168. Naps

The best drug on the market is a well timed siesta. If you sleep in the middle of a day, in the midst of the noon mist, it’s the physiological equivalent of splitting your day into two distinct waking periods. In other words, you get two days out of one. It’s like cutting a piece of chewing gum in two halves and then chewing them at different times. My wife does this because she claims a standard piece of gum is too big for her mouth. I never noticed as I chewed on, unconscious of my wastefulness.

Usually a classic nap sneaks up on you like some skilled barefoot Indian hairdresser who gently combs you into benevolent somnolence and florid dreams while nitpicking away stress bugs and joy ticks . Ahhh, it could be the lovely fall air that is blowing through my opened windows this afternoon; it could be the early onset of mammalian urges to hibernate; it could be the half life of caffeine is nearing; but I think it’s some wiser power softly pulling my thinning gray hair backwards onto the couch and rocking me into decaf land.

“Thank you, Tonto, for this gourd full of bliss.”

“Kimmosabi, drink in the other world of dreams, where all is one and one is all there is.”

“Tonto, I didn’t know you could speak so poetically.”

“Kimmosabi, just shut up and sleep.”

Sleep served in one and two hour servings seems to satisfy me way more than 8 or 9 hours. I wake up post nap with something like a drug high, a brain float, an oxygenated joy effervescing at the reunion of mind and body. Not only does the brain re-engage consciousness, but the senses seem sharper because of the 90 minute shutdown of neural traffic. Imagine a busy city with no traffic for an hour or two in the middle of each day. How calming that would be, quieter and cleaner as well. I know the task oriented among us will shudder at the idea of shutting down productivity for an hour while the sun shines. However, they don’t read blogs so I think this heresy is safe among those of us who do. Get nappy, Blogworms. Burrow deep into the topsoil of consciousness.

In most lands that claim to practice Western civilization, naps are seen as wasteful exercises in laziness. Nothing more than figure skating on the inside of one’s eyelids. Dreaming one’s life away. I disagree. I think naps make one more civil. Let’s look at the antithesis of civilization, which is war. Imagine if the rules of war enforced a midday nap for both sides.

“Now fellas, you’ve killed enough for half a day. Let’s get out our blankies and get a good nap before you shoot in the afternoon. No one wants to die sleep deprived.”

Silly, you say. Of course, but no sillier than the prospect of highly productive war. So my hypothesis is that naps prevent wars. You want proof, I suppose. Well, the nation that leads the world in total napping minutes per person per day happens to be Switzerland. Okay? and here’s another factoid that is actually true: siesta comes from the Spanish word for sixth hour or noon. Now hear this: Fewer Swiss people are killed during siestas than at any other time of day. Why? Because the would be serial killers and their prey are fast asleep in the arms of Morpheus.

Now I know that some far right wing nuts will squeal that we need to be armed during our naps because “only outlaws will have guns if guns are outlawed”. But who will sleep if they are afraid of being blown away by a gun toting goon? The reasonable answer to their concerns is to do background checks on all licensed nappers. If the system notes a pattern of early rising or failing to go to sleep after circle time in kindergarten, those offenders would be flagged for further review by Homeland Security. I believe all law abiding nappers would sleep easier if such limits were in place.

Reason two for adopting napping as our national past time: our gross national product will skyrocket. Just like the trick in the 1980’s of turning one full time job with benefits into two part time jobs with no benefits. Ronnie Reagan saved employers billions and cut the working man’s buying power in half while making unemployment figures so confounded that it appeared everyone was suddenly working. His administration was also the first to count the military as part of the employment landscape. “Hey, Nancy, I just found a million jobs.” And he took daily White House naps. So, by napping on work days you are doubling the number of worklike cycles. Folks who nap could theoretically work from 7 a.m. till noon, take a two hour nap with lunch, and then work fresh from 2 till 6 p.m. That’s nine fresh hours of labor compared to about three good hours in the current anti-napping environment. Let that sink in… 9 is 3 times bigger than 3. I’m feeling a Nobel prize coming on. What does a round trip flight to Sweden cost?

Aside from Spain, siestas are common in the following powerhouses:

◦The Philippines
◦Costa Rica
and China.

With models like these what are we waiting for? Look at China, for goodness sakes! It can buy and sell all the other sluggish economies on the listless list. And the internet tells me that they are napsters. As an added benefit fewer employees would be fired for sleeping on the job, thus freeing all the George Costanzas of the nonworking world from their undeveloped guilt.

One more reason comes to my well rested mind: workplace shootings. Who wants to mess up a nice two-piece day that is filled in the middle with bliss like an Oreo cookie is filled with euphoric gunk? Only insomniacs who could be rounded up by Homeland Security and given propofol injections. I think it’s all covered now and time for my nap. Tomorrow (or is it later today?) I must get to work on my Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

167. Noodling thru the fog

To improvise aimlessly and creatively on an instrument, that’s noodling around. I play no instrument unless you count a laptop. I write to keep a grip on sanity, I think, and to entertain myself. Apparently it’s working since folks who are shaky in their mental health come to see me for help. Some tension builds in my guts and soul, and the next thing you know I am writing something. It’s therapy for one by one. If anyone else shares in my noodling, hooray. I believe creativity is a good insurance policy for mental health. Even if it’s just playing three chords on a guitar, something good happens as you create, regardless of the product. The process is like jogging for your soul.

The right side of the brain is associated with creativity. I must be right brained. Given a choice between solving a problem or writing about a problem, I’ll go with writing. I enjoy problem solving, but creativity is sexy, attractive, and wild. I like that. Knowing a geometry theorem can be helpful, I guess. I haven’t found math to be very helpful in my 57 years, however. Creative speaking and writing, on the other hand, have been my lifeblood. I pay others to do my billing and taxes, my plumbing and car repairs, my electric and HVAC issues. And I’m cool with that. I don’t put down these craftsmen and their logical, hands-on worlds of work. But others pay me to walk through fog with them. I just live in a world of invisible stuff with funny rules. My world is mocked and ridiculed in television shows. Therapy is for crazy or weak folks and eccentric therapists, so the Frazier Crane myth goes. Somehow I manage to pay the bills all around by being true to myself and my clients, stomping around in the invisible world of thoughts and feelings. We make psychic wine together. I’m proud of that fact.

Here it is, 4:30 on a Monday, and most folks are driving home from work. I am just getting ready for the heavy part of my day, the evening crowd who make up the bulk of my practice. “I’m not sure if I should get married.”
“I hate my mother but I’m stuck with her guilt-inducing presence till death parts us.” “My parents have always favored my brother. Now they’re mad at me because he’s getting divorced. Somehow my stubborn stability is hurting him.” Yeah, the grist of counseling sessions ground into fine flour that can be used somewhere, somehow. I add the yeast of perspective. Sometimes a loaf of understanding and acceptance rises. I have to believe in the process, the steady grinding, mixing, waiting and the value of the product… or else go mad.

People are not logical. I don’t care who is under consideration, he/she is not thoroughly logical. We all do things that make no sense, little sense, or not enough sense. We get angry and yell at our spouses or kids. We jump to wrong conclusions. We judge and hate being judged. We expect mercy but resist giving it. People suck. It’s that simple. Just ask General David Petraeus. Fortunately for all of us, God is good. He looks beyond our suckiness and loves us anyway, the way you love a bad dog. And it is no coincidence that God is called Creator, the maker of all things. I think His mental health is solid, by the way. Well, ever since He worked through the Holy Trinity thing. Now don’t go getting all holy on me. God must have an enormous sense of humor, I believe, the largest ever known.

I think we get in trouble when we expect others to be logical all the time. Bloggistas, have you been logical all day? How about just in the last hour? If you expected logic from me and a methodical narrative, you’re likely exasperated already and I have 400 words to go. Did I pledge to be logical? Did I imply a logical narrative at any point? No. So where did you get this expectation? Yo Mama, that’s where.

Lately I’ve been reading two unrelated books. One is about the horrible treatment of indigenous peoples by White/Christian/Europeans– the conquistadors, the colonists, the gold and land grabbers, the slavers, who practiced genocide in the name of God. It’s not news to me, but the predetermined pattern of holocaust is. The author proposes individualistic materialism veiled in arrogant Christian hostility as the core issue that led to the annihilation of Mexican, Incan, Tasmananian, African and American Indian peoples by these “civilized” invaders. The conquerors tampered with evidence of civilization among these people, like bad cops who put guns in the hands of folks they unjustly killed. Defining the natives as subhuman savages justified unleashing refined European savagery on them. It’s an old trick of blaming the victim for causing his own death. I don’t think much has changed in the past 500 years of “civilization’s advance”. We still covet others’ gold, water, forests, farmland, minerals, food, oil, etc. We invade via corporations nowadays and only bring in the armed forces when litigation and bribery fail.

The other book is a very unsatisfying one called Proof Of Heaven. The author is a neurosurgeon who seems to feel that because he went to good colleges and practiced medicine, the readers should just believe what he proposes was a near death experience wherein he floated about heaven for a few timeless days. He over-insists on proving his point and thereby undermines himself. I do not doubt that he had a near death experience. What I doubt is his fevered mission to be a modern day Saul who has no body of work to support his brief extraordinary experience. It felt to me like Mr. Science was now gonna be Mr. Faith based on one experience, a self chosen missionary who wants to unite these two fields. It rang pretty hollow for me. Buddy, just tell your story well and let the reader decide what’s true.

As I analyze these two works, I see a well researched and well written tome about horrible human truths. Author A cuts through the fog of time and warfare. And I admire that work as I condemn the depravity of mankind. The other work is a poorly written tract about a beautiful divine truth. Where precision and clarity would help define this experience, the author serves up rhetoric and obfuscating fog. So I wind up with one tragedy and one travesty. Whether it’s science or art or religion, cutting through the fog is the goal. Otherwise we’re all just noodling around.

166. Vapors and Boundaries

Boundaries are the topic of the week, so it seems. What are they? What is their function? How do you apply and enforce them? How is it that I have such trouble identifying and applying them? Well, let’s take a closer look, my blog friends.

“You see that door over there?”

“Sure, it’s closed.”

“Yup. It’s a boundary for our privacy. See the lock on it?”

“Sure, more privacy.”

“Yes, and safety.”

“Well, I get those boundaries. It’s the thing with a person intruding into my space that I can’t seem to protect or somehow rescue myself.”

“Okay, we’re getting there. Your clothes are a boundary for privacy and modesty. The space between us is a major boundary that protects your intimacy and personal space. The volume we speak at and the vocabulary we choose are both boundaries of respect and decency.”

“Okay, I get that. But when someone comes at me with loud vulgarity or obscenity, big eyes and wild gestures, I collapse in a cold panicked sweat.”

“So you’re telling me that you don’t protect your boundaries.”

“Man, it’s not my problem; it’s these folks who keep coming at me, getting in my business, harassing me.”

“… inviting themselves to dinner and parties?”

“Yeah, that kind of crap. They don’t seem to get social cues. They interrupt and don’t go home when everyone else leaves. They come to lunch and forget their wallets.”

“And what do you do? Because boundaries need to enforced after they are identified and articulated.”

“Well, I, uh, get quiet and give the offender a look of contempt, you know, the stinkeye. Most folks get that sort of thing. And then I exhale really loudly.”

“So, essentially, you do nothing to enforce the boundary.”

“No, I just told you what I do.”

“And how is that working for you?”

“I’m here, right? Not so well. Tell me what to do, Doc.”

“The first thing is to stop doing what you already know does not work.”

“So it’s my fault?”

“Partly, in that you allow it to continue and surrender power and authority to the offender.”

“I just don’t like confrontation.”

“Clearly. Let me give you a personal example. My neighbor had a nice golden retriever and then a German shepherd. I had a mischievous border collie. These dogs played with each other as puppies and later on. We had no fence, just a line of forsythia bushes and bridal wreath separated our two yards. My kids jumped on their trampoline and their kids swung on our swings. We knew where the yards ended, but there was no need to fence it. The boundary was invisible, see? We only marked where to stop mowing grass.

“One day the neighbor’s whacked-out adult son brought home a mystery pit bull. The old happy dog days were gone. Our kids were grown. My wife got anxious about the pit bull. It had a habit of charging our new dog, passive Johnny, and our daughter. My wife tried to convey her fears of attack to the neighbor, who dismissed it quickly as if my wife were ill or mistaken. But the pit bull continued his aggressive charges at us and our dog. Finally the neighbors put up a very wimpy, wiggly wire fence that was 42” high, the sort of fence you’d put around a garden to keep domesticated rabbits out. The pit bull easily climbed it. This happened during the day and night, since the dog was often left out in their yard without any supervision.

“Our neighbors were getting exasperated with many things in their life at this time. However, after a particularly scary charge by the dog at my daughter one night, I called to tell them, “Fix the problem or I’m calling the awful dog warden lady”. I went over to confront whoever was home. No one answered the door. I called the mean dog warden. We weren’t playing nicely any longer. One of our neighbors had taken us to court for our dog’s leash law violations the year before, and I hated to do the same to these folks, who are decent people. But a bigger boundary was needed for our safety.

“I suppose a great deal of drama erupted. We got a couple of pathetic phone messages and a couple of sad face-to-face chats. Eventually a real fence was erected. It is 6 feet tall, solid wood. The pit bull is contained. Problem solved for a few thousand dollars. I helped them stain it six months later. Peace resulted…until their bird died while my wife was pet sitting for them over their vacation. Dang! Let’s save that for the grief and anger management lesson.”

“So I’m supposed to build appropriate fences for the insults in my life?”

“Yeah. Or else the insults run through your yard like loose pit bulls.”

“Okay, I get that… it’s just hard.”

“Last example: Mexican border, right? Let’s say the Border Patrol folks decide to save money and just spray paint a line between California and Mexico. No ditch or fence or wall or guards or dogs or helicopters. Just a nice silver line. And they tell the Americans, “Now stay on your side.” And they tell the Mexicans, “And you guys, stay on your side.” How long is that going to work?”

“Not one minute. There is no muscle, no teeth in the guard dog.”

“So the boundary’s dimensions and materials are dictated by the need. How high, how long, how deep, how wide, how sharp… depends on the violation at hand.”

“I think I’m getting it, Doc Honey.”

“Don’t call me honey.”

165. Identity Theft or The Bad Samaritan

Cynthia Maddux came puffing into the coffee shop this morning. Her frame filled the 36 inch doorway up to five and a half feet. A lot of woman in a weathered green picture frame. She was dumbfounded, if that means “found dumb”, and upset. She rushed to the counter and asked Andrea if she could use the shop’s phone. Sweet Andrea asked why.

“I need to call the police.”

“What happened?”

“Louis threw my i.d. away. Tho’ed it in the damn street.”

“Did he steal it first?”

“No, I lost it tween here and the Salvation Army. Musta dropped out of my pants pocket after breakfast while I was walking down here.”

“So, Cynthia, I’m not following where the police need to be involved.”

“Well, Louis found it, and he don’t like me. So he seen it was me cuz my i.d. and all was in the wallet insert. And just to be mean he tho’ed it in the street. And that’s ignorant, if ya ask me.”

“Well, how do you know all this? Did he tell you?”

“Oh no, he told Kelly and she told me. So I went back where she said he tho’ed it and I couldn’t find it so I’m callin’ the cops now.”

“Okay, but is that a crime?”

“Well, yeah, he should of gaven it back to me. It’s identity theft. But no, he goes and gets all ignorant!”

“Okay, um, here’s the phone.”

Cynthia dialed up 911 like she had won a prize on a cruise ship Bingo game, thrilled with her momentary dramatic importance. “Jackpot Bingo!!!” She was in the eye of her own hurricane. It don’t get no better ‘n this, and it wasn’t even 9 a.m. yet.

In a very loud, hurt, injured voice Cynthia retold her story of injustice, leaving out critical words like “I lost my wallet” and instead substituting “He stole it”. It was all she could do not to start smoking again or start breaking up the furniture like she used to do before court ordered anger management classes. She was retained three times before she got her certificate of graduation because the teacher was such a jerk wad. Rumor was that the teacher was getting angry with her sulking and just passed her to get rid of her.

Ten minutes later four Boro policemen and an intern wannabe swarmed the coffee shop. They wanted to interview Cynthia and get to the heart of the crime. As if auditioning for “One Life To Live”, Cynthia told them all the tragic story again, which was the third time for Andrea to hear it as she tried to serve customers, who wedged their way through the blue line of law enforcement at the table near the door. Cynthia added dramatic pauses and extra detail with each swing at the drama piñata, even suggesting that Louis might be off his medication and maybe responsible for an unsolved murder that happened behind the Salvation Army last year.

The cops and wannabe were incredulous. “So you lost your wallet? He didn’t actually steal it, Ma’am?”

“Yeah, but he stole my identity. I mean every card I own was in his hands. And he knows me. He was just being ignorant and tho’ed it into the street.”

“But, Ma’am, that is not a crime, unless maybe it’s littering.”

“He didn’t return it to me. That ain’t right. I mean it’s wrong. It’s as good as stealing in my book. I been violated.”

The lead cop tried to reason with this “victim”.

“Ma’am, now I understand that he wasn’t exactly a Good Samaritan, but he doesn’t have to be. He’s not legally required to return it to you as long as he’s not keeping it from you or running up bills on your cards. You know what I’m saying?”

Cynthia puckered her big lips as he spoke. Her brown eyes were staring holes in the wall behind the cop’s head. She pouted and then looked away in disgust, “Yep, I gotcha. You ain’t gonna do nothing to the Bad Samaritan. That sonofabeeoch is gonna go scot free after thoing my i.d. in the street like it was trash. He’s not even gonna git a littering citation. Oh I understand all right.”

“Ma’am, we’d like to help, but there is no crime here.”

“Yeah, yeah, I hear y’all. No crime, no work, no paperwork. I got it. Louis goes free after stealing my identity.”

“Okay, Ma’am. We’re gonna go now. You have a nice day.”

Actually, despite her many protests Cynthia was having the best day she’d had in months. Four Boro cops and a wannabe straggler waited on her every word. This was exceptional drama for her and she bathed in it like a hot tub of Oil of Olay.

As the flock of cops left the coffee shop, Cynthia asked Andrea if she could use the phone again so she could call her circle of drama friends to tell them of the awful injustice she had just endured. Man, she had a heck of a day ahead of her and could hardly contain her joyous indignation.

Which is when I entered the joint. Cynthia was blabbing intently on the house phone as Andrea snickered to me, “You are gonna love this one.”
She was right.

164. Apoplectic Apocalypse

End times and apocalypse…I know all the signs are here. The Middle East is exploding. Global warming is creating super storms on rising seas. Earthquakes crack the planet’s mantle and release red dragons of some sort or other. Nations stand at war’s doorstep, knocking rapaciously… “Can Johnny come out and play?” Famine, usually made by men’s greedy hands, frequently sprouts up in desolate African soil. The “Game Over” sign is starting to flicker on our global pinball machine.

But I’ve heard “end times” all my life. I guess it started with the nuclear world paranoia in the early 1960’s. Back then we practiced air raid drills to special horns that blared a God awful baritone, lower than a fire siren but more disturbing, like the howl of a mythical dragon/wolf. They came from squared off yellow funnel horns atop tall poles. We had one at Virginia Hills Elementary School. I guess that was part of the nuclear defense strategy of the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations. There were public fall out shelters back then also with the yellow and black symbol of nuclear danger. In 1962 the Cuban Missile Crisis led to increased sales of boxed water and canned goods, and fall out shelter bunkers. At St. Louis Elementary School on Popkins Lane we kneeled in the hallways and put our heads against the walls, trying to tuck them between our knees. First graders, mind you, the first time away from Mom and home… “and now you’re all gonna die”. It was the “kiss your ass goodbye” posture, as we called it later on. Humor soothes anxiety, but it’s usually heard on the bus ride home.

I didn’t realize that my family had made preparations for nuclear attack until many years later while I was painting my parents’ bedroom. (It had to be the 1970’s by the time I was safe to hold a wet paintbrush.) In their closet was a box of water and canned goods from 1962. There it was, alongside a copy of Life Magazine, the Kennedy assassination issue. It was set aside in a plastic garment bag, a holy relic of a wicked deed, the death of a secular saint, the Catholic Lincoln, Camelot desiccated.I wonder what sort of insecurities grew out of such a childhood? Was Jackie holding his head or a large oyster shell in the open limo?

In 1968 I recall riding the bus to school and seeing black smoke billowing above Washington, D.C. just over the horizon in April. Martin Luther King had been assassinated and cities were burning. I had been collecting for my newspaper route the night of April 4. I heard a cheer go up in the next customer’s house. The man of the house greeted my knock with a delirious smile and PBR in hand, cigarette clenched in hyena teeth, wearing a wife beater t-shirt, of course. “They finally got that nigger!” he gushed. Something like a snake slithered through my intestines. He tipped me fifty cents, joyous in the spilled blood of a great man.

And then my hero Bobby Kennedy was murdered in June. I was in sixth grade and following his primaries as part of social studies class for Mrs. Keim. (She lived down the street until her husband the football coach divorced her.) We felt grown up discussing presidential hopefuls and tracked their delegate totals. My dad woke me up that June morning. “Something big is on the television.” It was the same black and white t.v. that my parents bought when JFK had been murdered in November 1963. They had to watch the terrible news, so they ran out and impulsively bought a t.v., which was very out of character for them. Then for a week they wept in silence as the presidential funeral processed and the country recoiled from the armadillo-like LBJ. No comfort there.

Meanwhile 18 year old boys were worried about the draft and Vietnam. The hippies openly defied authority everywhere. Drug use and the LSD stories ramped up. Anti-war demonstrations erupted all over America. It was a heck of a year that wound up in Chicago with police beating protesters bloody at the Democratic Party’s National Convention. Violence came up everywhere and seemed to win that year in Vietnam and at home. 16,899 dead Americans in Vietnam that year. A few dozen died in the domestic riots, plus MLK and RFK…and anyone’s sense of security. I cried for something lost.

Apocalypse, so the dictionary says, means “to uncover”. What was uncovered in the Apocalypse of 1968? It was an odd combination of war hawks vs. no war doves; Black minority vs. White majority; old conservatives vs. young liberals; military vs. civilian; communists vs. western democracies; order vs. chaos. Richard Nixon rode to victory on his promises of law and order, which is ironic since he is best known for breaking the law he knew so well. Nixon won 55% of the popular vote. But before you go saying, “The blind leading the blind”, George Wallace, the segregationist hater, won five Southern states that year and almost 10% of the popular vote. What was uncovered? Maybe what had lain covered for decades. Fear, so much fear that angry hate rose up to squash it like an adder’s egg. Blind fear that bunches all things into one pile and sets it afire was on display all over the USA that long bloody year. It rose up not from China or Russia or Nebraska. Nope. It came out of Everyman’s heart of darkness.

So now, 45 years later, hearing “end times” all over again just confirms to me that not much has changed, despite all the rhetoric. The targets have moved to the most unlikely places– Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. Those weapons of mass destruction are not in Cuba or Iraq this week. They have come up in Syria. Okay, turn the page. Somewhere a family is stocking up on food and water and saving today’s magazines. Their kids are joining in the pursuit of vengeance, a long, long serpent under the veils of justice.

163. Waves 2.

Big Carl had a big plan to unite the divided ED misfits into a sacred mosaic moment.

One day he arrived at the ranch late. Everyone noticed and asked him about it. He said it was a cold or virus, not to worry. He spent longer at lunch with the HR lady, Helen. She looked worried, and Carl looked haggard somehow. He was slower, more labored than usual. The patients grew concerned about his health. If Carl was not well, how could they possibly get better?

First Petey came to Carl. “Mr. Carl, I want you to know that I stopped eating facial tissues and carpet lint.”

“Good Petey. Are you sure you want to do this? Did anyone pressure you to quit?”

“Oh no, Mr. Carl. I just thought about how you are sick and all, and I’m just sort of making up my sickness cause my parents never said no to me. I wanted to show you that you matter more than lint or tissues.”

“Thank you, Petey. No one has ever given me such a mighty compliment. Bless you.”

“Mr. Carl, Bless you.”

The next day Tina asked point blank in group, “Carl, are you ill? Is there something you’re not telling us?”

Instantly Hal’s abandonment issues kicked in. “Mr. Rogers, please don’t leave me. Please!!! I quit donuts for you, man. I’m down 8 pounds, Bro. Don’t go.”

Even Stoic Sandy fell in as the group began to collapse in anticipatory grief. “Oh Carl, I believe in you and I know you believe in me. You have given me inner strength. I’ve been nibbling on licorice at night after lights out. I’ve been dreaming of mashed potatoes and gravy, Carl. I want to eat and get better. Don’t go. I want to change.”

Carl was pleased but not surprised at their protests and assertions of affection. He had seen groups change like this before under his blue-eyed spell. But those groups had always fallen back on their promises. Most dieters fail, after all. His success rate in the past never topped 20%. However, this time Carl Everett was determined to make ED history. He had a secret card hidden up his sleeve. Only Mario, the aide who was hired at the same time as Carl, knew the card and that it was about to be played. Mario had worked in Las Vegas with Carl. They had met in Gamblers Anonymous. Carl, blued-eyed balding hypnotic Carl, had a gambling problem. Mario was a small time card counter. Both men had been flagged by the big casinos’ security staff as cheaters. They were done with casino gambling but not with running a scam.

Together they concocted new identities as mental health workers. Mario handled the fake credentials and Carl did all the talking. Uh, Doctor Carl, that is. Once they got hired at the Zero Tolerance Eating Ranch outside of Phoenix, no one checked references. Mario worked off the radar, collecting personal information and charging thousands of dollars to the patients’ idle credit cards while Carl reassured each of them that they were fine just as they were. In fact, he’d tell them not to change, knowing that these tortured souls would try to do the exact reverse and push themselves to improve. Since telling them not to do what they continued to do had famously failed, Carl figured he’d endorse what the patients were doing and just love them as they were. He gambled that with all this positive regard they would quit their negatives. Score. Jackpot.

He needed two months for Mario to run the credit cards and electronically transfer as much money from them to dummy businesses they had set up in Vegas. Then the great escape was needed. And how great it was.

Carl let it be known on Monday of week seven that he had been diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer and had mere months to live. The group fell deathly quiet and then burst into infant screams of abandonment. He explained that he planned to go home before he went Home to Jesus.
“Did I ever tell you that I’m from Lyme, Connecticut, which is where Lyme’s Disease was first discovered? Yes, my people go back to the whaling boats and New England chowder dinners. Way back before the deer ticks.”

Sobs and keening were the background soundtrack to Carl’s life summary.
“It has been an honor for me to be your companion through these hungry hallways. I’d like to honor the journey with a final supper on Thursday evening. It would be my privilege if each of you could attend and break bread with me for the last time. Mario will be driving me to Connecticut on Friday. It’s for the best.”

Everyone at Rancho Mirago threw down for the blow out Last Supper with Carl. Prime rib and lobster were ordered along with red and white wines, gourmet breads, a nice Greek salad, sweet potatoes and fresh corn wrapped in tortillas with eggplant and a lovely ranch dressing. The nutritionist was ecstatic at this once in a lifetime chance to put out a menu without any consideration of price. It was “an apocalyptic event of immeasurable magnitude”. That’s what the sign said in the day room. Thinking about delicious food got all the patients into a hungry and festive state of mind that they had to hide beneath the grief-driven occasion. And yet, they reasoned, it’s what Carl wants us to do.

When Thursday night came, Sandy danced a lyrical good bye to the sailor dance she recalled from Charlotte’s studio. Petey hugged Carl so tightly that it appeared to be a Heimlich maneuver to those unacquainted with Petey’s odd manners. A noticeably trimmed down Hal sobbed, while Tina prepared to read a farewell speech to Carl. In the end she simply whimpered, “Good bye Blue Eyes”. The room erupted in eating and singing and dancing and institutional partying. Meanwhile Mario went around with a card, making sure that he got everyone’s signatures for future withdrawals on their credit cards.

The next morning they drove south to Mexico, entering under their real names, leaving no trail. The amazing thing was that back at Rancho Mirago all of Carl’s patients remained active eaters and were eventually discharged. A year later U.S. Marshals contacted each of them to inquire what they may have had in common to make them a uniform target for identity theft. The only commonality was the Rancho Mirago Miracle as they called it. No one ever suspected Carl Everett or Mario Vincenti, who never had existed beyond Rancho Mirago.

However, two years later at St. Thelma Agnes Hospital in Butte, Montana a tall Dr. Richard Ficklestein and a mental health aide named Ralph Mudgio were hired on the same day in the Eating Disorders In-Patient wing.

162. Waves 1

Waiting for writing inspiration is like waiting for a wave to surf into shore. Many waves come by, but not all of them have enough energy to carry you on your boogie board or surfboard all the way into the sandy shallows. So you wait for a big one to roll in. I do something similar with this blogging business. I wait for a thought to roll across my ocean of consciousness and then nibble at it to see if it has depth and breadth and power enough to make it into 1,000 words. I know what you are thinking. “What about the previous 160 posts?” They did not all make it to the shore of meaning and consciousness raising. Some petered out; some crashed into other waves and turned into rip tides. Okay, I am guilty of running down ratholes and noodling with words. I can’t help it. Despite the handle of burrito special, I am Irish and will make excuses when I can. But a few meaningful waves made it to shore or you wouldn’t be reading this one.

The other day while jogging I had an idea for a movie script. I knew even as I imagined it that it could not come down the creative birth canal and live. It could and would have to remain embryonic. After I explain you will thank me for not delivering this thing. I thought of a group of stubborn eating disordered folks at a recovery ranch in Arizona. Ideally I’d want 10 vividly different ED folks who represented the spectrum of anorexia, bulimia, overeating, and any other pathologies connected to food, definitely someone with pica. They would be demanding and difficult, absolutely defiant and resistant to treatment. “There’s nothing wrong with eating 72 donuts or pencil shavings, or not eating for ten days at a time.” Sense the tension that would rise from ten of these folks demanding their rights to kill themselves. It’s nauseatingly irresistible. No, it’s Rancho Mirago.

There would be Sandy,26, the anorexic dishwater blonde from an uptight wealthy family in Raleigh who never separated psychically from her dishwater blonde mother Cinnamon, a former first runner up for Miss North Carolina. They went together to Charlotte’s Dance Studio for years. Ballet is so perfect and worth dying for. Her father Bob, a plastic surgeon, worked in the fashion model industry doing lifts and tucks and augmentations and reductions. Waiting in her father’s mirrored office as a young girl, Sandy flipped through all his fashion and plastic surgery transformation magazines. She began to hyper focus on the curves of noses and eyebrows of the models as obsessively as many teens focus on their own homegrown pimples. She would lightly touch the perfectly formed faces and whisper “Someday, one day, my birthday” to herself. “Daddy will make me perfect too.” Then she would stare at her own wan face in the mirrors surrounding her while her father tidied up with his surgical assistant, Sugar, down a darkened hallway.

Hal, 33, binge eating truck driver from San Antonio. (Are truck drivers really from anywhere but the road?) The son of a truck driver who never came home one day despite many promises to Hal to play ball or go fishing. Hal’s mom never remarried. She doted on him with food, giving him unlimited supplies of Tastykakes and Twinkies, which were easier to swallow than his Texas-tough leather lot in life. As Hal expanded in his adolescence, he made food his lover and wife and purpose in life. Driving allowed him to be alone with her every day and night. They never married but behaved like an old married couple. He wore sweat suits and untied sneakers. She wore grocery bags to cover her bulges. Everything else tended to bind and cut off their poor communication and his circulation.

Tina, a graduate student from a good university back East. She wanted to look like Sandy, but she did not have the ironclad will to stay starved. She loved the rush of sugar and flour that hit her brain after starving herself. It was like the explosion of sex and way more controllable. But then guilt flooded her neural pathways and she would go “hang herself” as she liked to call purging. Over the years she had developed other uptake and put back behaviors. The laxatives, the water pills, the toothbrush gag, the ipecac, the compulsive exercising. When she wasn’t thinking about her doctorate pursuit, she longed for food. She also loved the thrill of shoplifting at local stores. The rush of possibly getting caught was down right erotic for her. At other times she would secretly return shoplifted items, purging her guilt. Her fiancée, Ron, didn’t suspect a thing. He just thought that she spent a lot of time in the bathroom while he focused deeply on his dissertation about the 17 year locust’s reproduction cycle.

And Petey, the large 14 year old who suffered from pica, eating non food stuffs. He was too big and bold to work with the children’s side of the clinic, so he was granted an exception and treated alongside the adults, which made him feel bolder yet. Sometimes he’d eat bugs or hibiscus leaves just to prove himself powerful, invincible even. His parents were passive and never set boundaries when he was a little boy. In fact, the diagnosis originated with his school counselor. His parents simply let Petey do whatever Petey wanted to do… play videogames all day or alternative reality card games of wizards and dragons. Petey had no limits except at school. His parents tried to dodge Child Services by moving Petey around to different schools, but once he was tagged by the system, they held on and court ordered this treatment on his passive parents’ dime. He was pretty angry and ate dirt to prove it. When he smiled, his teeth were often covered in mud or some disgusting byproduct of insects or weeds.

In the center of these patients loomed Carl the soft hearted therapist. Six feet six inches tall and nearly 280 pounds, he was impossible to miss in a room. He had the gentlest blue eyes that radiated unconditional love to everyone he met. Some of the staff called him “Mr. Rogers” half joking and half as a compliment. Others called him “Carl Rogers” the great humanist psychologist. But his actual last name was Everett. Somehow Carl could just make his deep, hypnotic eye contact and Bam!… A Vulcan mind meld ensued. The patients didn’t just tolerate or like Carl; they loved him as the missing person in their bleak and tortured lives.

The problem was that these hard headed ED patients continued in their stubbornness despite Carl’s loving presence. They would tell him how they felt and how they loved their disorders, and Carl would just listen and affirm them. He never tried to stop them from their self torture. Instead he would affirm their positive attributes and endorse them. It was odd and hard to measure, but these folks felt guilty around Carl and wanted very much to give up their disorders just to please him. When they offered to make willful sacrifices, Carl would respond, “No, no. Just be true to yourself.” This went on for weeks. The treatment plans could be fudged only for so long. Not everyone loved Carl. The insurance companies began to threaten termination of benefits and an investigation of Rancho Mirago if measurable progress could not be seen.

Carl had a plan, however.