Friday, October 30, 2009

The Golden Age of Rock'n'Roll

"Now he's too old to rock'n'roll but he's too young to die."
- Jethro Tull

I recently watched Anvil! The Story of Anvil (a must-see, by the way). Anvil! tells the story of aging metal-heads Steve "Lips" Kudlow and his long-time bandmate, drummer Robb Reiner. While "Lips" toils away at his day job, driving a delivery truck for Choice Children's Catering, he dreams of attaining the arena-scale fame denied him in the '80s.

The movie's downright motivational, riffing on vision, commitment, persistence, Just as important, it's a serious
meditation on aging (and, ultimately, death). The movie got me thinking about another -- in this case, septuagenarian -- rocker: Ian Hunter, frontman for '70s glam group Mott the Hoople.

Just last month, Mott reunited for a series of concerts at the Hammersmith Apollo in London, winning over at least one reviewer:

The first hour was mostly devoted to the band’s pre-Bowie, high-voltage rock 'n’ roll material. Hunter, a busy solo artist for more than three decades, and the silver-topped lead guitarist, Mick Ralphs, riffed vigorously, in active defiance of Time’s subsequent intervention. The partisan crowd — at least eighty percent of whom, gloriously, unrepentantly, were old enough to remember it all from the turn of the Seventies — responded with commensurate enthusiasm.

The electricity crackled to a new intensity, however, when Hunter moved to a piano stage-left, and finally unleashed a dazzling run of glam classics — songs about little more than rock itself. Glam, originally, existed purely to overturn prog-rock’s tedious virtuosity, to revive the raw, sexy thrill of Fifties rock’s simple, thumping beats and clanging riffs.

Perhaps it was daft, witnessing a seventy-year old man with a blond afro singing, “I get my kicks from guitar licks”, but also fabulously empowering, given his heedless dedication to the cause.

I'll admit it: as the weeks and months of my job search drag on, I'm taking (occasional) solace in the joys of my youth (as you may have noticed from my nostalgic comic book posts). One of those joys was Mott the Hoople.

More than wistful, Mott's story is inspirational:
  • Hunter is one of the grand old men of rock'n'roll -- he was born in 1939 (to provide some context: McCartney was born in '42, Jagger in '43; the architects of glam -- Marc Bolan and David Bowie were both born in 1947). One of the band members has Alzheimer's and he still played at the reunion, for goodness sake.
  • Mott was basically a bar band with four unsuccessful albums, on the verge of breaking up, when David Bowie gave them their signature song -- "All the Young Dudes." (Bowie also offered them "Suffragette City" and "Drive-In Saturday," both of which Mott turned down. The story goes that, when Mott passed on the latter, a distraught Bowie shaved off his eyebrows. The moral here: Know Your Mott Lore.)
  • When Mott finally rocketed to the Top Ten, Hunter was well into his 30s, with a wife and two kids (he's been married to the same woman for 38 years).
When asked, "Why stage a reunion?" Hunter answered, "I'm doing it to see what it's like." (Cue Mallory's pithy response to "Why climb Mount Everest?")

More than "Dudes"

A recent article in the UK's Guardian refers to Mott as
a band who may have suffered wild ups and downs, but who post-humously acquired the status of a truly great British rock group: some distance from your Beatles and Stones, no doubt, but still responsible for an array of brilliant songs, an enduring influence, and their own fascinating myth.
Like Bowie (who had struggled to gain notoriety throughout the '60s, finally gaining a foothold at decade's end with Space Oddity), Mott had spent their "years in the wilderness." Unquestionably, Bowie's patronage (with an inestimable assist from sideman extraordinaire Mick Ronson) spelled a turning point.

But one shouldn't let "All the Young Dudes"
overshadow or define Mott's legacy.

In that same Guardian article, Hunter concedes that
We weren't movers. David [Bowie] was a mover. He was brilliant at it. We weren't....Bowie was like something from a UFO, but we weren't like that at all: we were working-class lads.
From such humble beginnings... Even before Bowie, Mott was more than just a bunch of "unknowns." Mott had two capable songwriters: Hunter and guitarist Mick Ralphs, who went on to form Bad Company and pen their first hit "Can't Get Enough" (not to knock Ralphs, but among Bad Company songs, I prefer "Silver, Blue and Gold," a Paul Rodgers composition).

Mott - Meaning and Magic

All great bands have a colorful frontman. Mott was no exception. Whatever else you might say about Ian Hunter, he has character. His look (those ever-present shades, that distinctive mop of hair), his voice, his delivery.

The best of Mott's music has brio, verve, oomph
(yeah, sounds like a shelfful of laundry detergents).

A product of the '50s, Hunter offered stirring rave-ups in the proud barrelhouse tradition of Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. (I get the same rush listening to the opening chords of "Roll Away the Stone" as I do when CCR's "Up Around the Bend" or Springsteen's "Out in the Street" start blasting from the car speakers.) The music's propulsive, ebullient, euphoric.

It isn't just the affectionate nod to the '50s that makes Mott's oeuvre interesting. The music is glam at its best (well, after Marc Bolan and David Bowie, the John the Baptist and Jesus of the genre). For a generation exhausted by the "heavy," soul-searching issues of the '60s -- all the assassinations, clashes, and confrontations -- Mott and their ilk offered
a simple, hedonistic message ("Don't wanna smash, want a smash sensation/Don't wanna wreck, just recreation").

Having lived through a tumultuous decade, people yearned for respite, a chance to recover. An attitude handily captured on "All the Young Dudes": "My brother's back at home with his Beatles and his Stones, we never got it off on that revolution stuff." The "television man is crazy" -- why do you need TV when you "got T. Rex"?

For good or ill, Mott heralds the "good times" of the '70s.

The Trilogy

Mott's reputation rests on three albums:

All the Young Dudes
(1972) - Nineteen seventy-two was glam's banner year with the release of Bowie's Ziggy Stardust, Lou Reed's Transformer, and Mott's All the Young Dudes (as well as the first album by Roxy Music).
The eponymous track has an indisputable place in the rock'n'roll firmament (to this day... it was referenced in that insufferable paean to teenage pregnancy Juno and, as far as I'm concerned, was the basis for Green Day's "21 Guns"). Dudes also includes a staple of FM radio -- "Ready for Love," a brilliant, moody Mick Ralphs song with an awkward and unnecessary Hunter bridge (wisely abandoned in Bad Company's version of the song).

(1973) - Features "All the Way from Memphis" (which appears in both Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore and Breaking the Waves) and "Honaloochie Boogie." Notably, this is the last album that Mick Ralphs recorded with the band.

The Hoople (
1974) - An incredible swan song with nuggets like "The Golden Age of Rock'n'Roll," "Roll Away the Stone," and that perennial "I'm not a number" sing-along "Marionettes." Don't just take my word for it. Check out these vintage videos and see for yourself.


Ian Hunter's post-Mott career saw a continuing collaboration with Mick Ronson (who sadly succumbed to cancer at the age of 46), a number of high points ("Once Bitten, Twice Shy," "Cleveland Rocks," "All of the Good Ones Are Taken") as well as low (All American Alien Boy, for one, where Hunter channels Bowie's Young Americans). But he never lost the passion, he never stopped playing.

In the Guardian article, Hunter says of his life in rock:
"It's cost me... But the minute rock'n'roll arrived, I thought, 'Oh – that's what I'm for.' And it's what I'll do till the day I pop off."
That's the spirit. And that's what we'll remember.

The mates in Mott may all be in their golden years but their music is timeless.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What Black Bolt Can Tell Us

I grew up with superheroes (we were largely a Marvel household). For some reason, I took a liking to Black Bolt, leader of the Inhumans. The Inhumans are a race of super beings, the outcome of genetic experiments conducted by the alien Kree on Stone Age humans. (There's also a bunch of stuff about the mutating effects of the Terrigen Mists. Suffice it to say, "Terrigen Mist" isn't something you can pick up at the liquor store.)

Technically, "Inhumans" refers to the entire race; however, it is often used to denote the Inhuman Royal Family, which includes:
  • Black Bolt, the king
  • Medusa, she of the living hair
  • Karnak, the martial artist
  • Gorgon, he of the hoofed feet
  • Triton, the fish man
  • Crystal, one-time girlfriend of Johnny Storm/the Human Torch, younger sister of Medusa, able to manipulate the four elements (seen below with Lockjaw, the Inhumans' teleporting dog)

Each member has his/her unique power. However, Black Bolt's may be the most unsettling.

His bio on Marvel Universe notes that

Black Bolt has the ability to unleash great destructive power through the use of his voice, but even the slightest whisper will release his power. Therefore, for the most part, he remains silent. This "quasi-sonic" scream is powered by electron energy that he draws in from the environment. At maximum the force is equal to that caused by the detonation of a nuclear weapon.
You can be sure that Black Bolt's teachers never asked him to speak up in class.

A little background: the Inhumans first appeared in Fantastic Four #47 (February 1966).

During the '60s, the Fantastic Four served as a veritable Skunk Works for the super team of
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (the Lennon and McCartney of comics). In one year, in an amazing burst of creativity, Lee and Kirby introduced not only the Inhumans but the Silver Surfer (issue 48) and the Black Panther (issue 52). So not only did we get the first black superhero...

... and the first superhero as Christ figure...

... but we got, for all intents and purposes, the first mute superhero.

Black Bolt and his kind hail from Attilan (a.k.a. the Great Refuge), shown below in happier, prehistoric times.

Interestingly enough (as reported in Wikipedia)

the city of Attilan, was first mentioned years earlier, in a "Tuk the Caveboy" story written and drawn by Jack Kirby that appeared in Captain America #1, 1941. The city was described as the home of a race that was evolutionarily advanced when human beings were still in the caveman era.
(The moral here: never let a good idea about an evolutionarily advanced race go to waste.)

So what's the appeal? Black Bolt speaks to the morose adolescent in all of us (maybe more so than angst-ridden Peter Parker/Spider-Man). That glowering look. That grim veneer. More than merely "distanced" or "stoic."
If he was growing up now, Black Bolt would definitely be goth.

One suspects that Black Bolt never cracks a smile (believe me, you don't want him to laugh) because, as many teens would attest, "nothing's funny." Not only does he bear the burden of royalty, the burden of ruling, but he shoulders that so-serious burden of silence (a monastic quality, a strength of self-control, that many a geek would consider exculpatory and honorable).

Vastly superior. Woefully misunderstood
. Aloof, reserved, but with earth-shattering powers (so don't provoke him by telling him one... more... time to get out of the bathroom). Black Bolt is the embodiment of a self-conscious teen's self-image. And the Inhumans... that's any band of oddballs, freaks, outcasts (for many kids of my era, pariahs took comfort in a claque instead of a clique -- the basement rec room was their Great Refuge).

Plenty here for marginalized teens to gravitate toward, to relate to. But it's not all negative. Black Bolt is a king.
Remarkable. Restrained. Resolute. He defeats evildoers. He behaves responsibly. He watches out for others. He's got that neat tuning fork on his forehead (a great conversation starter). And, in the hands of Jack "King" Kirby, he assumes some mighty awesome poses.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Bad Break - Part 2

I didn't fully grasp the damage to my ankle until I visited the orthopedic surgeon. From the X-ray I'd seen in the emergency room, I thought I'd simply done a number on my tibula (the major weight-bearing bone).

Yes, it turned out, I had fractured my tibula, including breaking off the bottom "scoop." But I'd also broken my fibula. Moreover, I'd torn the connective tissue -- the interosseous ligament -- between the two bones.
As eOrthopod explains:
The interosseous ligament lies between the tibia and fibula. (Interosseous means between bones.) The interosseus ligament is a long sheet of connective tissue that connects the entire length of the tibia and fibula, from the knee to the ankle.
So I was going to need screws to put my tibia back together, a plate and screws to fix my fibula, and a couple longer screws to bridge/bind the ligament (when the ligament scarred shut, these screws would be removed; the rest of the hardware would stay). I would be getting surgical screws (implants) made of stainless steel or titanium (I'd requested adamantium -- like Wolverine's retractable claws -- to no effect).

When the surgeon was done with me, my ankle would look like this:

In medical lingo, I'd be receiving an
ORIF -- Open Reduction Internal Fixation. Open Reduction refers to surgery (because they're literally opening you up) and Internal Fixation (though it sure sounds like a psychological condition) pertains to bone alignment/repair. Conquest Chronicles, a blog about the USC Trojans, states that
the goal of treating all ankle fractures is to re-position the bones to prevent the occurrence of arthritis. Some minor ankle fractures can be treated in a boot or a cast without surgery. The majority of ankle fractures, however, do require operative treatment. Surgery is performed with incision(s) on one or both sides of the ankle. Screws and/or a metal plate are inserted into the medial malleolus and the fibula in order to accurately restore or reduce the fracture alignment.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, "In 2003, nearly 1.2 million people visited emergency rooms because of ankle problems." An article appearing on the website of an accident and injury law firm notes that
High-impact ankle injuries are especially dangerous if the bone breaks through the skin and is exposed to the air. The open wound lets bacteria in to contaminate the broken bone, greatly increasing the risk of infection. In such a case, you will be prescribed a course of antibiotics to stave off any infection.
Thankfully, I'd been spared a compound fracture. However, I wasn't home free.
As I noted in my earlier post about peripheral neuropathy, there can be a variety of complications associated with the break, the subsequent surgery, and the period of immobilization during recovery (among the most common -- nerve damage and muscle atrophy).

As I learned from netdoctor:

Another possible complication is the formation of clots in the deep veins (draining pipes for the blood) of your legs – deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This can happen in the initial days after the operation because you won’t be moving around much.

A piece of one of these clots can get detached and ‘travel’ all the way to the blood pipes of your lungs. There it can cause partial or complete obstruction of the blood vessels of the lungs, which can be lethal.

Fortunately, "You will be given injections of blood-thinners (heparin) after the operation to prevent a DVT."

The morning of the surgery arrived. My wife and daughter drove me to the hospital. I was given a hospital gown. The nurse started an intravenous drip. They got me on a gurney. They wheeled me into the (freezing) OR. They placed me on the operating table. I caught a glimpse of my surgeon.

And then... lights out.

When I woke up, I felt like I was in the anteroom to heaven. A wash of white light, the disembodied voice of a nurse. Asking me, "What's your pain like, on a scale of one to ten?" I was given a painkiller for anything over "one."

As we know, all good, morphine-induced experiences must pass. Soon enough, I was sitting in a wheelchair, reunited with my family. Being pushed though the halls. Out to the parking lot. Out into the cold, harsh world.

It Came from Japan

I took my daughter to see Astro Boy on Friday; I watched the DVD of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen yesterday. "Vacuous spectacle," some might say. "Formulaic pap." "Full of sound and fury..." (kindly fill in the rest). Quality aside, movies such as these raise a larger, equally vital question: How long can we keep mining Japanese pop culture?

From Godzilla to Speed Racer to Pokemon, we seem to have a bottomless appetite for anything Japanese, ranging from the icons of our youth to obscure anime (my daughter, for example, is a fan of the manga Mermaid Melody). Do the Japanese have a special touch with this sort of stuff? Or is it just that, as major trading partners for the past 60 years, we've imported an array of cultural gewgaws along with the autos, electronics, and Kobe beef?

Seems to me that Hollywood is going farther and farther afield to adapt "known" characters, bankable properties.
(One can surmise that the studios won't be satisfied until they've made a big-budget version of every Saturday morning cartoon. Similarly, one can be assured that any redeeming qualities the original might have had, no matter how slight, will be pureed into mush after passing through the Tinseltown Cuisinart).

In the Hollywood formula, you combine one part name recognition with two parts built-in audience. Add a dash of minimal risk and you've
turned a beloved novelty into a lurching, bellowing, booming "entertainment."

Take Astro Boy. Astro Boy was first published in 1952, then became a television program in 1963. (Is it just me or does the early Astro Boy
bear a striking -- and disconcerting -- resemblance to Betty Boop?)

Yes, Astro Boy was popular... among the elementary school set... in his day. (How many moviegoers remember him from the '60s? And would rush out for an updated, CGI version?) And, granted, Astro Boy may have been a trail-blazer -- Wikipedia claims that "Astro Boy is the first Japanese television series that embodied the aesthetic that later became familiar worldwide as anime." And, yes,
In 2007 and 2008, Cartoon Network began broadcasting and webcasting NBC's syndicated edition of the original 1960s episodes as a part of its late night Adult Swim line-up.
So a younger audience may be familiar with him. All well and good. But, nearly 50 years after his debut, is Astro Boy worth the star treatment? What are today's filmmakers adding to it? Where's the distinctive imprint or spin?

And what about the Transformers?
The millennia-spanning clash between Autobots and Decepticons. The primal, Manichaean struggle between good (Optimus Prime) and evil (Megatron).

Wikipedia again:
The Transformers began with the 1970s Japanese toy lines Microman and Diaclone. The former utilized varying humanoid-type figures while the latter presented robots able to transform into everyday vehicles, electronic items or weapons.
We know them best from the Transformers TV series in the '80s. But, again, you'd think this juvenile fare (don't forget: these are based on toys) would speak to folks born in the '70s... and now in their 30s.

Let's face it: kids and teens weren't even alive when these characters had their day in the sun. But, when you combine a massive marketing budget with the fact that kids' parents -- and grandparents -- remember these characters, you're going to fill seats in the cinema.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, you're also getting
  • State-of-the-art eye candy -- a non-stop blur of movement and color (and noise) that appeals to the two-year-old in each of us (what some may characterize as a "roller coaster ride in an abusement park")
  • Carnage on an epic scale (time to sink an aircraft carrier, time to demolish a pyramid)
  • Battling giants (that perverse playground thrill of watching the two biggest brutes in the class having a slug-fest... all hunky-dory as long as you're at a safe distance, removed from the melee)
"What's better than one rampaging monster? A dozen rampaging monsters." It's the same inviolable premise behind the 1968 classic Destroy All Monsters.

Or a personal favorite like War of the Gargantuas (1966) about
two giant, hairy humanoids called Gargantuas, which [were] spawned from the discarded cells of Frankenstein's monster from the previous film [Frankenstein vs. Baragon] and are described as brothers. The Green Gargantua is violent and savage, preying upon human beings; as he lives in sea water, he is given the name Gaira... corresponding to [the] Japanese characters for "sea". The Brown Gargantua had been raised in captivity, and is docile and gentle; because he resides in the Japan Alps, he is called Sanda (from san, "mountain"). The film follows the investigation and military engagements of these creatures until their climatic confrontation in Tokyo.
Huge, furry Frankensteins smashing Tokyo -- now that's a story. (Not to mention -- this is Russ Tamblyn's claim to fame after West Side Story and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.)

Maybe it's not a burnished, awe-inspiring "event." But it's still a hoot (
gotta love those psychedelic gorilla suits). Even without a billion-dollar budget, a three-hour running time, brain-numbing effects, and -- lest we forget -- Megan Fox.

Watch this trailer for War of the Gargantuas and tell me, honestly, if War of the G's -- in all it's loony, cheesy glory -- doesn't give Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen a run for its money.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Super-Pets to the Rescue

What with all the talk of assaults, injuries, and fatalities, my last few posts have been too serious. (I was bummed out as I glanced back over them.) We need a break, right? What better way to dispel that gathering, funereal gloom than a discussion of super-pets!

After comics exhausted human sidekicks (Batman had Robin, Flash had Kid Flash, Aquaman had Aqualad, Green Arrow had Speedy), it was inevitable -- superheroes had to have their super-pets. In 1955, along came Krypto,
Superboy's super pooch.

The same month brought us Ace the Bat-Hound (ah, to be alive in June 1955).

Three years later, the Legion of Super-Heroes debuted.

If teen sidekicks struck a note with the youthful readership, why not a bevy of them... a veritable legion? In the DC Universe -- a mighty silly place, especially in the '50s -- why not characters like Bouncing Boy and Triplicate Girl (who, sadly, became Duo Damsel when "one of her three bodies was killed battling Computo the Conqueror")?

Okay, you say, but what's the connection between the Legion and these super-pets? As Wikipedia explains:
Superboy was the featured series in Adventure Comics in the late 1950s. In Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958), he was met by three teenagers from the 30th century: Lightning Boy, Saturn Girl, and Cosmic Boy, who were members of a "super-hero club" called the Legion of Super-Heroes. Their club had been formed with Superboy as an inspiration, and they had time travelled to recruit Superboy as a member. After a series of tests, Superboy was awarded membership and returned to his own time.
Both the Legion and Krypto had Superboy in common. Krypto, as a super being, naturally needed to be part of a super group. Voila -- the Legion of Super-Pets.

With such indelible members as Comet the Super-Horse, Streaky the Super-Cat, and Beppo the Super- Monkey. Beppo the Super-Monkey?

(In the same way that Vincent Price was The Last Man on Earth until a bunch of other people showed up, Superman was the only survivor of Krypton... until his extended family and a Kryptonian petting zoo conveniently -- if not miraculously -- appeared.)

But all was not well. What could be worse than "The Revolt of the Super-Pets"?

he death of a super-pet.

But, fear not, the super-pets are alive and well (at least in cartoon syndication).

If you've read my "Ode to Ben," you know about my predilection for pets. Pets are irreplaceable companions. They center us, sustain us, save us. We each have our Krypto. Our Streaky. Our Beppo (well, at least Michael Jackson had his Beppo).

When everyone seems to fail us. When we're abject, lonely, in need. Who do we look to? Who do we turn to? Our super pets. Our super pets come to the rescue.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Remember the Fallen

Although they may seem innocent enough,
slip and fall incidents can actually cause devastating injuries to those people unfortunate enough to experience them. Although the vast majority of slip and fall injuries are no more than cuts and bruises, some incidents result in broken bones, concussions, back injuries and even permanent brain injuries.
So notes an article appearing, appropriately enough, on Pratfalls, the perennial stock-in-trade of comedy, has a serious side. When characters tumble and crash in movies, they always manage to pop back up like a jack-in-the-box. When people trip, slip, or flip in real life, they're more likely to garner an ambulance ride than a round of guffaws.

Some facts:
  • In a presentation given by Howard Harris, MD, at the National Floor Safety Institute Symposium, we learn that fall-related injuries are the most common cause of nonfatal injuries (and the most common cause of hospital admissions for trauma), result in 8 million ER visits (and 425,000 hospital admissions) annually, and add up to $19 billion a year in direct medical costs. Falls are especially lethal for people over 65 -- every year, this group suffers a shocking 13,000 fatalities due to fall-related injuries.
As I learned, a simple slip can put you out of commission for months. It isn't just the injury -- the cumbersome cast, unwieldy crutches, monotonous PT exercises. It's the collateral damage -- muscle loss from lack of use, nerve damage from surgery. Not to mention the psychological toll: being housebound to the point where your bed is a raft, adrift in an endless, inhospitable ocean.

Where crossing a room leaves you sweating and winded, like you've run a marathon. Where every stairway is an intimidating Everest.
Where you have to ask people to bring you... everything. More than feeling debilitated. Feeling powerless, stranded, a burden. Exhausted. Despondent. Wearily eying the arduous process of getting back on your feet. Overcoming the funk.

And realizing, "My schools, my parents, my coaches taught me a lot of things. But they never taught me how to fall." You'd think this would be a basic life skill. But now you make it one. Prime Objective: prevent a future fall (and the resultant massive hassle). For those who are interested, the National Ag Safety Database offers this advice on learning how to fall:
  • Tuck your chin in, turn your head, and throw an arm up. It is better to land on your arm than on your head.
  • While falling, twist or roll your body to the side. It is better to land on your buttocks and side than on your back.
  • Keep your wrists, elbows and knees bent. Do not try to break the fall with your hands or elbows. When falling, the objective is to have as many square inches of your body contact the surface as possible, thus spreading out the impact of the fall.
We take so much for granted. This past summer, with my ankle on the mend, I'd look at other people's ankles. Carefree, striding pedestrians with their healthy, sturdy, unmarred ankles. And I'd envy them. Yes, "ankle envy." The season of sun, shorts, and sandals. And I'd be fuming.

It wasn't pretty, b
ut it passed. (Actually, it morphed into an appreciation -- I'm awed that ankles can withstand the constant pounding. Supporting hundreds of pounds. Taking thousands of steps. Every single day.) As I recovered, I was thankful to have my legs back. Happy to be able to walk. Delighted to be able to drive. Viewing all those on crutches, all those with casts with a newfound sensitivity, a heartfelt respect.

I say hats (and casts) off to all those who have fallen. You're a living testament to the body's ability to heal and regenerate. The spirit's ability to adapt and endure. Like the mythical salamander surviving the flames, you've come through. Intact and unbroken.

A Bad Break - Part 1

I'll always remember that morning. The day after Christmas. Clear. Sunny. Bright. The world glistening. Coated in a layer of ice.

When I left for work, I scattered the rest of the rock salt at the base of the porch stairs. Headed for the train. Nobody else around but me. Quiet. Peaceful. Slippery. But I was confident. I was wearing my boots. Had enough time. Just had to be careful. Maintain my balance. Walk with measured steps.

Made it to the end of the block. Turned the corner. Step pause. Step pause. And I was on my back. Struggled to my feet. Wobbled. And I was down again. This time, I wasn't getting up. This time, I knew something was wrong.

I didn't hear a snap or feel any searing jolt of pain. Just knew. Something was wrong with my right ankle. Sitting in the snow, I eased out my cell phone, called my wife (thank the stars she was home).

"I think I broke something."

"Pack some snow in your knit cap. Wrap it around the ankle."

All so prosaic. So matter of fact. She was getting dressed. She was on her way.

Slowly, delicately, removing my boot. Applying the knit-cap compress. Waiting. Sitting in the snow. Hearing
the distant, doleful dinging of the train departing from the station (cue "The Bells" by Edgar Allan P.) Told myself, "You should've known better. At the first sight of the ice, you should've turned around. Gone back home."

Watching the occasional car pass. Several went by. Drivers seeing me there, plain as day, side of the road, clutching my ankle. Left for dead.

Finally, a car stopped.

"You okay?"

"Yeah" I lied. "My wife's coming."

When she arrived, the big challenge was getting inside (didn't want to put any weight on that ankle). Crawling to the open door, finding that the slightest pressure made me wince.

With my daughter's help, I made it in. Sprawled across the back seat. Door thumps shut. Our car inching toward the hospital.

The lobby of the ER, crowded with people who've taken a spill. Cradling arms, cupping wrists. Hobbling. Telling myself, "Don't worry. It's only a sprain."

In the X-ray room. Before removing my sock, the technician says, "So far, so good -- nobody's come in with a broken bone." Looks at my ankle sans sock. Can see that it's odd, misshapen, deformed. "So far."

An examination room. The ER doctor enters. Shows me an X-ray. There's my tibia. Cracks running up vertically from the heel. Like veins. Or threads on a celery stalk.

"Did a real job on yourself. Gonna need some hardware."

As the nurse slaps on a temporary cast, realizing that if I'd placed any weight on it, the ankle would've crumbled. Lucky that I didn't step on it. Lucky that my wife and daughter were home. Lucky I had a weekend to rest up before seeing the orthopedic surgeon.

The day after Christmas. Driving home. On a different day, I would've been at work. Everything would've been fine. One step -- everything changed.

It had been a brutal winter.

A warm front moved in that evening. The following day, it was amazingly balmy. The snow receded. The epidermis of ice thinned, shriveled, vanished.

That day and the next, I didn't leave my bed. But I was on my way. The first, ponderous steps in a long, affirming journey.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Most Dangerous Profession

What's the most dangerous job? Being a police officer? A firefighter? A lineman with a utility company? How about "fishers and related fishing workers"? (BTW - 007 doesn't count.)

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, fishermen (commercial, not recreational) top the list of most deadly occupations.
Also on the list, at #10 -- cab driver. (A few other interesting stats from the list: "Refuse and recyclable material collectors" weigh in at # 6, "Roofers" are #7, and "Electrical power-line repairers and installers" -- see above under "lineman" -- are #8.)

A recent (Oct. 7) article in the Chicago Sun-Times reports that
A new survey from the University of Illinois at Chicago... found that one in five Chicago cabdrivers has been physically attacked on the job.... Cab and livery drivers are 60 times more likely to be murdered on the job than other workers, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
According to the special report "Years of Living Dangerously," cab drivers are
victim to more non-fatal assaults (184 per 1,000 cabbies) than any other occupation with the exception of police (306 per 1,000) and private security guards (218 per 1,000).
Why do patrons (and others) attack cabbies? "Is It Too Easy to Clobber a Cabbie?" (Oct. 15 issue of the Chicago Reader) provides some insights:
Cabbies do risky work: driving alone, late at night, carrying cash, they are prime targets. But according to reports from drivers and a study by the University of Illinois at Chicago's School of Labor and Employment Relations that was released October 7, the scariest people many drivers face aren't robbers with guns or lead pipes in "bad" neighborhoods but rather inebriated white-collar types partying in trendy areas.
Peter Enger, an organizer for the United Taxidrivers Community Council, says "we suffer the most violence in the most highly trafficked areas. It's the drunks and rowdies who perpetrate violence on the cabdrivers. Is it because [drivers] are immigrants, because of prejudice? We don't know. But what we do know is they do it because they can."

Another dangerous profession -- convenience store clerk. A piece from 2002 in the Christian Science Monitor found "an uptick in store-clerk murders in the past three years, jumping from 78 to 111 between 1999 and 2000 alone." The article informs us that
Other experimental safety measures [besides plate glass and drop safes] haven't always worked. Already, a mandate by many oil companies to put two people on the night shift at gas stations has backfired: more clerk killings, it turns out, happen when there are two people there. "They're killing the witnesses," says [Wilson] Beach [director of the Service Station Dealers of America and AlliedTrades].
"Cabbies and clerks?" you scoff. "Common knowledge says that cops and firefighters have the most dangerous jobs." Let me say: I have the utmost respect for police officers and firefighters. In fact, of my two favorite uncles, one was a police officer and the other was a fireman (back when there were firemen). But that doesn't change the facts.

We learn from the Officer Down Memorial Page that, for 2009, line-of-duty deaths for police officers have been largely attributable to automobile accidents (28)
and to gunfire (36). (Note that "struck by vehicle," "vehicle pursuit," and "vehicular assault" -- which, combined, accounted for 15 deaths -- are separate categories from "automobile accident"). The breakdown is similar in prior years, with auto-related deaths equivalent to gunfire fatalities.

Or look at casualties compiled by the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA). One hundred fifteen firefighters died, on average, each year over the past 10 years. (On-duty injuries were much higher, in the tens of thousands every year.)

Make no mistake: every one of those deaths is an incredible loss. My point is that cabbies and clerks are often as much in harm's way as are police officers and firefighters. Unlike cabbies and clerks (who are dying in comparable numbers), police officers and firefighters are rigorously trained, appropriately garbed, and adequately armed. With extensive backup and state-of-the-art resources.

Cabbies and clerks -- lacking all that, vulnerable and alone -- could even be considered more heroic than their firefighting, law-enforcing counterparts. So why is it that, when one of them is killed, it rarely makes the news?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Sound of One Goose Honking

This morning, as I was watering the flower bed in front, I heard honking. Not from the street. From above.

I looked up, spotting a solitary goose winging southeast. Right direction. But why was he (irresponsibly assuming "it" was a "he") alone? Had he gotten separated from his flock? Was the poor fellow lost -- desperate, dejected, disoriented?

There were no other geese in sight. Just our buddy in the empty, cloud-strewn sky. Call without response. Driven. Undaunted. Following his internal compass. Emblem of the eternal migration.

Great, but what was wrong with this bird?
  • It's said that "Geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed." But there were no other birds ahead of this one. So who was he urging on?
  • It's common knowledge: geese fly in flocks (a wise thing to do when you're taking multi-thousand-mile trips). Why wasn't our friend comfortably aloft in a familiar, time-tested, bomber-squadron, V-shaped formation? Was he simply a slow-poke, lagging behind? Was he delirious? Damaged? In dire straits?
  • Migration is a learned process. Perhaps our pal was an unschooled fledgling.
  • Remember: geese mate for life. Where the blazes was this guy's partner? And should we assume the worst about him because he didn't have one?
It's tough enough being a bird (despite what they say, it's not all freedom and foraging). According to the American Wind Energy Association:
The National Academy of Sciences estimated in 2006 that wind energy is responsible for less than three out of every 100,000 bird deaths caused by human activities. House cats kill an estimated 1 billion birds annually in the U.S. alone; buildings 100 million to 1 billion; automobiles 60-80 million; power lines hundreds of thousands to as many as 175 million, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and other sources.
Many migrating birds never reach their destinations because
When they are flying near buildings [in metropolitan areas], the nighttime lights can confuse the birds. Sometimes they crash into the lit building; other times, decorative lights disorient the birds and cause them to circle around and around, finally settling exhausted in a street tree or bush at daybreak. From there, “birds can fly into glass windows as they fly toward a reflection or even a planter inside the building,” explains Rebekah Creshkoff of the New York City Audubon Society.
Chicago, to its credit, "was one of the first U.S. cities to address nighttime bird deaths. The [Lights Out] program encourages building managers to dim or turn off decorative lighting late at night and to minimize the use of bright interior lights during migration season.
" (Great news for our friend if he was passing through downtown Chicago at night.)

Search the Web and you'll find plenty of facts ("Swans and geese are the largest waterfowl") and lore
(Mother Goose, golden eggs).
  • Federal Goose Control Inc. argues that "In recent years Canada geese have become an urban nuisance" that should be combated with trained Border Collies, remote-controlled watercraft, and nontoxic chemical deterrents.
  • refutes the myth of "goose-riding": "[Migrating] Hummingbirds do not ride on the backs of geese." So we do know that the goose I saw wasn't, in taxi fashion, giving a hummingbird a lift.
But the answer to our question: Why was this bird flying alone...?

There's a book titled Solitary Goose. Maybe that has some insights.

Wikipedia assures us that "Most Canada geese have staging or resting areas where they join up with others." Perhaps, at the next rest stop -- some bucolic, secluded pond -- the flock is staging a pull-out-all-the-stops reunion shindig.

National Geographic says that geese
"can cover 1,500 miles in just 24 hours with a favorable wind." Let's hope that, no matter his insecurities, limitations, and struggles, our friend, boosted by unflagging stamina and a stiff wind, will shortly and joyfully reunite with his befeathered brethren.

A Beef with Beef

Delicious. Delectable. Deadly. For more reasons than you may think.

A recent New York Times article tells the devastating story of a young woman who was left paralyzed by
a severe form of food-borne illness caused by E. coli, which Minnesota officials traced to the hamburger that [the woman's] mother had grilled for their Sunday dinner in early fall 2007.
The article informs us that
Ground beef is usually not simply a chunk of meat run through a grinder. Instead... a single portion of hamburger meat is often an amalgam of various grades of meat from different parts of cows and even from different slaughterhouses. These cuts of meat are particularly vulnerable to E. coli contamination... Despite this, there is no federal requirement for grinders to test their ingredients for the pathogen.
I've heard the arguments for eating less (or no) red meat. I've read Fast Food Nation. I've seen Super Size Me (and know that Food Inc. should be in my Netflix queue). So why don't I cut back on -- or simply cut out -- the red meat?

I could say that I'm a creature of habit. Or that I'm
a dyed-in-the-wool carnivore. Or that it's genetic (I hail from Wisconsin, the Land of Milk and Pork). I could aver that I limit my meat intake. Vouch that, in preparing meat or meat products, I practice safe handling procedures, cook the patty/loin/shank thoroughly, and diligently, scrupulously, impeccably clean all meat-tainted surfaces.

But common sense (and my wife) say, "Hooey. What will it take for you to lay off the beef?" I read the horror stories. I hear my doctor's warnings. I see the studies that decry a meat-rich diet, studies like this one on the
Mediterranean dietary pattern (MDP)
found depression was more than 30% less likely to develop in people who followed a diet high in vegetables, fruit and cereals, and low in red meat. [According to Professor Miguel Martinez-Gonzalez of the University of Navarra] "We know how important the Mediterranean diet is in reducing cardiovascular risk factors and the same inflammatory proteins are also raised in patients with depression."
Yes, I'd be healthier -- and happier -- without that burger (and the world may well be better off without all those factory farms). Nevertheless, no matter how distressing the consequences,
no matter how punishing or destructive the outcome, there's always that temptation, like a vampire's intractable thirst. The lure of meat. A gnawing hunger. An insatiable need. That lolling, lowing, demonic cow on my back.