacksnakes and the like look marvelous to their kind, they’re plug ugly to us.

African wild dogs were among the scorned — um, hounded to near extinction, Kristof noted — until a part-Brit, part-Zimbabwean named Greg Rasmussen began re-branding the breed.  He found one endearing attribute in these snarly, big-eared pack hunters that chirp like birds rather than bark like hounds:

Their distinctive, spotted coats. 

Rasmussen and others throughout Africa began calling these canids “painted dogs.”  He opened the “Painted Dog Conservation Center,” and a remarkable thing happened.  Contributions began pouring in from around the world.  Soon the African painted dog was no longer threatened.

This got me thinking.  What if, with a few strokes of the pen and a crafty press release, we could burnish the sour perceptions of other unfashionable critters, reviled human professions, and undesirable products.  With zippy marketing, we could take clumsy euphemisms — such as calling used cars “pre-owned vehicles” or toilet paper “bathroom tissue” — to a higher level.

This has been tried with moderate imagination and little success.  Lawyers are “attorneys,” but we’re still not wild about them.  Politicians prefer to be called “lawmakers.”  Owners of steely-jawed pit bulls would have us call their beasts “Staffordshire terriers.”  Or even “Staffies.” 

Cuddly pit bulls.  Nice try.  Hasn’t caught on.

Here’s the same idea, writ large:

PETA — the ever-controversial People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals organization — thinks fish get a bad rap.  (And a bad wrap on occasion.)  We think of them as slimy, bug-eyed, and brainless.  So we’re content to harvest, gut, broil, and eat these dullards of the deep. 

PETA thinks we should call scaly, cold-blooded, aquatic vertebrates something chummier, if you’ll pardon the word, than “fish.”  It suggests “sea kittens.”

Who, it asks astutely, would want to hook, harpoon, fillet, or fry a kitten? 

True enough.  So I say, let’s start calling worms wigglers.

Wolves could become grandma dogs (everybody loves grandma).  The connection?  Check out the Little Red Riding Hood children’s story.

Even though I consider them rats with wings, I’d turn pigeons into coobirds.  Spiders into octobuddies.  Cockroaches into skitterdoodles.

Skunks?  Striped weasels!  (This may need more work, since weasels have their own p.r. problems.   How about land otters?  Anything to draw attention away from skunks’, shall we say, chemical defenses.)

You have to agree that, like Greg Rasmussen, I’m having decent luck tidying up the images of lower beings but haven’t come up with a single zippy new term for scorned human subsets.  I’m having a hard time buffing up bankers, stockbrokers, chief executive officers, or financial advisers in today’s economy.  I haven’t a clue how to rocket car salesmen up the popularity charts.  Or how to help journalists, who seem to be held in even lower regard.

It would be in my interest to think of something for that last one, though. 

Let’s see: I consider journalists to be storytellers.  It has a nice ring, but critics already believe that we make stuff up.

Lifewatchers?  Obscure, a reach, would never catch on.

Objectivists?  Objective journalist?  An antiquated, currently preposterous concept.

Here, I think I’ve got it:

Journalists . . .  painted writers!  

If it worked for smelly wild dogs, it can work for us.

(These are a few of the words from this posting that you may not know. Each time, I’ll tell you a little about them and also place them into a cumulative archive of “Ted’s Wild Words” in the right-hand column of the home page. Just click on it there, and if there’s another word in today’s blog that you’d like me to explain, just ask!)

Canid.  A canine.  The word comes from the scientific name Canidae, the family of carnivorous mammals that includes wolves, jackals, and domesticated dogs. Insensate.  Unconscious, almost lifeless.

Insensate.  Unconscious, almost lifeless.

Perp.  Short for criminal perpetrator, or rather, in most scenarios, alleged but not yet convicted wrongdoer.

2 responses to “More Meanderings”

  1. Cuvtixo says:

    >The problem for Pit Bulls in particular, is that it is not really a breed. It is a loose conglomeration of different breeds. If there was, for example, an official breed recognized by established associations named "Pit Bull," THAT would be a situation more analogous to the "Painted Dogs." What the present situation is instead: any mutt of sufficient size and jaw strength that can fight in a dog-fighting "pit" is called a Pit Bull. See the difference?

  2. australian outback says:

    >Very informative post. The Australian Outback is very famous in the world. It is known as the greates central and northern segment of the continent as well. Its also known to be australia in a number of myths.

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Ted Landphair


This is a far-ranging exploration of American life by a veteran Voice of America “Americana” reporter and essayist.

Ted writes about the thousands of places he has visited and written about as a broadcaster and book author. Ted Landphair’s America often showcases the work of his wife and traveling companion, renowned American photographer Carol M. Highsmith.

Ted welcomes feedback, questions, and ideas. View Ted’s profile. Watch a video about Ted and Carol by VOA’s Nico Colombant.

Photos by Carol M. Highsmith


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