Friday, April 29, 2011

How's My Driving? - 4/29/2011

This week I had an appointment at the Charleston VA dermatology clinic. It was a follow-up to a skin cancer removal I had a while back and a check-up to see if I had any more of those little bastards growing on me. More about that later.

I take the Disabled Veteran’s Van from Myrtle Beach as it is free and with gas at nearly $4.00 a gallon, saves me a nice chunk of change on the nearly 200 mile round trip. The trade-off is that for a half hour appointment my entire day is shot. The van departs at 5:00 AM and returns after the last rider has been seen at the clinic. We generally get back by 4:00 PM, so even those of you that are mathematically challenged can imagine that it is a long day. But since my time is of no value it is totally worth it.

Another hazard of the trip is that there is always the possibility that one of my fellow riders will either crap their pants or die, or both. I wish I could say that those are rare occurrences. Sadly, for some of these passengers it is a one-way trip.

My strategy is always to show up early and claim the seat all the way to the rear. The van holds 10 passengers, but thankfully, is hardly ever full. Many of the veterans couldn’t physically climb back to the rear of the van if the front of the van was on fire, so I generally have it all to myself. I am usually among the youngest on the van by at least a war. I bring a pillow and my IPOD and lie down and try to breathe through my mouth, as a full Depends is not the only offensive odor that wafts back to me. Old has its own bouquet.

I avoid conversation at all costs. When I first started riding the van several years ago, I made the rookie mistake of engaging other riders in conversation, as I tend to be the gregarious type. I would get a two hour narrative of war stories that never happened from a guy who spent whatever war he took credit for winning while serving as an admin clerk in Sumter, South Carolina. I have learned from experience that guys that were actually in the shit do not talk about it very much. So I leave it to the other travelers to exchange fictional accounts of which the first liar doesn’t stand a chance. I settle in and put the world on ignore, trying my best to be invisible.

On this particular trip, it was impossible to disregard the hullabaloo that ensued. I noticed early on that the ride was a bit rougher than usual and we traveled on rumble strips more than one would expect. I had to brace myself to remain on the seat during what I could only describe as frequent defensive maneuvers. It wasn’t long before I heard voices shouting at decibels above the volume of AC/DC in my headphones. Since the van was still upright and traveling in somewhat of a straight line, I tried to ignore the din. If someone had died, was near death, or crapped their pants, I was unqualified and unwilling to lend assistance.

Finally, curiosity overcame comfort and I rose into a sitting position and removed Black Sabbath from my ears to find out what was going on. In short, (as this post is already too long and contains too little white space for anyone to read) some of the passengers had determined that our 75 year old, volunteer, driver was impaired. Evidently, having my eyes closed had spared me the horror of a series of close calls. To add to the poor guy’s impairment, a couple of other septuagenarians were verbally berating him, as if they were his wives. The diagnoses offered by his critics ran the gamut of any combination of night blindness, drunkenness, early stages of a stroke, and Alzheimer’s. Whatever the cause, when we stopped at the Georgetown Golden Arches for coffee and an outside of garment piss, one of the combatants called the police. I guess the plan was to breathalyze the driver and if he passed, to give him a series of psychological exams, to determine his ability to soldier on. Well, the police officer that responded spoke with the driver and determined he was coherent enough to continue. She made this assessment without requesting the driver to exit the vehicle, let alone demonstrate his acuity. So with people still caterwauling behind him, the driver got us into Charleston, though I will admit when we entered city traffic his control of the vehicle further deteriorated.

After a discussion with hospital security it was determined that we would be provided a different 75 year old driver for the return trip. We made it back without incident with the original driver riding shotgun.

The original intention of this blog was to tell about my dermatology experience, but I got off on a tangent, as I am prone to do. Anyway, some time ago I asked the dermatologist about the removal of a skin tag from my eyelid. It was an annoyance, but sadly, not the most physically repugnant thing about me. He examined my eye and said that we would have to schedule an appointment with an ophthalmologist as dermatology is understandably hesitant and unqualified to work directly on the eye.

This time I had a different dermatologist and while examining me he noticed the skin tag on my eyelid. He asked if I wanted it removed. I said that I would, expecting him to make the referral previously discussed. Instead, he pulls out what looks like a pair of dikes and proceeds to snip the tag off. He says, “we’ll try to do this without deadening it.” He starts snipping and it feels like he has put hot coals in my eye. Since it was obvious from the tears running down my face that it hurt like hell, he says that “we” will have to numb it a bit. I have already removed myself from the “we” of which he spoke. He pulls out a needle from who knows where and immediately begins sticking it into my eye. This hurt way worse than the side-cutters, plus the added terror of watching a needle being jabbed into my eye. Once it was comfortably numb (Pink Floyd reference) he cut out the skin tag without further discomfort. Then he said these very encouraging words, “it may grow back.” Well, guess what, doc? If it does, I will live with it. My concern is that one of these doctors was obviously wrong about the degree of danger and difficulty in cutting on my eyelid. When it comes to my eyes I want to err on the side of caution. I may have crapped my pants a little during the procedure.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Mensa - Doorway to Nothing - 4/11/2011

It is not uncommon for an exchange with my friend, Bill Woolum, to inspire a blog. Bill is one of the handful of my Facebook contacts that is also a friend in real life. Last night our Facebook conversation began with a discussion of the Yankee/Red Sox game and ended with speculation as to which of our classmates, circa 1970, are Mensans. That may seem like a strange segue, but actually since both of us have severe attention deficit disorder, as well as other issues, it is a totally logical progression. Our exchanges often deteriorate into much more base topics (usually my doing).

I often wish that Bill and I lived closer so that we could have these conversations over beer, breakfast, or blancmange, but alas, we both love our particular coasts.
The Mensa dialog is what inspired this post. I am a member of Mensa and I expect Bill is a closet member. Speculating as to whom in my graduating class of Kellogg High School, Idaho, 1970, were possible Mensans proved to be an interesting activity.

Let me state at this time that I don’t believe my qualification for Mensa is any sort of accomplishment other than I am a really good test taker.

Mensans that I have come in contact with are generally weird and uninteresting, insufferable bores. (Except for Dave Powers and me) You will note that I have let my membership lapse. I have absolutely nothing in common with members of the organization. Contributors to their publications expend an inordinate amount of effort to try to impress each other with their knowledge. I write to publicly display my lack of enlightenment.

I believe that being smart is like being gay, it is not a choice. It is thrust on you and it is up to the individual what he does with it. My innate ability to process information has actually worked against me in my life. School was very easy and as a result I got bored and stopped paying attention in about grade six. Also, in the 1960s, in Kellogg, Idaho, tall, skinny, awkward, kids with big ears/noses that wore glasses and knew all the answers in class were not cool. I tried, unsuccessfully to be cool. I learned pretty much by osmosis, through no effort of my own. I can honestly say that I never read a textbook, other than an occasional chapter that interested me. As a result, I was, and continue to be a world class underachiever.

I graduated right in the middle of my 192 high school graduating class. That may not sound too bad unless you consider that the majority of those that finished below me would be considered special needs students in today’s society.

But, as is my modus operandi, I smoked the ACT/SATs, and went on to college, where I discovered lots of new distractions as barriers to success. I learned that class attendance was necessary to successful course completion. After one year, I was not invited back.

Getting back to the Mensa discussion, statistics would indicate that since Mensa membership is comprised of the top 2% of standardized test takers, my class should have included 3-4. I have no reason to believe that Kellogg High School produced genius above the national average. After all, we were all subjected to 18 years of heavy metal poisoning. I am thinking that would work against us.

Bill and I enjoyed speculating as to who the remaining 2 or 3 qualifiers were. It was an enjoyable exchange. I guessed the other Mensans from my class were Jim Etherton, Mike Jasberg, and Jeff Kenyon. Sorry Christy Blick, you can’t have beauty and brains. It wouldn't be fair. Bill did not disagree with any of those and added Brian Shiplett.

After our conversation ended, I thought that it is very possible that, like me, the other gifted students were also camouflaged, cloaked in mediocrity, and the high achievers from my class succeeded by sheer effort and ambition.