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Archive for April, 2012|Monthly archive page

Latest Column

In Uncategorized on April 17, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Here is column published Monday in the Dispatch.  Enjoy!!  For five dollahs I’ll send you one of the unpublished ones.

 

Amend Attitudes, Not State Constitution

To borrow from the soliloquy opening Shakespeare’s “Richard III”: Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by global warning or campaign gasses. I don’t know what happened to winter. It had barely enough ink in it to print a bar code. April flowers bloomed in January and look tired. Augusta National has no azalea blossoms. The land is beautiful, yet finds us standing around and asking, what happened?

I have discarded several drafts of this column in the Microsoft recycle bin. What I had written dripped with irony and scorn. I was mad and I was taking it out on the page and potential readers. On reflection, I decided that I needed a new attitude. This, after all, is a season of renewal and regrowth. If Dick Cheney can get a heart, we all have reason to hope. I decided to write with a sense of hopefulness.

A few weeks ago, President Obama made a few comments about missile defense to President Medvedev of Russia. They talked too near to an open mic. Mitt Romney, going ballistic, has accused Obama of running for president as a straw man, with secret agendas for defense and other matters. However, America has a state department, employing thousands of people. We gather intelligence. We share intelligence with our allies. We have folks dealing with the Russian government on a daily basis. My hope is that whomever we elect as president understands that diplomacy operates on a slightly more sophisticated level than a seventh grade lunchroom: “Mary told Keisha to tell me to tell you that Amelia is interested in your friend Alexander.”

A few days ago, a member of the White House press staff described the rabidly Republican budget as having been passed by a “rump” congress. CNN convened a panel to discuss what he possibly could have meant. The panel seemed to agree that the rump was the most unsavory part of an animal. No one on the panel betrayed any awareness that “rump” is commonly used to describe to a legislative body that is irregularly or illegally constituted – so named after the Rump Parliament that approved the beheading of Charles I of England. A few weeks ago, a blogger on the John Locke Society posted a cartoon of Obama in leathers eating a bucket of fried chicken. She said she did not realize the cartoon could cause offense. Our political discourse seems commanded by dopes. My sincere hope is that nationally the quality and depth of education in history, culture and politics will rapidly improve.

Starting in middle school, at least in Lexington, my generation of students was encouraged to read fundamental texts, to discuss and learn the substance of and the differences between the various “isms” posed for organizing societies and economies: communism, socialism, capitalism, national socialism. Other students in other places must have learned otherwise, and it is their narrow scope of understanding that seems to dominate the national dialog. You would expect the term “socialist” to merit at least a paragraph or two in the dictionary of debate. Instead, “socialist” now has only a two word definition: “black President.” My hope is that a day will soon arrive in which our discussion of serious ideas is conducted at a loftier height than than childish name-calling or school-yard taunts.

North Carolinians will soon vote whether to amend our state constitution to restrict civil marriage to one woman, one man. Folks argue this amendment will somehow “protect” marriage and the family. Under the law of North Carolina as it now stands, the following people can get married at the drop of a hat, without any questions asked or objections raised: Hell’s Angels, Black Panthers, philanderers, nudists, Outlaws, Latin Kings, eaters of Brussels sprouts, Crips, NPR contributors, Al Quaeda, Ku Klux Klanners, Duke Blue Devils, terrorists, yard-sale shoppers, Hezbollah, anarchists, Rotarians, Aryan Nationalists, Hamas, Nazis, Mafiosi, Unitarians, felons, La Cosa Nostra, mercenaries, misdemeanants, fly-fishers, traitors and casserole bakers. And these people chose what they’ll be, they aren’t born that way.

Instead targeting people who actually disgrace the institution of marriage, the proposed amendment specifically discriminates against gays. It would ban the judiciary and General Assemblyfrom giving gays the right to marry. I may be missing something, but it seems to me that the institution would be strengthened not weakened, by admission of good, devoted people eager to live as married couples, ready to enrich society, not contaminate it. The last hope I express in this column is that in May, North Carolinians will resoundingly defeat the proposed constitutional amendment that would discriminate against gays.

 

Ben Philpott has a new Attitude, which he hopes to drive it across country when his vision improves. Post comments to FunkyBeno@wordpress.com.  

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Favorite Food of the Undead Goes Quackers

In Uncategorized on April 10, 2012 at 8:58 pm

I ain’t dead yet!

For anyone hoping otherwise, I wish you no ill will.  Grudges are alien to me – I would not recognize a grudge in a darkened bar.  Of course, I wouldn’t recognize Gwyneth Paltrow in a darkened bar, but that’s a different story.  I wish only that you would do something besides thinking about me.  Like spending 12 hours locked in a naked room with no escape.  With Rick Santorum.  And a Glock.  Without a safety.  With a single hollow point bullet.

for anyone who thinks the news of my living is the loss of a good excuse for a drink,  I offer condolences.  If you like to drink in mournfulness, consider Libya, Obama-care or “Hunger Games.”  If you can’t find a legitimate reason for tears in your beer, then you’re just not trying!  If you like to drink in a celebratory mode, ponder family and friends, Laphroaig Scotch, the Chi-Lites and salt-cured country ham.  Watch “The General.”  Listen to Errol Garner by the sea.  Breathe.  If you really can’t find a reason to drink and laugh, I don’t want to know you.

I write in  part because I think it important to share a little bit of knowledge that has come my way.  Throughout the duration of my “discomfort”, I have been told it is best not to underestimate my pain whenever a doctor asks me to rate it on a scale of 1 to 10.  If you think it’s a 5, tell the doctor or nurse it’s a 7.  It’s better to err on the side of  relief than misery.  I have found this to be great advice.  Take it to the bank.

That is not the knowledge I am in a hurry to share, however.  A couple of weeks ago, I had an MRI of my brain.  For those of you who have never enjoyed such a stimulating experience, here’s what they do:  they strap you on a tray; they plug your ears with these devices that look like the floppy hats worn by creatures in Dr Seuss;  they fit your head motionless between pads;  they fit a mask a la Dr Lector a half inch over your face;  they shove you inside a long tube that makes all sorts of loud noises – something another like Beck playing digital Europop music in the middle of a herd of puppies being slaughtered by screaming eagles.  Then, they inject you with dye and do it all over again.  It only takes an hour.

Those who know me well know that I have a slight dose of claustrophobia.  When the frogmen start diving under the ice in a Jacques Cousteau special on TV, I run from the room.  I hold the record for the shortest time touring the WWII submarine tied up in Charleston harbor.  It only took me 17.3 seconds.  I crushed or maimed 5 boy scouts unfortunate enough to find themselves between me and the exit.  One of those lawsuits is still not settled.  In other words, an hour in the MRI tube is not a prospect that the Beno finds particularly appealing.  I typically need a small dose of sedative added to my IV before I let them shove me into the belly of the machine.

Before my last trip into the belly of the beast, however, the nurse for the first time ever asked, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your level of anxiety.”  Figuring, hell, I might as well err on the side of appearing like Felix Unger at a showing of “Saw,”  I told her 6.  Friends and neighbors, let me tell you, she dosed me for an 8.

The nurse techs later told me that it took 1.25 hours to complete the hour-long procedure because I was snapping in and out of sleep like a hypnotist’s assistant during practice for an opening night at Caesar’s Palace.  This caused me to twitch on the table, and when I say twitch, I mean like a tuna on the deck of a deep sea fishing boat.  And while wisked off in the arms of Morpheus, let me tell you, I dreamed some parlous dreams.

It is at this point in my narrative that I must inject a bit of distasteful information.  A longer while ago, I contracted hives.  On the upper right side of my face.  It weren’t pretty.  It weren’t a walk in the park.  My skin started burning.  Then, I spent a few days with my face erupting in sores and pustules.  Picture Beno in a Phantom of the Opera mask, excepting the part covered by the mask resembles Jeff Goldblum in the remake of “The Fly.”  The molten eruptions were followed by period of time during which my skin was a terrain of little black and brown mesas of scabby flesh – a dermatologist’s dream of Monument Valley.  Nowadays, I am back to normal and on watch for permanent scars that I hope will leave me with a haphazard sort of demented Bogie aura.

I tell you this not to beg sympathy, but to advise that the drugs I took for the hives had at least a minor interaction with the drugs I was already taking.  On the morning of the MRI, I had survived a dream in which Lexington had been redecorated as a set for a movie – a joint project of Martin Scorsese and Tim Burton.  The town was something Alice of the Restaurant fame might have seen after a night spent chewing peyote.  In it, I was “coming home,” lugging my duffle bag through town and marvelling at all the changes.  Tired from the drag, I stopped at a coffee shop and met up with a friend and fellow attorney, whose face was powdered white.  He had a pencil thin beard.  He was drinking a latte.  He was also speaking in falsetto, but practicing his imitation of a famous actor.  Need I say that it is disconcerting, even in a dream, to visit with a person who talks like Michael Jackson imitating Marlon Brando?  And this was what was passing as a normal dream at the time I had the MRI!

And wait, I’m still not there yet!!  On account of my having hives, and the folks at Baptist being worried about the risk of contagion, the nurses, MRI techs and doctors near me, and I all had to wear breathing masks.  Not the square, flat kind, like allergic people wear to mow their yards.  But masks with some substance to them, and two rubber bands , that peak a few inches  in front of the face.  And make people look like refugees from “Howard the Duck.   “Quack, quack!!

I was in a tender and psychedelic state of mind as they unhooked the IV and the effects of the IV began wearing off.  Something was deeply wrong, I  felt.  I glanced down and saw that I had a bill instead of a mouth and nose.  This ain’t right, whispered a tiny, quivering voice in the back of my mind.  then I looked around and saw other people, dressed in normal hospital clothes, but they also had bills.  And they were gesturing and talking softly in some sort of muffled language that I could not understand.  I grabbed my glasses from the tray of metallic valuables that the technician seemed kindly to offer and hammered the glasses onto my face with the force of the slap I had received from any woman I had ever tried to speak with at a bar.  I blinked several times, looked up and……..THINGS DID NOT LOOK ANY DIFFERENT!  I was still in a darkened room surrounded by ducks in scrubs.

I regret that I say I panicked.  I tried to shriek my head off and run from this insane dream of a dungeon.  And I probably performed pretty well on the “Display of Fear” ratings if you factor in the effects of the sedative.  I physically felt as though they had transplanted Shaquille Oneal’s feet onto my legs, and it took be about three minutes to turn forty-five degrees.  Had a slug sauntered by, I might have asked, “What’s the hurry?”  What bubbled from my mouth was a string of syllables – “dooby-dooby-doo” – that sounded like Dean Martin on quaaludes doing a bad imitation of Sinatra.  Unable both mentally and physically to do anything constructive about my situation, I broke down psychologically.  I am ashamed to report that for the rest of the day, I either whimpered or bleated, “mommy, mommy” whenever I was spoken too.  I did not trust it when I saw people smiling.

I did manage to pull it together enough to make it through a few more visits to doctors and a PET scan during the next week.  Happily, Deirdre was along, bill-less, and was able to endure reassuring me that I had indeed heard the doctors say what I thought I had heard them say – that as of this moment, I am free and clear.  And what’s even better, to my way of thinking, in my excessively fragile state of mind, is that I can go at least 6 months before having to worry about any more scans of any type.  Hip-hip-hooray!!!  The Big C may not be licked, but at least I can turn my back on it for awhile.

But I am still suffering the after-effects of the MRI.  Three times, I have thought I was under attack while walking through our house, and have spun and delivered a karate kick.  The tally is one broken vase, one cracked mirror and one elbow that I would not let get x-rayed.  I sometimes hold deep philosophical conversations with the philodendron in the foyer.  And I have broken out and started listening to my cassettes and albums containing the collected works of Homer and Jethro and Spike Jones.  Normalcy is just around the corner…….Hell, who’s kidding who.  Like normalcy is a state I can ever hope to achieve in my lifetime!