Sunday, April 13, 2014

Snapshots: Viagra, Melanoma, and those Pre-Passover Blues

No, the two have nothing to do with one another.
Or they could, I suppose, if anyone thought Passover a sexy holiday, which would make for an interesting discussion that we will never have. 

Let's start with this.

(1) "Harmless" erectile dysfunction treatment associated with melanoma

No more Viagra for you son. And Laura Berman, a famous sex therapist who has at least one clinic to treat women with sexual intimacy problems, will have to put her prescriptions on hold, rewrite one of her books, too. The results of a new study indicate that penile enhancement medication, also used for female sexual arousal, is linked to one of our worst cancers ever, melanoma.

When I was young there was a song, Nature's Way. Spirit, sings the soulful, ominous warning.

It's nature's way of telling you dying trees,
It's nature's way of telling you soon we'll freeze.

We froze east of the Mason-Dixon line, and to the west, too, last winter. Or shvitzed.

Hearing the association between ED drugs and melanoma  I'm humming the song again, seemingly out of nowhere (that's how the brain works, people). We could look at our bodies, and our psychology, as one of nature's finest, most exquisite creations, capable of incredibly creative ideas, achievements. And we think nothing of messing with them.

A chunk of my patient demographic, people in their thirties and forties, barely middle age (forties are the new thirties, thirties the new twenties), impatient with therapy (or in denial) ask their primary care doctors for Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra, etc., penile enhancement drugs. Before this new study the docs couldn't say with certainty: The drugs are bad for you. Work on your relationships. As long as blood pressure and heart rate were relatively strong, they caved. So now they can say that. The drugs are bad.

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is nature's way of telling you something's wrong, probably with a relationship or an understanding of sexual relationships. Or the mechanics of sex. The most common cause of ED is anxiety, not only performance anxiety, but any kind of anxiety, and often, guilt. And anger.

Melanoma tells us something's wrong with the pharma treatment, too. The problem, if it is not vascular, is psychological or educational. ED drugs treat a symptom. They are a bad idea, the wrong way to treat the problem, if it even is one.

We can discuss the right way another time. I've got to get ready for next week's holiday.

(2) The Holiday Blues
Everyone knows that during the holidays, especially the first ones after the loss of a loved one, we're more vulnerable to depression. Just when we're supposed to be happy, a brick falls on our heads. There's no denying it. We remember faces sitting around the table, singing songs, smiling. These are good memories, and when we think about it, surely a blessing, a good opportunity to add to the positive memories, the legacy, of  people who made such a difference in our lives.

Of course, if I believed that, it would be a sign I'm not a therapist.

In fact, the stress of the holidays, the togetherness, brings on bad memories often, and the worst in people, especially if more alcohol is consumed than usual. The legacy memories, for many of us, aren't always good.

But for some of us they are.

Good or bad, the mental deluge, the stimulation of anniversaries, always has an effect. Great stuff to talk about at parties. (See video link below).

For me, being busy before a holiday also implies cooking and baking, happy busy which is productive, too. In this creative process, inordinate amounts of time are spent trying to remember the things my mother cooked and baked, reading over her recipes, tattered, but written in her beautiful cursive script, soon to be extinct, oil and batter stained (not her fault). I experiment like she did, write it all down. On a computer, obviously. Who has a index cards? I envy those of you who do.

Passover, one of the biggies when it comes to stress, is upon us. The office is closed for 8 days. You will see us at the zoo and the museums, sprung from the drudgery of everyday life.

But if you want to know what this holiday is really all about, you eat matzah. (These we buy at the store, hardly anyone makes them anymore, the rules of baking proper Passover matzah are too complicated.). No matter how ad agencies might make it sound, the stuff is nearly indigestible without lots of butter.

Matzah is the Passover food because it is difficult to digest, unleavened, no yeast allowed, the quintessential symbolic food of modesty. This is a low food, a symbol that reduces us to tears (let's not go that far) by the end of the week. The idea is to get the leaven out of our hearts, recognize it really isn't all about us, and that we're not the ones to thank for our successes, can quit patting ourselves on the back. After all, only a few thousand years ago we were slaves in Egypt, enslaved for a long time, over 400 years. We couldn't have got out on our own. Passover celebrates freedom from slavery and the Creator who made it happen in spectacular fashion. (The story is mind-blowing, as Cecil B. DeMille rightly tells it in The Ten Commandments).

All that to link over to an irreverent video that made me smile. Sean Altman sent this pitch:

I follow your blog. Please enjoy my REAL story of Passover — JEWMONGOUS' new music video "They Tried To Kill Us (We Survived, Let's Eat)"

Yours, Sean Altman

Ex-Rockapella star Sean Altman's comedy song concert JEWMONGOUS is "tuneful and sharply witty" (Los Angeles Times), "relentlessly clever" (Chicago Tribune) and "bawdy with a wicked modern streak" (Washington Post), combining "the tunefulness of the Beatles and the spot-on wit of Tom Lehrer" (Boston Globe). Altman, who "writes hilarious and irreverent acoustic rock songs about his awakening Jewish awareness" (Jerusalem Post), is "part of a new breed of Jewish hipster comedy that includes Jon Stewart, Sacha Baron Cohen, Sarah Silverman and Heeb Magazine" (Philadelphia Daily News). He is a former, founding member of Rockapella and led that pioneering vocal group through its heyday years on the Emmy-winning PBS-TV series, Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?, for which Altman co-wrote the famous theme song.  His classic Passover song "They Tried To Kill Us (We Survived, Let's Eat)" has been featured on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Altman has twice performed at the White House Chanukah party for the President, he has shared the stage with Billy Joel, Joey Ramone, Jay Leno, Whoopi Goldberg, Spike Lee, Jonathan Winters and They Might Be Giants, recorded with XTC and Richie Havens, and he performs vocal standards at the bedside of hospital patients as a volunteer with Musicians On Call.  Altman has performed JEWMONGOUS throughout the USA, Europe, Israel and once in China.

There you go. Not how it happens in most homes, but funny.

Oh, and the Passover Brownie recipe.

Pesach (Passover) Brownies, Gebrukst (for non-gebrukst add potato starch, not cake meal)
1 cup Mothers unsalted margarine melted (yes, the brand matters, use Mothers with proper Passover certification)
Melt into the margarine with 3/4 package chocolate chips
Let cool 5 -10 min
In the mixer beat 
2 eggs
1.5 cups sugar
Add margarine/chocolate
Add 1 pkgs ground walnuts (6 oz) and 1/4 cup cake meal* 
Bake in a 9 x 12 pan at 350 for 30 min. Test with a toothpick.
When they are dry, let them cool down then freeze for 30 min before cutting. Or just eat them.

Happy Holidays, friends.


*Cake meal is very finely ground matzah, a truly humbling baking substitute for the fine flour we use all year round. 

Friday, April 04, 2014

Ivan Lopez: Could this have been prevented?

Ivan Lopez screenshot Facebook
Ivan Lopez shot 19 people yesterday, killing three at Fort Hood, Killeen, Texas. Five years ago, same army base, Nidal Hasan, an army physician, killed 13, wounded 33. Hasan has been sentenced to death.

Lopez served 4 months in Iraq in 2011 driving a truck, served in the Sinai Peninsula, too, and the National Guard. He's not been injured, officially, in combat. In fact the army claims he didn't serve in combat.

He either requested or was ordered a mental health evaluation, hence the transfer to Fort Hood from another base, according to one report.. His mother died of a heart attack in November last year, and the army gave him a hard time about going to Puerto Rico for the funeral. Granted a one day leave, he complained, was granted two. (Not much of a grief allowance, but typical in the military). The psychiatrist considered him nonviolent, prescribed Ambien for sleep. Follow-up in a month.

Perhaps Lopez forgot to tell the doctor. Somebody is going to pay for this. I need to be with my family.

One news bureau suggests that not only Ambien, but a variety of other psychotropic prescriptions were prescribed as well. Nothing unusual about that, to be expected, even, but one of those drugs could have been an SSRI, from a family of drugs that has saved millions, but is associated with suicide and bad decision-making.

Quick story:  About a month ago a new patient, referred by a physician, called me very depressed. In his fifties, I saw him the next day, and as is usually the case, he had a pocket list of the medications he's taking. One, an SSRI. Short list of those:

fluvoxamine maleate(Luvox),
paroxetine hydrochloride (Paxil)
citalopram (Celexa)
escitalopram (Lexapro),
fluoxetine (Prozac)
and Sertraline hydrochloride (Zoloft). 

Hearing his suicidal thoughts, I scheduled him for the next day, and then again the day after that. That or refer the patient directly to an emergency room for evaluation and hospitalization. My new patient wasn't ready for that but it is always Plan A.

Not being a medical doctor, when he told me about the SSRI, I thought nothing of it, assumed that perhaps he just needed more. I was going to call the referring physician, when FD popped into the room (a family doctor, happens to live with me). I picked his brain first, described a man in his fifties, suicidal thoughts, an SSRI. Could we up it?

He quickly replied, "Not the best choice, that family of drugs, for someone with suicidal thoughts. Can make suicidal people disinhibited."

What does that mean, disinhibited? I understand what it means in other contexts, but how does disinhibited manifest under prescription meds?

"Oh, they'll do things they might not ordinarily do. A person with suicidal or homicidal thoughts might be more inclined to act upon them on those drugs. That's why we keep them away, generally, from suicidal teenagers. They're already unpredictable."

Which leads me to an entirely different explanation, why Ivan Lopez gunned down innocent people at Fort Hood. His neighbors describe an amiable, friendly man, married to a friendly woman. Armed, as soldiers usually are, he acts upon impulses that seem out of character for friendly people. He is disinhibited, and this is what disinhibited people sometimes do.

The only other real consideration is his self-diagnosed traumatic brain injury. Brain trauma can change character, too, turns loving personalities into angry, violent people. But they are always angry and irritable and Lopez wasn't.

We can blame the meds, perhaps, but perhaps not. He had a Facebook page, an alias Ivan Slipknot. On that page he wrote in Spanish:

“The people shouldn’t fear the government — the government should fear the people.”

So perhaps it wasn't out of character, after all.

We might be wonder why the psychiatrist didn't make a followup for Lopez sooner. He had a month between visits.

I would venture to say that the facilities at Fort Hood are mobbed with psychiatric patients coming home from Iraq and that professionals are working night and day treating post traumatic stress. Suicide in the military is at an all-time high. It is likely that Spc. Lopez didn't express violent thoughts or plans, his dirty little secret. His knew what he was doing. But he felt lousy, so he asked for legitimate help, medication for sleep.

It has been five years since the last massacre on an army base, one that had the makings of a terrorist attack. We worry incessantly over those. Time to worry about our soldiers. Vet them a little more carefully in those evaluations.


Friday, March 28, 2014

Retire from blogging?

Blogher, via Neil Kramer, aka Citizen of the Month, either launched or is about to launch a discussion of the end of an era, something on the order of this: Has blogging gone the wayside? 

Did blogging die because FaceBook, YouTube, and other stimulating, current media, are far more exciting than reading the soap-boxes of deep thoughts we bloggers can't help but share with THE WHOLE WORLD.
Ray William Johnson of Equals Three

I don't know if it is true, if blogging is dead or not, but Ray William Johnson, of Equals Three, a YouTube enterprise, is retiring as the host of his experiment with YouTube social media. People do move on, try new things. It can get old, anything, day after day.

We'll get to Ray in a minute.

Microsoft, you might have heard, is generously offering rebates of $100 to those who still have Windows XP on their computers (an enticement to upgrade, just spend $699 to be eligible). Bring in the old machine and swap it for a high-powered new one, guaranteed to be virus-free. Those of us who don't want to spend that much, who prefer to buy a functional, yet cheaper machine, might do that. We'll be recycling the old one ourselves.

In Chicago tossing electronics in the alley is a huge No No and warrants a citation and a fine. It isn't the most tedious thing in the world, cannibalizing a fax machine to isolate the hard drive. (Once a utility company convinced me to fax copies of my passport, bills, all kinds of things, and idiot me, I complied). Deconstructing a fax machine isn't as easy as snatching a hard drive off a desktop; it can take some hammering. Best Buy will take it all, cannibalized or not, all of those old electronics, virtually slobbered over an HP printer that should have worked! but did not, finally driving me to banishing it to the back room. Banished to the backroom is certain death for anything.

Progress, not perfection, an old 12 Step saying, when it comes to change.

When my mother passed away, she left an old Compaq Presario desktop, barely used, that still worked. She would have used it more, typed her synagogue newsletter for many years on the "dinosaur" before her disease didn't let, her fingers wouldn't cooperate. My father only used the machine to trade jokes (the worst jokes) with his friends and play the stock market. (This is a bad idea in your late eighties. Discourage your parents, take away their passwords, declare their browsers full of viruses; do whatever you have to do.)

This healthy but very outdated computer accompanied me home after we had sorted out all of Mom's valuables, the paintings, the chotchkes (rhymes roughly with latch-keys) she salvaged after my father passed away. That which no one else wanted found a home in my basement, the last stop before the back room. 

One day it made sense to turn it on, and since it had no sound, I turned to Amazon for an external sound card, the first of two. Since the machine did have XP, I installed Windows 7 (had to buy it). Soon it became obvious that although the 13 inch monitor had worked just fine for my parents, newer programs, like the ones that edit websites, don’t work on short monitors. So that had to go, too. I added a few gig of memory, sorely needed, and a receiver to get Internet (the TP-Link seems to be working quite well, but the green blinking light could cause seizures in a more vulnerable individual).

There wasn't much physical space for this setup, so I took it into the bedroom thinking it would stream video nicely, and it does. But you know how it gets. When there is a critical mass of electronics in a room the colorful diodes speak to you in the middle of the night. You can’t sleep, frantically arrange books or other strange objects (a coaster) to cover the glare..

But one night a few weeks ago, to see what is relevant and current and cool, I turned on the computer and clicked onto YouTube. Now that I have a decent-sized monitor , it is a pleasure. My television, also near my bed could fit in your glove compartment.

There is Ray William Johnson saying goodbye. Who is Ray William Johnson? I had no idea, but he has a YouTube show with a few million subscribers tuning in to watch what is popular on the Internet, those vids that go viral. Ray is a nice looking, funny, fast talking young man, an actor who deadpans. (It's all in the delivery). Retiring from the hit show, he is telling viewers about the drudgery of repetition, if I remember correctly, tells us he's looking to be replaced. YOU could replace him, or so he says. 

Most things probably get to be tiring if you stay with them long enough. I'm always amazed that my work as a therapist never does. Sure, it isn't always what I want to do, go to the office, sit and connect with people, ostensibly help them. But it is never boring. If I made some kind of change, it would have to really sing to me, and the odds of that happening are slim.

I thought about this great thought and wondered why blogging, which should be repetitious by now, still feels fresh. It isn’t a drag. We’re going on eight years! Maybe because there’s no pressure, no rush to post anything, and it is a hobby, not a job, after all. The way I see it, if it is fun for me, if I get a laugh out of it, or a cry, for that matter, then you will too. And there isn't a formula, you know that. I don't get caught up in should's and musts and have-to's.

My hunch is that for Ray, it isn't that his show needs to change, or that he has to invent a new wheel, but that he let it get routinized. That and the pressure must be overwhelming. The stakes are high when a million plus are watching, after all.

That's never going to happen to most of us ordinary bloggers, an audience of millions!

So in answer to the BlogHer question, the medium is far from dead. 



Sunday, March 09, 2014

The Salinity of Tears

My son, a doctor of physics, came over last night with his wife (they needed wood glue; I made smoothies*). I wanted to ask him a question, but forgot: If you're swimming backstroke and you start to cry, will the tears change the salinity of the pool?

Silly question, for sure not. You only squirt out a few, but any tears feel disturbing. Still, you say to yourself, that it is nice being in the pool, no one can tell these are tears; it's all water. And although everyone knows that squirting them out, during mourning is a good thing, they make people uncomfortable, even when the raison d'etre is understood.

It has been six months since my mom passed away, unbelievable, and I'm able to say to anyone who asks, How's it going? that I'm doing good.

By good that means less sadness, fewer tears, fewer negative thoughts and self-recriminations, although these still pop up. The legacy we try to keep alive in our heads is already fading, although new memories surprisingly replace the old.

My greatest fear is that I'll lose the sound of her voice. In so many years of doing therapy, I can't remember anyone bringing this up in a good way, the sound of her voice in my head. People remember being yelled at, criticized. It was my good fortune, certainly, that the voice I hear is a nice sound, although there was some of that, criticism. In the idealization process, the criticism completely faded.

Friday night, after a delicious, substantial meal with a couple of friends, I had a dream. In the dream I'm asking my father, who passed away three years ago, if he thinks I should buy a new car.

I show him the shiny, black sedan at the used car lot. In his good natured way he shrugs and tells me it seems as good a car as any. Usually when you dream of dead people they don't talk, they just make an appearance, so this is an exciting dream. Real memories of my father had faded, all that looking after my mother coming first. My father made a few dream appearances these past few years, none of them talking roles. So it was nice to say hello.I'll have to ask my hostess about those ingredients.**

Not that I'm so deep, or even dark (as one awesome website suggests). But one of the things that happens to you as a therapist is that you look for meaning in little things. Or maybe therapists are just this way, which is why they become therapists. It is an occupational hazard, and family therapists, especially, look for metaphors, the one big thing wrong, or perhaps right, in families. But it is also nice to look for the big universal picture, if there is one, and how we fit into that.

So here's a story.

Not long ago all of my children had left Chicago for school, careers, or marriage. Now three are back in town, complete with families, and one of the other two rumbles about a return. My daughter had the hardest choice, moving here from Los Angeles, no small miracle. People don't move from Los Angeles to Chicago. Career, not family, their deciding factor. We don't care why.

So they are working. And when your kids are lucky enough to have jobs, and they can effectively juggle life with children, partners, and pets, well, you are happy and don't care if you don't talk much.You can be in the same town and barely get off more than a text.

Today 11:05 AM
Daughter: Game times today: 3:30 in Skokie, 5:00 JCC.

Today: 1:35 PM
Me: Cool.

In a million years you don't complain at how little verbal communication you have, you're so happy that when you get together, even for a kids basketball game, that you haven't had to fly across the country. And you  drive your grandchildren to school five days a week, and to the orthodontist. There are donuts in everyone's future.

No matter, on a typical Saturday I tend to feel badly. Memories of my mother come out of nowhere, usually in services at the synagogue. And I probably look sad, and people might even notice tearfulness. I hate this but am powerless. And there's that dictum that it is good to cry, you won't forever, you'll miss not missing her one day.

So there I am, totally trancing out, picturing my mother's face when I would walk through her door, enter her home. She is still living with my father, and I let myself in with my key, for they are either eating a meal, sitting in the den watching television, or puttering around. They notice and are so happy to see me, so glad for the company. Or Mom is living independently in her apartment in a residential center after he has died, and I walk into the cafeteria, surprise her at lunch and she lights up, that enormous smile shatters the cosmos. And I remember how, when I leave, she always walks me out, not just to the door, but all the way down the hall, almost to the elevator but not quite. Leaving the house, she is outside on the front porch, watching until I drive off,  fade away.

So there I am on a Saturday, standing against a wall in the synagogue because the rabbi is talking and I can't handle sitting anymore, and someone taps me on the shoulder. I turn around and it is my kid and she throws her arms around me, she just knows, and gives me a tremendous hug. Right there in front of everybody.

If I ever complain about anything again, just hit me.


*Our lives have changed since I bought a Ninja last summer. All the left-over fruit goes in the freezer, especially bananas. Add a little mango juice, water, and a little vanilla ice cream, and life is beautiful.

**If you want to remember dreams the trick is to hesitate before completely waking up in the morning. Lie there a minute, eyes closed, and they'll come back.

Monday, March 03, 2014

What a Drag it Isn't Getting Old: the 86th Academy Awards

Judi Dench in Philomena

The mid-western weather is depressing. How depressing? People are calling for permission to blow off therapy. That's how depressing.

I'm home unusually early one night last week and the TV is singing to me. With the flick of a button there's Andy Griffith as the Mayberry sheriff in a rerun in black and white (1960).  The sheriff looks handsome, smiley and helpful in his khaki uniform, helping Aunt Bee break into a pharmacy.

They have to use the "hidden" key on the door-ledge because it seems the old pharmacist isn't feeling well. The older man's niece will fill in for him. A stranger in this small town, she has all the right credentials and she is going to run a tight ship.

Another townsperson, also elderly like Aunt Bee, a known quantity, bursts through the door in a panic. As Andy proposes to help her get her pills, the new pharmacist puts her foot down. No you don't. Not without a prescription. Nothing doing.

"But my pills! My pills!" the clearly pain-racked, tottering old person demands dramatically. "You wouldn't deny an old woman her pills!" Then she describes her many aches and pains, and how now she will certainly die without them.

Andy turns on all of his charm, and by the end of the show the new pharmacist relents, visits the older woman at her home with a pot of soup and her pills. Andy asks about the change of heart and the younger woman confides, "They're placebos. They were sugar pills, Sheriff."  Her uncle hadn't been plying this customer with opiates after all. He knew what he was doing.

Oh, if only it always worked out this neatly. We baby boomers are just beginning to notice our aches and pains, our arthritis, weak knees, necks, shoulders, and hips, parts of the body we didn't even know existed before. We're popping Advil and Tylenol, comparing which analgesic works best.

Therapists who have been sitting for years (it's a living) suffer lower back pain, an occupational hazard. Years ago a mentor of mine, sitting on a pillow shaped like a doughnut, warned me that sitting is the most dangerous part of this job. She was right, ___ her. But most of us with an ounce of sense won't be asking our doctors for anything stronger than ibuprofen, and we'll try not to even have to take that. We'll dutifully carry on with our yoga, those swims, physical therapy.

But I digress. The morning after the Andy Griffith Show, a song pops into my head, Mother's Little HelperRolling Stones, circa 1966,Aftermath. (Remember that album?!) The lyrics, if memory serves, include these verses:
Things are different today, I hear every mother say that she needs something today to calm her down. And though she's not really ill. There's a little yellow pill.
She goes running to the shelter of her mother's little helper.
And it helps her on her way. Gets her through her busy day.
Refrain: Doctor please, some more of these, outside the door, oh a few more.
What a drag it is getting old.
There are a few more verses before the close:
And if you take more of those, you will get an overdose.
No more running to the shelter of your mother's little helper.
Yet heroin is on the upswing, almost fifty years later.  

Let's get to the Oscars.

(1) In early January I had the pleasure of viewing Philomena, a film about an elderly woman seeking her lost child. As an unmarried pregnant teen, her father warehoused her in a Catholic orphanage. There, at the hands of brutal, poorly trained midwives, she has a baby boy. She is allowed to watch nuns, nurses, cuddle with her baby, and as he grows she observes as he plays with other children and they interact as mother and child. He knows she is his mother.

She is in his life for an hour a day until, at age three or four, he is lost to adoptive parents, no goodbyes. Left is a tearful young woman who will always have an empty place, a hole in her heart that no one, nothing but he can fill.

Judi Dench, nominated for best actress, didn't win the Oscar last night, but she will be remembered as Philomena, a light-hearted (if sad at times) woman, hopeful and religious, screaming youth and positivity that at her age isn't supposed to exist. But it does.

The real Philomena Lee attended the Academy Awards ceremony. Ms. Dench is working. She couldn't get off.

(2) The drug-overdose and death of Philip Seymour Hoffman made me angry.Why did this happen? Who gave him drugs? Why didn't someone who cared stop him from killing himself? Cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines. You will tell me, and I will tell you, that drug-seekers will find their drugs. It is the secrecy, however, that boggles the mind. The secret is so special that no one blurts. Because, after all, nobody dies of this stuff.

Philip Seymour Hoffman
A British street artist, hoping to draw attention to the issue, erects an eight-foot sculpture on Hollywood Blvd., Oscar injecting heroin. The words inscribed on the shunned piece of art: "Hollywood's best kept secret." 
Oscar shooting heroin

Only a few blocks away at the awards ceremony, a memorial is going on, featuring those in the industry who made their mark but passed away. Some timely, others not. It is an annual awards retrospective.

At the end, the fade, the camera lingers on photos of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Other memorials fly by so fast that they are hard to read, but this one hovers on stage just a little longer than the rest. Hollywood's best kept secret.

Earlier in the evening Bill Murray had addressed the academy, slipped in a reference to his deceased friend, Harold Ramis. The crowd is surprised, but uncomfortable, we're not there yet, not remembering, and Mr. Murray moves on quickly to the movies at hand.*

Harold Ramis, we miss him already

June Squibb at the Oscars
(3) If you haven't seen Bruce Dern in the film Nebraska, as grumpy old Woody Grant, an elderly alcoholic who thinks he has won a magazine sweepstakes, his portrayal is trumped only by June Squibb as Kate, his aging wife. She is aging better than he is and has plenty of attitude. She laughs at him, berating his stupidity while protectively telling him not to leave, as he heads off to claim his prize in Omaha.

Marvelously irreverent, Kate sarcastically rips into Woody. She roasts everyone she has ever known and isn't particularly nice to her son, either. In an interview with Bob Nelson, the screen writer (WSJ), I read that the people behind Woody and Kate are Mr. Nelson's parents, very much the same in real life. Nebraska is nothing, imho, without June Squibb, hilarious in this role, and many of us were rooting for her for the Oscar.

She didn't get it, either. But more important, perhaps, she scored attention to aging well,as Judi Dench does for Philomena. Ellen Degeneres (simply brilliant, ordering pizza for the audience, three large ought to be enough, taking tips when it arrives) jokes poker-faced with Ms. Squbb, roasts her early in the opening monologue. Assumed by the hostess to be hard of hearing because of her age, the actress is charmed, if perhaps a tad insulted at the very idea.

(4) Death, unless we're ready to hear about it, and even then, is a drag.

Hard-rocker Pink incongruously sings Somewhere Over the Rainbow halfway through the Oscars ceremonies in a tribute to Judy Garland. This before the retrospective and that Philip Seymour Hoffman punch, just before Bette Midler comes on to sing Wind Beneath My Wings. Talk about milking it. But Judy did die young, and she spent years abusing alcohol and prescription meds. Her children, in third row seats, surely had a hard time watching, listening.

As Pink makes us cry, we eat up the set, a delicious montage of a young Judy in the Wizard of Oz, ruby slippers and all. We are reminded that there was a time, way back when, that we stayed glued to our television sets on Thanksgiving for our annual Wizard of Oz fix, anticipating that blast of color at the end of the black and white film, assuming an aunt had a color set.

Pink does a nice job, singing a quiet song; her family must be proud. And Bette Midler, like Pink, doesn't belt it out either. This show had to be sad, mellow, and it is all the better for it.

Probably some people thought about it, during that emotional television event, about those mother's little helpers, the pills that people like Judy Garland used to get through the day.

They aren't just Hollywood secrets.


* Mr. Ramis died of complications from an auto-immune inflammatory vasculitis, a relatively rare disorder. Chicagoans loved his improv at Second City, and everyone remembers his films:  CaddyshackGhostbustersStripes and Groundhog Day. Cut down in his prime, like Mr. Hoffman, but this one makes me sad.
Aftermath, Rolling Stones about Valium


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Ebay and Conflict Resolution

Every day, if we stay awake, we learn lessons in all kinds of ways. As in, people are people, no matter where we meet them. But if it feels like a duck. . .Not that people are ducks, but their behaviors can be predictable if you trust your instincts about them.

Ebay, like most other websites,  lets users know what’s going on with their sales by email. It can be annoying, but constant notices are one way to inform sellers and buyers about inquiries, things that might matter or not, and possible fraud. 

When my father passed away a few years ago, he left me a few things that weren't worth all that much. Out out of respect, because he was a business man and he liked to make deals, I made a few myself, sold a few of the items left over from his gift shop on Ebay, that flea market in the sky. It was great fun, in its way, taking pics of the merchandise, listing items to sell, packaging and mailing them off. I got pretty good at it and met a bunch of people. Almost everyone values, to one degree or another, what they buy and sell on Ebay. 

Nowhere close to the end of the inventory, the game got old. My mother needed help moving and adjusting to her new residence, and my job never lets up. When the last of the auctions ended, I didn't notice. The whole chapter was over without fanfare. In retrospect we called it a grief exercise, holding the things he bought but never sold, and selling them. 

When Mom passed away it seemed a good time to pick it up again, if only for a little while. She was in the business, too. So I half-halfheartedly put a few things up for auction, even sold one or two of them, sent well-packaged merchandise to the right addresses and promptly forgot about it all. 
Then last week, well after I thought the game had ended, I received an Ebay notice. The signature Ebay colors, red, blue, orange and green, announced a copy of a past buyer's message, the beginning of a stressful correspondence.  

Let's make JustHondle my Ebay name (to hondle is to bargain, in Yiddish), and the buyer's store name Rick3456711. In conversation I become "Lee," and the fictional buyer, "Richard Smith." Richard ostensibly bought a Pentax camera with two lenses, but there is no Pentax camera and in reality, no "Richard Smith" ever corresponded with me on Ebay or anywhere else.

Ebay email starts things off. Had I logged into my Ebay account that day, it would have been a "message".
Subject: From Rick3456711 about your Pentax camera, two lenses #99988888777
Dear JustHondle,
Hello. On December 20, 2013, the post office left a notice at my door to pick up a package. I missed the delivery. When I got there they couldn't find the package you sent me. Did you send with a signature request ?
Sincerely, Richard Smith - Rick3456711
This means that I have to check my files, because I don't really remember much about this. Data in hand I write back:
Dear Richard,
Yes I sent the camera with a signature request. Attached are photos of the tracking info and the signature confirmation. Are you sure you didn't get the camera? I assumed you did since it has been six weeks, no word to the contrary. Most buyers would have complained by now!

Lee at - JustHondle 
Richard is very specific about this and is flipping the problem back to me in no uncertain terms. He doesn't have a systems grasp, that it takes two to tango.
Dear Lee at JustHondle,

I have not received the camera or the lenses, and I paid for them on PayPal. You have the money, but I have no goods. I checked at the Post Office and am told they tried to deliver it, but I wasn’t home and you required a signature. Attempts at Post Office to retrieve the package were negative and the people there suggested it may have been returned to you. Time has gone by! Now you say it was not returned to you. Please take care of this.
Here is the direct contact phone number to the Post Office in MadeUpTown, Iowa 555-999- 5555. I suggest calling early in the morning.
- Rick3456711
A hassle, for sure, but I call as he suggests and have a very good experience. I write him immediately.
Dear  Rick ,

Wow, they are nice over there in Iowa! A representative tells me said that the search is on, they are aware of the situation, and that she, personally, is invested in finding the package. If she does, she will deliver it directly to you. If she doesn't, I am supposed to complain to USPS and then they take it from there. I’m pretty sure I didn’t insure it, unfortunately. It wasn't worth much to me and I was confident it would arrive in one piece. I packed it very nicely. So maybe we’ll get a nice apology from the government.

I'll keep you in the loop,

 at - JustHondle 
He didn't see it quite that way, positive. 
Dear Lee at JustHondle,

Then you're not sending me my money? That's it?!
- Rick3456711 
Before I can reply, Ebay relays information to me that Rick has left negative feedback on my Ebay seller account for the world to see.  JustHondle has been dinged, which is never a good thing, even if a person doesn't make a living off of the sales. Negative feedback is not cool, a no-no in Ebay culture, especially while in the negotiations stage. Feedback is always supposed to be positive and informative. Sellers and buyers are supposed to work things out to make it so.

A quick look at PayPal and I learn that Rick's financial issue is beyond the time frame to make a formal complaint over there. The case is well past the 30 day resolution deadline. This is why he has probably taken to the dark side with negative feedback on Ebay. 

Being a people-pleaser, this turn of events has upset me very much, especially because I take the customer is always right very seriously. But he's got me going now with his cultural impropriety, has hurt my feelings. So I push back.
Dear Rick ,

I'm very disappointed that you would give me negative feedback without first trying to work this out with me. This isn’t how it is supposed to go, not until all efforts to rectify the situation have been tried and failed. Then, when all else fails, maybe. Maybe then, negative feedback.
I sent this camera and the extra lenses well over a month ago, and this is the first I'm hearing about a problem. I would gladly have discussed ways to negotiate a solution, probably would have offered to refund you the money, even if the post office search turned up nothing. But I'm not in that kind of mood anymore because of the aggressive nature of your response. 
In case you are new to Ebay, the fun is not only in the sale for all of us, it is in the relationships. One man’s silver is another man’s gold. We find value in what we have because others see value in it. The stories of how we acquire the merchandise, how it is appraised, etc., are rich, interesting, and the problem solving, even about lost or broken merchandise can be fun, too.We always seem to find ourselves chatting with one another about our lives at some point.
You make it sound as if I intentionally cheated you. (See Rick's feedback below). 

Just so you should know, negative feedback can go both ways.
-  JustHondle 
He is contrite, or at least reconsiders, and is no stranger to negative feedback.
Dear Lee at JustHondle,
You can request feedback revision on Ebay. You have to request it for me to change it.
Sincerely, Richard  - Rick3456711 
It did look as if he would revise his negative review. But then,
Dear JustHondle ,

I don’t want to revise the feedback until I am paid. It is really too bad that the camera means nothing to you. It means a lot to me, and so does the 25 dollars I paid for it. If you don’t have it, it is probably lost. This is a long saga with the Post Office. They searched for quite some time before you even called. So another search isn’t going to be productive.
What I want to know is when you will refund my money. Don’t you think you should? 
Sincerely, Richard Smith - Rick3456711 
Now I am thinking: Who has time for this? And, he is holding my Ebay name hostage. Wanting it to be over I write:
Dear Richard,

This is what I propose. I will call the post office again tomorrow and ask that they send the camera back to me, assuming they find it, that they not deliver it to you.
Then, after they assure me that it will be returned to me and not to you, assuming it is ever found, I'll refund your money whether they find it or not. Sound fair? I honestly don't care about this camera.

 - JustHondle 
He is pleased with this solution. 
 Dear Lee ,
Thank you.  I had really hoped the post office already returned it to you and that you would be sending it back to me. The worst part, though.You know what this means? There’s a thief at my Post Office!    -Rick
A day goes by. I forgot to call the post office. But I hear from Rick again.
Dear  JustHondle ,

I revised the feedback. Don’t refund my money or pursue this anymore. I’m really embarrassed, and with egg on my face, apologize for everything and the inconvenience I may have caused you.
I just found the camera. My memory is slipping lately. I'm really not so young anymore, is the truth. Again I apologize,
Sincerely, Richard Smith
 - Rick3456711 
Well, I'll be.  
Dear Rick,
Wow. Your apology brought tears to my eyes, naturally, everything does, but it is another crazy Ebay story! I'm not so young that I don’t forget things, too, misplace them, think someone broke in and stole the ring, the watch, whatever. Meanwhile, I hide it from myself.

I thought about what my late father would have done under the circumstances, since it was his camera. He sold coins on Ebay well into his late eighties. I wasn't sure if he would just refund your money or not, feeling badly for a fellow camera enthusiast who needed the $25. Or maybe he would want to refund only half the money. He might have returned negative feedback with more negative feedback, which, although I considered it, I probably wouldn't have done. It doesn't matter any more.
I always love a happy ending, don't you? Wipe off the egg and forget about it.
He's not finished. He wants a heads up before I sell anything else on Ebay.
But that's not happening. This conversation is over.
Dear JustHondle,
Rick3456711 has revised your Feedback for Pentax vintage camera, two lenses.
Original Feedback rating (2-February-2014):  Negative Original comment:  Mailed with signature needed, and I wasn't home when the mailman arrived. The post office hasn’t got it, but recorded 0 weight. Really!?  
Revised Feedback rating (4-February-2014):  Positive Revised comment:   Good sellers, honest, great deal. You can trust them!  

If you have an Ebay story, would you share it with me? Or leave it in the comments, that’s fine.


Friday, February 14, 2014


It isn't everyday that Amazon makes you feel your opinion matters. Well, actually it is.

Yesterday's reach out was about a pilot for a new show, Jill Soloway's Transparent. I think because I watched three and a half seasons of past Parenthood within six months, the robots assumed I would like it.

Who wouldn't? The selling points are (a) this is a family in Los Angeles; (b) the family is enmeshed, has terrible boundaries; and (c) there is no (c).

I assumed it would be about transgender issues, a welcome change, no pun intended, and got that right. Had the show lived up to it, and maybe it will in the future, I would have raved. The transgendered people I see in my practice hurt from our cultural lack of understanding, and they have the same needs and wants as everyone else. Feeling accepted is an impossible dream in "ordinary" social circles.

And it is very hard, seriously, to be a woman trapped in a man's body, wanting to shop, wanting to talk girl talk about hair and shoes and make-up. People don't understand, but they should.

But in the pilot, nothing beyond a difficult coming out, which is important, of course. Yet what sticks out? What cheapens the show? The lack of clothing, a transparency. First scene, gratuitous, nudity. Josh (Jay Duplass) wakes up a bit before his wife, or paramour, we're not sure. Feeling frisky, he tickles her breasts with a corner of the sheet. We see all of her lovely chest, a surprise, maybe it shouldn't be. She finds Josh's stinky breath to be stinky, but delightful. Meanwhile we see skin that maybe we didn't want to see, and a lot of it.
Jeffrey Tambor in Transparent

The queen in the closet, Mort (Jeffrey Tambor, brilliant as usual) is Josh's dad. Josh has two sisters: the seemingly "normal" one, Sarah (Amy Landecker), and the depressive, Ali (Gaby Hoffman). This is an engaging ensemble, add to the four the wonderful Judith Light as Mort's ex-wife, ministering to her second husband with Alzheimer's. Those are the types of scenes we're looking for, some of us.

And yet. I'm glad I didn't switch to Netflix (House of Cards is promising, and there's always Freaks and Geeks), a natural inclination for some of us when the camera just can't let go of the flesh. Transparent is a title of multiple meanings, physical and psychological transparency will become thematic, no doubt. Clothes can't hide the man, the woman. Ali, one of the three sibs hates her body and stares at herself nude (naturally) in a full-length mirror. She hires an abusive trainer to help her reach her goals, better arms, for one. Is this necessary, seeing every inch of Gaby Hoffman? We see all of her; she sees flabby arms. Apparently it is.

The coming out process is presented as difficult, as it often is, and handled skillfully. When it \finally happens, we see it coming. We're sure that Mort, in full dress, will walk in on Sarah and an old girlfriend who are kissing in his bedroom. He isn't the only one outed. If only it were that easy.

All of this has great potential, really, if the psychological conflict rises to the top, not the sex. Transparent hints that this will be the case. The group therapy scene in particular is so well done. But as is, there's no way I'll be back any time soon.

Sorry Amazon. Three stars. Should have been five.