Sunday, February 17, 2008

Turning Sixty

I'm writing a new country song, so if you steal it, you have to credit me. It's called, "I'm taking the mirrors out of my house, 'Cause I can't stand to see a grown man cry." For the past several years, I've become accustomed to looking in the mirror and seeing my father's face, but lately I look and see someone else's Dad; one of those old guys in the health club at the Jewish Community Center who wanders around in a towel searching for his locker. It began in December when my drivers' license expired on my 60th birthday and I was required to have a new photo taken. Over the years, my photo IDs have looked like a rogues' gallery of pirates and smugglers, but this time I looked like a demented department store Santa in a fright wig, called into the manager's office for psycholological evaluation. I asked Melody why my beard looked so white and bushy in the photo when I had just trimmed it, and she assured me it was because my big smile accentuated the beginnings of what the pro wrasslers used to call a "turkey neck." In forty years, I've morphed from young Ben Franklin into sinister Sinter Klaus.

When Melody and I run into an old friend we haven't seen in a while, our response is usually the same; "Can you believe how old he looks?" quickly followed by, "Do we look that old?" After we reassure ourselves that our zaniness keeps us cute, we forget it, until I notice that the bags under my eyes have turned into two-suiters and gravity has taken such a toll on my face, I've decided to walk on my hands for the next twenty years. When I glance in a mirror, for an instant I wonder how the basset hound got into our house. Of course, the problems with internal plumbing started years ago. My friends and I used to get together and talk about politics, women, and sports. Now we discuss our prostates. It seems a lifetime ago since I was a teenager, but wasn't I just 35 and moving to Nashville? I used to thrive on steak and eggs at three in the morning, and now, in the past five years alone, I've helped build a new wing on my Gastroenterologist's clinic, and the sonuvabitch won't even name it after me.

Before turning sixty, I had every bodily orifice probed, prodded, or peered into, and been told I had a floppy colon, IBS, a spastic colon, internal hemmorhoids, enflamed intestines, and an ulcer. These are usually considered the easily rectified problems of aging, unless you don't have health insurance, and then you have to pick and choose which among your orifices you wish to treat. I used to have group insurance with the National Council of Jewish Women, but the premiums grew so dear, the underwriter dropped the entire organization, sending a bunch of old ladies, and me, into a frenzy. I have been paying retail for my medical expenses ever since 1991, because I made the terrible mistake of having anti-depressants prescribed by a psychiatrist.

I feel like an anti-depressant pioneer, and I also believe they saved my life. I took one of the first tricyclic medications in 1987, under a doctor's care, who carefully monitored my blood for the proper levels. When I returned to Memphis, I was on my own. I found a doctor to prescribe the medication, but was required to make periodic office visits to show I could still speak in sentences, even though they knew of my insurance woes. Then I got a notice in the mail that said a new office policy required them to charge a fee for refilling prescriptions. It reminded me of what Tony Soprano's mother said in Season One; "Psychiatry is a racket for the Jews." My internist suggested that if I transferred all my records to his office, he could prescribe and I would be able to procure insurance. Who says therapy doesn't work? I felt very empowered when I fired my psychiatrist, but when I applied for insurance, it was the same answer; pre-existing conditions, and no one, and I mean no one, would cover me. My new plan was to wash my hands alot and stay off of high ledges until I was 65. But something happened.

Every young boy claimed the ability to write his name in the snow, but I used to do it in bold, cursive letters and my name is Randolph. Now, as they derisively say in the South, I was "squattin' to pee," and my wife stopped worrying about the toilet seat being up. A bad PSA level caused me to see a specialist who found the cause to be a prostate the size of a ripe kiwi. It was treatable with medication, but the side-effects from the sinus remedy I was using contributed to the bladder restriction. I was given Flomax for that, but the doctor told me I had a choice between peeing and breathing; so I breathed on MWF, peed on TTS, and Sunday I reloaded. He substituted prescription Flonase for my over-the-counter sinus medicine, until one day I confused the Flomax with the Flonase, took out a handkerchief, and inadvertently blew my penis. The problem got worse until I visited a reknowned urologist who said my prostate had indeed shrunk, but the medication had also restricted my urethra and it needed to be widened.

When the color ran from my face, the doctor told me it was an out-patient procedure; all they had to do was arrange an operating room and an anestheologist to put me out, and not only would I not feel a thing, I could go home the same day. When I said I had no health insurance, he said, "Oh." The doctor said he could do a discounted procedure in the office with local anesthetic and get the same result, and nothing I treasured would be punctured, merely inserted. I disrobed and a paper sheet was placed in my lap when, to my alarm, the doctor's young and homely female assistant came in with a needle. She tore a hole in the paper sheet, as if that would be less humiliating, and exposed me like a spring toadstool, but her aim was bad. With terror, I watched the whole tableau turn into the shower scene from "Psycho," and was prepared to bolt when the drug finally took effect, but because I lacked coverage, the doctor didn't use a surgical tool, but widened my urethra with a rusty old shovel. Then he had the temerity to suggest that I have more sex as recovery therapy, which pleased my wife, but was the equivalent of telling a man just out of electro-shock therapy that he's appearing on Jeopardy! next week. Intimacy sounded good, but the tension had weakened my lower spine and I wasn't sure if my back would peter out, or vice versa. (Thanks for the joke, Dad).

I walked around in a daze muttering, "The horror," for a month. I would have sued the doctor for physical and emotional distress, but he was doing me a favor. Things have returned to relative normalcy now, but every once in awhile, I'll pee a little gravel. On the positive side, since I'm a late bloomer in nearly everything in life: college, marriage, career; post-sixty looks bright. I've nearly reached emotional maturity and feel at the peak of my mental abilities. So I guess I'd better start writing faster. All in all, turning sixty beats the alternative, but unless a Democrat is elected and does some fast work on health care, Melody and I will be supplementing our income with a new line of bumper stickers for sexagenarians and new grandparents, saying; "I'm spending my children's college tuition," "Sixty is the new sixty," and, "Ask ME about my colonoscopy."

Monday, February 04, 2008

Super Sisters' Sunday

It was a great game and the commercials were entertaining. People around here seem to like nearly anyone named Manning, and the brothers made their own history. My sympathies to my kith and kin in the Northeast since Memphis is also partial to the Patriot's "Flying Elvis Head" insignia. I've heard of leaving everything on the field, but the losing coach left his entire team out there. And what was the deal about going for it on 4th and 14? For the only pro football game I've watched in its' entirety all year, this was a good one, but I've been more fixated on the other contest.

Earlier in the day, instead of watching beefy, steroidal men without necks exchange their opinions about what was only just about to happen, I watched C-Span so you don't have to. There was another sort of pre-game pep rally going on at UCLA, where thousands packed an auditorium for an early morning Barack Obama campaign event. While the men were tailgating, four strong women orchestrated one of the most significant political events of the year. Energized by Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg's endorsement of Obama in last week's New York Times, the women made a full frontal assault on Hillary's claim to "California Girls," and the rally began to take on the air of an evangelical tent meeting.

Caroline Kennedy spoke first. At the risk of sounding sexist, there is a certain sweetness to her in the discomfort she feels in the spotlight, and I understand what Neil "The Real Deal" Diamond had in mind. Motivated by her children, this is the first time Kennedy has taken so active a role on behalf of any candidate, so her boldness is thus meaningful and admirable. Saying that this was "the first time I get to introduce someone who's not my Uncle Teddy," Caroline brought out the undisputed champ; Oprah Winfrey. I've discussed Oprah's influence in an earlier post, but nowhere was it more evident than in California. A confidant Oprah strode to the stage to thunderous applause and worked the crowd like the pro she is, with lines like, "I have followed the truth and it has lead me to Barack Obama," and "I'm not voting for Barack Obama because he's black. I'm voting for him because he's brilliant." A rapturous, rainbow-coalition audience responded with delight to the most influential media figure in America, who then introduced Michelle Obama.

Any doubts I had about the perceived reluctance of Michelle to stand by her man were forever put aside by her electrifying address, which was part advocacy and part defender against the Clintons. Entering the arena with Stevie Wonder on her arm, Michelle provided the first serious drama of the day. While ascending steps to the speakers' platform, Stevie slipped and fell sideways off the staircase. I was reminded of a similar event in the North Hall of Ellis Auditorium in 1963. Unlike that shocking memory, someone was there to catch him this time, and after retrieving his glasses he was non-plussed about the whole thing. Stevie spoke of peace and love and sang his new Barack Obama chant. Stevie Wonder is another person who's influence should not be dismissed. After all, who was mainly responsible for the MLK holiday?

Michelle Obama displayed an informal earthiness along with the gift of communication that reflected her Princeton education and had the crowd on its' feet with every poignant remark. She opened by saying that, "Only in America could Michelle Obama follow Caroline Kennedy, Oprah Winfrey, and Stevie Wonder." She made the case that Barack did not concoct his convictions on the eve of a Presidential run, and his choice to work in the communities on Chicago's South side, rather than Wall Street, made him better qualified to understand the realities of life than any other candidate. She even made a lawyer joke. Michelle repeated Barack's truthful observation of a "deficit of empathy" in this country, and is the only politician or political advocate who has publicly said that a society is measured by how we treat "the least of these" since Jimmy Carter. She also came up with the line of the day; "Americans can handle the truth. Sometimes we don't know what the truth looks like because we haven't seen it in so long." Every sentence was punctuated by Michelle's graceful pianist's fingers making her points in the air.

The surprise of the day, after Stevie, was the introduction of Maria Shriver, who claimed to have arrived from a horse show with her daughter without changing clothes or applying make-up. Shriver said her daughter had told her, "If you feel like you should be at UCLA," to officially endorse Barack Obama, "You have to go." So there was yet another dynamic Kennedy, standing with Michelle, Oprah, and her cousin Caroline, in a picture of feminist unity that must have sent chills through the Clinton campaign of quite another kind than the ones experienced by those in attendance. Also, the endorsement of Obama by California's First Lady pretty much terminates the buzz over Arnold's endorsement of John McCain.

These four women, all with something to lose, were putting themselves on the line for a cause. Kennedy-Schlossberg must step out of her comfort zone and sacrifice her anonimity; Oprah, who has never campaigned for a political candidate, puts her considerable clout and reputation at risk; Michelle Obama sacrifices time as a mother and a professional for a greater good; and Maria Shriver shows personal and political courage by "following her heart," and standing in opposition to her husband. On this "Super Sunday," while the men were making beer runs, a small coterie of women were trying to wrest the female vote in California away from Hillary Clinton, and if they succeed, as Maria Shriver said, "As California goes, so goes the nation." Now that the game is over and the Giants are the champs, we can refocus on the real contest, Super Tuesday. Don't look now fellows, but today, while you were staring at a zombie jamboree collectively known as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the ladies might have gotten together and wrapped this whole thing up.