The Kidney Stones of Thanksgiving

I spent the Saturday afternoon after Thanksgiving  Day in the waiting room of an urgent care center. The last place I wanted to be during my four-day weekend from working at a nearby hospital. My friend, however, had a confirmed 4mm kidney stone in his bladder. I’ve been calling it “Little Shatner” after William Shatner sold his kidney stone on eBay. Passing a kidney stone is the closest thing that a man will ever get to childbirth. I know because I delivered my own kidney stone on Thanksgiving Day 1995, which forever changed my life as a Christian.

After being kicked out of San Jose State University in Spring 1995 for failing calculus, I took a literature class each semester in the 1995-96 school year at San Jose City College to figure out what to do with my life. I felt a sharp jabbing pain in what I later learned to be my right kidney and started having trouble urinating in mid-November. I went to the nurse’s office on campus to have the doctor looked at me. She suspected that I had urinary track infection, prescribed some antibiotics, and sent me over to Valley Medical Hospital to be poke and prodded by an emergency room doctor to see if I had an erupted appendix.

I went up to Sacramento to visit my parents for Thanksgiving. The antibiotics didn’t seem to work. After we had Thanksgiving dinner and I laid down for a nap, I felt the urgent need to urinate and made a mad dash to the bathroom. As I leaned over the toilet, the pain from waiting to go became agony.

Ever see a snake swallowing a whole egg that moves through its tubular body? I stared in horror as an egg-shaped bulge slowly moved through and distorted the shape of my penis. When the kidney stone finally exited, a river of blood, pus and urine poured out as my bladder emptied for the next ten minutes.  My mother knocked at the door, asking if I was okay. I was shaken but never felt so relieved in my life. My father said I had passed a kidney stone.

The school doctor later conceded that I might have passed  a kidney stone.

I commiserated with my roommate, Bruce, who had also passed a kidney stone a few weeks earlier. We first met eight years earlier at a church workshop on a Saturday morning a week after I was baptized into Christ. Until I moved in his household, we had little contact during those years. He confided to me that he was dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease and wanted me to take care of him until the day he died. Without passing that kidney stone, I doubted I would have said yes. I became one of five brothers who took care of him until he died five years later, watching him become angry with God for losing his ability to live an independent life and peacefully accepting that his life was in God’s hands in the end.

Falling Back From Daylight Savings Time (DST)

The end of Daylight Savings Time (DST) couldn’t come any sooner. My body’s internal time clock knew for some time that turning back the clock was fast approaching. I kept going to bed earlier each night for a month, sometimes crashing in bed after getting home from work, to sync up with the soon-to-be time adjustment. With the clock turned back one hour, I’m now falling asleep between 9:00PM and 11:00PM, waking up at 5:45AM and getting on the freeway to my non-writing job by 7:10AM.

Of course, this may have more to do with being on a low-carb diet than turning back the hour.

As part of this biannual event, I went around my studio apartment to change the time and switch out the batteries on all the clocks. A single AA battery went into each of the analog clocks in the office, kitchen and bathroom. Areas where I can lose track of time if I didn’t have a clock to watch, especially in the mornings when I’m getting ready for work. The AA battery in the analog travel clock and the backup 9V battery in the digital alarm clock next to my bed were also replaced. The smoke detector felt neglected and started chirping for a new 9V battery as well. Like a broken clock that tells time correctly twice a day, all the clocks in my apartment are now correct for a second time this year.

Should DST be abolished as some people have advocated over the years?

I would say yes. We live in a global economy that is no longer dictated by the dawn-to-dusk cycles of an agrarian economy. That’s true even for farmers. I have an uncle in Idaho who owns a top of the line John Deere tractor with air-conditioning and floodlights that allows him to mow and bale hay for 16 hours per day, whether the sun is shining or not. He works three months during the summer and takes the other nine months off, making a cool quarter-million a year before taxes and equipment expenses as an independent contractor.

Then again, how would I know when to change out the batteries in my clocks?

The Silver Economy Is Ruining My Tech Career

Underwater MortgageFollowing the aftermath of the dot com bubble, I went back to college to learn computer programming. Most people thought I was crazy. Computers were out, health care was in. With baby boomers retiring en masse in the coming years, employers would find it impossible to fill so many open computer positions. Plenty of future opportunities for me. And then the Great Recession came along. Now baby boomers don’t want to retire from their jobs, which is ruining my tech career.

Baby boomers, I came to learn, are a very whiny bunch.

A typical sob story is a Baby Boomer couple who bought a house that they couldn’t afford at the top of real estate market (mistake #1). They borrowed the down payment from their retirement accounts (mistake #2), which has to be paid back or hefty taxes will be due, and took out an adjustable interest mortgage with low payments for the first few years (mistake #3). The couple needed two jobs to pay their bills and maintain their “affluent” lifestyle on credit cards (mistake #4). Everything was going good until Wall Street cratered the economy. The husband lost his job and the wife works fewer hours. Now they can’t afford to retire and must continue to work. Whining to me about their woes doesn’t help (mistake #5).

I’ve heard countless variations of this theme over the last few years. I want to shove a dead hard drive down their throats when they start going off on their spiel. Whine, whine, whine. I’m sick and tired of hearing how their version of the American dream got flushed down the toilet while their pants were down.

So what? Life sucks. Move on.

Their sense of entitlement is so out of whack with reality that they haven’t figured out that they need to make some huge adjustments. Like downward. All the way downward. They had the best life for the second half of the 20th century. Now that the 21st century is here, the economy is kicking their sorry asses. The party is over, the hungover is here.

As a Gen Xer who grew up in the shadow of baby boomers, I don’t feel incline to whine about my circumstances. (Unless it’s my personal blog here, which is read by two dozen spammers who leave interesting comments in the spam queue about my blog posts and their penis enlargement pills.) I’ve been unemployed for two years, underemployed (working 20 hours per month) for six months, filed for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and worked more jobs in the last two years than the previous decade. Not the kind of things you want to whine about at work.

When my father passed away from lung cancer this year, my baby boomer brother complained that he died in a “shitty little trailer” in Sacramento. But that trailer home was paid for. Born in the Great Depression and raised during World War II, my father knew how to live within his means. Something that baby boomers need to learn for the first time.

Raiders Of The Lost Ark In IMAX

If you haven’t seen “Indiana Jones and Raiders of The Lost Ark” on the big screen, now is the time to see the restored version as it appears on the digital IMAX screens for a one-week engagement before the Blu-Ray collection comes out next week.

As a child growing up in a “poor” family (i.e., cable TV to watch MTV was the dividing line for poverty in middle school), going to the movies was a luxury that my parents couldn’t afford. (Except for “Conan The Barbarian” with Arnold Schwarzenegger that my father took me too see at the tender age of 12, where I learned that having sex with a witch can be extremely hazardous to one’s health.) I never saw “Raiders” when it first came out in the theaters in 1981, and watching it on the small screen over the years doesn’t do it justice.

Restored from the original film negative and the audio track updated for surround sound, “Raiders” looked wonderful on the digital IMAX screen. Despite coming out 31 years ago, and set in the the late 1930’s before World War II, the story of an archaeologist trying to prevent the Nazis from capturing the ark of the covenant held up quite well.

Leaving My Father’s Ashes In A Used Box

Damaged Cardboard BoxAfter my father passed away from lung cancer and the mortuary in Carmichael sent his ashes by mail in May, I drove over to the Willow Glen post office to pick up the package. The office manager had to unlock the package from a special cage as handling human remains was serious business. Everything else could be trampled, mutilated and/or lost in the mail. I waited a half-hour before I got the package, brought it home and put it in the back of my filing cabinet. I had no immediate plans for my father’s ashes as I was still grieving.

Summer came and went, life went on as usual.

One of my aunts in Idaho wrote me a letter requesting my father’s ashes to be sent to her for proper burial in the family plot. Another aunt wanted to get this business with my late father squared away before she too passed away from cancer. I wrote a hand-written letter—something that I haven’t done in 30 years—back to my aunt to inform her that I would be mailing my father’s ashes the following Saturday. I notified my immediate family by email as to what was going on. A nephew requested that I keep some ashes for the family in California.

I’ve always thought that cremated human remains would be like a finely-grained powder. Not my father’s ashes. The gritty composition of his ashes reminded me of concrete crushed into a coarsely grained powder. Of course, my father worked in masonry construction for 50 years. I wouldn’t be  surprised the concrete had seeped into his bones. After my father gave me his old car as a birthday present in 2007, I ripped out the old sheepskin seat covers that he had and the concrete dust kept them standing stiff on the ground. I saved a quarter-cup of ashes for my immediate family.

I went back to the Willow Glen post office with my father’s ashes.

The first problem was not finding a medium Priority Mail cardboard box. The sturdy plastic box that my father’s ashes came in fits that box with little space to spare. When I told the clerk, he disappeared for ten minutes and came back with a used cardboard box. I wasn’t pleased but went with it.

The second problem was the price. After I filled out all the various forms and the clerk rang up the postage, it came to $20.85 USD. The mortuary charged me $75 USD to mail my father’s ashes. Either I’m mailing this wrong or the mortuary markup was huge.

The third problem was no obvious lock and key treatment this time. The clerk reassured me that he was following all appropriate regulations for sending human remains through the mail. A bag of cement would have gotten better treatment.

Like my father who left my mother’s ashes in a pencil box at the cemetery in Idaho in 2004, I had a strong emotional reaction for leaving his ashes in a used box at the post office.

Shredding The Papers Of My Late Father’s Life

Shredded DocumentsAfter my father died from lung cancer three months ago, I went up to Sacramento County to clean out his trailer home before putting it into storage. Seven boxes of nick-knacks, dishes and paperwork was brought back to Silicon Valley. I very much wanted to put the boxes into my storage unit to avoid dealing with the papers of my father’s life. But something important might lie somewhere in this mess. I finally went through all the boxes and found some surprises.

When my father retired at the age of 59-1/2-years-old in 1995, he expected to die soon thereafter as his older brothers keeled over after turning sixty. Death didn’t claim him for another 17 years, outliving my mother by eight years after she died from breast cancer in 2004. Needless to say, he kept every piece of paper that Kaiser Permanente ever sent him. Some of this paperwork was downright scary: bills, test results and whatever “disease of the month” you’re likely to get as a senior citizen.

My father kept his adult children in the dark about all the medical treatments he was getting for his various forms of cancer. We might have done something if we had known what was going on. Some of his routine procedures weren’t that routine or minor as he claimed. I came across a picture that showed an oval-shaped piece of skin flap removed from the side of his face to scrape out the skin cancer. The surgeon did such a great job at putting the skin flap back in that there was no scarring to make it visible. That picture went straight into the shredder.

A thick folder documented a neighbor lady stealing a box of checks out of his mailbox in 2006. Despite informing Wells Fargo Bank that his checks were stolen, the bank paid out a half-dozen checks written to various local businesses. A pizza parlor even made a photocopy of the forged check and the woman’s driver license, which the bill collector sent as proof that my father owed the money. No clue as to whatever happened to the woman. My father spent six months fighting off bill collectors.

I wasn’t surprised that Wells Fargo let this nonsense happen. After I got the death certificate in late May, I closed out my father’s accounts before the end of the month. The pension fund claimed that I had an unauthorized payment and wanted the money paid back. I sent a copy of the bank statement that proved that no transactions took place after the accounts were closed. The pension fund insisted that I have the money since the bank told them that the deposit went through. I think the bank kept the money. This issue is still unresolved.

The most surprising item was a state identification card for my mother. She had never learned how to drive after plowing her father’s Caddie into a telephone pole on her first driving lesson. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, even my mother had to be street legal.

New California Cigarette Tax Fails At The Ballot

Cigarette Tax

I voted for Proposition 29, a new $1.00 USD per pack cigarette tax, which was narrowly defeated after being too close to call for two weeks after the election. Being a non-smoker who grew up in a family of smokers in California, I had nothing to lose and everything to gain if society has fewer smokers. Not surprisingly, the tobacco industry spent $47 million USD to defeat the proposition. (That’s $11 million USD more than what Governor Jerry Brown spent on his campaign in 2010.) Don’t be surprised to see another cigarette tax on the ballot again in the near future.

The first election after I turned 18-years-old had Proposition 88, a $0.25 USD per pack cigarette tax, on the ballot in November 1988. I voted yes because I wanted my father to quit smoking. He started smoking when he was 15-years-old and smoked for the next 30 years. (He and his brothers used to drive from Idaho to buy untaxed cigarettes in Oregon and sell them out of the trunk of their car in Southern California during the 1950’s.) After Proposition 88 passed and the new cigarette tax went into effect, he couldn’t see himself paying $20+ USD per cartoon every other week. (It’s $40 to $50 USD per cartoon today.) So he quit smoking and chewed gum until he kicked the habit, living another 30 years before he died from lung cancer last month.

Perhaps it was good thing that the cigarette tax was defeated. Our enlightened leaders in the legislature borrowed money against the tobacco settlement fund to plug the holes in the state budget in 2003. Higher cigarette taxes mean lower cigarette revenues, which means that the state will have to cover the bond repayments out of the general fund. Another ticking time bomb in the state budget that will hit taxpayers sooner or later. Seems like you can’t improve public health without shooting yourself in the foot at the same time.

Tombstone Beach In San Francisco

Ocean Beach, San FranciscoIf you thought finding a paved over pauper’s cemetery at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose was surprising, THE CITY (what my late father called San Francisco during the mid-twentieth century construction boom) topped that with tombstones washing up on the sands at the Ocean Beach seawall, including one that dates back to 1890. Even the dead couldn’t stand in the way of California’s hot real estate market in the 1930’s when the graveyards were moved out of San Francisco and unclaimed tombstones were used for landfill.

The tombstones became visible this week, including bits and pieces of marble and granite that once marked the final resting places of citizens long dead.

One of them is the nearly intact marble tombstone of Delia Presby Oliver, who died at the age of 26 on Apr. 9, 1890.

Her remains were removed and reburied when San Francisco authorities closed nearly all the city cemeteries and moved the bodies to Colma in the early 20th century – part of a move to make space for the growing city. Oliver’s original tombstone and thousands like it were used as landfill or in other ways throughout San Francisco.

The park service has no plans to remove the tombstones, letting the shifting sands cover them up again to be rediscovered by beachcombers every few years.

My Car Finally Kicked The Hubcap

My Car Finally Kicked The Hubcap

I tempted fate a few weeks ago. After five trips to Sacramento (1,500 miles) and three trips to the mechanic’s shop (dead starter, coolant leak and funky alternator) before and after my father died from lung cancer, I took a final ride in my car to pick up my father’s ashes from the Willow Glen post office. Not surprisingly, my father’s old car made it to the post office and died. Since I choose not to replace the alternator for $700 USD, and the alternator stopped charging the battery, my car finally kicked the hubcap.

Until my father abandoned his old car in my carport in 2007 as a birthday present, I never needed a driver’s license. I took public transit everywhere since I was teenager. Alas, an abandoned car in my carport was a serious lease violation at my apartment complex. (Then and now, the leasing office didn’t care as long the rent was paid.) With the help of an friend from church, we spent 15 minutes each Sunday morning to drive around the neighborhood. I got my driver’s license two months later after two hours of driving time. I was 38-years-old at the time.

Like my father, his old car was a proverbial pain in the ass. Took me four years to find and fix all the things that he neglected to tell me about. Always having at least one major repair job each year that he reluctantly paid for since I kept insisting that he had given me a lemon for my birthday. The final straw came earlier this year. I was driving down the I-5 towards Sacramento when the tire blew out and ripped out the wiring harness. That should have been the kiss of death, but my father re-wired the wiring harness as I drove around in his truck for a week. As my father got sicker with lung cancer, the car started breaking down faster than I could repair it.

Death became inevitable for both of them.

I called AAA and the car was towed home to sit in my carport ass backwards. Another tow truck came out this past weekend to take it away and the driver gave me a check for $265 USD from Pick-N-Pull. A melancholy moment. My poor old car looked sad being towed away with two magnetic red lights on the trunk. I almost cried as much for that old car than I did for my father passing away. Meanwhile I’m getting a ride from a friend in the morning and taking public transit home in the afternoon for work. Within a few weeks, I’m hoping to get another used car in the near future. One with fewer problems.