Wednesday, June 27, 2012

And The Hits Just Keep On Comin'....

I've been having some puzzling health difficulties lately, and so I've been seeing a lot of doctors, everybody from my family doc to various and sundry specialists.  At each office visit, just as part of the routine, each respective nurse has been taking my temperature and my blood pressure.  Suddenly, after years of a perfect (for me) BP of 117/72 I have suddenly taken off.  I have been averaging -- averaging!!! -- pressures of 167/105.

In short, I am ready to pop.

My family doc has put me on medication, lysinopril, which is slow to work but easier on my system and not so interactive with my numerous other medications.  After a couple of days on it I'm already down to 130/92 -- still dangerously, outrageously high, but clearly coming down.  So far the only side effect I'm noticing is fatigue, which I can live with since I'm chronically tired anyway thanks to my anemia.

Speaking of you know, last October my blood iron saturation percentage dropped from 18% (20% is normal) to 2% over a period of six months, despite infusions, transfusions, shots, pills and the rest of the works.  We were unable to find out why or how this was happening.  I stopped taking any iron supplements over a month ago so as not to mask any symptoms, watching myself like a hawk for any indications that my blood was about to give out, so to speak, so that they could get me to a hospital or a hematologist or somebody before any crisis got too bad.  I found out I was a bad risk for the Pill Camera endoscopy, which we hoped would find out if I was bleeding somewhere that other tests weren't seeing.  Last week I went in for my quarterly blood tests...and they came back so different that at first I thought there had to be some error; they couldn't possibly be MINE.

But they were.

It took seven months for my blood iron to drop from 18 to 2.  In six weeks it has climbed back up to 17%.  With no iron supplementation of any kind.

Completely inexplicable.

They repeated the tests, just to make sure it was really me.  It really was.

When I had my upper GI series, the radiologist mentioned off-hand to me that, while he was no specialist in blood or liver function, he was of the opinion that my other docs had in fact overloaded my liver with iron, and the liver was so attuned to iron that it was acting like a sink, or a magnet, or a dumping ground for all the iron entering my system.  He thought that maybe if I just stopped everything, the situation would right itself.

It appears he was right.

So we'll keep an eye on things, but it was sure nice to get a bit of decent news for once, even if I had to get stuck twice for blood tests to get it.  Meanwhile, a big Oan "hello!" to High Blood Pressure!  You can have a seat over there between Crohn's Disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis, in front of Peripheral Neuropathy, Unknown Neurological Degenerative Disease, Mediterranean Anemia and Chronic Asthma.  Welcome aboard!!!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Summer Diversions

A lot of people look for summer reading reviews around this time of year.  Don't get me wrong, I think summer reading is great.  The thing is, I read year-round.  I read all the time.  I always take a book to the doctor's office, for example; here in the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, our doctors are so overworked that you can almost always count on a hefty wait before they can see you.  And with my various health problems, I pretty much always have an appointment with one doctor or another waiting in the wings.  So it's a good idea to have a book handy.  With me, it's more like a stack of them.

Right now I'm working on two books.  One is The Final Evolution, by Jeff Somers.  This is the fifth volume in Somers' Electric Church series.  It's an old-fashioned cyberpunk thriller with one of my favorite anti-heroes in recent fiction, Avery Cates, a career criminal who regularly manages to mess with The System in a very dystopian future.  The other book is Drift by Rachel Maddow, which details how our economy and our defense policies have been going further and further off the rails since the Reagan administration.  Very informative stuff about how the paranoid anti-Soviet 1980's resulted in a gigantic jump in defense spending and how that spending has taken us further and further from the founding fathers' reluctance to have a large standing military.  Both worth reading, but in the case of the Somers novel, you will be completely lost if you haven't read the previous volumes; it is not friendly to new readers and is most certainly not a stand-alone novel.

Summer for me is usually a heightened time of health problems.  It may be that my autoimmune diseases are worsened by allergens; there is certainly a lot more pollen now than there is in, oh, say, November.  So I suffer a lot more from March through October.  I try to limit my pain medication to helping me sleep at night, so daytime can be miserable.  I've found, like many others have, that video gaming quite successfully can occupy my mind sufficiently to reduce significantly the pain I experience on a daily basis.  This summer I'm hooked on two new games, both available on a number of gaming platforms.  One is the new Lego game, Lego Batman 2: DC Superheroes.  The Lego games are great.  They are all-ages friendly, and they are LOADED with content.  In order to get 100% of the game, you can play for literally hundreds of hours as you look for gold Lego bricks, red Lego bricks, pieces to build models, Lego "coins" ("studs" in the game lingo) which function as both points and currency, and so forth.  You can play the story if you're not interested in any of the side stuff, or you can try to unlock every character and collect every special item.  It's a game that little kids can play that adults will find interesting and challenging, especially if you're a fan of Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, the Flash, and the other DC Comics characters.

The other game is on the far opposite side of the gaming spectrum, Lollipop Chainsaw.  It's a zombie killing game, rated "M" for mature.  The protagonist character is a Buffy the Vampire Slayer type, a cheerleader named Juliet who just happens to be from a long line of zombie hunters.  It's a pretty standard game in that you must learn various combinations of buttons in order to initiate a number of attack moves, but pull them off and the zombies disappear in clouds of glitter and rainbows.  The game has a lot of salty language -- those zombies have filthy, filthy mouths -- but I'm finding it hilarious.  And it's very, very good at taking my mind off what's going on otherwise.

So that's how I'll be spending the bulk of my summer.  I have lots to do around the house and in the yard, but on the days when it's all too overwhelming, or when my work is done for the day, you can find me with either a book or a game controller in my hand.  I may not be able to be more than ten feet away from a bathroom on most days -- which can certainly put a damper on most normal summer activities -- but I can at least escape into a printed page, or a silly game world.  And believe me, I'm very grateful for that.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Uncle Einar

It's been a rough week and a half.  My wife has pneumonia, and I have whooping cough, which explains why I have been sick since the first week of April.  I have since learned that the Chinese call whooping cough the "hundred day cough" ... which means I'm good to go until the first or second week of July.  Hence, few posts here.  Too busy being sick.

A couple of local friends who actually read this nonsense expressed an interest in the Ray Bradbury audition piece that I used to use, from his short story, "Uncle Einar," which I mentioned in my last entry.  So here it is:

"Uncle Einar's beautiful, silk-like wings hung like sea-green sails behind him, and whirred and whispered from his shoulders whenever he sneezed or turned swiftly.  He was one of the few in The Family whose talent was visible.  All of his dark cousins and nephews and brothers hid in small towns across the world, did unseen mental things or things with witch-fingers and white teeth, or blew down the sky like fire-leaves, or loped in forests like moon-silvered wolves.  They lived comparatively safe from normal humans.  Not so a man with great green wings.

"Not that he hated his wings.  Far from it.  In his youth, he'd always flown nights, because nights were rare times for winged men.  Daylight held dangers, always had, always would, but nights!  Ah, nights he had sailed over islands of cloud and seas of summer sky.  With no danger to himself.  It had been a full rich soaring.  An exhilaration.

"But now he could not fly at night.

"On his way home to some high mountain pass in Europe after a Homecoming among Family Members (some years ago) he had drunk too much rich crimson wine.  "I'll be all right," he had told himself, vaguely, as he beat his long way under the morning stars, over the moon-dreaming country hills beyond the town.  And then--crack out of the sky!  A high-tension tower!

"Like a netted duck!  A great sizzle!  His face blown black by a blue sparkler of wire, he fended off the electricity with a terrific back-jumping percussion of his wings...and fell.

"His hitting the moonlit meadow beneath the tower made a noise like a large telephone book dropped from the sky.

"Early the next morning, his dew-sodden wings shaking violently, he stood up.  It was still dark.  There was a faint bandage of dawn stretched across the east.  Soon that bandage would stain and all flight would be restricted.  There was nothing to do but take refuge in the forest and wait out the day in the deepest thicket until night once again gave his wings a hidden motion in the sky."

I was surprised that I still knew it.  I double-checked it against my copy of The Stories of Ray Bradbury, and was amazed at how accurately I remembered it.  Bradbury fans will notice a few changes in punctuation or a change in word ("under" becoming "beneath" for example) to accommodate my speaking style, but it's all Ray.  Like I said last time, beautiful images, complex language, and a great way to show a director what I might be able to do without boring him with a monologue he's heard a thousand times.

I miss those days sometimes....

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury died yesterday.  I feel like a piece of me died with him.

Like him, I was not particularly well understood by my father.  Bradbury tells of growing up with a horror of The Thing At The Top Of The Stairs, the thing that was waiting to get him when he had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.  He never got over it, and his father never understood this fear, which lasted until his family moved west when Ray was thirteen.  His father's humiliating solution to Ray's night terror was to provide him with a chamber pot.  Without going into detail right now about my physically and emotionally abusive childhood, let me just say that I can relate.  My dad was a jock in high school; very charming, popular, a real Charles Atlas Hero Of The Beach type.  I was quiet, and shy, and bookish, a bit overweight, not athletic at all.  I had no interest in sports, especially football (Dad's favorite) and my leisure activity of choice was to read a book.  To this day my father takes great pride in the fact that he never read a book for pleasure until he was in his sixties.

Our second home was in the small town of Raritan, New Jersey.  We got a good price on the home on Anderson Street because it was directly across from the fire station.  The siren that blew at noon and at 6:00 PM (and whenever there was a fire, of course) was absolutely deafening when you were only thirty feet away.  But the fire station housed the town's one fire truck, the police station was around the back, and on the third floor of the building was the small town library.  It was my home away from home.

I wish I could remember the librarian's name.  I only know that she was kind, and took an interest not only in me but in every kid who came through the doors.  She was very good at finding books that would interest a kid.  It wasn't long before she started showing me the books in the science fiction section that were written for younger readers.  Nowadays we call them "young adult" novels, but back then, they were called "juveniles."

I devoured them, especially the books by Robert A. Heinlein and by Ray Bradbury.  Heinlein was a master of military adventure, with books like  Starship Troopers and  Revolt in 2100.  I liked them well enough, I guess.  But I adored the books by Bradbury.  I loved the way he could describe a thing and have it appear full-blown in your mind, just with his words.  (His short story, Small Assassin, scared the living crap out of me.  I will never forget it.  It was in a collection of Bradbury's stories called The October Country which reworked many of the contents of Bradbury's first, unsuccessful book, Dark Carnival.)

And then the librarian gave me The Martian Chronicles.  And everything changed.  I have been lost in Bradbury's words and worlds ever since.  Back when I was a working actor, I used a prose piece of his from the story Uncle Einar as my audition piece, because it was not only beautiful and lyrical and lovely, but also showed off your diction if you could pull it off.  All of Shakespeare's monologues and soliloquies have been done to death in auditions, but nobody had ever heard about "Uncle Einar's great green wings."  (It's a great story -- look for it.)  Using it landed me more than one role back in those days.

By the time my wife was in medical school in Richmond, Virginia, I had had to abandon show business, due largely to the increasing difficulties I was having from chronic illness.  Again, because of Ray Bradbury and our shared love of books and libraries, my second career -- librarian -- was a no-brainer.  I was working at Virginia Commonwealth University while Megan was studying medicine at the Medical College of Virginia when I learned that RAY BRADBURY was coming to speak at the University of Richmond.  

Needless to say, I was there.

This was in 1985.  Ray was not yet frail.  He talked for hours about everything from his life as a writer, to the time he spent in Hollywood, to his long friendships with Ray Harryhausen and Forrest Ackerman.  I was in heaven.  Afterwards, I joined the crowd around him to ask a few more questions.  Ray spent way more time with me than he needed to do.  He was generous, and kind, and funny, and gave me a huge hug when he learned that I was a librarian.  It was better than any autograph.

Ray worked right up until the end.  He wanted to live to be 101 because there was still so much that he wanted to do.  He wanted to write opera and screenplays and mysteries and radio theater and probably other forms that only he could imagine.  He came damned close, passing at the age of 91.  The world has lost a treasure.  People will be reading his books for centuries, and the  Moby Dick screenplay he wrote for John Huston and Gregory Peck will be studied as a classic for just as long.  He leaves a legacy of hundreds of short stories, novels and novellas.  I have yet to read one that I didn't enjoy.

I bet you won't, either.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Green Lantern, You're Still My Hero!

"And I shall shed my light over dark evil,
For the dark things cannot stand the light,
the light of the GREEN LANTERN!"

With those words, Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern, charges up his power ring from his magical lantern before heading off to fight evil.  Alan Scott this week took down One Million Moms in their latest homophobic outrage on Facebook, and good for him.

Well, he got them to take down their Facebook page.  If only he could take them down, period.

See, here's the deal:  Recently, DC Comics rebooted their entire universe.  They have updated costumes (for example, Superman no longer wears his undies outside his tights) and histories and origins as they rebuild their entire network of multiple of universes from the ground up.

Back in 1940, a young artist named Mart Nodell got the idea for a superhero when he saw a New York subway employee waving a red lantern to stop a train at a work site, and a green lantern to signal it was safe for the train to go on its way.  He combined the idea of a humble railway lantern having the powers of Aladdin's magic lamp, and in All-American Comics #3, the character of the Green Lantern made his debut.  In the 1950's, most of the heroes from the '40's faded away for a while, but in the early 1960's DC revived most of their old heroes in new ways.  The Flash, for example, went from being a guy dressed like Mercury who got his powers from a strange meteor to being a red-suited speedster who got his powers from a freak lightning strike.  Green Lantern was revived as a sort of space policeman.  His alter ego's name was changed to Hal Jordan, a test pilot who became the Green Lantern of Space Sector 2814 when his predecessor's spaceship crashed on Earth.

But later editors at DC decided there was still value to be found in the older versions of the heroes, and they invented another Earth, "Earth-2," where the heroes from the 1940's still fought crime, including the heroes who had more modern versions on "our" Earth.  And that included Alan Scott, the railroad engineer turned broadcaster who wore a magic ring that made anything he imagined become real (albeit colored green.)  There were numerous adventures on both Earths, often involving both versions of the character having to work together to fight off the threat.

So. Back to the reboot.  Last year DC updated all of its characters and made a ton of changes.  Superman is no longer married to Lois Lane.  Lois doesn't even know that Clark Kent is Superman any more.  Costumes were changed, other changes were updated, but the characters were essentially the same.  Bruce Wayne was still a tortured orphaned billionaire who became Batman.  Superman was still Kal-El from Krypton.  And Green Lantern was still Hal Jordan, test pilot for Ferris Aircraft.  By all accounts, the reboot was successful, with comics like Batman, Justice League of America and Green Lantern consistently selling in the top 10 every month.  (Marvel Comics, the home of Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men, used to have the top 10 all to themselves.)

Apologies for the history, but it's relevant.  We're one year into the New DC, and they have decided to expand a bit.  One of the things they are expanding into is the alternate Earth idea.  On the new Earth-2, the Holy Trinity of Heroes -- Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman -- gave their lives to stop an alien invasion by an evil god, Darkseid.  This left a world sorely in need of heroes, and the old Earth-2 versions of these heroes are stepping up to fill the void. There will be NEW "old" versions of the Flash, the Justice Society ... and of Green Lantern.

And on this new Earth, Green Lantern is gay.

And I couldn't be more pleased.

For what was once a stodgy old comics publisher that was hopelessly out of touch with mainstream culture, DC has really turned things around.  They started by dipping their toes in the water with second-tier characters like Obsidian coming out of the closet, but stepped up their game when they made the new Batwoman, Kate Kane, a lesbian.  In the pages of her comic, Batwoman regularly dates and kisses and, we presume, does more with Maggie Sawyer, a gay Gotham City detective.  And now the original Green Lantern is out of the closet.  Fantastic!

Predictably, the anti-gay homophobes, including the One Million Moms, were outraged -- outraged!! -- at this latest assault on our kids' "values."  They put up an anti-comics, anti-gay rant on their Facebook page, but it worked out about as well as the boycott that they called for against J.C. Penney when JCP hired Ellen DeGeneres as a spokesperson.  There was so much pro-gay, pro-Green Lantern, pro-Alan Scott posting on their page that they felt forced to take it down.  You can read more about it at .

Once again, Green Lantern shed his light over dark evil ... and the evil couldn't stand against it.  "For the dark things" --  the bigoted, the prejudiced and the ignorant -- "cannot stand the light."