Saturday, October 10, 2009

Final Chapter – Thrombosis Summer . . .

Venter’s Note:
Do I really have to say it? If you’re reading Final Chapter without reading the preceding three parts, then you should scroll down. Or perhaps you’ve arrived here accidentally, after Googling “sound of neurons firing” or John Spencer.

Either way, enjoy.

Thrombosis Hostage Crisis, Day 3.

I haven’t mentioned my hospital roommate, a man about my age with severe abdominal discomfort. He arrived a few hours after I did, after a much longer, much more uncomfortable stay in the ER. Diverticulitis, I heard a nurse mention, a condition I’m slightly familiar with because of my mother-in-law (she suffers from it; she doesn’t cause it).

I knew there was little chance I’d keep the two-bed room to myself, and while a bunkie with gastrointestinal issues wasn’t ideal, it beat the other selections I could have received. However, his arrival did make me regret the nurses’ decision to drop me in the bed next to the bathroom. Fortunately, his liquid diet made that concern moot.

As the sun rose on the third morning of my confinement, nine-tenths of me felt great. Thanks to a little assistance from the pharmaceutical industry and the kindness of my doctor (who I believe felt a bit guilty at proclaiming me healthy 72 hours before my admittance), I’d enjoyed a good night’s sleep, without any morning-after grogginess or the desire to drive or operate heavy machinery. Relief, thy name is Ambien.

And right after I woke, in came Ambien’s sweeter sister, Oxycontin, whose acquaintance I was always pleased to make.

My half of the room was quiet. While I waited for my wife to make her morning coffee delivery, I finished off the last few chapters of a novel with MSNBC on in the background. Over by the windows though, things were popping.

My roommate was being released, after promising to replace the bowl of mixed nuts next to his recliner with something less digestively aggravating. It was a happy day for half the room, less so next to the shitter.

When Rhonda arrived with my cup o’ Joe, I was deeply engaged in a Cosmic hissy, unfit company for anyone I might want to maintain a relationship with in the future. I didn’t want company. I didn’t want sympathy. I just wanted to pack.

I did, however, take the coffee.

Rhonda knew when to leave the grumpy man alone, and once she left, I spent the rest of the morning fiddling around online (the hospital had a wireless network, miracle of miracles) and bemoaning my captivity. After a noontime discussion with the dietician (during which I maintained that Caffeine-Free Diet Coke was called Caffeine-Free Diet Coke because of the lack of caffeine), I was visited again by the Ghost of Thrombosis Past.

The vascular specialist appeared pushing a cart carrying what looked like an Xbox. Sadly, his mechanical companion was a sonogram, so it was up with the gown, down with the shorts and let’s take a look at Steve’s circulatory system.

Dr. Veiny wasn’t stingy like the ER technician. He turned the device around so I could see the display, and explained what was on the screen. I’ll admit to a bit of queasiness at the sight of my insides, and I jumped when he pointed to an opening the size of the Holland Tunnel and said, “There’s the main vein that runs through your leg.”
If that was the route the clot would take to my heart, I figured I was a dead man. That passage was wide enough for a Volkswagen. Thankfully, Dr. Veiny only waited a moment before proceeding to explain the concept of magnification.

He swished the probe around my calf for another ten minutes, pointing out landmarks and describing blood flow (or lack thereof). In the end, Dr. Veiny concluded that my main vein was not the source of my problem (welcome words to any man), and explained the clot was lodged in a superficial vein. Serious? Yes, but not immediately life threatening. If that pesky clot wanted a trip to my pump, it’d need GPS and a couple of tanks of gas to get there.

We had to wait an hour for my doctor to confirm the updated diagnosis, but once he did, I got the best news of the week. No more IVs. No more shots. No more illegal coffee imports.

I was going home.

After the initial euphoria wore off, I was worried. My leg felt no better than it had when I was admitted. If anything, it hurt worse. It certainly looked worse. My dashing pinstripe had become a topographical map of the Andes, and the swelling had Bob Evans chefs camped outside my door, rolls of sausage casings at the ready. Hospital discharge presupposed a cure, didn’t it? If so, then somebody had some ‘splaining to do.

Relief took another week of rest. I spent the next seven days parked in my favorite chair, venturing out only once for a compression sock fitting (prescription, knee-high panty hose for the uninitiated). By my eighth day at home, I could manage to walk from the living room to the bathroom without tears or swearing. A week after that, an eight hour bookstore shift didn’t have me crying for my mama. By Independence Day, things were pretty much back to normal.

But “normal” is a relative term.

I’m constantly aware of that traitorous spot on my calf. I monitor it as I monitor my kids, vigilante for any deviations from the norm. I break out in cold sweats after every twinge. I assume the clot is gone (according to follow-ups with Dr. Veiny, it is), but the possibility of a recurrence keeps me awake at night.

No one can tell me what caused it. Theories? Sure. Weight, age, standing, sitting, walking too much, walking too little, smoking, and the option that made every M.D. I encountered nod and say “Ahhh”: Air travel. Quite a list, with no way to identify the actual trigger, all “ahhhs” aside. If it were up to me, I’d check the box for air travel and never step on a plane again, but Disney’s too far a drive.

And if another clot forms, I’m very uncomfortable about the whole “dropping dead as a warning sign” scenario. I want a monitor, or a beeper, or some kind of device to let me know when the ClotCom threat level rises. My doctor suggests I undergo a procedure to remove the incompetent vein responsible for my summertime blues, but his description of the operation sounds like something one of my Horrorfind friends came up with, and –what’s worse- he wants to do it in his office, using a local anesthetic.

I’m assuming the local is for him, since no one is ever taking a knife to me while I’m awake.

I’ll stick with my sock, thanks.

But Then Again, You’ll Have This . . .

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Thrombosis Summer 3

Venter’s Note:
If you haven’t read Thrombosis Summer Part One or Thrombosis Summer, Part Deux, I’d recommend scrolling down a bit or clicking here to get caught up.

My third visitor in the ER treatment room arrived pushing a sonogram machine, a piece of equipment I recognized from my wives’ pregnancies. At first, I was confused, but once the technician lathered enough KY on my affected leg to supply a porno flick, I understood her intention.

After twenty minutes of “mmm-hmmm’s” and scrunchy faces, I understood exactly nothing more. The young woman repeatedly attacking my injured leg with the hard, plastic probe obviously knew what she was looking for, and -once she found it- what it was, but she wasn’t sharing. When I could unclench my jaw enough to speak, I asked if she had found anything interesting.


Scrunchy face.

Eventually, the woman rolled her medieval torture device away and the attending physician rolled in. “Well, Mr. Lukac,” he said. “We believe you have a deep vein thrombosis and that it may be infected.”

I had no idea what a thrombosis was, but I sure as hell understood infected. That part made sense; it explained the angry racing stripe decorating my shin. I breathed a bit easier, mentally calculating the co-payments necessary to fill the regimen of antibiotics I figured was coming.

But Doctor Thrombosis wasn’t finished. “So, once they have a room ready, we’ll be moving you upstairs. In the meantime, we’re going to start an IV to get that infection under control.”

Upstairs? A room upstairs? Wait a minute . . .

“I’m being admitted?” I asked, waiting for the punch line. “What the hell is a thrombosis anyway?”

“It’s a blood clot,” he said. He continued with a lot of technical, medical mumbo-jumbo, but I was still focused on “upstairs” and “a room,” and interrupted with a carefully thought out list of objections.

Why was I being admitted? Give me a pill. Give me a shot (an option I would never request under normal circumstances, but a needle or two was infinitely more desirable than whatever waited “upstairs”). Get the laser beam or the sonic blaster. Call Doctor McCoy on the communicator and have him wave the Tricorder whosie-whatsit around for a few minutes. Get Dr. McDreamy or Dr. Carter or Marcus Welby, M-freaking-D down here, but for God’s sake, do not make me go “upstairs.”

Now I know what my face must look like when I’m explaining to a customer that we can’t look books up by color.

While my wife and daughter headed home to gather supplies for my unexpected stay, a nurse installed an IV tap in my left arm. I’m not a fan of needles, but she was fast and skilled, so my discomfort was minimal. On her way out of the room, she passed another nurse on her way in.

“I need to give you a shot,” Nurse Number Two said. “The Doctor’s ordered a blood thinner.”

I held up my newly bionic arm, but the nurse shook her head. “Fine,” I said, offering the other arm. The nurse shook her head again.

“I have to give you this injection in your stomach.”

Goodbye thrombosis, hello panic attack. I said, “Then you’d better go get a lot more nurses.”

Nurse Number Two thought that was hilarious, but I was serious. God knows I put a lot of things in my stomach that have no business being there, but at least I use the traditional route to get it there. What Nurse Number Two proposed was an affront to all things natural, and I wasn’t submitting without a fight, or at least, an argument.

Then, I thought about my youngest son.

Zack’s been diabetic for seven years. For six years, eleven months and fourteen days, he’s given himself several insulin injections a day -something I know my teenaged self couldn’t have managed-, and I felt ashamed. I badger my son constantly about managing his condition, and here I lay, freaking out about a procedure designed to help me. I knew what a subcutaneous needle looked like; it’s a tiny thing, less than an inch long. I’m a man. I could handle this.

I swallowed my cowardice and lifted my gown. Bring it on, I thought. I can take it.

The nurse roared, “There can be only one!” and pulled a syringe the size of Excalibur from a scabbard strapped to her waist. Before I could react, Nurse Kurgan impaled my abdomen with a medieval weapon designed to eviscerate and inserted a slab of magma into my flabby gut.

Suddenly, a blood clot didn’t seem so bad.

Soon my family returned and I was eventually moved to a semi-private room on the hospital’s top floor. I considered recounting the horror I’d endured in their absence, but the Kurgan kept hovering outside the door, and I didn’t want to incur her wrath, especially without a MacCloud around for protection.

I’ll dispense with the standard, clichés regarding modern health care because –regardless of their potential humor- I found most of them to be untrue. My caregivers were kind professionals, willing to bend a rule or two to make me comfortable. Patients’ diets are categorized by condition, and since there was no “Thrombosis” classification, I was placed on a Heart Healthy program. That made some sense, because my blood was the problem, and blood comes from the heart. Okey dokey; bring on the boiled chicken.

I quickly found out that one of the no-nos of the Heart Healthy program was caffeine. Again, okey dokey, now get me a cup of coffee.

“Coffee contains caffeine,” I was told by the dietician with the electronic Deal-A-Meal dispenser.

“No shit,” says I. “Make it two cups.”

Here’s where the kindness of nurses comes in. Every evening, my night nurse would stick her head in the door and ask if I wanted a taste of that sweet, forbidden Colombian brown, and every evening I’d smile and nod like a good addict and my connection would hook me up. Maybe their compassion came from pragmatism rather than sympathy (after all, they wouldn’t want a Folgers deprived maniac limping around their halls, stealing Maxwell House from patient’s dinner trays), but I didn’t care as long as I got my fix.

For the mornings? Let’s just say “Thank God for text messaging,” and leave it at that. Even my wife, a drill sergeant when it came to everything else thrombosis related, knew better than to deny me coffee.

On Day 2, my personal physician came a’ calling, he who had one week earlier delivered my clean bill of health with much surprise and great rejoicing. “See what happens when you visit the doctor like you’re supposed to?” he said. I warned him not to expect to see me in his office again anytime soon, and we got down to business.

He confirmed the ER’s diagnosis of a blood clot, but seemed skeptical of its location.

“What’s the difference?” I asked. He explained that a deep vein thrombosis, if that’s what I had, was more serious than a clot in a superficial vein.

I asked how I would know if the clot –regardless of its variety- dislodged. Doc smiled and said, “Dropping dead would be the first sign.”


He skimmed through the pages on my chart, his frown deepening with every flip. When he finished reading, he announced his intention to change my treatment regimen. No more shots in the stomach, he said. If I could have walked, I’d have crossed the room and kissed him full on the mouth. I settled for a small round of applause.

He also told me he was bringing in a vascular specialist to examine my leg again, and a hematologist to test for any rare and exotic conditions that might have caused the clot to form. I reminded him of my seemingly worthless Multiphasic tests, but he said the hematologist’s screening would be more thorough.

He failed to mention the amount of blood necessary to complete these tests.

Later that afternoon, a pair of phlebotomists appeared at my bedside, carrying a plastic tackle box filled with specimen tubes. The man was younger than my sons; the woman was probably my age. While the woman pulled a twelve-pack of empties from her tackle box, the kid examined my arms, both of which now sported active IVs (another omission from my doctor: the price I paid for a needle-free belly).

“How about here?” he asked his partner, indicating a spot on the back of my hand.

“That ought to work,” she said.

“Time out,” said the fat guy with the clot in his leg. I’d been a pretty good sport so far (not really), but here was my line in the sand. There were already plenty of holes in my arms; let them re-use one of those, rather than drilling fresh ones. And, it quickly became obvious the kid was a student, inexperienced in drawing blood from big babies masquerading as mature adults.

This young man had the delicate touch of an Ax Man, digging around my circulatory system like a plumber trying to clear a recalcitrant drain trap. My eyes were closed, so I had no idea how many liters he’d drained when he suddenly said, “Oops.”

Oops is not a word you want to hear when a teenager is attempting to reenact the Crucifixion in a semi-private hospital room.

“It stopped,” he said.

My eyes opened, I turned my head and screamed, “Of course it stopped! Y’all are gonna have to come back later after I have a chance to refill.”

Mercifully, the woman shooed her protégé out of the room with instructions to tap the veins of some unsuspecting, unconscious senior citizen, and topped off my keg herself.

Now, while I understand the need for real-world experience in an educational situation, I don’t like trainees touching my Big Macs. I’m OK with the occasional newbie-prepared French fries, but if you’re touching me with something sharp, you’d better have a diploma hanging on an office wall and some serious malpractice insurance.

Eventually, the senior Cullen finished her exsanguination and pranced away to deliver my offering to the rest of her Clan. Except for a quick visit from the vascular specialist who promised a new round of sonograms the following day, I was left alone in my captivity for the rest of the afternoon.

And through it all, my leg continued to throb in agony and the red racing stripe threatened to expand into an all-encompassing paint job.

But Then Again, You’ll Have This . . .

To be continued

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Thrombosis Summer, Part Deux . . .

Venter’s Note:
If you haven’t read Thrombosis Summer Part One, I’d recommend scrolling down a bit or clicking here to get caught up.

The night after my doctor’s appointment, I went to bed more relaxed than I had been in a while. There was something comforting about all my tests coming back positive. For the first time in years, I went to sleep without the niggling fear that I might not wake up the next day.

Good night. Sleep Tight. And pleasant dreams to me.

The next morning, I woke up with a cramp in my right leg. Nothing too severe; I walked it off by the time I made it to the bathroom, where my fully functioning (according to medical science) kidneys performed as advertised. I limped back to the bedroom for another hour of shuteye, feeling my calf muscle loosen with every step.

A typical Friday morning.

Once I made it to the store, I reported my doctor’s findings to my co-workers, relishing their stunned looks as I recited my passing scores. I finished my account with the ominous prediction that, “Now, I’ll either get hit by a bus, or have a heart attack.”

I was only joking at the time, but I should have never spoken those words aloud. We cynics know the danger of putting ideas into the universe’s mind. You never –ever- utter the words “it can’t get any worse” because the entity in charge of making things worse sees that as a challenge, and immediately rearranges the cosmos in order to prove you wrong.

Don’t believe me? Consider yourself lucky.

On Saturday morning, I awoke with another cramp. Same leg, same spot. Same trip to and from the bathroom. Same result. Except…

The cramp didn’t go away as quickly, and I felt the ghost of its discomfort long after it should have dissipated. Throughout the day, I’d notice the cramp threatening to return, only to have it vanish once it saw I was paying attention. ‘Twas a sneaky little thing, this recurrent cramp.

On Sunday, I had made my morning foray to the porcelain oasis and back before noticing the cramp in my leg had taken the day off. My amazement at discovering a malady that observed the Sabbath was followed by the realization that my yard was quickly becoming a tropical forest. After a pot of coffee and a bagel (my half-hearted paean to continued cardiovascular health), I fired up the mower and attacked the two-thirds acre lot surrounding our house.

Just as the cramp had intended.

By the time I finished, the cramp was back, making me pay for my morning comfort. It laughed as I hobbled around the living room. It roared as I attempted to thwart it with a heating pad. It called its friends and invited them over to see how easily it had crippled the fat forty-six year-old with a clean bill of health.

I put on a brave face for my wife and daughter, refusing to let them see the amount of pain I was in. Had it not been for my photocopied test results, I might have been worried, but I had a paper testifying to my physical fitness. I even tried using the doctor’s report as an exorcism tool, but the cramp ignored it and clamped down harder as punishment for my insolence.

Monday started out fine, but only because the cramp didn’t have to wake up as early as I did. It didn’t have to clock in until noon, while I had to be at work by eight. But, by the time both of Mickey’s hands pointed to twelve, the cramp was on the job, making my every motion a new adventure in pain. I also discovered the cramp didn’t mind a little overtime, plying its trade long after the rest of the world had called it a day.

Monday night was the first time my wife mentioned the idea of going to the hospital, a suggestion I vetoed without any consideration. “It’s a cramp,” I told her. “It’s a sneaky bitch, but that’s all it is. I’ll be fine in a couple of days.” That was for the benefit of both Rhonda and the cramp. I figured if it knew I was considering medical options for its annihilation, it might decide to move on.

My wife remained undeterred. On Tuesday evening, after enduring another day of excruciating pain, 
Rhonda informed me that if things hadn’t improved by the time she came home Wednesday, we were going to the Emergency Room. “Emergency Schmergency,” I said. It’s been my experience that a visit to the ER results in only two things: A hundred dollar insurance co-pay and a prescription for medication only slightly more powerful than what’s available over the counter. Plus, there’s the added aggravation of mingling with the great unwashed and uninsured who treat the emergency room as a free clinic.

Huh-uh. Not for me.

Wednesday morning dawned with a kiss from my wife and a promise to call her with regular updates as to the condition of my leg. I rolled over and went back to sleep, confident that a few more hours of slumber would leave me refreshed and healed.

The cramp had other ideas.

I finally rolled out of bed and continued rolling until I hit the floor. The dog and I were equally startled by my impromptu gymnastics. The floor was usually her domain, and while she might have appreciated the company, I was more concerned with my right leg’s inability to support me.

The swelling and red racing stripe running down the middle of my shin didn’t make me feel any better.

I hobbled to the bathroom, did a one-legged potty jig, hopped down to the living room and collapsed into my recliner, where I could better examine my ailing appendage. Now, I’m not a doctor, but my cursory inspection left me with one inescapable conclusion: This wasn’t good. This was so beyond good I was tempted to call 911 and request that Randy Mantooth and Kevin Tighe roll out of Rampart with a six-pack of IV with Ringers.


Instead, I called Rhonda and suggested she might want to investigate the possibility of leaving work early to cart my “medically verified as healthy” ass to the ER. She received my request for transport with the same incredulity she exhibited when I reported the results of my blood work; to her mind, if I was asking to go to the hospital –despite my assurances to the contrary- there was probably blood flowing from every orifice I possessed.

She made it home within an hour.

I showed her my leg. She made that scrunchy face that usually only appears when I do my nekkid sexy dance (but this time there was no laughter) and hustled me out to the car. What did I think was wrong? she asked as we traveled. “There can’t be anything wrong,” I said. “I’ve got a clean bill of health.”

The triage nurse wasn’t impressed.

Mercifully, the ER was relatively empty when we arrived, probably due to the fact that the local Jerry Springer/Maury Povich programming block was in full swing (“Hold this paper towel over that cut till Mama finds out if Jerome is the Baby Daddy. Then I’ll take you to the hospital. And while you’re in there, get me another Klondike Bar.”).

After I provided the requisite personal data and insurance information, the nurse asked the reason for my visit. Because I had been smart enough to wear shorts, I merely pointed at my leg. As a professional, she managed to partially mask her reaction, but I know a scrunchy face when I see one, and I hadn’t even attempted my nekkid sexy dance.

No three hour wait for Steve and his amazing sausage leg with the NASCAR racing stripe. I was stripped, gowned and lying in an examination room within ten minutes of walking (or hobbling) into the hospital. The attending physician was the first visitor of the day to enter the room and make “mmm-hmmm” noises while perfectly imitating my wife’s scrunchy face. Unfortunately, “mmm-hmmm” was all the information any of them were willing to share.

Visitor number two came bearing a tackle box filled with little glass tubes. I balked at this, explaining I had recently completed a comprehensive blood test, the results of which were lying on my kitchen counter. The phlebotomist didn’t seem to care. She had jugs to fill, and I was the tap.

By the end of the hour, I was a freaking spigot, and nobody had even examined my leg yet. But, I could hear the cramp laughing.

But Then Again, You’ll Have This . . .

To be continued…

Sunday, August 02, 2009

It's August . . .

So there's a new Vent at Horror World.

So, get to clickin'.

But Then Again, You'll Have This . . .

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Thrombosis Summer, Part One . . .

It started with a cramp.

No, no, no. That’s not true. It actually started much earlier.

It started with a kidnapping.

Every year, my parents avail themselves of the Multiphasic Blood Screening sponsored by the local Rotary Club. What this entails is twelve hours of Friday night fasting, followed by an early Saturday morning wake-up call. Then, a pilgrimage to the Methodist Church basement, where a flock of phlebotomists wait to drain the masses, followed by coffee and doughnuts.

This year, I was told I’d be participating as well. This wasn’t a request, although I thought I’d moved beyond the age where my parents could dictate my behavior. When I mentioned this belief, my father laughed (in the same manner he had when I was a teenager), and told me where to be and when.

And dammit, I listened.

After a fair amount of pouting over my apparent lack of self-determination, I realized the screening probably wasn’t a bad idea. I don’t take proper care of myself; the inner tube that passes as my waistline attests to this. I had visions of post-testing medications, and suddenly paid closer attention to Crestor and Lipitor commercials. I considered the possibility of local restaurants receiving my photograph attached to a warning reading “DO NOT SERVE THIS MAN!” I concocted all sorts of circumstances that might result from a comprehensive analysis of my blood, and a fast-food restriction was the best-case scenario.

But I went anyway.

I endured the requisite fasting and woke at the appointed hour, only to find my parents’ car parked in our driveway. It turns out Mom and Dad had chosen to disregard my past thirty years of responsible conduct and escort me to the church basement. My disdain wasn’t very convincing; I’d actually considered the ruse their arrival prevented.

When we arrived, the Rotary volunteer asked me which tests I wanted.

“Um, the blood test?” I said.

Her answering smile reminded me of the expression I exhibit when confronted with a customer’s request for a book “by that guy who’s on that show.” I was hip-deep in a karmic ass biting, and stared blankly at the menu of testing options offered.

As always, my father came to my rescue. “He’ll have the Multiphasic and the PSA,” he said.

“Right. Multiphasic and PSA,’ I said, adding, “And an order of fries.”

Nobody laughed. The Methodist Church basement was a tough room.

The next step was to complete a card with our physician’s name and address. While we filled in the blanks, I asked Dad, “What’s a PSA?”

“Prostate screening,” he said.

“Prostate screening? Nobody said anything about a prostate examination.” I looked for an exit. “I didn’t come prepared for a prostate exam.”

“It’s a blood test, dumb ass,” my father said. Then, he chuckled and asked, “Exactly how do you prepare for a prostate exam?”

I went back to my card.

Blood was drawn. Jokes were made. Breakfast followed. Ordeal, completed.

Yeah, like things are ever that simple.

A few weeks later, I received a call from my doctor’s office. He’d received my blood test results and wanted me to come in to discuss them. I made the appointment and spent the intervening time dreading it. Farewell red meat. Adieu burgers. Ta-ta tacos. Hello soy and tofu and bean sprouts and rabbit food and low fat, no fat, no taste hell. The image in my mirror guaranteed it. I was a middle-aged fat man with the caloric intake and nutritional ignorance of a drunken frat boy, and I was about to pay the price for years of indulgence.

And, I mused, that was if I was lucky.

There were other –darker- fears at work. I worried about conversations that began with the phrase, “Mr. Lukac, six months is a lot of time if you use it right.” I reviewed our finances. I double-checked the terms of my life insurance. I completed an outline of Oogie Boogie Breakdown in case someone else had to complete the manuscript.

I put my house in order.

My anxiety was apparent when I arrived at my appointment. My doctor laughed when he saw my expression and handed me the report. Then, he explained it.

Good cholesterol? High. Bad cholesterol? Low. Potassium, iodine, white cells, red cells, blood sugar, English, math, science, etc.? All within the acceptable norms. In short, I held in my hands a clean bill of health.

Hallelujah! I ran out of the office and flooded the cellular system with the news of my surprising wellbeing. My wife, my children and my parents all responded to my declaration of fitness with identical reserved enthusiasm, but only my mother asked if I had a copy of the results to back up my claim.

I’d anticipated the skepticism and had a Xerox tucked into my briefcase.

I sat in the car for a while before heading home. No one was more astonished than I was. I won’t say I offered up a prayer of thanks, but I managed a spiritual fist-bump, grateful for the news I’d just received.

It felt like the end of a thirty-month rollercoaster ride that began when my family and I escaped the foul, dank pit that had been our home for eleven years. I’ve never shared the story of our extended exodus from a rented duplex to a house of our own because some horrors are too gruesome for publication. However, I will say that the second half of my life will always fall into one of two epochs: Before we moved out of the moldy rental with even moldier neighbors, and after.

After our move, my wife and I stabilized our finances, rediscovered our relationship and enjoyed the too-often ignored simple pleasures of staying at home (having the goofy Gestapo next door will do that to you). Now, with proof of my health firmly in hand, I felt as if I had accomplished everything I needed to in order to relish my continued existence.

I said so to a co-worker the next day when she asked how my appointment went. In fact, I said, “I’m the healthiest, forty-six year-old fat man I know.” I even posted the quote on my Twitter.

What I didn’t Tweet was what I said next: “With my luck, I’ll probably step off the curb and get hit by a bus. Or, have a heart attack.”

If only I had known.

But Then Again, You’ll Have This…

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

If you're still on the fence . . .

About picking up Oogie Boogie Central and Oogie Boogie Bounce, then Delirium has a deal for you.

Head to Horror Mall for a Buy One, Get One Free sale, and buy both!


Wednesday, April 01, 2009

It's April . . .

. . . so there's a new Vent on Horror World.

Go here for a peek.

But Then Again, You'll Have This . . .

Saturday, February 14, 2009

For February 12th . . .

I almost forgot.

Of course, I never do. It’s not the kind of thing you ever forget. You put it away. You wall it off. You get on with the business of living, occasionally allowing yourself to wonder about the road not taken.

Or, the road closed.

Stephen King did it in Pet Semetary, and for me, it’s the most poignant section of prose I’ve ever encountered. Gage graduates high school. Gage wins a gold medal. Gage finds that special girl. But most of all, Gage lives. It’s a waking dream to combat the horror of reality, but all it does is accentuate it.

And while King’s laying down his beat, I’m at a table in the back of the bar, snapping my fingers in time with his rhythm. Yeah man, I can dig it.

Would I trade you for your younger brother? For your sister? It’s a futile, hypothetical mental exercise, but don’t kid yourself, it’s the price of playing coulda, woulda, shoulda.

Change one thing, and you change them all. That’s the bargain science fiction writers rarely consider when they weave their tales of time travel and parallel universes. Step on a butterfly in the Crustacean era and suddenly dinosaurs are the dominant species millions of years later? That’s good drama for the second act, but it isn’t what needs addressed.

The difference of one chromosome prevents the life that follows in its malformed wake. The union that thrives instead of failing negates the issue of the union that replaces it. And in a paroxysm of causality never imagined by the Madison Avenue executive responsible for “and they told two friends,” an entire generation of lives are altered.

For good, or for ill? Who can say? The only certainty is that tragedy and triumph will occur in equal measure, all because of one life.

That’s the cost of “If only,” the fee hidden in the fine print, down near the bottom of the contract, buried in pages and pages of affidavits, declarations and disclosures. If you took the time to read each and every word, would you still sign?

Would you?

Thankfully, the universe doesn’t work that way. There are days when I’d scribble my name without a second thought, just for the opportunity of having the last twenty-two years back. Then, there are days when introspection reigns, and I torture myself with the hypothetical repercussions of impossible choices and improbable miracles. Is my pain, so far removed by the passage of time, more or less valid than the pain of another? Is the life –and lives- I’ve created in the aftermath more or less deserving than the one I lost?

The permutations can make you crazy. Some might say they already have.

Happy Birthday Alexander. Daddy loves you.

But Then Again, You’ll Have This . . .

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Heinlein Principle . . .

Before we start, allow me a brief, Science Fiction fan digression.

Many authors create coherent universes in the course of their novels. Stephen King has tied nearly every piece of his fiction into the Dark Tower Mythos, even if it was done as an afterthought through some very creative, retroactive continuity tinkering. Brian Keene has done this as well; his Magnum Opus will be the often-mentioned Labyrinth. Careful readers of both authors (and if you’ve tried one without sampling the other, then shame on you) will recognize characters from previous works in cameo roles, as well as places and events from prior offerings. While these subtle connections reward faithful fans, they’re done in a way that doesn’t send a casual reader into fits of confusion.

And, it’s a cool concept.

I’ve tried to do a similar thing with the Oogie Boogie novels. Lieutenant Ducalion aficionados have noticed an ongoing Whodunit case during the Intermission section of Bounce. This was an intentional inclusion. The scene repeats itself in the as-of-yet unpublished thriller, Legerdemain, a Ducalion solo novel. In fact, I’ve taken the universe-building paradigm one step further: The second half of Bounce takes place entirely during the Intermission section of Legerdemain, and when Ducalion gets back to his own novel, he brings company.

Fans of Keith Pridemore, rejoice.

I realize I’ve segued from a geek moment to a self-referential advertisement, but here’s the meat of this prelude: The collected works of Robert A. Heinlein.

Heinlein didn’t build just one universe; he built a bunch of them. There’s the world of Starship Troopers, where insects threaten humanity’s survival. Then, there’s the universe of Michael Smith in Stranger in a Strange Land, a Christ-like figure with a penchant for cannibalism. There are others as well, but you get the idea.

The crowning achievement, at least to me, was the novel Number of the Beast, which surprisingly had nothing to do with the anti-Christ. The main characters in this book were two married couples (and there were other, familial ties, but I’ll let you discover them on your own) driving a souped-up Ford that allowed them to traverse the parallel dimensions posited by string theory and modern quantum mechanics. Heady stuff, but that’s not the best of it.

Heinlein’s theorem was this: One universe’s fiction was another universe’s reality, which is how the Scarecrow and Tin Woodsman make an appearance in Number of the Beast (God bless Public Domain). There are also extended cameos from other Heinlein characters, most notably Jubal Harshaw from Stranger in a Strange Land, and Lazarus Long from Time Enough for Love.

I’m firmly convinced that the Heinlein Principle is more than a literary conceit.

We all have moments when we’d swear we were on Candid Camera (or Punk’d for you youngsters). When confronted with the asinine and ludicrous, it’s comforting to delude yourself –albeit temporarily- into believing the sources of these inanities do not exist in nature, but are products of the imagination of Alan Funt (or Ashton Kutcher). We look for the camera, and wait for the inevitable Gotcha! when the joke is mercifully exposed.

Most times, I’m still looking and waiting long after the idiots are gone.

Once again, I’m going to take the Principle a step farther. I am hereby declaring, although I have no quantifiable data to support it, that the lives of me and my staff at the bookstore are the basis for the highest rated situation comedy of another universe.

We’ve discussed it at length, and almost all of us agree the hypothesis has merit (as for the few dissenters? Well, every sitcom needs a Frank Burns, doesn’t it?). We’ve considered the cast, debating the order of appearance in the opening credits and fighting over who gets the coveted “With” and “And” credits at the close of the sequence. Like most televised comedies, there are series regulars, recurring characters and a plethora of guest stars and background players, and in keeping with long established storytelling guidelines, each installment has an A and a B story (except for those “very special episodes” that come during sweeps).

And sometimes, if I listen very carefully, I can hear the studio audience laughing.

Some of our recent episodes have been “What Do You Mean Christmas is Next Week?”, “Which Magazine has the Most Nudity”, and “I Want a Refund on Books I Didn’t Get, but I Can’t Remember Which Ones They Were.”

I keep checking the TV Guide, but can’t find our show. That shouldn’t surprise me, given the magazine’s recent decision to eliminate several networks from its programming grid.

The cable company’s electronic listings are no help either. It’s disappointing, but consistent.

Ratings must be good though, considering the constant stream of new performers crossing our stage. When a TV program is constantly over-budget, one of the easiest cost-savings measures is the elimination of guest stars (in case you’re interested, two other budget busters are new sets and location shooting). Advertising revenues aren’t a consideration for our little venture (trust me, our language alone wouldn’t put us anywhere near a broadcast network or basic cable) so we’re totally dependent on subscribers, and when you're talking about multiple universes, that’s a big demographic.

One troubling factor is our lack of payment. I don’t want to go all Truman Show here, but if our number of viewers is anything close to what I’m thinking, then somebody owes us a check. I’d ask my agent, but he must be a denizen of the same reality where we’re such a big hit.

Again, disappointing, but consistent, especially when you figure in syndication, internet downloads and DVD box sets. Where’s the Cosmic Screen Actors’ Guild when you need them?

Oh hell. I’m being called back to the set. Filming waits for no man . . .

. . . I’m back, and –believe it or not- my point is now proven.

While filling out a refund form, a customer paused when she came to the “Reason for Return” line.

“How do you spell ‘Don’t?’” she asked, honestly perplexed. Then: “How do you spell ‘Want?’”

I can’t make this shit up. I’m submitting this one for Emmy consideration.

But Then Again, You’ll Have This . . .