Wednesday, January 28, 2009

john updike

I don't consider myself much of a reader, not anymore at any rate. I read like a fiend when I was a kid, and on through high school, and then got kind of deluged in college and fell out of the habit a bit. I was an English and history major, and wound up writing my senior thesis in history in part because I couldn't find a good, inspiring topic for a literary project.

Later in my senior year, I discovered John Updike. It was a class on modern satire, taught by a biographer of Updike, and one of the books on the reading list was "Rabbit is Rich." I'd have to say that book re-shaped me more than any other book I've read. It was the antidote to the malaise of senior year, the knowledge that I'd be finishing college soon and leaving the secure, comfortable environment of my little liberal-arts school for who knows what. (Though I did end up going back to college, a few years later. But it wasn't the same ...)

Since I don't consider myself much of a literary critic, I'm not sure if I can explain succinctly what I found in Updike's works, especially the Rabbit series (4 books altogether), that appealed so strongly to me. The best I can come up with is that I had never considered a perspective like Rabbit's: tired of the routine in life yet exhilarated by small pleasures, equally cognizant of his own limitations and those of the people around him. He'd gotten wealthy and soft compared to his earlier days, accustomed to privilege, but still couldn't quite resign himself to advancing age and the minor disappointments in his life. And if this doesn't sound especially compelling, it's only because I can't do justice to Updike's writing style: lean, insightful, unapologetic. It was so enjoyable to watch him play with words, you could almost miss the way he effortlessly added nuance to his plot and characters.

Or something like that. I've been immersed in medicine too long to write another English paper. But I discovered something in Updike's world. Not something I was missing in mine, just a better way of interpreting it. Even though I've only read a fraction of the many books and short stories that Updike wrote. (When I moved back east from Seattlea few years ago, I also made a point of driving through Updike's hometown of Shillington, PA. It was pretty late and I didn't see much except the usual chain stores along the commercial highway, but it was still worth it.)

Updike's works meant so much to me in part because of our similarities, and maybe they wouldn't resonate as well for someone who didn't grow up white and male and middle-class in the Northeast, went off to a private college in New England, etc etc. The kind of qualities that probably prevented Updike from winning the Nobel Prize he deserved, as much or more so as any recent winner. But the breadth and quality of the work he produced over his career were astounding; and when he died yesterday, he was remembered by many as one of the great American writers. I will always be thankful that I discovered him when I did, at just the right point in my life. He was as much a guide as an author to me, and the very least I can do now is give him his due.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Well, there's nothing like a good cup of coffee in the morning. I usually get my coffee at work, where we have a communal coffee maker and a cup will run you 25 cents. For some people, I guess, that kind of arrangement just wouldn't work. Some people, I know, have chic espresso machines at home, and make themselves fancy coffee drinks before they even go to work. (That is, if they even work at all ...)

That wouldn't fly for me, though. For one thing, as much as I like a good latte or cappuccino, it's kind of a luxury for me. What if I could just roll out of bed and make one? It would start to seem not as special. It's like, I love a nice panini every now and then, too. But what am I supposed to do: get a deluxe panini maker and make myself a panini at home??? Geez.

And also, I'm living in the Midwest now, and trying to adopt Midwestern ways. When I want a cup of coffee on the weekends, I pull out my little Mr. Coffee and make myself a good, honest cup of joe. No frills. No fuss.

But this morning, I was adding milk and sugar to my coffee, right next to the coffee maker, when I got hit by a thunder bolt of an idea. And I asked myself, "Next time I make coffee, what's to stop me from loading this thing up with milk instead of water?" And the answer was, "Nothing, Trevor. There's nothing stopping you from putting milk inside your coffee machine, and enjoying a nice homemade latte."

Long story short: I didn't wait for the next time. I stashed the coffee I'd already made in the fridge, and brewed up a Wisconsin latte. It's sitting right next to me as we speak, fragrant tendrils of steam curling from its surface. And the toast today had never tasted so good, and the sun's shining brightly outside, and spring is right around the corner. Hallelujah ...

Thursday, January 22, 2009


This is the first holiday season I've had to blog about, and there was so much going on that I'm still catching up with all of it here. But here's something that's like 4 or 5 stories wrapped in one ...

As you may know, something weird is happening with TV broadcasting soon, where you'll need some special converter box if you've got an old TV. That's all I know about it. And I did have an old TV. I mean, it was fine for my needs, but I was a bit scared about these changes soon taking place. So I got a new TV. The first new one I've ever owned, in fact. And it's a honey! It burbles. I swear to you, when I turn it on, first it makes this burbling noise and then the picture comes on. Cool.

Another thing I did over the holidays: well, I've had this Pizza Hut gift card that someone gave me over a year ago. I just don't go to Pizza Hut much. And the gift card had $10 on it, which I figured might not be enough to get a Pizza Hut pizza, and I didn't really want to shell out any of my own money for Pizza Hut pizza. But then I heard they also had chicken wings; so I figured, you know, what the hell. The wings were only about 7 bucks, but I couldn't bear the thought of going back to Pizza Hut to spend $3, so I got an order of lasagna too. No pizza.

I'm also a fan of the HBO show "Entourage." Not such a huge fan that I'd actually pay for HBO, but I do enjoy it on DVD. I've been getting discs from the Mad City public library and watching it episode by episode, here and there. Usually there's a wait of a couple weeks to get the next installment, but right after Christmas I got the one I'd been waiting for.

And finally, we had a big cold snap here recently. An Arctic front or something. It was very cold, just the kind of weather that really makes you want to stay indoors.

Do you see where I'm going with this?

One of my favorite episodes of "Seinfeld" was the one where Kramer gradually accumulated the trappings of a pimp over the course of one show. First Elaine gave him a walking stick from J. Peterman, then George loaned him a pink Cadillac, then he borrowed the dreamcoat from a local production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." And as he was walking down the street with his walking stick to the Cadillac, wearing the dreamcoat, some big floppy hat got blown off a woman's head and rolled right to him. And he put it on, and BAM! All of the sudden, it was like he was a pimp.

So, let me recap my situation: I go to Pizza Hut in the bitter cold and get some wings and lasagna. I bring it home, where I've got a library copy of "Entourage" from Season 3 waiting. I settle down on my couch with the stuff from Pizza Hut, which actually turns out to be better than expected. I'm watching "Entourage" on my brand-new burbling TV. And while it was freezing outside, I was cozy inside with a blanket wrapped around me and wing sauce all over my face.

I didn't feel like a pimp exactly, but I did feel special. So special, I did the only thing I could think of at the time: I threw open the window and screamed out, "I'm king of the wooooorrrrld!" Several times. Until it started to get cold in the living room. Crazy, I know; but sometimes, you just have to let the world know who's boss ...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

midwest hipsters

For a fairly small Midwest city, Madison likes to think of itself as kind of urbane and hip, kind of "with it." Sometimes, to the point of arrogance. Case in point: I was driving to work today when I spotted a Subaru with a bumper sticker that said, simply, "1/20/09." And I was all like, "Wow, dude. You are so damn cool. I guess you redefine 'living in the moment,' don't you? You've got a freakin' bumper sticker with today's date on it."

That's what I was like.

But when I drove by him, I just had to laugh to myself, because this dude was not cool in any conventional or unconventional sense of the word. He had this little girl in a car seat in the back, and a grizzled old golden retriever riding shotgun, and he was drinking coffee out of an NPR travel mug or some shit like that. And I was thinking about rolling down the window and yelling at hime, "Hey dude. Next Tuesday? 1/27/09. What are you gonna do about it?"

But I didn't do it after all. For one thing, it was pretty cold out. And also, I decided that maybe it's good that some people think they're all hip and trendy: it just gives me something to sneer at ...

busted ...

Since its inception, I've tried to make this blog a refuge for the cultural cognoscenti, a place where the urbane and the elite can gather for enlightenment and socializing. Kind of like an online rave. But those days may be drawing to a close: my sister's on to me.

The other day she was apparently googling herself and stumbled across a mention of her in something I wrote about Facebook a while back. That set off a huge contretemps, the reverberations of which are still being felt. For one thing, she's threatened to withhold visiting rights to my niece from me. For another thing ... this blog may have to lose some of its edge. I'm afraid I may have to clean up my language a little bit, drop some of the references to my out-of-control singles lifestyle, etc. You see, if I'm cussing and dropping F-bombs and quoting Tupac and whatnot, she's liable to tell my dad about it, and I'd rather avoid that kind of situation. I mean, I'm not scared of my dad or anything. I live my own life, know what I'm saying? And he's way out in NY; he's not even sending me an allowance anymore, so his long-distance leverage is next to zilch. Still, it'd be nice to be able to go home and not have to deal with, you know, the disapproval.

Why do you always have to ruin everything, Ellen? Things were going just fine here until you came along! Why are you always googling yourself? And who cares if you pop up here on a google search? Do you really think other people are googling you? Do you think someone's gonna break in your house, because they can find you on Google?

Burglars! Hey burglars! She lives at 1704 Rosemont Ave, Oak Wood, IL 87112. On the northwest edge of Chicago, in a cul-de-sac. It's the third house from the end on the left. Nobody's home on weekdays until after 4:30 or so, and there's a spare key under the green rock on the right-hand side of the garage. Don't worry about the alarm system - they don't have one! They just put that sticker by the door to scare off people like you.

One other thing, Ellen: as soon as Reese hits 5, don't be surprised if she wants to go away and live with Uncle T. Don't know if you've noticed, but she has a lot more fun when I'm around. Just like everyone else ...

Monday, January 19, 2009

launder your oven mitts day

I have decided to declare tomorrow to be National Launder Your Oven Mitts Day. To the best of my knowledge, this holiday doesn't exist already. Here's the rationale behind it:
1. Oven mitts don't routinely get laundered.
2. However, they look great when they do get laundered. Just see my before and after photos.
3. Under usual working conditions, they probably don't need to be laundered more than once a year (barring any major spills or catastrophes).
4. For something that needs to be done so seldom, it's probably good to have some sort of reminder like a national day of recognition. Kind of like getting a flu shot. But I don't think we need a flu shot holiday, because there's already all sorts of reminders about that.
5. This day coincides with Barack Obama's inauguration, so it should be easy for people to remember.
6. This doesn't need to be a federal working holiday, like MLK Day. But it should be listed on the typical wall calendar, like Arbor Day.
7. Why not?

Now, I know what some of you are thinking: I've got these fancy silicon oven mitts, and I can't put them in the washing machine. Well, let me tell you something: I don't think there's a place in the kitchen for this space-age silicon technology. I've been using plain cloth oven mitts for a while now, and it's never been a problem. So if you have the silicon type, you just won't be able to participate in the holiday activities. You're SOL ...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

crisis, unavoidable

I think I've already established here that I like toast. But there are other things I like to toast in the toaster, too. Like bagels. Many mornings, I'll toast up a couple bagels from Bagels Forever (one blueberry, one maple cinnamon) while I'm getting ready for work. I butter the blueberry, put some cream cheese on the MC. And then I'm off! Headed to work going Mach 5. And once I'm there, I grab some coffee, take out my bagels ... and that's all she wrote. I'm good to go until lunchtime.

So yesterday, I was pulling my bagel bag out of my messenger bag when something distracted me - I can't even remember what. And the blueberry bagel fell out, onto the floor. My friend Mike, who shares my office at Mad City Hospital, immediately yelled, "Ten-second rule!" And I'm not gonna lie to you people: I thought about it, I really did. One of the bagel halves landed butter-side up; all I had to do was take it to the bathroom, wash it a little, and pat it dry. I was definitely hungry. But honestly, in the winter, there's just too much road salt and sand that we track into the office, that our beleaguered custodians don't quite get all of. So, the bagel ended up in the garbage.

I spent a good part of the rest of the day wondering what I'd done to deserve this misfortune. Was it something from a past life? Had I somehow treated a patient badly? Should I have sent my sister a Christmas card this year? (I was at her house on Christmas, for the love of Kee-rist! Doesn't saying "Merry Xmas!" to someone, to their face, count for anything anymore?) Anyhow, I never really figured it out. But it was just so sudden and unexpected, such a frozen moment, that it seemed impossible that Fate or Karma or Jesus or whoever couldn't have had a hand in it.

A month from now, or more like 6 months or a year from now, I'll probably have forgotten all about that bagel. Maybe ... maybe something unexpectedly good will happen to me tomorrow. Or the day after. You never really know when stuff like that gets balanced out. But I guess that's all I can hope for at this point, that things will indeed get "balanced out."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

joke of the day #5

Q: Why did modern man evolve in Africa?

A: Because it was too cold to evolve in Wisconsin. It's freezing here. With his primitive, reptilian forebrain, early man did not have the higher thought processing to stitch together warm clothing, much less build adequate shelter in a terrain lacking in caves (which Wisconsin has few of, I believe). And fire? Forget about it! Early man had no fucking clue about how to build a good fire, much less start it. And he probably would have ended up burning his house down anyway, if he had even known how to construct a wooden habitation.

Also, there are no indigenous pre-hominid organisms here from which early man could have evolved! We don't have any primates, just some deer and bunnies and woodchucks and the odd occasional bear ...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

event horizon

I just realized that Bush has less than a week left in office. I never thought I'd see this day! Hot damn ...


I don't know how many of you people pay attention to the weather in other parts of the country, but Mad City and its environs is getting hit with a so-called "Arctic blast" right now. I was at work this evening, and wanted to see how cold it was, so I checked online: -5 degrees. About an hour later I checked again, to see if it was safe to go outside: -8 degrees. So, I seriously considered sleeping in my office overnight, to avoid having to walk out to the parking garage. I shit you not.

But then, when I finally ventured outside, it wasn't that bad. I mean, it wasn't warm, but I could deal with it. You feel me? I wasn't like all wrapping my arms around myself, and chattering my teeth, and whatnot. I just sort of walked calmly out to my car, Chip, and started it. The car started like this: uh-uhh-uh-ahh-whaaah-uh-uh-vroom.

In the end, it did start. And now I'm home, blogging.

(P.S. It's supposed to get even colder. Do you hear me, people in Seattle? You crybabies? The wind chill is supposed to be -30 here on Thursday! I. Shit. You. Not.)

Saturday, January 10, 2009


I have a lot of grievances in life, and probably one of the biggest is auto-capitalization. I just hate it. I want me to be the one who decides which words get capitalized when I'm typing, not the damn computer. We've got this new EMR program at Mad City Hospital (the software's made right here in Madison by Epic!), and I cannot abbreviate anything because the first letter after a period is always auto-capped. (Well, I do abbreviate, but I don't use periods after the abbreviation. Which could be potentially dangerous, you know? In a medical document?) I guess I could just write everything out, but that would take me longer and use up my blogging time, and that's dangerous too.

I also don't like the caps lock key. Sometimes I do need to cap everything, like in a subject heading, but then I forget to turn it off and write a couple sentences in all caps, and then have to go back and re-do everything. I hate that.

But there's one key that I do like: num lock. You know, it's over on the right side of the keyboard, and locks the number pad into number function. It's awesome! Who the hell uses PgUp and PgDn and Home, anyways? But get this: on some computers at the hospital, num lock is not the default position. I mean, on my computer, it stays on and I never turn it off. But on some computers, you have to press it every time you start to use the computer. And that's just wrong. I'm sorry, but it's just wrong.

crisis averted

So, I burned my toast a little this morning. I was preoccupied with the cream of wheat, making sure it didn't get overdone, and the next thing I knew there was a burning smell coming from the toaster. I got to it in the nick of time. But here's the thing: it still tasted delicious! Damn!

Friday, January 9, 2009

true colors

Sometimes when I write in my blog about toast, or how much I get annoyed by trains sounding their horns as they pass through the neighborhood, I worry that people out there will get the wrong impression of me. Especially the ladies, the lady people.
So here's a picture of my motorcycle. I ride it all around town. Fast. When the weather's good, certainly not during winter or late fall or anything like that.
And get this: I have not one but two leather jackets to wear, if I so choose, when I ride my motorcycle. Why? That's just the way I roll. I'm kind of reckless like that ...

Saturday, January 3, 2009

breakfast of champions

Toast. What does this word mean to you? Probably not much. When we think of toast, we usually think of a mundane, inanimate, inoffensive foodstuff. Not too many people are put off by it, except maybe the gluten-intolerant. But how many people out there love toast?

Well, my hand's in the air, and I'm not ashamed of it either. Few things in life are as satisfying to me. You've got bread, which has been a staple of humanity for, uh ... a long time. And you've got a toaster. Put the two together, and something magic happens. It's like they were made for each other.

Just think about toast for a minute. What do YOU like on it? Butter? Jam? Nutella? One of the great things about toast is, it's so adaptable. It's like a blank canvas for the artist within.

Anyhow, I'm one of those people who enjoys having a big breakfast on the weekend. In fact, on many weekend days, I only eat two meals! A big breakfast, and then later, dinner. In the past, I'd occasionally make French toast for breakfast. But one day I had an epiphany, and realized that regular toast was almost as good as French toast, but a lot less work. Basically, it comes down to what you put on it, and making sure you start with good bread (I'm a sourdough kind of guy myself). Some days I'll have toast as a complement to something else, like cream of wheat or a bowl of hot granola. But some days when I sleep in a little later and want something quick (like today), I'll make a bunch of toast as the main course. Maybe some fruit and a hot beverage on the side. I call this "Toast Extravaganza."

So here we go with today's menu: a plate of sourdough toast, topped with Trader Joe's blackberry jam. Sliced kiwi and pineapple. A cup of coffee. Some good reading. Can you beat that on a winter Saturday morning??? Damn ...

Thursday, January 1, 2009

the year in review

So I know these "Year in Review" things are supposed to be done before the end of the year, but things have been busy for me lately. And the snowball-fight league entry also took precedence. So that being said, let's get to it ...

2008. What a year, huh? I've got a theory about leap years: they're always a little crazier than other years. I don't know if it's the extra day, or the fact that presidential elections and the Olympic Games tend to take place during leap years. And what an election, and what an Olympics, huh? Hey hey hey! There was that dude Phelps, and also Barack Obama. But you know, if I were to go over general events for the past year, it would take me forever. And I don't even know if I'd add much to what you could read in Time or Reader's Digest or the Drudge Report, or whatever source most people rely on to find out what happened in the past year. Today, for a change, this blog is going to be about me. Here were some of the highlights and lowlights of the year, in non-chronological order:
- Jan. 3: my niece Reese is born.

- Dec. 25: I spend Xmas with my sister in Chicago. Reese is now almost a year old, and thinks she can handle her uncle. I prove to her, with no uncertainty, that she is not ready to mess with her uncle.

- July 18: I hit the big Four Oh, celebrating the occasion in Essex Junction, VT, at a surprise party thrown by my excellent friends Dean and Caroline. Many in attendance are struck by the poise and dignity with which I make this transition into adulthood.

- Sometime in February: I come very close to circumnavigating Lake Monona on X-country skis. It takes me about 2 hours or so. I'm not sure if any of the early explorers (Lewis, Clark, De Soto) ever attempted this. Regardless, I feel exhausted and yet exhilarated.

- A couple days after Opening Day for baseball: the Mariners start to suck. Really suck. They have one of the suckiest seasons for a baseball team, at any level, of all time. In fact, 2008 proves to be a dreadful year for Seattle sports in many ways: the Sonics leave town, the UW football team has a horrendous season, the Seahawks fall apart. Thinking about all this weighs down on me for much of the year ...

- A couple days after that: I start following the Milwaukee Brewers and Wisconsin Badgers.

- Nov. 4: the Democrats bitch-slap the GOP on Election Day. I write a stirring piece about the presidential election. (see my "Chocolate Nation" entry)

- Aug. 31: my friend Mary Beth and I do the 100-mile Wright Stuff Century ride, and I find out that Lance Armstrong was wrong: it is all about the bike. I ride a 20-year-old Cannondale, while Mary Beth's got some fancy new number with a turbo booster for the tougher hills. When we get back to Madison, she drags my motionless form from the car and leaves me on my front stoop.

- Sometime in late March: Madison goes over 100 inches in snowfall for the winter. It is by far the snowiest winter in Madison history. I shovel around my house, including the big-ass driveway, for much of the winter in exchange for a small break in my rent, until my landlady finally takes pity on me and has the guy next door start doing it with his snowblower. Many people on the street recognize my courage in continuing to shovel for as long as I did.

- December something: a couple snowflakes fall on Seattle. The city goes berserk.

- Aug. 21: the birth of the blog "Mad City." The blogosphere shudders apprehensively.

- Aug. 23: my good friend Brian marries his lovely fiancee, Cindy. Everything goes smooth as a whistle, although one wedding guest is nearly lynched when he shows up in sneakers and piles waaaaaaayyyy too much food on his plate at the buffet table. My best man speech somehow shows up on YouTube, and to date has received 2 hits.

- Early March: trip to Hollywood FL for an oncology convention. My first trip to Florida! Spring break! I spend most of my time in the convention center, listening to presentations about chemotherapy.

- Late October: my long weekend trip to San Francisco. Yeah, it's on the blog somewhere ...

- After 11 (or was it 12?) years together, I bid farewell to my bitchin' 1987 Honda Civic and say hello to my deluxe new 1997 Honda Civic, Chip. Thank you, Chicago Craigslist!

- Mid-to-late December: the Swedish film "Let the Right One In" quietly slips out of Madison, causing more horror and consternation with its untimely exit than it ever did in the theater.

- The day after Thanksgiving: I sign up for a triathlon in Idaho, of all places, next June. I have decided to make the National Bone Marrow Registry my own personal cause for a while. After being exposed to myriad good causes within the realm of oncology - pink ribbons, research, patient support, Jerry's Kids, etc - I've decided that the NBMR may be the best of them all.

- Dec. 31: I'm faced with the depressing realization that even after sending semi-personalized emails to nearly 100 people, only about 5 of them have said they'll sign up for the NBMR. Including 2 people I haven't seen in at least 15 years. There's a long way to go ...

- Jan. 13, March 2, April 4, June 21, Aug. 11, Oct. 18-19: all completely mundane days.

- June 7-8: I attend the weddings of my cool friends Som and Leah in Seattle and Bellingham. That's right: they got married twice! Hopefully that's not illegal ...

- June 10: I arrive back in Madison in the morning, drive home, shower, dress, and go to work, inadvertently leaving my cellphone at home. I do rounds with the inpatient oncology team. I get paged: the hospital operator tells me my sister is calling. This can't be good, and it isn't: our mother died at home that morning, after a long illness. I tell my attending physician I'll be gone for a week, dictate several clinic notes that can't wait for my return, and go home.

- June 11: I fly back to upstate NY via Chicago. My sister joins me in Chicago. Somehow, without trying, we got booked onto the same flight to Albany.

- A few days later: the funeral. I see people I haven't seen in 10 or more years. My friend Duane, my closest friend from back home, shows up unexpectedly, along with my high school French teacher. My friends Dean and Caroline come down from Vermont. One of the saddest days I'll ever experience, but family and friends make it OK.

That's about all I can recall of 2008. OK, there was a lot more to it than that, but these were the standout moments, for good or for bad. As for 2009: in the words of a famous "statesman" who'll soon be going into Texile, bring it on ...