Friday, September 19, 2008


Somewhere between neopunk, rockabilly, death metal and folk art, spins the pecular planet of my son's fashion sense. Never mind the T shirts for bands with gross graphics and offensive names - that's not exactly atypical for males this age. His choice of pants can be a little eclectic - there's a bright red pair with "bondage straps" and a pair with one black leg and one white leg - again, these are items you can buy at clothing stores in Haight Ashbury. But you won't find a lot of 15 year old boys painting the toes of their combat boots (one teal, one copper). Or deconstructing a perfectly good jacket by covering the sleeves in clashing animal prints. (I can't even bring myself to describe what he's done to his classic navy sport coat. Suffice to say it's not classic anymore). My son also likes to experiment with his hair, draw on his pants, adorn his baseball cap with safety pins, staple studs on everything but his boxers and accessorize the look with a necklace or two. The essence of his signature style, though, is the patch. He is constantly acquiring patches and sewing them all over his clothing. Sometimes, it all comes together with flair, and sometimes it reminds you of grandma's overly adorned Christmas tree. Like that tree, our son occasionally loses a needle or two, but unlike grandma, he doesn't vacuum.

When the boy came back from boarding school this past June, his foot was hurting. He was convinced he had stepped on a bee, and the school nurse had even taken him to a clinic to have his foot looked at. The area around the sting looked infected. I took the kid to a podiatrist, who suggested there might be some glass in the foot and asked if he could "poke around". My son refused. It had to be an insect bite. He distinctively remembered the burning jab of a stinger. Over my better judgement, we decided to adopt a wait-and-see attitude. I paid my hundred bucks and left.

The foot got better, and then worse. Last month, Mike took our son to a new podiatrist. A smart one: She took an X-ray. There, gleaming white and perfectly parallel to the bottom of the heel, was a sewing needle. Mike made an appointment to get the needle out the following week. We got to keep a copy of the X-ray, a cool visual aid which I am sadly too technologically challenged to upload here.

When time came to operate, the podiatrist rolled up her sleeves and went to work, jabbing the poor kid in the foot every ten minutes or so to keep it anesthetized. The needle had been in my son's body for three months and was tightly encapsulated in a protective sheath of scar tissue. Coming in from the back of the heel, the podiatrist got a grip on the needle several times but was unable to dislodge it. After nearly two hours of trying, she gave up. The surgery would have to take place in a medical facility with access to constant visual imaging so she could see what she was doing. This failed surgery cost $900.

When I told my father the doctor all this over the phone, he was very concerned. If the needle were to move too close to the bone, it could cause a dangerous infection. What we needed was an orthopedic surgeon, not a podiatrist, and sooner rather than later. Doctor Dad suggested taking the boy to the emergency room at Stanford. They'd know what to do, and they probably would remove the needle on the spot. Having been raised with a boundless faith in the medical profession, I took this advice.

We made a family outing out of our two-and-a-half-hour round trip to Stanford, enlisting our daughter to come along and provide her brother with sympathy and comic relief.

As you might expect, the famous university's ER is pristine and state-of-the-art. The candy stripers bring you coffee and snacks and there's even a special waiting room for minors with Winnie the Pooh picture books and colorful sorting toys. It's all very fancy, but Stanford keeps you waiting just as long (seven hours) as everybody else and they don't do needle removal surgery. That's a podiatrist's job. Orthopedic surgeons have bigger limbs to butcher. Of course, they took more X-rays, even though we brought ours, which added up to another $1,800 to confirm the fact that junior has a needle in his foot.

So now we've had a post-op check up, ($200), stitch removal, ($200) plus an unscheduled visit due to foot pain and concern over possible infection ($200). Because Mike and I are self-employed and like to choose our own doctors, we have an insurance policy with a very high deductible. Since we haven't met it yet, we look forward to spending more money on the outpatient surgery and ensuing stitch removal. By the time we're done with needle-related procedures, we'll be out five grand. I guess my son is lucky he's not one of the nation's ten million uninsured children, for whom the only option would be to just live with the needle and hope it doesn't migrate and cause a bone infection.

So how's Needlefoot holding up through all of this? With dignity, grace and (sigh) his usual style. The other day he came upstairs to show us his latest creation: a 10' by 10' square patch that he had sewn onto the rear bottom of his jacket. It hung down like a loin cloth, or like one of those mud flaps they put over the wheels of semis. If tails ever make a comeback, he'll be all set. In the meantime, I'm going to sneak down to the kid's room when he's not home and inspect the floor for needles - that is, if I can see the floor.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dumb Like Me

I have completely lost my sense of humor over the McCain campaign. I can't take another corny joke about lipstick, moose, or barnyard animals. Instead of cracking wise, I'm obsessively trying to comprehend the mindset that wants a leader "just like me".

Looking back on Republicans I have known (not a large inventory, I'm afraid), I flashed on Clark, a former pharmaceutical client. Clark worked on a medication that helps critically ill premature babies. We were calling on Clark to discuss making an educational video using existing footage of doctors, nurses and preemie moms, all speaking from experience. I was arguing for using footage of a young Black mom with a particularly heartbreaking story. Clark didn't want to use the clip: he couldn't get past her accent and colloquialisms. He got so into making his case, he started imitating the young mother in a falsetto voice. "He don't have any letbacks?...Who talks like that?" It never occurred to Clark that he was offending the other people in the room, including an African American woman with an urban lilt of her own.

I thought about my friend Janine, a copywriter I used to work with when I lived in Cleveland. I can still see her bounding into my office to share an idea for a TV spot she was working on. “ There’s three old guys sitting on a park bench,” she began. "A black guy, a jewish guy and an American guy.” “Janine,” I pointed out, before she could go any further, “The black guy and the jewish guy are American too.”

I remembered Otto, a co-worker who had a little boy about the time I had my son. Otto brought his baby into work one day, and I was on the floor handing the kid Little Tykes figures to play with. When the baby showed no interest in the little brown plastic character I was waving at him, Otto jumped in with an explanation: “ He only wants to play with the WHITE dolls”. Otto thought this was hysterical. Almost as funny as the joke he liked to tell about the jew, the pizza and the oven.

We Democrats get excited about diversity precisely because we see and appreciate our common humanity. Sarah Palin Republicans are suspicious of people who are unlike them. This tends to make them a little clueless, like Janine, who got it when I called her on her language, or less empathetic, like Clark who couldn't relate to a young Black mother from the inner city, even though he had a child the same age as the one she lost. And then there are the nazi shits like Otto, who are probably beyond redemption. All of these folks want leaders who are "just like them", a regular guy or gal who can dumb it down to glib sound bites delivered with just a touch of flair and hometown charisma. The irony of this is that politicians of either party are not just like us. They are more driven, ambitious, eloquent, opportunistic and manipulative. That's how they get elected in the first place.

At the heart of this yearning for down home leadership lurks a disturbing tribalism. And in the global village, tribalism is devolution. We have huge economic, energy, security and environmental challenges ahead that we must face collectively and internationally. So what do the Palin drones list as their priority issues? Abortion and gay marriage. Behind all the ranting at "liberal elites" and "the liberal media" is fear and resentment of any thinking that might shake up their world view. The myth of Mr. Smith goes to Washington lives on. But Mr. Smith didn't have to contend with two wars, global warming, world terrorism, an unstable and scary economy, a belligerent Soviet Union, a mortgage crisis, a broken health care system, rising unemployment and, oh hell, I'm sure I'm leaving out something critical but you get the point.

So I keep pondering and trying to understand, and in the interest of equal time, I'd like to give my Republican fellow-citizens a few questions to ask themselves:

• Is putting an underqualified person a heartbeat away from the presidency really putting "country first"?

• Do you think Sarah Palin would EVER have gotten considered, based on her skimpy resume, if she were a man? If not, doesn't that make her a token? What kind of real advancement is that for womankind?

•How would having 5 kids, including a Down's syndrome baby, a six year old, a pregnant teen, a not-yet pregnant teen and a son shipping off to Iraq impact your current job performance?

• How can John McCain still be "a Washington outsider" after 26 years in the House and Senate? If he hasn't learned the ropes by now, what's that say about his learning curve?

• McCain followed the family tradition and went to the naval academy like his 4 star admiral father and grandfather. His wife is worth millions and they own nine homes, thirteen cars and a plane. How is he not part of an elite?

• Is it really more important for your president to fit in at your neighborhood potluck than on the world stage? Have you ever considered that McCain might actually be more comfortable having a beer with Joe Biden than with you?

• If you're okay with your doctor, lawyer or CPA being smarter and better educated than you, why hold your leaders to a lower standard?

• If your child got a scholarship to an Ivy League school, would you hang your head in shame that she's joined an elite? What if she went on to Harvard Law? Would that make her less qualified to be president than before?

• What if you, regular Joe or Jane, woke up in the White House tomorrow morning? Would you know what to do?