Friday, July 30, 2010

Thankful . . .

Yesterday, July 29, 2010. Just another day, just another hospital, just another procedure, a two-hour outpatient operation to rid my bladder (not kidneys) of stones formed as a result of my enlarged (but not cancerous) prostate gland, which was microwaved a couple years ago to shrink it, but then the stones started forming, big honkers that Doc Potty broke up with a laser so the fragments could be flushed through the urethra, and everyone in the operating room had to wear special glasses, including me because I had a spinal anesthesia (not a general) so I was awake the whole time and waiting for the laser light show like they have in downtown Las Vegas but there wasn’t one, just exploding sounds and I think Doc Potty was having fun zapping the stones even though Santana was on the sound system, and then he was finally done and sent me to the recovery room where I recovered some (but very little) of my dignity, and once I was dignified they sent me home where I sit now with a catheter and a leg bag (until Monday) and a lot of blood, but I’m


Thankful, because I had a skilled doctor like Potty, a concerned young anesthesiologist who monitored my breathing and heart throughout the procedure even though I had a spinal painkiller, and a whole crew of surgical nurses who knew what to do when it needed doing.

Thankful, because we have the technology to repair our body parts when they’re repairable and with as little pain as possible. I think back to the hundreds of years of mankind when the practice of medicine was nonexistent or rudimentary at best, and the excruciating pain people endured even for a bad tooth.

Thankful, because even though I have plumbing problems and I’m in end-stage emphysema, I’m still alive as ever.

Alive as ever, but slower than ever in Blogaritaville, so I’m really thankful that you’re all still hanging in here with me . . .


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Making Cocaine

This post will hopefully be of interest to some of the 50 people who responded to my essay, Alcoholic. Actually, I hope it's of interest to everyone.

* * *

This morning’s newspaper had a front-page story about drug trafficking, this time involving Venezuela. Accompanying the article was a photo of the U.S. Coast Guard’s interception of a nondescript boat allegedly containing $55 million-worth of cocaine.

The production of cocaine and crack cocaine has long been the major export of Peru and Bolivia, but it’s nice to see another banana republic breaking into its manufacture and sale: God knows the poor people of Venezuela can use the money, and I think it’s swell that American coke addicts are so willing to support this worthy cause. [This is my small bowl of sarcasm; I have larger sizes upon request.]

The reason I bring the subject up is it reminded me of a story from the time I was working with drug addicts. The process of making cocaine fascinated me, so I read the following account during a weekly men’s group.

How Illicit Cocaine is Produced*

Drying leaves (illegally)in Bolivia
"First, the coca leaves are harvested. In some parts of Bolivia, this is done as often as once every three months because the climate is well suited for the plant to grow. Second, the leaves are dried, usually by letting them sit in the sunlight for a few hours or days, and although this process is illegal in many parts of South America, the local authorities are quite tolerant and do little to interfere with the drying of coca leaves."

A little authorly humor. Har. The process continues:

"In the third step of cocaine production, the dried leaves are put in a plastic-lined pit and mixed with water and sulfuric acid. The mixture is crushed by workers who wade into the pit in their bare feet. After the mixture has been crushed, diesel fuel and bicarbonate are added to it. After ... workers reenter the pit several times to stomp through the mixture, the liquids are drained off. Lime is then mixed with the residue, forming a paste known as cocaine base. It takes 500 kilograms of leaves to produce 1 kilogram of cocaine base.

"The fourth step involves adding water, gasoline, potassium permanganate, and ammonia to the paste. This forms a reddish brown liquid, which is then filtered. Adding a few drops of ammonia produces a milky solid that is filtered and dried. Then the dried base is dissolved in a solution of hydrochloric acid and acetone. A white solid forms and settles to the bottom of the tank. This solid material is the compound cocaine hydrochloride. Eventually, [it] is filtered and dried under heating lights. This causes the mixture to form a white, crystalline powder, which is packed and shipped usually in kilogram packages. Before sale to the individual user, each kilogram is adulterated and the resulting compound packaged in 1-gram units." [Highlighted text is mine.]

At the end of my reading, the addicts in the men’s group were as stunned as I had been. Diesel fuel and gasoline? Hydrochloric and sulfuric acids? ACETONE? Dangerous chemicals all, supposedly filtered a few times, but who can attest to the quality control of illicit drug manufacturers?

And even though these fellows were in "treatment," in "recovery," I sensed that they were proud of what they'd snorted, smoked, or injected into their bodies.

* * *

*Doweiko, Harold E. (2002, Fifth edition), Concepts of Chemical Dependency, Pacific Grove, CA: Wadsworth Group, pp 140-141.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Review: The Glass Rainbow

PROF. WORM'S BOOK REVIEW POLICY: I only review books that, in my opinion, will be of interest to general readers. I cannot please everyone, of course, so your results may vary.

The Glass Rainbow, James Lee Burke

Simon & Schuster, July 13, 2010
ISBN 9781439128299
448 pages

"The Abelards had paneled their sunporch with stained-glass images of unicorns and satyrs and monks at prayer and knights in armor that shone like quicksilver, turning their home into a kaleidoscopic medieval tapestry. Or perhaps, better said, they had created a glass rainbow that awakened memories of goodness and childhood innocence, all of it to hide the ruination they had brought to the Carribean- like fairyland they had inherited."

The prominent and powerful Abelards, grandfather Timothy and grandson Kermit, surround themselves with some very evil people: Robert Weingart, a convict turned author; Vidor Perkins, a psychotic interloper; Herman Stanga, a pimp and drug dealer; Layton and Carolyn Blanchet, a self-made investment tycoon and his wife.

Two teenaged girls are dead, tortured and mutilated, one of whom was literally “scared to death.” The other girl, Bernadette Latiolais, was an honor student in high school and offered a full college scholarship. These were innocent young girls, but no one can be bothered to investigate their deaths.

No one, that is, except Sheriff’s detective Dave Robicheaux and his long-time partner and sidekick, PI Clete Purcel. Never mind that the girls’ bodies were found outside Dave’s jurisdiction of New Iberia, Louisiana; Dave and Clete will do whatever it takes to solve these murders.

James Lee Burke
None of this is news to the fans of James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux. But what about the rest of you, who may never have heard of James Lee Burke or this series? This is the eighteenth installment, but it stands quite well on its own—it includes well-placed backstory that enlightens rather than confuses, as well as showcasing Burke’s often-lyrical prose that makes his beloved (and devastated) Louisiana come alive for the reader.

The second half of the book will surprise even Burke fans. Dave and Clete know the Abelard bunch are connected in some way with the murders—each of the suspects exude a palpable odor of human depravity— but none of the pieces are falling into place. They begin to wonder if they’ve grown too old for the job, or if they’ve lost their investigative touch, or if their decades-long streak of good luck is about to come to an end.

I, the reader, begin to wonder too. Both Purcel and Robicheaux live with demons from their past, but they deal with them differently. Clete is cavalier: he buries his with alcohol, women, outrageous behavior, and his philosophy of life, “It’s all just rock ‘n roll.” Dave, however, has demons that haunt him, sins of violence past that need forgiveness and cause him to do whatever it takes to right a wrong and find redemption . . .

It is important, then, that they solve this nearly unsolvable crime. They have a plan, as always, but the book’s ending bothers me. It bothers me because it's haunting me, the reader. Dave said about the Abelards in the quote above, “[T]hey had created a glass rainbow that awakened memories of goodness and childhood innocence . . .”

Anything made of glass, however, even rainbows of goodness and childhood innocence, can be shattered at a moment's notice.

(out of 5) stars.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


January 11, 2006. My mission: get a haircut per Commandant Martha. Mission accomplished at 1430 hours. I looked and felt like a new man, until . . .


“They” say that the majority of automobile accidents occur within a few thousand miles of home and “they” are correct. I was within a few thousand miles of our garage when the woman who was presumably driving in front of me decided to stop. In the middle lane of three, in the middle of the block, no red lights or stop signs, no endangered species like children or puppies in the roadway. She just . . . stopped. And so did I. But unfortunately for me, the lady behind me did not.

It was quite a crash. Loud, and the sound of smashing plastic and tearing metal was quite distinctive. Her airbag deployed, but the only thing of mine that deployed were my eyeglasses, which ended up under my left foot—the one that was frozen to the clutch pedal.

The good news is my eyeglasses did not break.

The bad news is the lady does not have insurance.

The good news is the front end of her car ended up in pieces.

The bad news is I dropped my collision insurance four months ago because my vehicle is elderly.

The good news is it’s drivable.

The bad news is the left rear end is elevated and the right front end is de-elevated.

The good news is there were no serious injuries.

The bad news is my brain is loose.

I can tell because it kind of squishes when I walk. Squish, squish, squish. But it also rattles, not unlike the snake of the same name.

“Do we own a snake?” I asked Martha last night at the dinner table. “I could swear I hear a snake. Do YOU hear a snake?”

“Nope, must all be in your head,” she replied.

She’s right. And so is the pounding headache. Not to mention the squishing. And sore neck vertebrae numbers 1, 2a, and 4c. Maybe I have a concussion, or delineation, or just a good old-fashioned parting of the ways.

Then again, maybe it’s all in my head.

* * * * *

My Mom used to name her cars. I think her 64 Merc, the last car she owned, was named “Fluffy”. I might be wrong. Maybe Fluffy was her stupid cat. I don’t remember. Nice woman, but a little . . . odd.

Fortunately, I didn’t inherit her “odd” gene. All my genes are even: 18, 12, 16, and so on. Oddly enough, those evens are also my measurements. I am painfully thin.

To me, inanimate objects are nothing more than things. Some things are self-contained, like rocks, while other things are made of bits and pieces of still other things. Like my truck. Which doesn’t have a name—other than Thing, of course.

On January 11, 2006, a knuckleheaded woman who was offensively driving crashed into the rear end of my Thing, a 1995 Ford Explorer. She had a cell phone stuck to her face, but she did not have auto insurance.

In mid-February I got a call from Knucklehead’s employer. Since Knuck was driving her personal piece of thing on business, the employer would pay for Thing’s repairs. I sang every hymn I know with the word “alleluia” in it, and I praised the car-god himself, Henry Ford.

The insurance company sent an estimator to my personal driveway, where he took a lot of photos of Thing and went “hmm” at least two hundred times while he was under Thing inspecting its underthings.

A week later, I got the bad news. Thing’s rear frame was broken and beyond repair. No fixee-fixee. Kaput. Worst of all, totaled. I was devastated.

* * * * *

Thing and I go back a long way, back when Thing was a mere baby with less than 100 miles on it. I raised it until it was a healthy, bouncing 55,000 mile adult Thing. I changed its oily diapers regularly. I gave it gasoline, antifreeze and coolant, brake and transmission fluid, and a brand-new set of sixteen-inch tires. Everything a Thing could possible need and want. In return, over an eleven-year span, Thing never let me down once. Not once. Ever.

And we had fun together, especially in Colorado. We would sneak off together, just Thing and I, find a safe icy place, and throw ourselves into slow giddy skids, laughing like little kids as we spun around. When I installed a CD player and better speakers, Thing learned to sing along with me to the oldies—not sing, actually, but it ran a whole lot happier.

But those times are over. The wrecker-hearse is coming this morning to take Thing away to the salvage yard. I will hand over Thing's keys and birth certificate to the auto mortician. A perfectly good and beautiful Thing, still shiny and proud except for its frame. Thing will be cannibalized, giving its "stuff" so that other Explorers may live. Admirable, but personally I don’t give a shit. I want my Thing back!

Martha, good egg that she is, said I could keep it. But watching Thing waste away in the garage, melting in the heat, its stuff falling off in bits and pieces, would be cruel. Knowing Martha’s love for digging holes, I know that sooner or later she would bury it in the back yard with my cross-shaped breaker bar for a marker. And then take over the garage floor space for storing more stuff.

Okay, so maybe I'm making a big deal out of this whole Thing thing. Maybe it’s a guy thing. Maybe I have Mom’s odd gene after all. But dammit, I feel sad as hell. And I’m tearing up. So let’s get this over with.

"Goodbye, old friend. I’ll miss you, Thing, and I’ll never forget your faithfulness. If someone gets your horn, give me a good long honk if you see me so I’ll know that it’s you."

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Other Blogs: A Friend in Eire

This is my blog friend Mapstew, or Map for short. He lives in Limerick, Ireland, except Limerick doesn’t have the Eiffel Tower. Paris, France has the Eiffel Tower, and that was where Map happened to be for the photo: on vacation with his family. (Nevertheless, I bet there aren't many Limerickians who have the Eiffel Tower growing out of their heads.)

For those of you who don’t know him, Map is a musician and makes his living playing in a band. He often blogs in the wee hours of the morning after a pint or two, when he surfs YouTube to match both his mood and his encyclopedic knowledge of music new and old.

Well Map did a really neat thing the other day. He knows I’m a big fan of traditional Celtic music—the songs, the performers, the instruments—and he chose a 1982 video by a group named De Dannen. The lass with the VOICE is Maura (maw rah) O'Connell, and the song is “Irish Molly”. Irish and Molly, our two little hounds. Rather ingenious, even if Maura isn’t singing about my critters.

Thanks, Map, for thinking about me, Martha, and the dogs.

And if you do a gig in Cork, ask for the Callaghans in the audience. They're probably all cheap bastards like I am, but one might be good enough to stand you a pint.

Damn, I like this song!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


This is another one of my old “scribblings,” and I could swear that I’ve posted it before. After an exhaustive search of both this blog and all the authorly papers on my desk, I cannot find it. So here it is again for the first time.


Are you the kind of person who gets asked for advice at all times of the day and night, and you give a long, thoughtful, heartfelt answer even if you are not in the mood, or you feel like shit, or you have PMS, or you are asleep, but you do it anyway because you are extremely kind and a helper of people, and the advisee continually says, “I agree!” and “That’s sooo true!” and “The dirty bastards!” all while you are advising them, and at the end the advisee says, “Thank you sooo much, that’s exactly what I needed to hear!”, but then he or she turns right around and does the exact opposite of what you advised?

Not just once or twice, but every single fecking time?

And not just one or two people, but every single fecking idiot you have ever known in your entire life?

And no matter how feckingly stupid the question is in the first place?



“Do you think I should put the cat out at night or keep her inside?”

“My advice is to keep her indoors if you don’t want her getting laid by every Tom in the neighborhood.”

“The dirty bastards! I agree! That’s sooo true! Thank you sooo much, that’s exactly what I needed to hear!”



“I am up to my ass in kittens; I mean I have kittens coming out of my ass. Want a free kitten? I have an assful of ’em.”

* * *

Yeah, I’m one of those extremely kind and helpful schmucks too.

I think it has something to do with my face. People often mistake the catatonic look in my eyes for intelligence and deep introspective thought, thusly assuming that I know everything about everything. Little do they know “that look” comes from the medications I take to prevent me from lifting my leg and pissing all over them in public.

It would be silly to think I know everything about everything. I know a little about a lotta things and a lot about little things, but I don’t know squat about everything else. And that’s a lot.



“This is the bomb squad. Should we cut the red wire or the blue wire?”

“My advice is to cut the . . . uh . . . er . . . umm . . .”

See what I mean? Who in the hell ever heard of cutting the uh-er-umm wire? Boy, am I a boob sometimes. The uh-er-umm wire, for chrissake. What a boob.

Luckily, the bomb guy didn’t listen to me because why would he be any different from every other fecking idiot I have ever known in my entire life?

* * *

I have some theories why people never take my advice.

1. They cannot hear me because they aren’t listening.

2. They are listening but they can’t hear me.

3. They’re not listening because they’re too busy talking.

4. They cannot hear me because they have their iPod ear buds on underneath their cell phone ear buds.

5. They had their mind made up before they called me.

6. They are testing me (see bomb guy, above).

7. I don’t know what I’m talking about (see bomb guy, above).

8. They like to fuck with me, especially when I am not in the mood, or I feel like shit, or I have PMS, or I am asleep.

9. I sound like their mother.

10. My advice involves making personal life changes and people don’t like change, even when a change will solve their problem, and when it’s for their own good, and when it makes their life better and happier, because change takes time and change takes a lot of work, most of it very painful and sad work, especially when it involves quitting a habit or recovering from an addiction or losing weight or forgiving someone or leaving the past to live in the now, but they are scared to death of the process of change and think they are incapable of it, not to mention the investment of their oh-so-precious time, so what they are really asking for is a quick fix, a miracle cure, or divine intervention that will do the changing for them and spare them the inconvenience of doing anything for themselves.

Those things don’t exist, of course—quick fixes, miracle cures, or divine intervention—but why listen to me? Even when someone agrees with me, he or she turns right around and does the exact opposite . . .

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Odds and Ends, Mostly Odds

It's like the old Neil Sedaka song, "Breaking Catching Up Is Hard To Do." Or an Edward Gorey illustration of "So Many Books Blogs, So Little Time." In any event, catching up on your blogs is going very slowly because, as a usual whole person, I am moving and thinking in pieces: brain fog, over-medication, and general out of synch-ness are the culprits. I have hoped to get stronger with time but so far, it isn’t happening.

I know you will all bear with me as I dawdle over your writings, visit new “followers” (I’m not Jim Jones and I hate Kool-Aid), and track down some folks who left really nice comments during my hospital incarceration.

* * *

There was a consulting cardiologist on my case and he came into my cell to consultate.

“Gee, you’re popular today,” he said, noting that a nurse and a nurse’s assistant were in my dungeon.

“It’s this cheap suit Moe sold me,” I told him, referring to the backless hospital “johnnie” somewhat draped over me, “and these are my tailors, Larry and Curly.”

That was good for a guffaw and some general Stooge talk, but I never did find out how my heart was doing. (With hindsight, I guess it was okay.)

* * *

I remember a little old lady nurse named Mary telling me in 2007, “Anyone who thinks they’re going to get some rest in a hospital is a lunatic.”

Imagine my surprise, then, when I actually read, and finished, a book on my Kindle. Actually, it was a re-read from a couple months ago because I was craving some laughs.

The book is the non-fiction bestseller, Sh*t My Dad Says, by Justin Halpern. In this scene, Justin asks for a loan, but his dad decides it should be a part of his son's inheritance:

“I figure, what’s the fucking point in dying and leaving you money when you probably won’t need it? Might as well give it to you now when you need the help. Plus, I plan on blowing most of it on stupid shit when I get senile,” he explained.

This is a great little book that grew out of Halpern’s Twitter posts, but if you dislike heavy profanity I suggest you take a pass on it.

* * *

Because of the Unfortunate Series of Event (singular) of June 14, I never acknowledged the comments made on The Alcoholic. More than half of them were from TechnoBabe’s friends and followers, but unknown bloggers to me.

Unknown in name, that is, but not in openness, honesty, and spirit. Many of you were quite frank about your lives, your struggles with addiction, and some, your recoveries. I know there are a lot of addiction/recovery blogs “out there,” but I have more to add to a subject that will always have more questions than answers.

* * *

Guess who was sleeping in my bed when I wasn't? That's "Irish" in the back and "Molly" in front. (Click to enlarge.)

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

I Comment

Unknown Mami has a neat weekly feature called I Comment Therefore I Am, where she puts together a post from comments she's left on other blogs. She invites everyone to participate by asking these two questions: "Do you give good comment? Wanna play along?" Well yeah, I'll play along and see what happens.The worst that can happen is I'll stink at it, just like I do at Chutes and Ladders.

In response to Madame DeFarge, who took a nasty spill (she missed a step) after attending a performance of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, I said,

Madame, I am deeply distressed by your misfortune. I can only hope that your tumble was not into the cheap seats amongst the common rabble!

I have lodged a complaint, on your behalf, to the so-called manager of the theatre. He assured me that all stairway lighting will be increased from one-half watt bulbs to one full watt.

Alice, whose young daughter was "hunched over in ape-like knuckle-dragging pouting position," told her, "If you keep standing like that you're going to stay that way forever." It's true:

When I used to make goofy faces as a boy, my mom always said that one day my face would freeze like that. She was absolutely correct, but I've learned to live with it.

Hope showed this photo of a tomato she harvested from her garden.

I was astonished:

Don't tell me my urology ultrasounds found their way to YouTube!!!

Pearl's friend "T.", a figment of her fertile imagination, mentioned that he threw away his socks because he's never really trusted them. I, too, have an opinion regarding socks:

I personally believe that socks make the man—they are a visible statement of his who-ness.

Unless, that is, socks are all he is wearing. There is nothing more stupid-looking in the world than a naked man in socks.

So that's it, my first foray into the mysterious maelstrom of commenting. How'd I do, Mami? (Please, no smarm. Smarm, like gruel and porridge, makes me throw up.)

Unknown Mami

Monday, July 05, 2010

Charlie's Back

So, after nearly three weeks of fooling around and whatnot in hospitals, I come home to peace, quiet, and overwhelmation. Yes, I am overwhelmed by nearly two hundred comments from bloggers old and new, chock-full of wishes, hopes, and prayers for my recovery. How incredibly incredible. I cannot begin to describe how good that makes me feel: not because I’m an egotist, but because all of you have taken the time to think of me and leave a message or two.

There have been trials and tribulations during the past twenty-one days, but those are behind me. Rather, the focus is on the triumphs and going forward: a continuance of life with every breath and heartbeat, a continuance of life with Martha and the dogs, a continuance of life with you, my friends in Bloggerville. I have truly missed you all.

I cannot thank Wandering Coyote enough for her willingness to post updates while I was MIA. The job was thrust upon her and she accepted it without complaint, which could have been a real bummer if something dire had happened. Thanks, WC, for being such a great, unselfish friend.

Every life experience, either good, bad, or indifferent, is an opportunity to learn something new to add to our personal database of wisdom. I learned how to “roll over,” “fetch,” and “stay” a long time ago (I took lessons with our first dog), but I picked up a few life lessons this time around too.

The most amazing thing I learned is about bedpans, a medical device I had seen but never used before. When I told the nursing assistant that I needed to do number two (just like I used to tell Sister Mary Tarantula in third grade), I expected the assistant to scurry off for a steel pot from either the walk-in freezer in the kitchen or an uninhabited drawer in the morgue.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I was presented with an exact replica of a Rubbermaid plastic bin—rectangular, sturdy, temperature-friendly—but who takes a dump in a potato salad storage container?

As I sat atop the U.S.S. Salad Storage Container, listing from port to starboard and worried about bilge water and my inability to swim, I asked me, “Is this what my life has come down to, is this how it all ends?”

“Hell no!” I answered me as the final two lines of a favorite Robert Frost poem came to mind:

And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep.

* * * * *

Regular programming will resume on this blog in a couple days. I am still very weak, however, and not completely out of the woods yet, but I'll be around to visit y'all.