It’s three in the afternoon on Saturday. I’m on my second or third double espresso of the day, not because I need it, but because I love it. I got home this morning at six, after a night spent out and about town, went to bed and rose like black magic at noon to get going. Yesterday marked the end of a 60-hour week at a job I adore and now, I’m writing this piece. My energy levels are through the roof, but I promise you I’m not manic. This is the life and I’m still living it, even though I’m not 22 anymore. Far from it. Though I’m not quite Disco Sally, either.

I live hard. I work hard. I play hard. And I just can’t stop. Late nights, strong cocktails, out until dawn… you know how it goes.  The kind of life you told yourself had to end once you hit your mid-twenties, only I’ve never stopped. I fear if I stop, I’ll hit the wall, and when you’re going 100 MPH, you know the ending result will not be pretty.



That’s me in all my green skin glory, about a month ago. It was taken around midnight in a bar with a camera phone, that is, no bells nor whistles, no filters nor airbrushing involved. It’s definitely not the best picture of me, but I think it captures how I look on any given night (rather than, say, my TNB photo which was professionally shot for a magazine). I still get carded and challenged that my driver’s license is actually my own, granted the lighting in most bars is pretty forgiving. Don’t for a second think that I actually believe I look under 21, but I could easily lie about my age by 10 years. My mom does. Lies about my age, that is. But, I think lying is silly. On the other hand, avoiding the full reveal = awesome! It seems that when most women hit their thirties, especially if we look good, we start to conveniently not mention our age. We do have this mystique to maintain, right? Just call me ageless.

I went to a new doctor recently and when she came in the room after the nurse took my stats, she demanded, “OK, what’s your secret?!”

Secret? I started to freak out thinking she somehow knew I had lied about how many drinks I actually consume in a week on the new patient form.

“We were all just marveling over your age!” she continued. “And we don’t believe it.” Relieved, though a bit shaken, I shrugged and said what has become my throwaway answer: “good genes.” But I come from a family that is prone to just as many maladies as any other.

Look, I’m not here to rub anything in your face (except for a good face serum, maybe). There’s nothing to envy. After all, the past ten years haven’t been easy by any stretch and sometimes I’m shocked and extremely grateful that a pre-plastic surgery Joan Rivers isn’t staring back at me when I look into a mirror. Let’s see, there was the excruciating task of opening and running a business that eventually went south and made me financially and emotionally drained, not to mention the end of relationships, falling in and out of love a couple times. You know… grown-up stuff. Who really has it “easy” anyway?

Consider for a moment what I do “right” and I promise not to lecture. It’s not all that impressive: I avoid the sun (easy for night lovers), get plenty of sleep (I don’t get less than 7 hours a night, on average), eat well (vegetarian, non-processed foods, though that’s undoubtedly its own separate subject), exercise like there’s no tomorrow– while forcing myself to enjoy it (I do, really, I do. Perhaps I’m even a bit addicted. Hey, better than crystal meth right?) and I take care of myself, especially my skin, which I don’t take for granted for a second. It may be kinda green, but it’s smooth and other than a few fine lines, wrinkle-free.

Surely, you’ve heard all that before, so what else? What’s my secret? It could be that I treat myself well, because I feel I deserve it. I love to spend money on clothing, shoes, quality beauty products and services. I also love to spend money on good food, books, travel and entertainment. All of this keeps me stimulated, inspired and healthy. Could it also be that I refuse to “settle down”? More like I refuse to settle. Once you settle, then you become complacent and then you might as well die as far as I’m concerned. Call it extreme, but this philosophy works for me.

Let’s get back to the topic of work, though. It’s what keeps me in Fluevogs and good bedding (a sound sleep is crucial to a divine daily existence, so go ahead and splurge on those 700-thread count sheets and luxury mattress), not to mention, earning a paycheck allows me to be able to afford those things I can’t live without. But it’s more than that. I was raised with a really strong work ethic, which sucked at 16 when I wanted to fuck off and just go to the beach on weekends, but now I appreciate that ethic. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a workaholic, if you allow for the other aforementioned good stuff. I don’t sacrifice my own happiness for work and won’t do so ever again after owning my own business and having to make constant compromises with a partner who did not share the same outlook as me. Ever since that ended, I have followed my own rules, worked many jobs, often two or three at a time, and other than a brief hiatus in employment due to a life-changing move to the Midwest, I now have the career of my dreams. I think that once you get there, you should want to devote yourself to overachievement.

I have this thing called a writing habit, too. My recently completed novel may be on the back burner, but it’s warming up quite nicely. Slow cooking means the most enjoyable eating, I’ve found. And I have some hobbies, too.

But the secret, what’s the secret to looking and feeling young? I think it’s the grand sum of these things. For example, without the exercise, I have to wonder if I could sleep as well as I do. Without eating healthily, would the drink make me a lazy lush? Without sleeping a full night, would I still have endless energy and not get sick? If I didn’t sleep, eat well and drink a few quarts of water a day would my skin look this good? Who knows? It’s a life in progress. I do take breaks from the hard living. There may be a week or two of staying in at night, too. Too much of anything can get boring. I guess I just fell into good habits somewhere along the way, to counterbalance the not so good ones. Listen, not trying these days isn’t an option anymore.

The first paragraph of this piece could have easily started differently. I could have listed all that I do “right,” and I do plenty right but wouldn’t you rather have the fact that I do plenty wrong as a frame of reference? I am not perfect. I drink. A lot. I love caffeine. I love late nights and “sleeping in.”  A lot of this I can attribute to two decades of practice. I started going out when I was underage and living in Greenwich Village. I cut my teeth on New York nightlife as soon as I could.

I do it all, all that I want to do, and I’ll stop when I’m dead. But I will try my best to look and feel fabulous all along the way.  Who knows, some day I may even achieve Zelda Kaplan status.

The living hard part? It’s not crucial, nor is it advisable for everyone, but why not gradually make a go of it? You may find yourself feeling better, having more energy and you may just want to pull an all-nighter or two.


 

You men eat your dinner
eat your pork and beans
I eat more chicken any man ever seen

So goes the blues song, “Back Door Man,” written in 1961 by Willie Dixon for Howlin’ Wolf, and later immortalized by Jim Morrison and The Doors.

A “Back Door Man” is said to be a man who has an affair with a married woman while her husband’s away. In the song, the chicken line serves as a double entendre. Chicken-eating was rare in 1961. Per capita, consumption of pork doubled chicken consumption; not until 1985 did chicken consumption surpass pork consumption in the United States.

“I eat more chicken any man ever seen,” then, likely referred to the singer’s boast that married women cooked chicken for him and saved the less desirable pork and beans for their husbands.

I am not a “back door man”-at least not in any blues sense of the phrase. However, taken literally, that chicken line is my personal anthem: I really do eat more chicken any man ever seen.

In 2007, the typical American consumed about 87 pounds of chicken. My yearly chicken consumption equals about 525 pounds-a ½ chicken almost every single night.

Most nights, I eat a ½ roast chicken. I adore The French recipe, poulet en cocotte. I believe chicken should be brined. In Puerto Rico last winter, I ate a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket for seven consecutive evenings. I prefer dark meat. I tolerate people who prefer white meat, though I find this “preference” laughable. Chicken legs are finger-lickin’, robust, Whitmanesque. Dark meat, replete with B-vitamins, is more nutritious than white meat, too. I believe that chicken should be shared.  Sundays, I share a whole roast chicken with my wife. Weekends, I grill chicken legs for friends and family.

This was not always the case. Growing up, I was not necessarily a prolific chicken-eater. Then, at twenty, I became a vehement vegetarian. Firm in my belief that I was nourishing my body (and, obviously, supporting the welfare of the earth and its creatures), I ate whole grains, beans, tempeh, raw fruits and vegetables-but no chicken. Skinny to begin (6″ 150 pounds), I slimmed down to beanpole dimensions (140 pounds). I acquired what Gabriel García Márquez, in One Hundred Years of Solitude, calls “the forlorn look that one sees in vegetarians.”

Some thought I was rigid. A Greek chorus of friends, family, everyone, really, except my supportive and loving vegetarian wife, said the same thing: Maybe you should eat some meat.

Perhaps they saw what I did not: vegetarianism was killing me. Throughout my early twenties, I suffered a variety of health problems. In my mid-twenties, my health issues evolved. At 26, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. One year later, during my honeymoon in Barcelona, I checked into the hospital at 118 pounds, and was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes.

Remembering this time, I think of these lines from Tony Hoagland’s poem “Medicine”:

Daydreaming comes easy to the ill:
slowed down to the speed of waiting rooms,
you learn to hang suspended in the wallpaper,
to drift among the magazines and plants,
feeling a strange love
for the time that might be killing you.

I do not think I was unique in my stubborn will to remain vegetarian. We hang onto to diets, to ways of eating, even when they no longer make sense, don’t we? Often, we become attached to habits that might be killing us. Time, food, cigarettes–why do we maintain this “strange love”?

It wasn’t until my honeymoon in Barcelona, when I was hit by a car, and later diagnosed with type-1 diabetes, that I began to reconsider my vehemence.

Post-diagnosis, I spent 3 days in the ER, another 3 days in the hospital. When I was released from the hospital, equipped with a regime of insulin and needles, I felt my life had been cut in two. I knew who I used to be, but I had no idea who I might become.

That night in Barcelona, I fell asleep next to my new wife for the first time in seven days. Married only a month, we had spent a week apart–me in my hospital bed; her, returning to the flat alone after visiting hours had ended. Catalans are known for their late meals. I awoke around two in the morning, to a crisply delicious, salty smell. I stepped to the window and was hit by a waft of potato chips. I stuck my head out the window into the clear air. Smelling again, I realized I was mistaken. I hadn’t been smelling potato chips. No, a lunatic Catalan family was grilling at two o’clock in the morning. The scent struck me-the scent of grilled chicken, a veritable blizzard of aromatic compounds. Something about that scent struck my soul-it came to me deliciously intoning its simple message: You can change. You will survive. Eat chicken.

Since that time, seven years ago, I have eaten approximately ½ chicken almost every single night of my life.

Diet is the most idiosyncratic trait a person owns. Married people often share religious and political beliefs-but rarely the same diet. I admit, my chicken-eating habit might seem obsessive-akin in many ways to my prior vegetarianism. There is a difference, though: as a vegetarian, in pursuit of a “pure” body, I had viewed certain ways of eating as wrong or evil. Even as I refined my diet to an impossible degree, my health suffered. Today my diet is even more refined-and yet, I thrive.

I’ve abandoned the absurd belief that any way of eating is inherently right or wrong. I do not trust dietary dictums. In terms of food, my experience has taught me that the spirit with which you approach food is as important as the food itself.

How do you eat? In penance? With joy?

Food choices are vitally important to a type-1 diabetic. I had to re-learn my relationship with food in order to live healthfully. Every time I put food into my mouth, I must calculate the effect it will have upon my body, and I must make adjustments to my insulin regime accordingly. I cannot just eat whatever I want, whenever I want. I am bound by diabetes to live my life within proscribed boundaries.

Within these boundaries, though, I’ve discovered joy: perhaps it is a form of compulsion, but I enjoy eating the exact same thing every night. I know exactly how my body will react to chicken. I love the bluesy feeling of mirth, the wild joy of sucking on a chicken bone. I do not mean to be flippant. When I eat chicken I try to remember that I’m engaging in a significant moment–a moment that must be cherished, for it has been afforded to me through a great sacrifice of resources: land, energy, life. I cannot deny, though: to me, chicken is momentous. Chicken symbolizes my return to life.

I’ve posted recipes for my ½ roast chicken and whole roast chicken on my food blog. Here is a recipe for grilled chicken.

Grilled Chicken with Pantry Spice Rub

Over-cooked chicken, like over-cooked steak, is an offensive abomination. A good way to precisely gauge the internal temperature of chicken is to use an instant-read thermometer. Optimal temperature varies between white and dark meat, typically the best chicken measures 160-165 degrees at the breast, and 165-170 degrees at the leg.

4 naturally raised whole chicken legs 
6 tablespoons kosher salt 
2 tablespoons brown sugar 
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 medium garlic cloves, peeled and crushed 
1 teaspoon sweet paprika 
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon chile powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Dissolve the salt and brown sugar in a gallon-size plastic bag. Add the chicken, press out the air, seal, and refrigerate for 1 ½ to 2 hours.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine the olive oil, garlic cloves, and spices.

Remove the chicken from the brine, rinse, dry with paper towels. Rub the pantry spice rub all over the chicken parts.

Light your grill.

If using a charcoal grill, make a two-level fire by stacking most of the coals on one side of the grill. Place the rack on the grill, cover, and allow the grill and rack to heat up for 5 or so minutes. Cook the chicken over the hot coals until browned and crispy, 3-4 minutes per side. Move the chicken to the cooler part of the grill, continue to cook, skin-side up, and covered for 10 minutes. Turn, and continue for 5-7 minutes, until done.

If using a gas grill, turn all the burners to high and heat the grill until very hot, about 10 minutes. Leave one burner on high and turn the other burners to low. Cook the chicken over the hotter part of the grill, uncovered, until browned and crispy, 3-4 minutes per side. Move  the chicken to the cooler part of the grill, continue to cook, skin-side up, and covered for 10 minutes. Turn, and continue for 5-7 minutes, until done.

First, I’ve edited this piece so that even the most dimwitted readers will get my “thesis,” which would be a “thesis” had I not proven it, as below.

Now, why was a prescription database pushed to the hilt by the media? They claimed it was to stop one of Florida’s tourism industries, unsurprisingly allowed to operate for as long as possible: Oxycontin pill mills that existed because of a loophole in the law.  People from all over the South and elsewhere picked up Oxy in Florida to use or sell elsewhere or in Florida, The Comfortable [email protected] Fine: Let’s solve the problem. But, no, a law was passed that now encompasses every single prescription, addictive or not. The state, not concerned enough to pay for the law, located or, more likely, established a private network of contributors to pay for it. Why? Who paid for the database…and why?

At first, it all seems to be about nothing but power. Unfortunately, it’s all about our old friendly combination of power and money… make that money and power.

And now, the incredible story of how Florida’s state pharmacy database came to be.

On January 1, 2010, Florida finally passed The Common Pharmacy Database statute. Before I continue, let me alert you that the following is a mystery wrapped in a conspiracy concealed in quantum semantics saturated by contradictions watering the evil garden of power beneath a sun radiating shadows hiding the black roses blooming by the thousands in the name of profit shrouded by a single over-riding facade of a purpose. Complicating matters is a flood of red herrings pointing to red herrings, only these red herrings have been dyed to appear in every color but red, creating the void in which utterly-arbitrary medical decisions are made by technicians in lab coats who overrule at will the orders of those not much more qualified than themselves, imposing a tyranny upon the entire population of Florida, all to supposedly address a loophole in the law that allowed “pain clinics” to dispense Oxycontin like psychiatrists dispense antidepressants.

In plain English, after my having textually run amok, let me restate the above in one sentence: The Florida Pharmacy Database was never necessary because legislation could have sealed the pain clinic loophole. You won’t read these facts of why that wasn’t done anywhere but here, though they’re lying naked in the Florida sun on I-75.

The database program’s own webpage admits, “The statute authorizing the PMDP [Prescription Drug Monitoring Program] specifically does not allow the use of state appropriations for establishing the PMDP.” Curiously, the statute instead did “authorize the establishment of a non-profit organization, which was incorporated as The Florida PDMP Foundation, Inc., to conduct fund-raising for the program.” In other words, “This is a crucial issue, but not crucial enough to raise taxes.” So how is it possibly Constitutional for a state law to be passed based on funding by a non-governmental entity? Look, a green herring!

Care to guess the The Florida PDMP Foundation, Inc. mission? Third prize goes to stopping “‘pill mills’ that prescribe and/or dispense pain relievers with at best a cursory exam to people who often see multiple physicians for the same ‘ailment.'” Second prize goes to a supposed concern that “nearly seven Floridians are lost every day to prescription drug overdoses.” First prize goes to the bottom dollar answer: “$15 billion is the estimated economic cost of prescription drug abuse and diversion shouldered by Floridians in 2009.” And just who funds the foundation? Let’s look at the three sponsors thanked on the foundation’s site via their super-sized corporate logos.

First, there’s Automated HealthCare Systems, which connects two dots: “Our ezDispense™ medication dispensing software, powered by AHCS, provides the tools to our physician partners to remain in compliance with all state and federal regulations as well as prescription drug monitoring programs. ezDispense™ electronically tracks all pedigree papers, lot numbers, expiration dates and controlled substances with line item reconciliation. Our software also identifies the location, physician, dispenser, cost, profit and date of all medications dispensed.” Holmes, methinks I’ve determined the AHCS’ motivation.

Next, Millennium Laboratories. Somehow, a red herring escaped extermination by Millennium Laboratories, which entirely profits from a single service: “We offer urine testing for numerous drug classes or individual drugs, with the option of several panels or a customized solution.” In Florida, guess who’s watching you piss in a cup?

Finally, Aegis PainComp Testing Services: That’s “Comp” as in “Compliance.” Know where we’re going with this? You got it: Drug testing. It’s all about the urine, folks.

Apparently, however, there’s just not enough precious bodily fluids to go around. Thus, Aegis is currently suing Millennium for “false advertising and unfair competition.” Additionally, Aegis claims Millenium “lured in physicians with illegal kickbacks and defrauded government health care programs.”

But Aegis may not play so fairly, either: “The company owned by the husband of 6th District Congressional candidate Diane Black is suing Republican opponent Lou Ann Zelenik in an attempt to stop a campaign advertisement. In the lawsuit filed Thursday morning in Davidson County Circuit Court, Aegis Sciences Corporation, a drug testing company owned by Dr. David Black, claims that ads run by the Zelenik campaign will damage the business and its reputation and asks for a temporary restraining order to keep the ads from airing. The ads allege Diane Black helped her husband’s company obtain a $1 million state contract.”

These certainly sound like the respectable backers one would seek for an ostensibly government health care program, don’t they? And it all looks like a job for none other than the Real Keyser Söze.

One page deeper into the site and we learn that the foundation is headquartered at the law firm of Duane Morris LLP, which, amongst other activities, boasts: “Our attorneys regularly advise on Stark and anti-kickback issues and have developed unique ways for physicians to share in ancillary revenue in compliance with federal and state regulations.” Another achievement: “We have defended nursing homes, home health agency and ancillary service provider clients under investigation for Medicaid fraud, advising them on appropriate responses to subpoenas and strategizing to minimize the risk of an adverse outcome.” And the law firm proudly broadcasts its having “Represented three nonprofit community hospitals and resulting ‘community benefit foundations’ in connection with the sale of hospital assets to for-profit hospital chains.”

Interesting use of quotation marks around the phrase “community benefit foundations,” obviously mocking such “liberal” causes. But isn’t that exactly the kind of do-good organization The Florida PDMP Foundation, Inc. claims to be? Let’s return to the foundation’s site and check it out.

At first, it seems the foundation at least wants to feel like it has a message of love: “The Foundation consists of both community and business leaders working to save lives through fundraising for the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PMDP) to combat the deadly consequences of drug abuse and diversion.” But without so much as a yawn, this follows, “The Foundation is comprised of a state county sheriff, a President of a Florida-based health care company, an officer of a bank located in Florida, a former director of the Office of Drug Control, the CEO of a company that conducts educational training and an attorney focused on assisting this non-profit. That attorney would be Duane Morris, who, as we’ve seen, normally doesn’t look so kindly upon non-profit organizations. In fact, his motto seems to be, “For the right hourly billing rate, I’ll decapitate Jesus Christ and prove my actions legal, then counter-sue the estate of Jesus Christ.”

As proof, the Duane Morris Institute offers businesses on-site training in a number of areas, one of which includes…”Substance Abuse: Detection and referral; work rules; development of drug and alcohol testing policies; return-to-work agreements ” Relevance? Duane Morris seems awfully involved with drug testing companies, just awfully. For instance, he represented “a drug testing company and its employee, in administering a drug test that found cocaine in plaintiff’s urine and resulted in the revocation of plaintiff’s taxicab operator’s license.” Guess who won, the cabbie or a law firm with enough attorneys to prove the Complete Works of William Shakespeare unconstitutional?

Duane Morris LLP, which specializes in defending the most ruthless business practices conceivable and seems to have a fetish for drug testing, heads the The Florida PDMP Foundation, Inc., funded by drug testing companies, which in turn funded the Florida Pharmacy Database, and without which funding even Republicans would never have passed the legislation. Obviously, through a law conjured to supposedly address Oxycontin pill mills, but which instead is being applied to every single prescribed medication in Florida, the real intention of the database is to shove innocent citizens, including those addicted by proxy due to emotional and/or health issues, into the criminal “justice” system or the rehabilitation racket, both of which will provide plenty of business for drug testing companies. And we know which three drug testing companies will be getting most of that business, don’t we?

Sooner or later, you’ll need a prescription in your state, one without the slightest addictive qualities, and you’ll be denied that prescription for whatever reason the pharmacist may decide. For instance, I recently had to obtain a week’s supply of a newly-prescribed antidepressant, as I couldn’t afford the entire month’s worth. That was standard practice in the old days. But I was told I could not even fill less than the amount prescribed. Why? Because the database gives pharmacies unspecified powers, and pharmacists, believing themselves equipped to do something beyond sliding pills into bottles, love power no less than anybody else with a badge, uniform, degree, or, in this case, lab coat.

Here’s an analogy explaining the supposed logic behind the law: You’re being denied the right to drive — even if you lack a single DUI —  because a certain number of Florida citizens die in car accidents. But by the real “logic” of the law, you’re being pulled over and stopped for speeding whether or not you were speeding or even driving because someone supported a law through a foundation funded by manufacturers of police radar equipment.

Now, if that doesn’t make you piss your pants, read my new 9/11 novel, Airplane Novel, which you can order here. More info at the Airplane Novel website. It’s the only 9/11 novel narrated by the South Tower. In fact, it’s the only 9/11 novel worth reading at all. Just don’t forget to get your Xanax filled before reading this novel aboard a plane.

“Come over here, you sexy bitch.”

The bartender’s voice seeped slowly into my awareness as I stood staring hang-jawed at my surroundings: the dark wood sheathing the club from floor to ceiling, the fish tanks embedded into the face of the long bar, and, especially the person sitting on the barstool. Was that the same person featured in the drag show I’d been at a few weeks earlier? Finally, I heard the words.

I turned my head toward the bartender and the space between me and the bar, which had only seconds ago been filled by other customers but was now empty, and realized he was talking to me.

“Oh! I’m the sexy bitch,” I said. “Thanks for that. I was worried that I looked like Xena: Warrior Princess.”


CHAPTER 2


Does This Mean You’ll See Me Naked?

Yes, it does mean precisely that. The funeral director who prepares your body for a final viewing will invariably at some point need to remove your clothing. So, yes. You will be naked.

But you’d be amazed at how many times I’ve been asked that question—and how often, when people voice their fears regarding death, the issue comes up. What is this hang-up people have about nudity? It’s as bad as their hang-up about death! Some of my closest friends have expressed reservations in letting me handle their funerals because of it; even my own sister has mentioned it!

I have repeatedly assured everyone that, as a -professional, I have no sexual interest whatsoever in dead bodies—male or female—particularly family members and friends. Any loved one reposing on my embalming table is someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, daughter, son, or grandparent and is reverently and respectfully cared for in a totally businesslike manner. Only a sick mind would interpret or insinuate anything else.

Furthermore, preparation room decorum has always been maintained wherever I have worked. All of my coworkers have been men, and in my opinion, men are all pretty much mama’s boys. They therefore reserve a great deal of respect for deceased women. Any little old lady reminds them of their own beloved grandmothers; a middle-aged woman might be the same age as their mothers. And in the case of a deceased little girl, all of us are instantly transformed into protective father figures, feeling intense sorrow right along with the family and sometimes even blubbering in tears as we work.

There have obviously been cases involving improprieties in funeral home settings, but such incidents are few and far between. Many years ago I worked at a home with a man who eagerly reported for work each morning and then made a mad dash to the preparation room to see whether there had been any calls overnight—he supposedly wanted to see whether he knew the recently deceased personally. If so, he was on the horn immediately to report the death to his wife and other acquaintances. But he also made a habit of lifting the sheets covering deceased women so that he could gaze at their private areas. When I questioned him one day, he responded that he was merely looking for a toe tag to determine identity. “The tag is not in her crotch,” I told him. He sheepishly left. But when the same incident occurred again the next morning, I reported him to my immediate supervisor. The man was fired on the spot, and rightfully so.

Body Art

Sometimes we funeral directors do occasionally marvel at the physical oddities we encounter. As a college student working in the county morgue, I saw several decedents whose attributes were, well, noteworthy. Some took the form of off-the-wall embellishments.

A navy man lay on the table one morning; he sported tattoos over nearly every inch of his body, save for his hands and face. A detailed battleship, complete with billowing smokestacks, festooned his chest. On his back, from neck to buttocks, was an intricately designed butterfly. Around his neck was a broken line with the words Cut Here in bold letters. The stereotypical Mom was emblazoned on each bicep, and on each forearm was a buxom lady, each one naked and well endowed. On each leg, from groin to ankle, were hissing snakes with open mouths and forked tongues. And, of course, he had the prerequisite love on his four left fingers and hate on the four right ones. (All such body art is considered a distinguishing mark and is therefore noted and photographed by morgue personnel.)

I entered the morgue another day to find the coroner holding a magnifying glass to the private parts of a naked man. As I stood next to the body, the coroner handed me the magnifying glass and told me to check out the head of the man’s penis. In full detail was a tattoo of a housefly.

A few months later, we used the magnifying glass again to observe another penis tattoo, this one reading Cherry Buster. I had to wonder just how drunk that person must have been when he decided to get that tattoo. Perhaps the finest tattoo I have seen to date, though, is a red-and-white barber pole design, no doubt meant to resemble a candy cane.

Tattoos on deceased women are usually less brazen—flowers, butterflies, and the occasional Harley-Davidson insignia. However, I’ve also encountered Jimmy’s Toys emblazoned above a woman’s ample breasts; Honey Pot, complete with an elaborate arrow directing the viewer to the vaginal area; and most incredibly, Deliveries in Rear inscribed just above a young lady’s buttocks.

Back when I got started, there were not many piercings of note, unlike today. Now men have rings attached to their penises and scrota, women have rings in their clitorises, and both males and females sport nipple rings. Among the more elaborate piercings I’ve seen was that of a young woman who had both nipples and her clitoris pierced, and all three were connected. A gold chain attached to her nipples hung downward in a U shape across her chest with another chain attaching the center of the nipple chain to the ring located between her legs. When her mother asked me for any jewelry her daughter might have been wearing, I nervously explained my findings. Although upset, she graciously accepted the items following the funeral.

Face Down and Naked

In my business, prurience, or at least the suggestion of it, is an ongoing issue. I once prearranged the funeral services of a man who insisted that he be placed in his casket completely naked and face down. At first I assumed that this was his interpretation of the old cliché, “Lay me out face down and naked, so the whole world can kiss my ass.”

However, his explanation was far less dramatic. He’d always slept on his stomach and in the nude, he said, and he desired to be positioned that very way for burial. Also, his casket should be closed, for obvious reasons. I drew red asterisks all over the front of his prearrangement sheet, so that in case I was away when this gentleman passed on, others would be aware of his wishes.

When he died two years later, I informed his daughter of his request, and she readily agreed to it. I placed the man on a dressing table, covered him with a sheet, and then allowed the daughter to view her father and say good-bye before proceeding with the aforementioned arrangements.

Honoring requests of the deceased is something we pride ourselves on, and those requests take many forms. Many family members have expressed to me that their deceased loved one would have enjoyed a less-than-traditional send-off—more of a party atmosphere than the normal visitation and ceremony complete with traditional hymns and a consoling sermon from a man of the cloth. Although many mention a desire to do something different, I can think of very few who have actually carried out such a plan.

There was one memorable one, however. Twenty years ago, I arranged for a visitation and service to be held in the social room of an exclusive retirement center. The facility was ahead of its time, without peer. Separate -condominium-like housing was available for those who were still active and could drive their own cars, and there were also assisted living areas and a nursing home setting. The gentleman who had passed away was a wealthy business owner. His three grown children applauded his zest for life and preference for the finer trappings. His oldest son told me that his father always wanted to have a send-off that involved his Dixieland bandmates, with whom he had played for many years. They had marched on the field at Cincinnati Reds and Bengals games, and the group had remained quite close into their old age.

So the social room at the retirement community was bedecked not with black bunting but with bright green ribbons and noisemakers normally reserved for New Year’s Eve. The kitchen staff strolled around with serving trays, offering finger food and alcoholic beverages. I stood at the room’s rear, pleased by what I observed—folks of all ages eating, drinking, and toasting the deceased. Here was the life of the party, the one they’d all come to honor, lying in a solid bronze casket, dressed in a pair of black tuxedo trousers, a white ruffled shirt, green satin bow tie, and a red-and-white striped sports jacket. His bandmates were off to one side loudly playing “Sweet Georgia Brown” and having the time of their lives. When the band took a break, they all congregated at their late friend’s casket, each tipping a glass in his honor.

The deceased man had left behind a wife and a wealth of memories, especially from their annual trip to Hawaii. At the funeral the next day, in recognition of his love for our fiftieth state, I was asked to play the music of Don Ho. His favorite song? “Tiny Bubbles.” Everyone in attendance received a small bottle of soap bubbles and the obligatory wand. As the mourners and family members passed the casket, they administered a bubbly tribute as the song wafted in the background.

Disrespect can take many forms. A young man killed in an auto accident reposed in his casket with gospel hymns playing softly in the background. His parents were very religious and appreciated the solemnity of Christian music for a churchlike atmosphere. But the decedent’s hoodlum friends requested that I instead play the rap CDs they had brought along. I looked over the cases and discovered warnings proclaiming that the talentless ramblings contained extremely explicit, profane, and sexually degrading lyrics, obviously inappropriate for a funeral. I showed the CDs to the parents, and to my surprise, they said to go ahead and play them. Well, after about three minutes into the first selection, the father frantically begged me to go back to the hymns. He and his family had probably never heard the bittersweet recollections of a “ho” shaking “the junk in her trunk” and feverishly fondling many male appendages until they “shot their spunk.”

Bury Me with Buster

Honoring last requests is often a simple matter of inclusion. Over the years I have placed myriad items inside caskets—fishing rods, a bow and arrow, golf clubs (sometimes a whole set), golf balls, basketballs, autographed baseballs, baseball gloves, and other sports memorabilia, along with complete baseball, football, and basketball uniforms. Unloaded handguns, rifles, and shotguns often find their way into the casket—sometimes because the deceased was an avid hunter, but just as often because someone apparently didn’t want certain family members to take possession. I’ve included playing cards, bingo cards, lucky pennies, room keys from hotels in Las Vegas and other destinations, cigarettes, marijuana joints, pet rocks, favorite books, a tape recorder, a glass eye, sexual devices, jewelry (some expensive, some not), apples, oranges, buckeyes, walnuts, photographs, leaf collections, coin collections, Penthouse and Playboy magazines (once, an entire collection), and occasionally even a racier publication.

Then there are the dead animals—cremated remains of beloved dogs and cats or the recently euthanized dog, which is placed in a plastic bag and laid at the feet of the deceased.

One recent casket-depositing incident caused quite a furor. The late gentleman was thrice married and divorced, and all three of his ex-spouses insisted on attending the services. His current female companion abruptly requested that I remove one of those ex-wives from the funeral home as soon as possible. “Why?” I inquired. She informed me that the woman had just peeled off her panties and placed them in her late ex-husband’s hand.

The majority of gestures are loving, however. An elderly gentleman friend contacted me when his wife passed away. After the service and with the room empty of mourners, he and I approached the casket. He then handed me a $50 bill and requested that I slip it into his wife’s bra. Apparently it was a tradition of sorts—whenever she went someplace without him, he would playfully slip $50 into her bra so she would always have some money with her. This time would be no exception.

Since psychiatry has proven itself to be anything but a science, the entire concept of mental anguish must be reexamined. Might the elements of “mental illness” more properly be called personality traits as well as reflections of the societies in which those traits occur? Might those elements even be called talents of a sort?

Psychiatry’s masterwork of pseudo-science, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV), once included homosexuality amongst its “scientific” diagnoses. Psychiatry thus reflects the “values” of the United States far more than concerning itself with patients, much less looking past and through society’s existing prejudices.

Even those behind psychiatry’s Shroud of Turin question its validity. Of late, there has been talk of attributing DSM diagnoses by degrees rather than mere labels. Thus, a person would “have” a “mental illness” on a scale, not just “have” it. In such a case, the flatliners who dominate the population would once again establish the “typical American’s” plot-pointed life as “sanity.”

Yet no one who suffers emotional distress would applaud the benefits of that distress. To do so would be to refute its existence and betray oneself as an imposter. Far more likely is it that many flatliners never mention their irregular heartbeats. Could it be a Second Renaissance lies beneath the ever-recycling digital ruins and its constant skies of acid rain?

Consider anxiety. Those with anxious traits are often highly-attuned. To call them “sensitive” is, in this society, an insult. “Sensitive” implies weakness, an inability to “man up.” Instead, the anxious should be viewed as a tuning fork against which society reveals itself — rather than the “patient” — as out of tune. That no one else recognizes society’s discordant sounds only proves the anxious to be society’s musicians. Countless permutations of that metaphor support themselves.

The same may be said about every other “diagnosis.” Schizophrenia might be viewed as a William S. Burroughs’ cutup of “reality” as presented, emphasis on “presented” because, of course, most of our environment has nothing natural about it and is, in fact, a presentation in every sense.

Some conditions do respond to medication. Usually, the reasons remain unknown. In turn, the medication may solve one “problem” while creating many more. Those who take most antidepressants may no longer feel depressed about nothing, but they feel depressed about their diminished sexuality, especially males whenever they try to… express their end of sexuality’s conclusion.

Returning to anxiety, medication does relieve its incapacitating aspect, but the medications that accomplish the effect also accomplish something else, that being the worst addiction known to humankind. This class of drugs, benzodiazepines, includes Xanax, Valium, Ativan, etc., the whole lot of tranquilizers, excepting the rarely-prescribed barbiturates. In some cases, antidepressants may relieve anxiety. However, they do so for reasons as unknown as the reasons antidepressants diminish depression. Likewise, they alleviate anxiety but create symptoms that mirror anxiety, such as trembling hands, odd emotional states, etc.

Rather than diagnoses, all of these traits show themselves to be products of society, products of the product society uses to diagnose those personality traits, and the products society sells to treat the products of the product society uses to diagnose those personality traits. That’s to say, they’re products of an environment completely divorced from nature.

All of this enshrouds some rather simplistic facts about a complicated subject. To martyr those suffering in the way biographers now “diagnose” every author, musician and artist “of the ages” as “bipolar” reduces suffering by labeling it, making suffering a product of their products, that being books and, eventually, films based on those books. Those who write memoirs about their “mental illnesses” bend over backwards for sainthood and reveal themselves willing to do endure any humiliation in exchange for profit.

On the other hand, failing to notice the strange talents hidden within the emotionally inflamed creates an even greater injustice. These strange talents do not prove the existence of artistic talent, as many would like to believe, but they do reveal an artistic temperament. No one can suffer emotionally but for recognition of something and, more likely, many things, and their recognitions go unnoticed by the general public. Why does no one listen to them? Who do “doctors” listen only to themselves when they recognize nothing beyond the power of their prescription pads? Is it because they realize their absolute lack of talent, strange or otherwise?

Most of those suffering in the ways described cycle through life in various stages of function and dysfunction, and most have periods of absolute dysfunction. To calls these periods “nervous breakdowns” would be far more accurate than to split the hairs of the suffering with psychiatry’s blunt axe. They must be tended to as they once were, in humane sanitariums surrounded by the true environment. Such sanitariums could — with no joke intended — be established on useless golf courses around the nation.

With that, some proposals:

1) Psychiatry should be abolished. It simply lacks the will, or even desire to have the will, to fulfill its dream of being medicine. Psychiatrists should be stripped of their meaningless licenses and sent on their way to more suitable careers, like accounting.

2) The “mentally ill” should be educated to understand their conditions as also encompassing strange talents, until they begin to believe the fact that their recognitions are true even when masked by the wildest hallucinations.

3) Medications should be dispensed by doctors who have achieved certification in dispensing those medications. They should know, and prove that knowledge by required yearly testing, that they understand prescribing medications and the facts of addictions that may occur to any such medication they dispense.As it stands, psychiatrists receive eight hours of addiction “education.”

4) Medications known to cause addiction should be removed from any policing or government surveillance whatsoever. Those subject to mental anguish should not be criminalized for trying to relieve that anguish, including and even especially when relieving the added anguish of addiction to a prescribed medication.

5) All those suffering from the acute perceptions so well described in Rumblefish should ultimately determine their own treatment, including beginning or continuing use of addictive prescribed substances, even when addiction has established itself, for the suffering caused by eliminating that addiction will likely lead to more dangerous and illegal addiction.

Flatliners already receive society’s benefits. Those who benefit society without society knowing it — those with strange talents — deserve just as many benefits.

The email I’ve been waiting for didn’t come again. Darn. This is getting to be a big disappointment. I have checked both my email accounts every 10 minutes for the last two years and in all those thousands of times it hasn’t come.

You might ask what the heck am I waiting for.

I asked myself that after the first year.

To tell you the truth, I don’t know what it is. But I know what it isn’t.

It’s not a Groupon for an eyebrow threading and additional facial area special, though throwing in that additional facial area is pretty doggone tempting.

It’s not a plea for me to sign a petition, although that can make a difference in the world.

It’s not a deserving charity begging me for funds now that it’s been decimated by budget cuts.

But I know I’ll know it when I see it.

It’ll be an opportunity that is going to CHANGE MY LIFE!

Nah, not the person I never heard of who’s requesting to Friend me on Facebook.

Not the millions of dollars registered in my name in Nigeria.

And I know it won’t be the publisher accepting my manuscript, because an editor once told me, We only email bad news. Good news, we pick up the phone. We want to hear your excitement. We want someone to be happy to hear from us.

The email I’m waiting for is something SO INCREDIBLY SPECIAL I can’t afford to wait more than a few minutes to see if it’s arrived.

What if I missed it?

Or came upon it too late?

I’d just die.

It’s not that I’m addicted to checking my email. Everyone I know is the same way so it can’t be a problem. It’s not as if we all have a carefully conditioned Pavlovian reflex that starts us fidgeting and salivating and wondering every few minutes if we’re going to get our reward. When I say every few minutes, that’s give or take after all. Of course there are some addicts like the guy in the row in front of me at the movie theater who’s checking email on his blackberry. But personally, I don’t worry a speck about my ability to concentrate or that my brain is actually changing its configurations by constant shots of dopamine and subsequent plunges.

Ping! That could be it! Hold on just a second, I’ll be right back.

Shoot. It’s not the colonic special for $15.00.

Have I made a terrible mistake? Could it possibly come on Twitter?

Retards and cripples have sex.

It’s true, and I know it’s true because I’m a cripple. I have cystic fibrosis, a chronic genetic disease, and several times I’ve had someone wrapped around my penis in one way or another. We who are disabled strive for a life as close to normal as our respective maladies allow. A normal part of life is sex. The beast with two backs, or rather, the beast with two backs but one of them suffered a severed nerve, became paraplegic and is now dragged along by the more able back. The horizontal rumba, or maybe more of a hokey pokey that requires a little sit down to catch breath between shaking it all about.

Major Depressive Disorder (Source: NIMH)

  • Major Depressive Disorder is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15-44.
  • Major Depressive Disorder affects approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year.
  • While Major Depressive Disorder can develop at any age, the median age at onset is 32.
  • Major Depressive Disorder is more prevalent in women than in men.

*

I had to look those numbers up, because too often I feel alone in my diagnosis.

You see, contrary to most people’s impression of me, I am depressive. Clinically. Sometimes, debilitatingly. But only my two closest friends and my psychiatrist (no, not even my family) know how grim I can get.

*

Here’s how it usually goes when I mention it to the uninformed:

“I’m sad.”

“But your life is so awesome. You are so awesome. Cheer up!”

*

I don’t know how to write about it. It’s embarrassing. And I don’t understand it.

But I do know what pisses me off about it.

Articles like this one, recently published in The New York Times:

Talk Doesn’t Pay, So Psychiatry Turns Instead to Drug Therapy

The article examines the switch from psychiatric talk therapy to becoming mere pill factories and how disgruntled older psychiatrists are (or aren’t) about it and how patients are suffering nonetheless.

*

I was going through a crippling wave of depression about seven years ago. I was finally convinced to see my friend’s psychiatrist. I was terrified. This would be my first trip to a real, live, “New York Shrink”.

I had been to one social worker/therapist in Chicago six years before that, but with awful results. After two visits and a recommendation for a bottle of St. John’s Wort and a couple bars of dark chocolate, I was sent home with a treacle-dripping “Feel better!” and a wave.

And that was during the truly borderline years.

So while I told myself that a ‘professional’ would be better than that particular weirdo therapist, I knew I didn’t want drugs to solve my problems. I knew I was a smart person and that I could figure things out if someone would just listen to me and understand me and give me some tools to help me fix the sadness.

*

I got a prescription for Zoloft at the end of my first visit.

“After you’re chemically balanced, we’ll be able to figure out what’s really going on.”

After I was chemically balanced, I had nothing to talk about.

*

Sure, I was no longer on the emotional roller coaster, but neither did I have the capacity to talk about what was making me so miserable, because suddenly nothing was making me miserable.

I spent two years rehashing broken relationships, parental annoyances, professional disappointments, but they seemed so inconsequential. I was putting on a performance for her, because that was what I felt I was supposed to be doing, and I didn’t want to waste a penny of my $200 45-minute hour.

Also, I got fat.

Zoloft stopped what little metabolism my diabetically-inclined body has, and because I was an emotionless blob, I started eating and staring at the television all the time.

More than usual, anyway.

Add ‘overweight slob’ to my weekly schpiel.

*

Eventually, thankfully, my rational senses took over and I weaned myself off of the drugs and the shrink’s staid head-nodding, non-responsive “um-hmm” attempts at fixing me.

And for a while, I was better. I was. My brain came back. I met a guy. The thrill of meeting him was exhilarating, the orgasms were mind-blowing and the break-up was devastating.

As it should be.

*

Life resumed its normalcy.

*

Slowly, ever so slowly, the depression came back. I don’t know where it came from. It’s genetic, I had learned that, so certainly it was in my DNA. A chemical imbalance? Maybe. A learned coping mechanism? Sure. I could see that.

But whatever it was, things were getting bad again.

Really bad.

And I didn’t know how to deal, other than I knew I needed to talk and I didn’t want to keep bothering my two friends. I know friends say that’s what they’re there for, but nobody is there for long when things get like my things get.

So I looked for another psychiatrist.

But no drugs this time. I was adamant.

Plus, it took me two long years to lose those additional 40 lbs.

And I was lookin’ good.

*

I found one. One who was in the business for all the right reasons. He didn’t think I needed drugs. He even gave me a massive discount because I was broker than broke.

I talked.

He talked back.

And it helped.

A lot.

*

I’ve been away from him and our bi-monthly sessions for nine months and I can feel the all-too-familiar twinge creeping back.

But I recognize it now. And I know what to do before it gets too ugly.

I have to go talk to someone.

*

No drugs.

*

Talk.

*

My appointment’s next Tuesday.

I.

I loathe grocery stores.  The big ones, I mean.  Where going in for cigarettes or milk or a bag of coffee is a 30-minute ordeal.

I don’t loathe them for political reasons or ethical reasons or anything like that.  With full awareness of the first-worldliness of my problem, the basic truth is that I can’t stand to have my time so discourteously pissed away walking the quarter-mile in from the parking lot and standing in line for 15 minutes.

When my husband asks me to step foot in the chain grocery store, I writhe and whine and make excuses and come down with exotic diseases.

I complain that I’m not wearing any pants.

“Well, you could put on pants.”


Yet, when we had to go out to round up supplies for our part in last year’s Thanksgiving Day meals, I had a go-getter attitude.

“Let’s go get this over with,” I said, pulling on my Sorels over bare feet.

“I was thinking we could drop some stuff off at Brad’s after we go to Sam’s Club.”

My go-getter attitude vanished.  Sam’s Club is the end-boss of all huge chain grocery stores. I became panicked.

“WHAT DO WE NEED AT SAM’S CLUB?!?!?!”

“We can get a relish tray there, then stop at Cub for shampoo and stuff.”

(Cub is the local, non-bulk, chain grocery store.)

“I’m not going to Sam’s Club AND Cub in the same day.  It’s grotesque.”

I stood there, worry-browed, unwashed ponytail poking out the bottom of my too-big stocking cap.

The problem was–and he pointed this out to me quickly–Sam’s Club doesn’t carry our brand of shampoo and conditioner.  In fact, they don’t carry most brands.  They have monstrous (however reasonably-priced) 10-gallon squeezy bottles of exactly 3 different kinds of shampoo and conditioner, none of them the kind we usually prefer.

This makes for odd hypothetical scenarios.

It is entirely possible that, if you were well-acquainted enough with the 3 flavors of hair care Sam’s Club does offer, you could, with decent odds, identify a fellow Sam’s Club shopper by smell:

“Ah.  I see you’re from the Garnier Fructis Sleek-N-Shine tribe. I myself am of the Pantene Moisture Balance clan.”

Their limited deodorant selection could make for an array of sub-groups.

I decided I’d rather be a part-time member of the Pantene tribe of the Sam’s Club Nation than go to two grocery stores in the same day.  So we settled on Sam’s Club only.

Sam’s Club, for those of you who are unaware, is the bulk/wholesale arm of the Walmart dynasty.  There, with membership, you can buy way too much of anything at a cost (usually) much less per ounce than you would spend if you were to by significantly less of it elsewhere.

To be perfectly honest, for non-perishables, coffee, etc., it’s generally worth it.  But they don’t just sell non-perishables.  They sell clothes and furniture and tires and electronics.  All of which you can get “a really good deal” on.

People who shop at Sam’s club are always eager to tell you about the “really good deal” they got on something.  Unfortunately, it’s usually something kind of cheap and ugly and shitty.  Not always, but usually.  They’ll say it’s “pretty nice,” but it’s not.  It’s only nice for that price.  Though I am not–nor have I ever been–wealthy, I come from a sort of half-assed, pseudo-bourgeois lineage: None of the money and all of the pride.  Though I can’t afford to shop like a rich person, I hate to admit I shop like a poor person.

As the husband and I stalked the aisles, I developed a sort of tic.

“We should really just shop fresh every day.  Like Europeans.”  “Jesus.  Look at this place.” “Maybe when we get home we can make some kind of plan to shop fresh cheaply and at least 4 days a week.  What must that old Hmong lady think?  Jesus.” “I know I hate when people talk like that, ‘Europe this and that, blah blah blah,’ but this is incredible.  It’s too much.”

I said ‘Europe this and that blah blah blah,’ in a high-pitched, snotty voice.

I dropped a box of frozen, microwavable White Castle cheeseburgers into the cart.

“I know, but there’s something to be said for it, probably, even if just to be healthier.  We could stand to eat better,” he said.

He pointed out some novelty thing that we could get a “really good deal” on.

“Ugh.  No.  I don’t think we’re allowed to buy that.  We don’t have mullets.”


II.

My vacillating class allegiances play out on odd stages.

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the website “People of Walmart.”  I’m not linking there because I don’t want to deal with the fallout from a pingback.  If they find me, they find me, but I’m not going to invite them here.

When the site first came to my attention, I remember reacting violently.  I remember being bewildered by my own reaction.  I, of all people, should not be the sort to lecture others about being mean.  In high school, my best friend and I used to remark, after an extended, choking, gasping, laughing jag at someone else’s expense, that in all likelihood, karma would cause our own children to be born fat, ugly, and mentally disabled.

Nevertheless, I crawled right up on my soapbox and started flinging elaborate derisions and “Tsk tsk.  That’s mean.”

Generally, the defense of the website and the grim spectacle surrounding it goes something like this:

“Well, come on.  If you’re going to go out in public looking like that…I mean, they bring it on themselves.”

The gist of the argument is basically sound.  The thing serves–in addition to making us feel better about ourselves by reminding us that we are not so poor, fat, ugly or badly dressed as someone else–as a provocative bit of social commentary, both directly and indirectly.  Nothing (as far as we know) that is depicted there is fake.  The point is indeed humor, but the pictures, by and large, speak for themselves.  It just IS.  It’s a depiction of an American reality, both with regard to the people it showcases and what people’s reactions to the photos say about them.

I don’t know what my reaction says.  It probably says that I am a hypocrite.


While making fun of poor, fat, ugly, or badly-dressed people is nothing new to humanity, one thing about this website that I noticed immediately is that it features a disproportionate number of less-than-convincing cross-dressing men.  Any anomaly like that deserves attention.

And it dawned on me that the photos were all taken by someone(s).  Someone who was also at Walmart.  It is an elaborate record not necessarily of socially, economically, or aesthetically aberrant individuals, but what the people out there with the camera phones and computers uploading the pictures deem socially unacceptable enough to advertise, “This is unacceptable.”  It tells us who the other people of Walmart think they aren’t (or fear they are…or what?).

The people behind the cameras don’t know they’re revealing too much, just like Ms. Juicy Booty there in the too-short shorts and violently pink hair doesn’t realize that her cellulite isn’t attractive.  Same same.

I want one of these fat, ugly, or badly-dressed people to spin on the people taking the pictures and snap pictures of them.  Start their own website.  For the sake of science.  I wonder who’s there?  I wonder who I think would be there and what that says about me?

Who DO I think will be there?

You?  Hipster guy who insists he never shops at Walmart, wearing a guilty look on his face underneath his conspicuous facial hair?  Planned community mom scrimping on cosmetics costs to afford her Xanax and Ambien?  North Face eco-hippie fleece and corduroy connoisseur dude, stocking up on power bars?

How do I know it wouldn’t be just another fat, ugly, or badly-dressed person?


How do I know it wouldn’t be me, in my pajama pants, winter boots, dress coat, and toque with a reservoir tip, wandering the aisles with a scowl, bitching to a half-listening husband about contemptible bourgeois xenophiles and poor people mullets?


Who do I think I’m not?

Who exactly do you think you aren’t?


Can I smell your hair?



Our apartment complex has a gathering area on the balcony. At the end of a second floor catwalk, there’s a BBQ and two picnic tables. When we moved in, I envisioned BBQ lunches and dinner parties. The area is meant for revelry. It’s used for littering.

After dark, the cherry red glow of cigarettes floats over the bannister up there. The next morning, evidence of burgers and drinks are scattered all over the pavement below. Jim Beam and coke cans, brown paper bags overstuffed with cheese encrusted containers and scores of cigarette butts are the filthy marks of selfish people.

The number of butts is staggering. Are they throwing them down like confetti? We want to say something, but then will one of us find ourselves walking to the car one evening only to stop and scream when a carefully discarded cigarette bites into the back of our neck?

We fear the burn of reprisal.

We walk through the apartment block in the middle of the day. We’re scared of being caught acting as concerned members of our little community.

We slip an A4 sheet of paper in each letterbox, skipping ours. Looking like it’s a normal, natural thing, but with sidelong glances to check for watchers. We talk quietly, wondering whether our letters will stop the vandalism.

Out the back, into the car-park, one of us stands watch nearby. The other tucks a piece of paper into a plastic pocket, then tapes it down on a small metal box that holds the security gate’s motor. There’s a hole in the box big enough to fit two hands. Cables are visible through the gap.

“Look at that. They must’ve left a hole so maintenance can reach in. Fuck, anyone could come and rip out whatever. Shit. That’s not a safety box. It’s a joke. Jesus.”

A car arrives, they look at us inquiringly. Maybe they broke the gate last time. One of us explains we’re letting everyone know how to open the security gate, and who they can call if they don’t have the PIN or a remote. We don’t tell them we did the letter drop.

We stay outside for an hour as the sun sets, hidden up the back of the car-park, sitting on the boot of our car, just in case someone tries to break the gate despite our sign and letters.

Two days later, the security gate is broken. The torn cables hang out of the box. This is the second time in two weeks.

I park my scooter in three different spots over the week.

One at the front of our car space, leaving our car’s rear sticking out. This space works well enough, but the boot sits three feet over the line. I worry we might block people in.

I try another one out on the road. I’m worried the scooter will get knocked down. I sit indoors watching the news, turning down riots in Cairo to listen for the bang and shatter of my bike hitting bitumen.

I try a third spot next to the entranceway, between a car space and the walkway into the centre of the apartment block. This feels safe. It feels out of the way. Who could possibly object?

The next morning, one of the rearview mirrors has been twisted all the way around. It faces forward, instead of to the rear.

Was this an accident? Did someone bump it? How could they knock it in a way that twists it 180°?

Was it deliberate? Was it a warning that this isn’t a good place to park my scooter? I look all around me, trying to spot the spying neighbour. No one. I consider myself warned.

Apartment living can be a terrifying series of subtle signals and hesitant interpretations. This is our space as much as it’s everyone else’s. None of us has any idea what the other is capable of. In a world of suicide bombings, anthrax envelopes and flash floods, it’s only natural to assume the worst.

Afraid to risk it, I park my scooter at the front of our space that night and forever after.


Everyday is a good day! Grab your bottle and raise it! Cheers to everyone!

January 7, 2011 at 3:56 PM

Do rite and kill everything! Merry Christmas to everyone on facebook! Don’t forget to pop those bottles open at midnight tonite for Santa clause! Cheers !!!!

December 24, 2010 at 3:57 PM

30 pack of beer is great, bottle of ghoose is even better, adding a little yager with that and watch newton, and aurban whip ass, is priceless!!!!

December 4, 2010 at 3:47 PM

Happy dead turkey day everyone! Time to get out that bottle of wild turkey and do some shots!!! Cheers!!!!!

November 25, 2010 at 2:47 PM

Yo, 2 years ago, a freind of mine, told me aliza and crystal really blows your mind! Drink early, and get to bed early!! Cheers!

November 13, 2010 at 10:58 AM

Rain, rain, go away, that’s what all my haters say! Always good when you open your fridge and you have one beer left for breakfeast!!!!

November 10, 2010 at 10:38 AM

Dosent matter what day of the week it is, they are all the same when you are half in the bag by noon! Cheers!!!

September 16, 2010 at 1:57 PM

Is it a bad thing when you would rather have a beer for breakfeast, lunch, and dinner instead of food??

August 29, 2010 at 2:23 PM

Always good to open that fridge and grab a cold one, even better to grab 2 or 3 out the fridge after that, sucks when you open it up and they are all gone, it’s priceless when you wake up and that was a dream, I would never run out of beer!!! Ha!

August 3, 2010 at 11:54 PM

Every time you look up in the sky you want to be that star! I say we are all stars in are own way, even if you are down and out, as long as you can look up and see the stars! And yeah I forgot cheers !

July 28, 2010 at 12:36 AM

Rolling down the street smoking endo, sipping on gin and juice, laid back!!!!!

July 22, 2010 at 12:06 AM

We pop champaign cuz were thirsty! ( grey ghoose would be better! Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa !

July 21, 2010 at 12:10 AM

All day everyday, crack open that cold beer on these hot days and drink them down! Don’t forget the yager behind that! Ha! Txs everyone for the b day wishes! I will be changing to non acholic beers very soon………….

July 20, 2010 at 7:28 PM

Holy shit! Thanks for all the b day wishes everyone! Can’t wait to get off work and have some tea and crackers for my b day! I’m done with drinking! Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Maybe for just one more day I will have a couple of beers, then I will be done! Done way too much drinking over the years! Yager bomb anyone? Lol!

July 14, 2010 at 11:56 AM

On vacation from work is great, to be out in the sun all day getting a tan is even better, to fall asleep with your beer in your hand and have a sunburn spot of a beer on your chest is priceless!

July 5, 2010 at 7:32 PM

Better late then ever! Where is all my Boston fans at now? It was a good game, till the lakers did work! 3 peat next year! Any bets yet? Feels like I won the lotto! Was gonna quit drinking, but a 3 peat, I guess 1 more year of drinking! Cheers everyone! Go lakers! Fuck Boston! Whoop whoop!

June 18, 2010 at 3:36 PM

Drinking wiskey out the bottle not thinking bout tomorrow……..

June 14, 2010 at 7:15 PM

JOKE OF THE DAY: Two fleas on a pussy, one is a burgular & the other one is a junkie. HOW CAN YOU TELL THEM APART: The burgular is hiding in the bush & the junkie is sniffing the crack!!!!!!

June 14, 2010 at 4:27 PM

Quote of the day ” drinking non alcholic beer is like going down on your own cousin, it taste the same, but it’s just not right!

June 9, 2010 at 2:29 AM

When you can’t sleep after working too many hours this weekend ! might as well have a shot and a beer to pass out! Don’t forget to reach for the stars! Like biggie said! Go lakers all day!

June 1, 2010 at 1:41 AM

Everytime your glass is half empty, fill it up! Then your glass will always be full! Cheers! Go lakers, whoop whoop!

May 11, 2010 at 3:26 AM

Life is all about a dream! You try to make the best out of it that you can, even when you get confused and don’t know what to do in life! You keep your head up and cheers it up, cause dreams do come true!!

April 22, 2010 at 2:27 AM

Time for the big decesion, what to drink? Dark or clear? Let’s crack the ghoose open and get a little crazy on this fine Sunday! Cheers!!!

April 11, 2010 at 5:40 PM

Still finding beers that the Easter bunny hid! They just seem to pop up! Lol!

April 4, 2010 at 7:40 PM

Time to go to ace and get the stuff to make a beer bong! Easy way to save money! Buy a 6 pack and put it thru the beer bong then pass out! Gonna see if that works!!!!

March 4, 2010 at 2:04 PM

We sip champagne cause were thirsty!

February 13, 2010 at 12:03 PM

99 bottles of beer on the wall,99 bottles of beer,take one down pass it around,98 bottles of beer on the wall! Let’s see how many beers come off the wall today!!

January 23, 2010 at 12:22 PM

Anyone in for some wine tonite? Lol! Only time I can have wine, if the liquar store is closed and there is no more beer!

January 21, 2010 at 12:32 PM

What a great football day! Dallas and chargers both loose! Love it! Might have to jump on the jets bandwagon! Cheers to all those fans that watched your teams loose! Might as well drink away the bad game that they played! Lol! Lol! Whoop whoop!!!

January 17, 2010 at 7:35 PM

Everyone cheers it up for the end of this year and for many more years to live a good life and keep your heads up! Life keeps going on and so do we! This is the sober me, only had 8 beers! Just getting warmed up! Lol! Have a good new years everyone! Cheers!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

December 31, 2009 at 11:25 PM

Tuesday is the winter solstice. The shortest day and longest night of the year; the sun’s daily maximum position in the sky is the lowest. This, apparently, is more evident to those in high latitudes. Portland may not be the highest latitude, but when it’s dark outside by 4:00 PM and I go to work in the dark and I come home in the dark, I’d say we’re high enough. According to Wikipedia, “worldwide, interpretation of the [winter solstice] has varied from culture to culture, but most cultures have held a recognition of rebirth, involving holidays, festivals, gatherings, rituals or other celebrations around that time.”

For me, this year’s winter solstice marks the end of a ritual, not the start.

I grew up in Minnesota during the last great wave of earnest and unhealthy casseroles, when 25-year-old mothers traded recipe cards at Welcome Wagon, and “salads” often contained no vegetables.

While not every household in my hometown defined “variety” by how many different dairy products could be worked into one hot dish, or had the audacity to name an admixture of marshmallows, dried coconut, and canned fruit cocktail a word meaning “food of the gods,” mine was, by these standards, the norm. My parents were college-educated, still bought music the day it came out, and even lived for years in Japan, but when it came to mealtime, they picked up where their own parents had left off.

I’m pretty sure that the spiciest thing my mom ever added to a dish was salted butter. When she served chips and salsa, the salsa was the absolute mildest she could find; a glass of milk would score higher on the Scoville scale. A common and acceptable meal was a boiled chicken breast served with plain white rice and green peas.

When my dad cooked, things only got weirder. He only made one of two things, “slumgullion” or “whiplash.” “Slumgullion” involved dumping a variety of the previous day’s leftovers—say, chicken breast, white rice, and peas—into a pot, and stirring in a can of chicken noodle soup, no water added. “Whiplash,” meanwhile, was like goulash, but made in under ten minutes. This was possible because he did not add onions, peppers, bay leaves, potatoes, paprika, or any of the other ingredients that I would one day learn were in commonly recognizable versions of goulash.

People from the Midwest who experience a kitchen like mine often effect an equal and opposite reaction when they come of age. Some spend their twenties putting Tabasco sauce and chili flakes on everything, some learn to make their own damn food, and some become a freegan after a failed attempt to start a permaculture collective. To me, it just seemed like there could be lot more to eat in the world than what I’d been exposed to, and I wanted to try as much of it as I could stand.

My parents’ kitchen did not introduce me to the varied and bounteous repasts awaiting me in the world’s dining rooms and cafes, but it did keep me alive so that I could someday experience them on my own. My parents were fine with this, and encouraged it, so long as they didn’t have to pay for it.

So, as soon as I got a driver’s license, my high school girlfriend Stacy and I set out to eat all of the food we’d only read about in magazines. Together we ate North African shekshouka at the Barbary Fig, Ethiopian injera at the Red Sea in the West Bank, and even found authentic Mexican food being served from a truck parked in the lot of the Busy Bee Café on Robert Street.

For Stacy and myself, all of this was damn near consciousness-expanding. The food itself was gustatory shorthand for a world of possibilities outside of our stultifying hometown, and it abetted a wanderlust that would go on to cost thousands in out-of-state student loans.

Stacy, for her part, eventually attended graduate school at the University of Bologna, later lived in Florence, and now has a job in New York that enables her to travel the world. I made up for my own lost time in comparative stops and starts, but I always waited for an opportunity to follow Stacy’s lead in actually living somewhere overseas, and getting the kind of culinary experience that only comes with cultural immersion.

In fall 2006, my live-in girlfriend and I broke up. After mutually trying and failing at an ill-advised attempt to be friends immediately afterward, an indefinite move to another continent seemed to be the thing to do. I stored what little I kept in the crawl space of a friend’s house in Echo Park, gave my 17-year old car to a Merchant Marine, and flew south to a rent a loft in the San Telmo neighborhood of Buenos Aires lined up by an old friend from Chicago named Karen.

I’d met Karen a decade before in college, under an umbrella in a rainstorm. My version is that I was walking past Allison Residence Hall in a total downpour and I saw a shrouded figure pelted by rain, so I went over with my umbrella and walked her to her class. Her version is that she was the one with the umbrella, and I was the shrouded figure. Whatever happened, we didn’t even get each other’s names that day and it was only by some accident of fate that we crossed paths much later and became friends. By the time I was in Buenos Aires, she’d been living there for several years, working as a trapeze artist and taking wu shu classes. She carried a large sword on her back everywhere we went.

Karen also introduced me to a Castellano teacher named Natalia who I hired as my private language tutor. After a couple of weeks, when it seemed like I was able to complete a sentence, Karen and Natalia suggested that why don’t we all go out to a parilla for a total immersion dinner, with me responsible for doing all of the ordering. This was exactly what I’d been waiting for my entire life.

By this point, I’d traveled some, and had a few experiences eating local specialties (kangaroo in Darwin, ossobuco in Umbria) and badly ill-advised non-local specialties (bruschetta in Chiang Mai, tacos in Prague) and I figured I could handle anything. Building a hearty appetite for days in advance, I entered the night of my immersion dinner ready to use as many new bovine-related vocabulary terms as possible.

Compared to, say, a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse back up in the EE.UU, the Argentine parilla has a far more liberal notion of the percentage of a beef cow that’s considered edible; my estimates put that percentage in the mid 90s. They also assume that a customer is not disturbed by the idea of seeing their dinner before it hits their plate, or, quite often, before it’s completely butchered. Someone eating dinner extremely early, say around 8:00 pm, will see quartered cuts of cow paraded through the front door, and hung near a grill, usually also near the front door. Remember that skit from SNL’s first season, “Mel’s Char Palace?” The Argentines would not see the humor in it. They would ask where it is, and if they serve Malbec.

What attracts both tourists and locals, besides the quality of its grass-fed, hormone-free beef, is the price. At most parillas, a merely satisfying chunk of recently slaughtered bovine costs, in American prices, about as much as a used copy of Toby Keith’s “Shock’n Y’all” on CD. For the price of that CD new, you can get a steak that wouldn’t fit in your glove compartment.

Also, for whatever reason, you also get a massive amount of free bread with your meal. Not just Bimbo brand white dinner rolls either, but ludicrous quantities of a wide variety of grains and loaves, even those cool flavored sticks in plastic packaging. No idea where it’s baked. Maybe, as Ben Katchor wrote, “on the windswept shore of a vast inland sea.” I hope not anywhere less fascinating or less sanitary; there were nights where I’d cleaned out the breadbasket at least twice, and it was refilled even then. Taciturn young men bring clear plastic garbage bags full of the stuff in through the front door, all day and night, like a virtual Iguazu Falls of leavened bread delivery and consumption, so I knew even if my Castellano failed me during my immersion dinner, I would not starve.

As it turns out, I didn’t have to read and recite from a menu; at the parilla that Karen chose, I never even saw one. The three of us were sat at a table for six in the middle of a windowless restaurant whose walls were lined with mounted yellow wall lamps, making the place feel like an old school no-limit poker room, where everyone was a winner and winners were paid in beef. After two bottles of wine and the chimichurri were on the table, our waiter wasted no time becoming a warm conduit between the grill and my face, and all the bits and pieces that recently assembled a living cow flew at me with steam and alacrity.

Over three hours, the waiter assailed my table with semi-recognizable cuts of shank, rib, and loin. We ate black sausage. We ate kidneys. We ate an appetizer of something red, sliced and raw. We ate something called sweetbreads, which I learned is neither sweet nor bread. I didn’t eat more in quantity than I normally had in Argentina, but that night my alimentary canal made a dashing array of sundry acquaintances.

It was a simpler immersion experience than Natalia had hoped for me, but my basic Castellano still wasn’t up yet up for the job. I said “Yes” and “Delicious” and “I want more” again and again and again, but I hadn’t yet learned the phrases “That looks disgusting” or “Absolutely not under any circumstances” or even “No, I don’t want any” (which was one of the first phrases I learned in Thai, and the most frequently used). No, I just kept telling the server, Mas. Esta Bueno. Mas, Para Todos. Me Gusta. Mas, Por Favor.

Two days later I was still in bed, fully dressed, my bed sheets and multiple comforters wrapped around me like wet eels. By this point, a series of circumstances had forced Karen to move into the loft, and it was good to have her company in a time like this, even if she felt that I’d brought my fate on myself.

She was downstairs, moving her bed from the living room into the kitchen (a completely different story) when, wrapped in a mountain of blankets, I approached her.
“Karen,” I said, “I think I have something living inside of me.”
“Yeah, could be,” she said.
Not the answer I expected.
“I’m serious,” I said.
“So am I,” she said. “You might have a parasite.”
You Might Have A Parasite. “Parasite?” I asked her. “Where am I, Cambodia?” (Ever since seeing this made-for-TV Disney movie in the 80’s called “The Girl Who Spelled Freedom,” I’ve always associated intestinal parasites with Southeast Asia).
“Sure,” Karen said, not reassuringly. “It’s not unheard of. I got some Chinese herbs? Or you wanna see a doctor?”

I was cautious. I had just taken some strong medication from a local pharmacy and I didn’t want to mix meds. But I also didn’t want to rush to conclusions. Karen was busy that day with a cousin in town, and it was a Sunday and the doctor’s offices wouldn’t be open anyway, just the ERs.
“Let’s see how I am tomorrow morning,” I said.

In the meantime I decided to make peace with my intestinal parasite. I figured if there was a living thing inside of me, it was kind of like a pet, so I should give it a name. I decided on Mystery Lou.

At first the relationship between Mystery Lou and I was, like many parasitic relationships, decidedly ambiguous. After a while, I wasn’t sure where I stopped and he began; for my taste, it was a bit too much like that Gollum/Smeagol situation in the second Lord of the Rings film. Luckily, over time our relationship improved into something more nuanced, like the emotional but problematic bond between Truman Capote and Perry Smith, and I wondered if I would need to keep Mystery Lou alive so I could gain more material for a book about him.

All I’d learned to that point is that having a parasite, if that’s indeed what it was, is the most miserable physical experience this side of a kidney stone. Whatever it was I ate that gave birth to Mystery Lou I swore I’d never touch again, but I’d eaten so much weird shit that night I had no idea what part of the cow to blame.

Days passed, and either Mystery Lou died or went into hibernation, because I eventually regained an appetite and fully digested solid food again. After about a week without either, this was completely exciting. For me, it felt like graduating from high school, if high school had meant four years of vomiting and irregularity.

In the years since Mystery Lou, I’ve discovered the hard way that I’m lactose intolerant, that most pork products give me heartburn, and that almost all desserts and fried foods make me sick to my stomach. I still have the same inherent sense of adventure with cuisine, but my digestive tract has seemingly thrown in the serviette. Just like other phases some Midwestern guys experience—being into ska music, drinking Natty Ice, sleeping with girls from Wisconsin—the brazen pursuit of things like black sausage and sweetbreads may be something I’ve outgrown.

After I left Argentina in July of 2007, I immediately flew to Minnesota. My first night back in my hometown, my grandma Doris made me a splendid dinner of an iceberg lettuce salad, chicken breast, white rice, and peas. The meal did exactly what I needed it to do.

For that, I apologize to my mom and dad for my abandonment of their cuisine. I now see the point, and I’ll never doubt it again.






One morning in early September I developed a small pain in my left foot while walking in to work. It felt like nothing more than one of the brief aches a habitual ambulator like myself occasionally experiences, and I figured it would subside after I’d sat at my desk for a bit. I was wrong. By mid-afternoon the pain was so intense I couldn’t keep a shoe on without wanting to scream. Aside from some very slight swelling above the arch there was nothing visibly wrong, but what felt alarmingly like a protrusion of bone had formed just under the skin. The slightest touch on the area sent fresh lancets of pain up my leg.

A friend drove me to an urgent care clinic after work, where the doctor on duty gently poked and prodded at my foot while I flinched and yelped. After x-rays and a blood test he concluded that the bones were fine, and diagnosed my ailment as a sprain of the joint between the metatarsals, exacerbated by a slight excess in body fat. He gave me a prescription for anti-inflammatories and some information on joint pain and sent me hobbling on my way.

Though I was relieved not be to suffering from something more severe, the treatment was hardly the cure I was hoping for. The medication (2400 milligrams of high-grade ibuprofen daily) did little for my immediate pain and, as an initial side effect, gave me indigestion and some deeply strange dreams. The only shoes I could wear with any degree of comfort were my Converse Chuck Taylors, but walking anywhere, for any length of time, continued to hurt. Despite this I started hitting the gym with regularity, as losing weight was an imperative part of my recovery; with some disciplined exercise and calorie-cutting I dropped about eighteen pounds between my initial diagnosis and the end of October. Until I became acclimated to the pain, that first week on the elliptical was a study in agony.

It worked, to a degree. The swelling subsided some, as did the pain. But not enough, and after seven weeks I went to my primary care physician for a follow-up exam. She concurred with the urgent care doc’s diagnosis, though she had me leave another blood sample with the lab for comparative analysis.

She contacted me less than a day later with the test results and a new diagnosis. My foot pain hadn’t been due to an injury, but rather was a symptom of a larger issue: hyperuricemia, elevated levels of uric acid in my bloodstream due to my kidney’s failure to excrete it out properly. These elevated levels can – and in my case, did – cause an attack of gout.

Uric acid is a waste product created by the digestion of purine; uric acid levels in the body are raised by the consumption of high-purine foods: meat, certain types of seafood, fructose, and alcohol. No problem for a normal renal system, which then filters it out, but with an under-performing one like mine, the leftover uric acid crystallizes in the joints and tendons. In the majority of cases hyperuricemia is genetic, so while the symptoms are preventable, there is no cure.

This diagnosis meant that I had to make some lifestyle changes, and quickly. Unless I want to suffer another one of these attacks, I have to switch to low-purine diet, meaning that I am now, for all intents and purposes, a vegetarian, and quite possibly a sober one at that.

This, to use the vernacular of our times, really fucking sucks the big one.

It’s been about a month now since I received this diagnosis, and my emotional response has alternately been one of depression and one of resentment, both due to my body having made such a determination without my input. At the risk of sounding petulant, the entire matter struck me as simply unfair; I was already exercising regularly, had been cutting back my meat consumption, and have never been a particularly heavy drinker. For fuck’s sake, I didn’t even start drinking until a few weeks shy of my twenty-first birthday.

I was in too much of a funk to even write for a while, and turned my attention instead to researching my affliction. There’s a maddening amount of conflicting information on gout nutrition out there, and parsing through it just increased my depression even more; the websites of major medical institutions like Kaiser-Permanente, Johns-Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic all contradict each other. Plus, there’s no way to determine what specifically triggered my attack, as unlike an allergy, there’s no clinical test for susceptibility. Tolerances vary from person to person, so avoiding an attack is pretty much an all-or-nothing deal.

It could be worse, I know; as annoying as it is, hyperuricemia isn’t fatal, and once my foot heals won’t impair my day-to-day activities. And technically speaking, I do have a choice in the matter: I can keep eating what I want, as long as I’m willing to live with the pain. But that doesn’t really amount to much of a choice, does it?

Understand that I have nothing against the vegetarian lifestyle, save for a small measure of scorn reserved for those who embrace it solely because it’s currently trendy to do so (this is exponentially increased in the case of trendy vegans). Several near and dear friends – not to mention a couple of past girlfriends – are vegetarian, and out of respect I’ve generally abided by their diet when around them. But I’ve never wanted to be one, cheerfully preferring the options available to me as a dedicated omnivore. Hell, I’ll admit it: I really, really enjoy eating meat. I can’t look at a pig without craving bacon.

Ultimately though, I’m too much of a Darwinist at heart; adapt, or die.

It’s been an uphill battle so far, mostly because the learning curve is pretty steep, and I’m proving to be a genuinely terrible vegetarian. I’ve never really cared much for vegetables, and know almost nothing about creating a balanced meal out of them. I make salads so dull even rabbits find them uninteresting, and a couple of weekends ago I managed to create an inedible mess out of a very straightforward recipe for butternut squash soup. My digestive system, long accustomed to extracting nutrition from bits of dead animal, is only begrudgingly adjusting to the increased amounts of plant matter I’m now consuming.

I’d be in even more dire straits if I weren’t graced with some very cool, very generous vegetarian friends both locally and abroad, all of whom went above and beyond in response to my clarion call for aid, providing me with advice, recipes, cookbooks, and some much-needed moral support. Thanks to them I now have a small (but expanding) repertoire of dishes that I enjoy eating, and have so far managed to avoid malnutrition.

I do have some flexibility in my diet: eggs are fine, and low-fat dairy is encouraged, as lactose helps neutralize the presence of uric acid. It also looks as if white fish such as mahi mahi and cod might be safe, though the ever-present threat of mercury poisoning that comes with eating too much seafood still remains. Recent research suggests that white meat poultry might be all right, if servings are kept small and infrequent – say, five ounces or less twice a week, though again this varies from person to person.

I’m not going to chance it, however, as I hope that by going the full vegetarian route I can continue to enjoy the occasional drink. I genuinely enjoy the taste of beer, and I live in a city that has seen a massive rise in excellent microbreweries in the last decade; to cut myself off from enjoying their wares just seems masochistically cruel.

And, more importantly, I’m not going to push the threshold of my diet because I’m still in pain. Three months have passed and my foot is not healing correctly. The initial teeth-clenching hurt has diminished but never completely dissipated, and the mysterious bony protrusion remains. The recent seasonal drop in temperature has caused the joint to ache in a myriad of new and unpredictable ways, and on the worst days, I limp. My doctor has effectively shrugged her shoulders and referred me to a specialist, who is not available to see me until two days before Christmas.

I’ve become acclimated to this ever-present pain, but I’m weary of it, and I’m beyond ready to wear shoes other than my Converse. If giving up meat – and if necessary, even alcohol – is what it takes, then so be it. I’ll take my place among the herbivorous, begrudgingly though it may be.

I really am going to miss bacon.