Oct 25, 2008

During the White Coat ceremony for the class of 2012, held in the Unitarian church on Federal Hill in Providence, the dean of the medical school assures students they will be both challenged and rewarded, and that this is not the same conventional preparation you find at certain other stodgy old medical schools. He won’t name those but students believe he is referring to Harvard and Stanford, where he has been and which are focused on research rather than practice.

The next speaker is an adjunct professor of Community Health. He offers a reflection, which is that the White Coat is finally a pretentious reference to a hierarchical, and patriarchal approach to medicine that is no longer useful or appropriate. And yet the coast symbolizes a commitment to the higher virtures of the profession and oneself.

After the ceremony, 98 of the 99 students in the class of 2012 receive their short jackets, with an italicized name sewn in and a gold nickel-sized medallion with the image of Hippocrates. The missing student has been acting strangely it’s not a great surprise that he is missing. Each student has his or her photo taken with the dean. This is to go in the personal file and to be used in promotional materials. When the dean puts his arm around the candidates some of women follow their first instinct and put their arm around his waist, but then they quickly sense inappropriateness and withdraw.

After the ceremony there is a reception across the street in the

Oct 24, 2008

You have a plane to catch; the cab is late. In the Internet ad the company promises to be prompt. 'We're always on time.' Now they're late, coming on 10 minutes. You get in, you let the driver have it. Maybe too much. In a flash he turns around, he's screaming: "Get out of this cab. Get the fuck out, get the fuck out of my cab." And he makes a move to get out and come around the throw you out.

Have I gone so far to get this, you think. Should I get out? No, there isn't time. The cabbie is still on fire. 'Look,' you say, 'taking out your cell phone. Here's the choice. Either I call the police and talk about old times or you take me to the airport. It's your choice.'

You have the phone open, you're ready to push buttons. The driver turns back to the road. His eyes are in the rear view. The light changes, he's off. But not finished. "You fuckin' assholes — Obama, McCain, you're all part of the international conspiracy. I know your game. You faggots."

He actually mentions the UN and black helicopters circling above the city. I'm happy that we've gone from late-rage to multinational conspiracies. This is something I can deal with. And wasn't John D. Rockerfeller involved? And didn't this somehow include the Masons? Mohammed V is a mason or so I read. For a moment I'm back in Morocco; everything is alright.

You ask the cabbie if he really believes these things. He absolutely does. "And Paul Pot; that's where it all started. He was one of them."

The 'killing fields' you think. And then you look at the eyes and yes those could be Cambodian. This is all about Cambodia. All these things are adding up.

The cab arrives at the terminal. Being the passive-aggressive you are, and heavy on the aggressive but now remorseful, you apologize. You are very sincere. You see now that he is a tall man and his eye are Asian but not necessarily Cambodian. Who knows what he is.

"My father died last week," he says but provides no details except that he ran the taxi company. Now you feel like cold shit. You keep apologizing. You're older; you try to play the role of wise elder.

What's the fare you ask. You've already decided to give him a big tip. But then he tells you the fare is nearly $10 more than what was quoted on the phone when you made the reservation. You pay it plus a tip. Maybe, you got it wrong. Maybe this is not the company you called. You get out. Now you don't know. Maybe it was all a sham. Your sentimentality betrayed you again. But there's no time to worry about it; he's back in his killing fields, you've got other plots.

Oct 15, 2008

Six weeks ago someone stole the Vote For Obama sign in front of our house. The sign was one of those wire-hanger frames that you stick in the ground. One morning we noticed the sign had disappeared and later found it torn up and thrown in a neighbor's bush. I talked to her. We stood in front of her house. She's also an Obama supporter. She wondered if there might be a connection with a group home recently established down the street. She pointed at it; there was a kid out front. Did he live in the house? I don't know. He was black. If he did live in the house, why would he steal an Obama sign?

I repaired the sign and set it up again. Then yesterday it disappeared. This time I couldn't find it. A small thing but unsettling. A political crime, of passion. But who would care? They must have heard the race was tightening, I thought.

Then it occurred to me that it might have been one of the Vietnamese families on the street. On either side we have Vietnamese neighbors. On one side, an older couple. He was in the South Vietnamese military; he told me that. Very distinguished. His wife, also very distinguished. Often, in the backyard I see her on her deck practicing her golf swing. She's very accomplished. Very fluid swing. And powerful. Once, she advised me where to plant some things. She's used to power. They drive an older black Lexus. Not long ago am ambulance and firetrucks pulled up. I didn't see what happened, but I'm guessing he may have had a heart attack. Whenever I talk to him he says he's for Obama. Who know? I like him. I don't think he did it. I can almost say, he didn't do it.

But on the other side the Vietnamese are evidently poor. The kids own Hondas: motorcycles and cars. They repair them late at night. Their friends come over to get repairs. I told them once that at 11 p.m. it would be nice if they could stop reving their engines. They stopped. Once, the grandmother was out sweeping tree leaves and seeds off the sidewalk. I thanked her, but I don't know if she got the message, she didn't speak English. Another time the man of the house, if that's what he was, said he wanted to cut some branches off the tree that goes with our house. So there would be fewer leaves and seeds on the sidewalk. It's nearly the only tree on the block, I think of it as gold. I told him I would do any cutting. He said, well what about the landlord? I said, I'll do any cutting. He got the message.

A woman used to come out of the house in a terry cloth bathrobe and smoke cigarettes. She had a small dog. She would stand out at night or in the early morning smoking. I smiled, she smiled. Once, in the backyard, the owner and I had another little disagreement. He was putting up a new fence and let some wood and bricks fall on some plants. It's hard to grow plants here because the soil is so bad. It's just sand. He cleaned up the debris. He said something about how wasn't I happy he was putting up a new fence. I said, wouldn't it be great if everyone had an opening in their fence so we could all walk through each other's gardens. He thought that was funny.

Not a day goes by I don't find cigarette butts in our yard. He stands up on the roof sometimes, he's going to add a room. He smokes and I'm assuming flicks his butts down on our yard. It's nothing to him. Or maybe it is. Maybe, it's like spitting at someone's feet.

But then lately I keep finding pennies all over the yard, particularly near his fence. Pennies? Good luck, I always thought. But maybe it's something else. Pennies as in several dollars worth. They've become particularly noticeable since the rains have returned.

Then, I read about Vietnamese support for McCain. He knows their pain. He knows what Ho Chi Minh could do, when he wasn't reading Jefferson and Lenin. I don't know. Could be this man. And so the challenge is not to press my suspicions, let it go. Whatever it is.
On Monday night, when Eric Wright picked off Eli Manning and took off for a 94-yard touch, the width of your nose from the sideline, like he was Nik Wallenda hustling down a high wire, and then the last five yards doing the old Deon Sanders carrioca prance, with right hand up in bebop mock protest and look-at-me delight, I went right back to 1999, when Wright was on the San Francisco Seahawks, the pride of the Filmore. Coach Greg was God to those kids and they'll never have a better coach. D was split out to the right, and second Q, and you can't believe how those kids ran the table, right to the Western regional championship in Reno. They shucked the bejesus out of a team from Alaska. 42 to 7, something like that. D caught a touch and I think threw for one, to the starting Q, or maybe it was just a great pass over the middle. Memory doesn’t serve but caught and threw is the point and Eric Wright probably got the game ball. I assume he did, although they had some other great players on that team.

The night before the game, in a cheap room high up over slotland, they all had a pillow fight and on the way up 80 in the bus, D, who was one of only two caucs on the team, won the football trivia contest. One of the questions was not, ‘What was the pop song the 49ers listened to in the team bus over and over on the way to their first super bowl?’ “This is it” by Kenny Loggins is the answer. But it was like that. After all, the bus is the best and worst of playing sports. It was the best that trip.

And the end of an era. The 49ers went 3 and 12 that year. All the greats had left the year before. The old expectations were being quietly discarded. Still, the dotcom bust was out of sight. Those kids from nowhere were still going down to Mooses’ and buying $350 bottles of wine, to go with hamburgers and fries. It was all cool and selfish. Just like now. And Da Mayor was getting the Chinese girls to wash his hair and sometimes caught a blow job from an available blonde in the backseat of a limo. He was also getting City Hall guilded up to look like the seat of the empire. And even then you didn’t have know Ozymandius to know how this was gonna turn out.

Now? Sentimentality is settling in. D is experiencing his first ‘last’ and the awful realization that something you once took for granted is now gone, something you would die ten times in a row to get back is gone. Meanwhile, another bust is in the air. The city is wobbly and nervous.

If you want to see how far the place has fallen, speaking of football, look at the 49ers. The Yorks have run the franchise down a rat hole. From top to bottom it’s gone amateur. JTO’ isn’t going to bring back this franchise. He'll give you a series, maybe even a game, but that's it. No more promise than roma girls with their good fortunes on neon signs out in the avenues. The city is quieting down and you think, well maybe it’ll do it some good.' But I doubt it.

And all the while I’m remembering playing tennis with my father on Samuel Goldwyn’s tennis court, that last time, in the late afternoon, in the smog and splendor, and afterwards he ate a quart of vanilla ice cream and out on the patio, on the rear deck of the Titanic, as he would say, we drank martinis like it was going out of style.

Oct 9, 2008

At the congressional hearings, among the craven faces of financial Wizards done in by bad spells, was the kisser of Tony Mozillo, Tony-Tony-Tony — say it as fast you can — Mozillo, who took home $140 million in compensation, while the company he founded, Countrywide Insurance, lost $704 million.... It's the face of Vegas at 4 a.m., lips off the face of a deep sea bass, eyes off a man who died five minutes ago, the tan, leathered skin you find at resorts like Cat Cay and the Palm Spring Racquet Club. A face known to hookers and waiters and limo drivers and all the 'little people.' It's a face that makes the face of Dick Fuld, that most fashionable executive of Lehman Brothers, look distinguished and animated.

Oct 7, 2008

Tonight, when John McCain says the likes of, 'Senator, the fact is we don't really know who you are, you're a mystery, all we know is that you've hung around with terrorists, felons and special interest groups.... "

If I were Barack Obama, I would reply...

"John, enough people in Michigan have decided they know me so that you've stopped running in that state. And enough people feel they know me in 'red' states across the country that your campaign is now trying to turn the public's attention away from the greatest economic calamity since the Great Depression and attack my character with the most scurrilous lies.

"The difference between us is this, John. We both believe in free markets, but I believe freedom comes with responsibility and this is one of those times in American history when we need to find our balance.

"You have a long history of favoring unregulated markets, not least when you tried to help your good friend, Charles Keating whose fraud lead to the collapse of 747 savings and loan institutions and cost taxpayers $3.4 billion. It was the most expensive bailout approved by congress in American history.

"Until now.

"And all along in the last 8 years you've endorsed the administration's position, that the 'fundamentals are strong', that the last thing we need is regulation. Even now you've surrounded yourself wth the very people who created this crisis. Your economic adviser, Phil Gramm, is still in the wings. The man who said this was not a crisis but a delusion. A whine....

"The difference between us is that you're running out the clock on an agenda whose time has past. A time when the interests of a few were put above the interests of many. A time in which a culture of greed was not only accepted but mindlessly, oddly encouraged.

"But now that's over and we begin again, in a new direction."

Oct 6, 2008

Pundits on the radio; John and Sarah Doe; fools on the Thorazine ward keep asking, "well yes, it is to hell in a hand basket and I'm already living below my means. But I don't feel anything; what's it go to do with me?"

It's Cuervo time for the cockroaches in Almogordo, in the still branches of 'fat cottonwood', when all of a sudden the big banjo will play, and the earth will start disemboweling itself, but right now it's that second before the wall's vibrato and all things disappear.

In that second, in Akron, a 90-year-old woman shot herself, twice, in her mortgaged chest, rather than be evicted. Neighbor came in and found her, looked like she was asleep on her bed with a long barelled handgun at her side. Touched her shoulder. "Then she kind of moved toward me a little and I saw that blood, and I said, 'Oh, no. Miss Polk musta done shot herself,'".

She had. And that was before the woman in Redwood Shores, on the sidelines of a U-15 soccer game, on Saturday. She turned to her friend and said, "I just can't spend the money. But I know it looks bad so we've decided to do the minimum. You know, $10,000, just to make the front (yard) look decent and leave it at that."

On 47th Avenue and Judah, outside 7-11, in the nightly drizz, just last night, a homeless man and woman huddling with a fake baby. He would like some change, and in his tone you could hear that the business of being homeless is getting serious.

And so the president is going to tell people: go out on a shopping spree. Buy anything you can! Ross will fill up and there'll be a couple of people in the sweaters aisle at Macy's. Some people will buy an extra large popcorn before the movie. I'll buy a five gallon container of Lupine.

But then there was this story from last weekend...

"This is a perfect American family behind me that has absolutely been destroyed," said a chief from LAPD, standing in front of a house at 20644 Como Lane in Porter Ranch, a gated community in Northridge, where the earthquake was, in a two story house, Spanish-stucco-beige, probably with a kidney-shaped pool and a garden filled with succulent ambitions. The family was Indian. The sheriff went on: "destroyed apparently because of a man who just got stuck in a rabbit hole, if you will, of absolute despair, somehow working his way into believing this to be an acceptable exit."

And he added, "It is critical to step up and recognize we are in some pretty troubled times."

They got the counselors up to the neighborhood to explain to kids how these things happen and it's okay, the guy was troubled, because these are troubling times, but you mustn't despair yourself, don't believe what you imagine, because you can get caught up thinking about how that could have happened, how the father would decide what the order of slaughter would be. Did he start with his oldest son? That would make sense, threat wise. The boy was a sophomore at UCLA. And then his mother-in-law, and finally his two younger children who he loved to death, as it were. And then himself.

Everybody said he loved those kids and how's the counselor going to explain that? They were all smart people. Sure the guy was a little unstable, a little intense and then you wonder him going over to the next door neighbor telling her to close the windows on the side of the house next to his. He said he's heard there were burglars. He knew fear would work and she closed those windows and he killed everyone sometime between Friday night and Sunday. No one knows for sure. Hardly anyone heard the shots.

And so is this one of the lessons of troubled times? The ballad of smart people. And now the world is left to the stupid. How will you ever trust smart people again, no matter where they went to school or what their SAT scores were.

That's Palin's real appeal. Not the fuck-me wink, America's Mary Magdalene willing to take all the men, and women, in the country if that'll do the trick. Don't-cha-know'd it! Smart IS dangerous. Stupid IS safe.