Monday, December 15, 2014

Breaking up is hard to do, what would happen if health care divorced the insurance industry? http://maglomaniac.com/breaking-hard-health-care-industry-might-consider-divorcing-insurance-industry/

http://maglomaniac.com/breaking-hard-health-care-industry-might-consider-divorcing-insurance-industry/

POLITICS AND NEWS
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Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: Why Our Health Care Industry Might Consider Divorcing The Insurance Industry

BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO: Why our health care industry might consider divorcing the insurance industry–a marriage of great inconvenience. A contrarian look, as the deadline nears for the new year of the health insurance marketplace. It was always an uneasy marriage, brokered by the Nixon Administration, when its patrons in the life insurance […]
health-insurance-policy
BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO: Why our health care industry might consider divorcing the insurance industry–a marriage of great inconvenience. A contrarian look, as the deadline nears for the new year of the health insurance marketplace.
It was always an uneasy marriage, brokered by the Nixon Administration, when its patrons in the life insurance industry wanted to get into Health Care. “We could make a killing, if only…” was probably the line. And they continue to do so, perversely from the public’s view, by denying benefits, while escalating premiums and underpaying doctors.
This is a view perhaps felt most intensely by those, who are not recipients of employer medical programs, such as the self-employed not poor enough for the breaks of the Affordable Care Act; yet not rich enough to pay large deductibles and monthly costs of not so affordable plans. For these people, coverage boils down to minimal use of health care that is also difficult to access. In the brave new world of HMO plans, updated provider lists are a rarity. For the middle-aged self-employed or recently unemployed, “Holding on for Medicare” has urgency. Dental care, of course, is the catastrophe in the wings and most coverage not worth the premiums.
How did this happen to one of the richest nations on earth? Ironically, we also rank high among nations in our spending on health care. To understand the complexities, a good place to start is TRACKING MEDICINE: A Researcher’s Quest to Understand Health Care, a book published in 2010 by Dr. John E. Wennberg (Oxford), who spent 4 decades investigating how health care is actually delivered in America. His work, the foundation of the Dartmouth Atlas, charts the nation’s health care delivery state by state. His prescription for reform is profound.
“Reforming our health care delivery system requires a translation from today’s mostly disorganized care to organized, coordinated systems of care, and from delegated “rational agent” decision making to shared decision making and informed patient choice. This will not be easy. After all, it requires transforming the culture of medicine and engineering, an industry that accounts for nearly 18% of the U.S. gross domestic product. But such is the eye of the needle through which we must pass to achieve significant reform.”
Wennberg had great hopes for The Affordable Care Act, as a giant step toward reform. It has covered the uninsured poor and the young, though progress for reform is elusive. Overuse of medical care is probably down, unless you are a member of Congress. But over proscribing remains a profit center for some doctors. And insurers are still implementing “one treatment fits all” for most conditions, though patients are unlikely to demand state of the art treatment.
The equation of insurer, provider, and patient, can be simplified. A look at the Kaiser System and doctor co-ops, where patients buy insurance directly from their providers, is hopeful for the future. Because patients pay nothing when they need medical care, there’s an incentive for preventative care and none for a hospital to fill empty beds. Recently, I heard of a Brooklyn doctor co-op from a young doctor, happy that he could determine the length of an office visit.
What if the great teaching hospitals of the East Coast started issuing their own policies? Who knows what might come out of the wilderness of hospitals offering insurance! Maybe a renaissance of the profession for disillusioned doctors. For patients, no more worry whether you’re getting poor treatment, because the doc’s underpaid. There’s also satisfaction in knowing your money goes directly to the guy who treats you.
I grew up in an era before medical insurance existed. Doctors were all proprietors. Medical care considered both the ideal treatment and a patient’s finances. Patients talked it over with the doc and their family. Could that resemble “shared decision-making” and “informed patient choice?” Can you imagine a medical world with no paperwork? What about house calls?
Nostalgia aside, the costs of medical care began to escalate for a variety of reasons. Managing it became a priority. But what if instead of the insurance model, where an industry profits from withholding payments, the model was a cooperative, such as a tax-based public library or volunteer fire company? What about a country club or pre-school financed with annual fees? Efficiency might be the same. Undoubtedly, profit would be higher without the expenses of the multi-billion dollar insurance industry. Is breaking up so hard to do?
Susan Weinstein

Monday, December 1, 2014

Never heard of Dorothy and Otis, couple who designed the American Dream? What about Wrigley's Gum & the Chicago Cubs?

DOROTHY AND OTIS: Designing the American Dream by Norman Hathaway and Dan Nadel (Harper Design, November) includes over 330 four-color prints of seminal design art by people I never heard mentioned in art school. As amazing as the discovery of this work, is the text that accompanies the book. Instead of dry art book prose. Hathaway and Nadel, who had access to the couple's archive, were able to conjure both the idiosyncratic personalities of Dorthy and Otis and their excitement at creating a visual language for their America--1920-1940.

The book begins with Otis "Shep" Shepard, a poor Midwest boy, who teaches himself to draw. He leaves home at 14 to work odd jobs, including itinerant actor and set designer, and free-lance sign painter. Young Shep even meets Jack London in San Francisco and learns about carousing. Still in his teens, he gets into the real fight of  World War One and draws vivid scenes from an air balloon and down in the trenches. Shep's portraits of his fellow soldiers are equally affecting, enhanced by his singular style. When he returns, theater posters, programs, other graphics show his humor and sophistication, as he reinvents himself as a raconteur and commercial artist.

Dorothy Van Gorder, the precocious daughter of an Oakland Professor, graduates high school in three years and repeats the feat at California College of Arts and Crafts. Dorthy's an early bohemian feminist, wearing art school black, designing costumes in a modernist style probably influenced by the Ballet Russe. Her drawings have a freshness and sensitivity of line, married with abstract design.

While Shep's realistic style, a kind of iconic approach to billboard design, ensured his employment in commercial work, his jaunty personality meant he was soon manager of teams that produced such work. There were artists who specialized in hands or glasses, but he was the overall concept guy and, eventually, an account exec, who would sketch ideas in meetings with clients. In 1927, when Dorothy and Otis met, he was working for the most important billboard design agency in the country. Shep was looking for graduates from the California College and Dorothy fit his requirements. Not only was she technically adept with innovative design ideas, she also was enamored by modernism.

Shep, again self-taught, was starting to adapt modernist ideas. Dorothy, was already excited by the new style happening in Europe. Unafraid to try new ideas, she became the first important female designer in North America. Though she always said she "rode on his coattails,"the style they evolved, working together and later separately, was a cross-fertilization of design sensibility, elegance, and humor.

Print communication was at a zenith, and large-scale billboards were treated by them as sophisticated murals with a purpose. Drawing the eye was everything but how they did it--with evocative shapes and images--evolved. In Shep's work, at first copy was equal to image. Then the image predominated, changing from realism and sentimentality to sensual abstraction. Often lettering only appeared on a package to identify a product. Both Dorothy and Otis were brilliant in their use of abstract design and color. Dorothy was in her element with patterns and Shep was a pioneer of the airbrush finish.

Superstars of their time, they left the agency and worked out of rooftop studios in Manhattan, San Francisco and pre-world war II Europe. Like modernist friends, Joseph Binder, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Laslo Maholy Nagy and the movie stars Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, and Johnny Weissmuller, they were both of their time and developers of it. Dorothy and Otis designed sports teams, chewing gum (Wrigley's and the Doublemint twins), resorts and Islands, (The Biltmore and Catalina Island) and the world's largest neon sign.

Their love and work were at first inseparable. Mutual respect and inspiration fueled accomplishment and fun--hard partying, glamorous lives, amid the rigors of war and the great depression. Much of it they documented with beautiful photographs. Their story also includes the difficult facts of raising children with the demands of career, and then the toll of aging. Over time with personal tragedy, their emotions toward each other changed. They lived apart and then, like the deep friends they always were, found each other again.

I was moved by this story of working designers, commercial artists, who had wonderful exciting lives but despite fame in their time, were unknown before this book. The aspirations of Dorothy and Otis, like many artists who toil anonymously, was to make great work. I thought of my grandfather, a master sign painter, who scaled his billboards by hand and could draw straight lines on a wall. Among his papers were the original logos for Grayhound and Canada Dry, designed as part of a sign,
Craft brought satisfaction with no thought of publicity. Now, if he had been able to copyright those images, who knows? Financial stability might even have followed.

S.W.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Making of A.D.D./A.D.H.D. another perspective besides the Savannah analogy & techology

POLITICS AND NEWS
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The Making of A.D.D./A.D.H.D.

I want to offer another perspective on the origins of this much diagnosed disorder, besides the Savannah analogy and the effect of technology, both old “saws” recently offered in an NY Times Opinion piece.  The Savannah theory holds that the DNA of those with the disorder is really a genetic throwback to hunters, whose”hyper” qualities […]
adhd
I want to offer another perspective on the origins of this much diagnosed disorder, besides the Savannah analogy and the effect of technology, both old “saws” recently offered in an NY Times Opinion piece.  The Savannah theory holds that the DNA of those with the disorder is really a genetic throwback to hunters, whose”hyper” qualities enhanced survival. The effect of technology, speeding up young minds, an occasion for hand-wringing, has no change in sight.
I want to underscore some practical history. At the end of the 19th century, many schools started girls in kindergarten at 5 and boys at 7. Now we know the part of the brain that governs understanding of social systems develops later in boys. Without the capacity to scan brains, educators observed that boys were “fidgety,”better able to deal with school at at a later age. Rather than assuming it was a deficit in boys, the schools made requirements fit children.
tom-sawyer
Consider also that great 20th century classic, Tom Sawyer, a figure Twain considered the prototypical American boy with the restless entrepreneurial spirit of his young country. Tom Sawyer was more than fidgety, he lied and swore, he cut class, and, when there disrupted it–behind his teacher’s back. Today, he would be drugged for ADD/ADHD, he would be in “special” classes and in therapy for defiant behavior syndrome. His behavior would be considered off the “normal” chart and perhaps on the autistic scale, because of his constant collections of bottle caps, rocks, whatever he could trade.
In the mid 20th century, before the diagnosis and labeling of children for easier classroom management, there were dedicated teachers who went into the profession with the idea of reaching every child in a classroom–no matter how difficult or disruptive. The movie, “To Sir With Love” was a popular 1960’s tale of a black teacher in a hard-luck English classroom, who inspired kids to turn their lives around..
My great aunt, a public school teacher until the late 1970’s, considered the “bored” and alienated her biggest challenge. Before retiring, she lamented that the student teachers, who worked with her, were schooled to teach a very narrow segment of kids and to refer for evaluation all who posed challenges. As the medical and educational sectors merged, children who did not fit the narrow categories for success–based mostly on academic progress–learned to think of themselves as not just failures but disabled people, who had to be “fixed” with drugs.
Consider the late 1960’s, when the U.S. battled Russia in the space race. Money was poured into science after-school programs. There were garage computer labs, which acted as  incubators for the innovative science that became our computer industry. And of course, many of the kids, who lived for after school, were “bored” in school. There was also money for art, drama and music now rare in public schools–though sports continues as the accepted outlet in wealthier districts.

inside of classroom
In 2014, we have schools increasingly focused on academics with conformity to the Common Core. There is scarce money for Art, Music, Science that’s inspiring. Though it’s been shown that kids, when engaged emotionally, can do intellectual work to equal adults, they are considered unusually “gifted.” Instead kids that don’t conform are labelled and treated, and their potential is compromised. Worse yet, anxiety, which is very common, is often misdiagnosied as ADD/A.D.H.D. Very few schools, where referrals are made by teachers with little psych training, and psychologists/psychiatrists, do brain scans to confirm this diagnosis.

And the stimulants used for ADD/A.D.H.D. are a disaster for kids who actually have anxiety. But rather than thinking of alternatives to drugs, when classroom management is the main goal, psychiatrists proscribe “toppers” to calm them down. Though the drugs often come with suicidal thoughts and are admitted to block creative thought, specifically drawing ability, this cocktail is widely disseminated.

So where does our next generation of innovators come from to invent new industries and inspire a skilled work force? Not in a United States, where a generation of children suffer the stigma of labels. Worse yet, little research has been done on the long-terms affect of drug cocktails on growing brains. Managing a classroom for convenience is a choice that has impoverished the lives and futures of children, their families, and our nation. You have only to look at The Economist’s comparison of the U.S. and Britain, where only 2 out 10 boys are diagnosed to the U.S.’s staggering 8 out of 10. In Britain, the treatment is cognitive therapy, in the classroom and home, with a 98%  success rate.
Susan I. Weinstein, author and playwright, is working on a new play, “The Making of ADD/ADHD.” 

 http://maglomaniac.com/making-adhd/

Monday, November 10, 2014

MY FAVORITE THINGS, Maira Kalman's delightful curated life, inspired by The Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum


Maira Kalman is a phenomenonal author/illustrator, painter, whose work is loved by both adults and children, with the categories often overlapping. Whether her story's about a fireboat or the Alphabet, she narrates the fantastic in the everyday world. In MY FAVORITE THINGS (Harper Design) she paints scenes that tickle our imagination with an ironic wit and affection for the secret lives of objects.

What a brilliant idea for The Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum to invite her to choose objects from the Museum's more than 200,000 pieces for its inaugural exhibit. Kalman chose more than 40 objects which can be viewed in the Music Room of The Carnegie Museum. Her book weaves these objects into a story of Kalman's life made vivid with more than 50 paintings.

Maira Kalman begins with her family's fairy tale story. Her painting shows her mother drowning in a river in a Russian village  She's saved by her father's very long beard. That same wonder and fear is present in a painting of Kalman's father, in an impeccable suit, falling several stories from an apartment balcony. Miraculously, he's unhurt--right before they move to New York. He becomes a diamond merchant and she shows the serious black case he took to work. She segues from his collection to the story of Nellie and Sally Hewiit, vivacious and eccentric sisters, who began collecting when it was  the rage.

This sets up Kalman's purpose of telling stories with objects, beginning with her childhood, as she makes sense of life through smells, tastes, and sights--nature, rooms, people and their objects. Her selected objects are worked into the story with segues that are great fun. Kalman's method is lateral or associative thinking over linear. An object is associated with something that looks or feels similar. She quotes Pablo Neruda's 1959 :Ode to things." "I adore cups, rings, soupspoons, not to mention, of course, the hat.".

The hat Kalman paints is from Egypt's 13th or 14th centuries, quilted and embroidered, made of gilt parchment. It leads you to incredible stiff white hats, soaring above heads from postcards of ancient Normandy. The shape of these hats leads you the Kylix, painted earthenware from Greece, 800 BC,  And the pattern is is akin to the geometric pattern on fabric from Knoll in 1947, which relates to the design of "Loopy" Kantharos, an Italian vase from 6th century BC, There's a visual logic that associates this with the famous angular zigzag chair of 1934.

A favorite segue of mine is her  link between a sensationally ornate scribble from Holland in 1529 to a square modernist bracelet  and Fred Sandacher's square room divided with string. A similar logic occurs, when the reader goes from a scallop shape to a girl in a pink scallop dress on a lawn, that could be Kalman. She asks "What happens when you stand a long time? You get tired." This leads to the bed, "Whoever invented the bed was a genius.
When you get up from bed, get dressed in pants and socks and shoes.

This ends to a vintage wall pattern, showing a room with a bed and clothes to patterns of shoes. The Shoes are long and thin, curvy and ornate, royal and common, fanciful and elegant. You get the idea of different ways shoes,"give the ability to walk from one point to another, the glory of life. And after the walk you probably will be hungry, you will want to eat something," and of course we see a perfectly lovely inscribed silver spoon--with Wimpy's eternal plea from a Popeye cartoon,"If you buy me a hamburger today, I will gladly repay you Tuesday."

Kalman also looks at more serious objects, such as the Pall that covered Abraham Lincoln's coffin, wondering at how someone made the decision to add fringes. Feelings, somber or flights of fancy, can be guessed at, beneath the surface of what we collect. Kalman's book offers an artist's meditation on the part of our objects in our lives. Profound or silly, practical or luxurious, functional or decorative, Kalman's FAVORITE THINGS fit her criteria that the pieces be based on one thing only--a gasp of delight.

S.W.












Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Prince of Los Cocuyos, poet Richard Blanco's funny, heart-wrenching memoir of growing up Cuban American in Miami

In poet Richard Blanco's funny and heart-wrenching memoir, THE PRINCE OF LOS COCUYOS: A Miami Childhood (Harper Collins) young Riqui is a Cuban American boy in the Miami of the 1970-80's. He wants to fit in but knows he's faking it at home and in school.  In school, he's the smart "hoosky" (as his mother says) kid, who's good at writing and art. When he helps his teacher decorate for Easter, he finds just the right color combinations and cotton for bunny tails. But praise of his creativity elicits derision from his peers. At home his Abuelo, his grandmother, knows creative equals "muchaco," a word more insulting than gay. So young Riqui learns to hide his talents.

Naturally, Riqui is conflicted about his Abuelo, who acts like his worst enemy but can be most generous. He admires her clever frugality, the penny pinching that enabled his family to get out of Cuba. In Miami, she turns bargains into cash and works as a bookie. When his working mother assigns Abuelo the task of buying food and cooking meals, Riqui's enlisted to help with his American English and his bicycle. Though her goal is to eat Cuban in a Yanqui world, Riqui lures her to the American pleasures of the Winn Dixie. Though they agree that Cheese Whiz is a great invention, Riqui's  major problem remains--Abuelo's fierce desire to make him an "hombre."

When all the kids in art class are hooking rugs from kits, not only won't she buy him one but she confiscates one he buys with his own money--despite its macho Tiger image.. Later, she provides funds for the family to go to Disneyland, but is unhappy Riqui wants not only to go inside Cinderella's castle, but to put on her slipper. Though much of his childhood is spent getting around her efforts to make him a perfect Cuban male, Riqui does explore his own American dreams. He plans an American Thanksgiving Turkey dinner with yams and turkey but it doesn't happen in the style of the Waltons. His relatives politely eat turkey but heartily consume pork brought "just in case" and end the meal in a Cuban congo line.

With Riqyui's best friend Julio  new freedom enters his life. Abuelo considers him properly macho, so she looks the other way at their late hours and  loud American music. Still Riqui finds it increasingly difficult to square his American aspirations with his parents' somewhat claustrophobic Cuban community. He's gripped with alienation, a sense of not belonging to either place. Then, on a family vacation, he finds solace with a Jewish octogenarian/ at their broken down hotel. Though his mother and Abuela are furious at the strange attachment, Riqui learns from the Queen of the Copa, a WWII survivor, who's "not from anywhere,"

Then, because Abuelo feels he's too soft, Riqui's given a summer job at his uncle's Cuban Supermarket run by his aunt. Once a beautiful educated Cuban "debutante," she presides over the market, a queen in polyester. Riqui is happy she appreciates his competence, taste, and that he's developing into a fine young man. As they come to respect each other, she allows him to do intricate displays and show off the fine wines. Yet he's aware that the market, like his aunt and his parents,is stuck in the Cuba of the 1950's.

From more  recent immigrants, he learns about the immense poverty in Cuba and the harsh effects of the police state. His parents' world of  mansions and money, culture and education is long gone. Yet their community celebrates extravagant festivals, such as The Quinces, the 15's. When Riqui is recruited to play the "prince" in one, he enjoys the pageantry but feels peculiar about having so little attraction to his beautiful young senorita. He fights recognition of his  real sexual stirrings, unacceptable to both cultures. Then, working at the market, he meets an artist from Havana and admits to himself that he feels emotions for this man he's supposed to feel for women.

The artist reassures him that some day he will "grow into being different." Riqui also realizes, through the friendship, that the world outside his Cuban enclave will value his creative abilities. He doesn't have to pretend to like dead pigs, he can be himself. But first he must leave the warm insular world that nurtured him.

Though this is a poet's memoir, Blanco was named Inaugural poet, I was most moved by his tangible images. Soft silly chicks in his Miami backyard, a cotton bunny tail on construction paper,the pulpy texture of plantains, the glitter of Cinderella's castle, labels of wine bottles made of elegant whirls, the feel of water on erotically charged skin, a portrait that exactly reproduces the line of his nose. Blanco's imagery is palpable. Words and dialogue are simply the mind catching up with the beauty of his senses.

S.W.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Down Under by Sonia Taitz is a farcical look at serious romance, when true love arrives--the second time around.

DOWN UNDER by Sonia Taitz (McWitty Press, Nov.11) is a farcical look at serious romance. Jude Pincus is not a heroine for the faint-hearted middle-ager. She's the Joan of Arc of bustiers and stilettos, a martyr for true love. Sadly, the man of her dreams, and the man who shares her bed, are equally missing from her life.  Judy teaches creative writing part-time and has two twin teen-aged sons, so she's not exactly idle but there is time on her hands.

She's trying to figure out how she arrived at this place in her life, where she's not essential to those she cares about.  Without that connection, she thinks, what is she but a pathetic creature alone with her worries?  Among these is her husband, busy rebuilding his fortunes with the perfect tubular pasta. His import business allows him to gallivant all over Italy with brief sojourns at home. Then there's her twins The popular outgoing son is in boarding school, while his studious brother at home never leaves his room.  Jude worries about his isolation, strange eating habits and whether he really is on the autism scale. .

Unlike her husband, Jude doesn't mind  coming down in the world. Their cottage boasts the relief of a blue plastic pool. As the story begins, she floats, musing like a female Prufrock, about what lies ahead in a life that no longer suits her, and what might have been. Her early life had great promise. She was a good student and daughter. Yet her very sense of duty had led to her greatest loss, a love she still treasures--Jude's exalted "what might have been."

DOWN UNDER intersperses Jude's present with her youth, age 15, when Collum Whitsun, a beautiful, wounded boy, became her forever love. Like Romeo and Juliet they were studying in English, she and Collum were from feuding families. His father was of an extreme Christian faith, who believed in rigor--beatings of his sons. Jude's father was a holocaust survivor, who believed Jude owed it to the martyred to marry within her faith. While neither Jude or Collum had strong beliefs, they both suffered fathers of inflexible belief and mothers, whose primary faith was to go along with their spouses. One traumatic night, all was lost and Collum suddenly disappeared.

Jude's world also includes her "perfect" neighbor Heidi, tidy and attractive, in her person and her house, who's created a successful home business based on her tasty cuisine of pure food. What's not perfect about Heidi is her husband, who quit his job, and her hostile, mess of a daughter. Jude, who is her writing teacher, is well aware that Heidi's daughter wants her dead. While she's alarmed, she also is weary of Heidi's understated disapproval of her sloppiness, lack of a "life," complaints about her husband, and her weird son. Jude senses that Heidi's "friendship" may be rooted in her feelings of superiority.

In a kind of inspired desperation, akin to a device in a Moliere farces, Jude opens a FB account and searches for Collum under his real name, not his movie star one. When his crazy father moved the family to an isolated Aussie station, Collum burnished his tan and musculature. With his light blonde hair, deep blue eyes with yellow flecks,Collum rose to his destiny as an international film star. Now divorced from his wife, hiding from his agent, Column is also looking for his Juliet. He immediately responds to Jude's message. But still a dutiful wife, she retreats, after declaring love. And to win her, her the actor resorts to disguise.

A cowboy, named Shy, with a falling moutache shows up at a riding camp and strikes up a friendship with Jude's son. Later, a Hasidic Rabbi shows up at her house. At first put off by the Yiddish speaking, cliche Judaism of the man, Jude finds herself moved by long-forgotten prayers, that remind her of her deceased father.As the Rabbi continues to visit, Jude's bizarrely attracted to him.

Eventually, Jude and Collum find each other. All the thwarted passion of their youth
erupts in white cloth, in the pool, and in the bedroom, Like any bedroom farce, they are caught by her son, yet continue with zest in seedy motels, then with less passion in better hotels. Fulfillment isn't all it's cracked up to be and in this novel proves to be something else entirely.

This is a book that you keep reading, turning the pages, thinking, is that "really" going to happen?  A good glass of wine and suspended disbelief are all you need for a good time.

S.W,



Thursday, October 23, 2014

HALLOWEEN NEW "IT" story & homage to Theodore Sturgeon's classic, http://maglomaniac.com/short-story-started-primeval-ooze-fathers-ancient-pc/

HALLOWEEN AT MAGLOMANIAC!

It Started In The Primeval Ooze Of My Father’s Ancient PC

In some way, I think it was my fault. I’m twelve and sick of the idiotic “nanny cam” he got to watch me, thinking I don’t know he’s a paranoid idiot who wants to know what his daughter’s doing all the time. “It’s not that I don’t trust you, he said, “but sometimes I wonder […]
Ancient-PC4
In some way, I think it was my fault. I’m twelve and sick of the idiotic “nanny cam” he got to watch me, thinking I don’t know he’s a paranoid idiot who wants to know what his daughter’s doing all the time. “It’s not that I don’t trust you, he said, “but sometimes I wonder if you’re getting any sleep, staying up all night on that laptop your mother got you in a fit of insanity.”
Okay if my grades weren’t just passing, I might have had more clout. But if he hadn’t been so lame as to confuse nanny programs with nanny cams, this would never have happened.. A program I could have circumvented like any kid with half a brain. But the camera was always on, one huge unblinking eye. I got even less sleep, having to wait until he’s snoring to hack his PC and turn the damn thing off.
One night, I was hardly able to stay awake, when I saw it in the camera lens, a huge red eye surrounded by black gooey stuff. An instant and gone. I turned off the cam and searched the hardware, wondering if there was some lubrication problem. Then software, reading descriptions for something I feared would not be found. Overactive imagination, mom would say, like she always does with the irritating head pat, meaning don’t let it run away with you.
Exactly what I didn’t want the following night, when it came close to my bed, oozing and blinking red. I woke up wanting licorice, after dreaming about damned licorice nubs in the shape of a honey bear squeeze bottle. It smelled like licorice and honey. I opened my eyes on red ones and screamed. The cam was off.
The creature smeared black goo over the lens and looked at me. Pet it? It wasn’t just the smell, like candy that’s been in your pocket on a hot day, but the way it starred–wanting. What? Was it lonely or just hungry?
I raised my hand, palm up, primate sign for friendship instead of cannibalism. Then the creature did something beyond weird. The black stuff oozed and bubbled, until in front of me was the black honey bear from my dream. I laughed and it vibrated. Having a friend that laughs with you is one thing, having one bubble and ooze through a pour spout is another.
Mind-reader, I thought. I wished the creature would dissolve like Drano down the drain, or stop up some giant volcano hole, cover the surface of some cratered moon. No change, the same red eyed black honey bear. Did it ooze some hurt feeling or was I projecting? Then I thought affection, it was cute in that form. Cuddle the sticky bottle? No change. And then I visualized, clear as light, that pouring spout oozing golden honey.
Plop on my bare feet, I felt before seeing, because my eyes were scared shut, heavy stickiness. When I opened the bear wasn’t black but golden yellow. The red eyes waited, maybe for thanks?
“Honey, you have to get up for school. This is your first warning!” called mom. I realized it was broad daylight. If I didn’t get in that shower, she would show up. “Getting washed, mom!” I shouted downstairs. I looked at the honey bear and pointed it should go back into the goo smeared cam. I took my clothes off, realized it was still there, grabbed my pillow and glared at the honey bear! Maybe it was a pervert or just curious what human looked like. I figured the latter and opened my closet door. I pointed the way inside. Round red eyes looked at all the crap in my closet and the life sized squeeze bottle bear rolled under my bed.
There was mom, up the stairs, her exasperated voice, “Thought you were in the shower?”
“Almost, was thinking through my math.”
My mother looked worried, the tutor said you know the stuff. If you fail again, I want you to see someone about test anxiety.”
“Thanks for your confidence!”
Mom sighed and sat on the bed. She seemed discouraged.I did study but it didn’t stick. Maybe some kind of math dyslexia, but who wants to be in special ed? I’d rather see a shrink. And that’s a last resort. I could copy off Morgan. She sat in front of me every year, seating was alphabetical order. Morgan was religious so I didn’t like to ask her, but if she thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown or cause the death of my mother she’d let me. Also, Morgan liked my mother’s BLT’s. Today was that day. Maybe luck was with me.
When I got back to the room, mom was gone, and odd as it might seem, miraculous actually, everything in my room was where it should be. The layers of dirty clothes on the floor were in the hamper in the closet. I could see the rug. My ancient surge protector wasn’t sparking with the extension cords that had extension cords. Instead they were tied off with twistees. It must have found the collection under the bed. But then it went too far.
My computer with its many pages was all turned off. “What’s the idea?” My mom believed the tech guy at Staples that leaving so many pages up destroyed my hard drives. I knew better. Technology is wasted on adults. Did this mean the creature wasn’t a kid or just got where my mom was coming from?
That was a chilling thought. Blinking at, from within the cam, were round red eyes. Then it shut down the cam. Must have noticed I still had the towel on. I got dressed, thinking, it could shut it off, yet all this time it watched me. Creepy, but I kind of liked it for cleaning my room.
Downstairs was the same boring breakfast, cereal I never liked and a banana. I grabbed the banana, my book bag, then remembered my lunch in the insulated turquoise bag. She’d put in some chocolate soy with the BLT and a protein bar for snack. You can be too healthy but what was this, a Nestle’s bar. My dad pouring his coffee had a conspiratorial grin. When did this ever happen? Like never.
I walked to school. The bus was too rowdy for comfort. I wondered if I was becoming a nut job, hallucinating some ET fantasy—awake! I didn’t even like that movie, the creature was so fake, and it was really corny, ET COME HOME
No sooner was the thought in my brain, then I saw it go by on a bicycle. I am not kidding.ET was wearing the clothes and the bike of Ryan, this cute boy down the street. He’s 14 and out of middle school, so you know he’s not looking at me. But ET grinned kind of charming and slowed down to my pace.
Then I got it, the eyes were very round and red. “Penny, how’s it going?” I played along, imagining it was Ryan, relieved ET here was only the creature from my nanny cam. Ryan probably didn’t know my name. It’s Penny for Penelope, you know from Greek mythology, the faithful wife, who doesn’t know Odysseus after 40 years, her keeping suitors at bay still beautiful. Why was she not a hag?
“Okay,” I answered ET. “But math test today. Always fail it.” “That’s my best subject,” he said his wizened face crinkling. I thought. Yeah, try calculating five million three hundred and eighty thousand three by twenty one thousand fifty…” Without a calculator he gave me a number that must have been right. What extra-terrestrial wasn’t a genius to us?
“There’s tricks, he said, I’m not that smart. And he showed me tricks and short words to remember them. When I get distracted, which is all the time, and getting worse my dad says because I have all those pages up and watch everything all the time on the Internet. Maybe that’s why I can’t remember anything. My mom says she’s just naturally like that. I could just have her gene.
That’s why I wrote down the tricks on a file card, I had in my book bag. I try to keep these in the front to remember things. But then I forget to look. After ET left, waving good bye with one gnarly arm, I repeated the tricks a lot so they’d stick. Interestingly, as he got in the distance, I saw Ryan’s black hair instead of ET’s bald head. Maybe Ryan had been there?
The rest of the day was very up. I unfolded that card and could remember what ET/Ryan said. For the first time ever, I wasn’t scared I’d forget the numbers. My stupidity wasn’t a fact on the ground.
There was also the weirdness of mean girls turned nice. It was unnatural for beautiful Allison Whatley, a deb in training, to withhold the evil barb, the compliment that veiled an insult, always timed for public humiliation. Character assassination was her specialty. Mine was being invisible, under her radar, glad to be deemed unworthy of notice.
At lunch, Allison’s honeyed voice loudly proclaimed how I was really looking fab-u. Arms out, she welcomed me to her cool girls’ table. Now I’m not terminally ugly, but this is something she wouldn’t do with a gun to her head. Pretty embarrassed with this display and flattered in a kind of sick way, since I didn’t even like her, I moved my tray to her table.
Hard to believe the cashmere mixed with Juicy Couture at that table. I might be an Emo type, I favor black converse sneakers and would put hot pink streak in my hair, if I knew how, but it’s also a matter of economics—the most cool for my scarce dollars.
Let’s face it, I don’t wear Free People, let alone try on Dolche & Gabbbino. The only label I’ve got is Old Navy and GAP on sale, yet they were cooing about my black flared jeans in a stretch denim straight leg season. Something in their designer water; maybe not, since Courtney Stango had some very round red eyes.
The Disney like flavor of my existence was confirmed at dinner time. Dad emerged from his basement den, cheerful! With a twinkle he said, “How about going to Sonic tonight? Just you and me. Mom’s got book group.” “What about my homework?” “You just had your math test. Sure you Aced it! Take a break. You deserve it!”
A bit weird, considering my dad hated Sonic and would make me do my homework first and forget he offered a treat afterward—kind of a sick incentive. This would not last, wasn’t real. Life sucked. And the it in the nanny can was a big fake, like Santa, the Easter Bunny, and ET. Though he was all special effects and perhaps it was a similar illusion?
I needed to wash my face and change my shirt. Though it was near June, it was nice and cool in Maplewood, New Jersey. I put my sleep shirt over the nanny cam, though of course I knew it could peek, even if it was in the cam. I pulled on a faded pair of loose jeans, a ratty t-shirt I’d painted with fabric dye, and my all-purpose black sweater with unstrategic moth holes. I checked myself out in the mirror. WHOA!
The girl in that mirror was me but terrific. My dirty blonde hair was midnight blue and covering my face at a sharp diagonal. My Fail of a T-shirt looked avant runway, my pants were like boys narrow and closely fit my puny form. I got a sick chill, realizing that it didn’t just reflect images, it read hopes–wishes, wants. Why would it want my world to work out? What was in it for him/her whatever it was?
Maybe she ate energy and liked the positive kind; some kind of psychic vampire or spiritual gardener planting happy seeds? I must have been getting closer to its truth,, since my eyes were getting redder by the moment.
It was a fine night on the highway, when dad and I took the Sonic exit. We parked our car and looked at the menu board. He gave our order to the lady on the intercom inside; a double carmel milkshake and chicken strips for me. Dad didn’t order his usual iced tea, but a Caesar salad with chicken. “Can use the protein,” he explained, giving mom’s line. He was trying to please her and she wasn’t even there. I wondered about that.
A guy came out on roller skates with a bag I hoped was our order, but it went to another car. A girl came out with another bag, skated a figure eight over to another car. So it went for fifteen more minutes in a drive-by places that advertises food in five. My dad should have been busting a gut, all these other people getting their orders. Instead, he was smiling, humming music along with his IPhone.
“Have you noticed no food? “ I asked. He was singing Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want…but you find some time, you just might find, you get what you need.”Wisdom,” he said. “A rolling skater gathers no food,” I said with an edge. I got out of the car and walked towards the Sonic building.
A blonde with a California tan, and we’re in New Jersey, and the damn summer has barely started, came skating over to me. Her skirt flared, like she was performing in a rink. She stopped, a perfect three point stop, and offered me a bag.“Your order?” she asked with perfectly white teeth in a Cover Girl smile.
I looked in, saw the carmel shake.“Yes, but don’t you want payment?” “Not Really. It’s on the house.” “Why is that? It’s not my birthday?” “Every day is your birthday,” said the girl with a sincerity that creeped me out.”
“I don’t want your damned food,” said I, shoving the bag back to her. “You never want what you can have,” said the girl, amused. She scissored into a half camel-back turn, before her face twisted, running off in carmel milkshake. Soon there was no dazzling smile, no cute uniform with flirty skirt, no long tanned legs. In fact, no legs. IT was moving fast, milky sludge in its wake.
I ran after it, angry. “Nothing pleases my father. He wants me to be perfect, to act like him. My mother always thinks she’s right and wants me to do what she says, which means I can’t be me unless I hide. I hate my life! Who are you, to give people what they think they want? You’re fake. Go back to where you came from! I sat on the curb, teary.
U mean the nanny cam, she asked but not in spoken words. Then I faced the huge eye, the lens of the camera. It was in, the lower half. It invited me. I hesitated, looking around me. Time was stuck. Sonic rollerskaters midturn, drivers in cars mouths open giving orders, kids bouncing in air. Dad was stuck on the Stones’ channel or maybe it was Pandora. At first there was just a look between us. Then I fell inside the cam, inside the vortex of red eyes into its consciousness.
Red-eyed creatures, lots of them, glowy incandescent, like jellyfish, were their bright bodies. Some explosion and black sludge erupted in geysers like oil wells. Electronic screams, interference that hurt not just my ears, but inside, who I am, in this life where I seem to be one of the its. Piercing, excruciating, then done, Only a set of eyes seeing through cams on earth. That was the vehicle! I’m bewildered watching babysitters and kids, kids mugging for camera; babysitters, smoking,drinking, kissing boyfriends, remembering to put cloth on the camera or not, parents fighting, doing whatever happens in houses when kids were asleep. And the same babysitters or parents, telling somebody what they wanted to hear.
The Its listened to kids, who wanted their parents or their babysitters, and found it hard to understand the duality of adults. The Its felt the same. They had once had kids before the great sludge and a greater sadness.
It wanted to give everybody what they wanted. Interesting enough, I got that Ryan wanted an excuse to talk to me, that the cool girls had wanted to invite me, that dad really liked the salad at Sonic. And that I was the one, who looked down on me. I came out of the cam with one desire.
Once the scenery began to move, I gave dad our food. We ate and I couldn’t wait until we were home again. I’d dream of It. But in my dream. I took it, sludging running off in a trail behind us, and put it into our yard. I hosed it down good, all that cosmic sludge down the gutter. It was now beautiful silvery shining, incandescent. You know where I sent It? I pointed the cam at my computer screen. It loved Las Vegas, lit up in the desert. I could tell It wanted more. I showed her a images of Caesar’s, the Sands, Tropicana, and let her choose.


It’s on a postcard, Red Eyes atop a new casino. It’s enormously popular. Everyone wins every night, though not every hand. It’s up to the player, the way they feel about themselves and the game. For those that want to win, think they deserve to win, don’t think they are undeserving or it’s not their karma to win, there are endless prizes. Strangely, the house never loses. The odds are more than in their favor. Its power is free.

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Homage to the IT! Story

THE “It!” Story “It!” is an influential horror short story by Theodore Sturgeon, first published in Unknown August 1940. The story deals with a plant monster that is ultimately revealed to have formed around a human skeleton, specifically that of Roger Kirk, in a swamp. P. Schuyler Miller described “It!” as “probably the most unforgettable story ever published in Unknown. “[1]   –WIKIPEDIA   
Theodore Sturgeon’s “It!” story was an “unforgettable” story, as was his most well-known novel, “More Than Human,” though today he’s probably more often recognized by readers of classic science fiction anthologies. One of the poignant facts about his “It! is that it may be the first story set in the new American suburbs. There were tensions between the threatened rural life–the old swamplands with their bogeyman–and the burgeoning American dreamscape.
Sturgeon, who originally wanted to be a New Yorker writer, is credited as the inventor of the something “weird” happens in suburbia genre. The idea of the wild, natural or supernatural, unleashed amid manicured lawns and copycat houses has been well-mined in fiction and film; perhaps popularized best in Steven Spielberg movies.
In a revealing interview, Spielberg once said he owed the suburban world of his films to Theodore Sturgeon. That his movies would not exist, if he hadn’t read Sturgeon’s stories. You have only to read “It!” and view ET to get the connection. While not a huge Spielberg fan, I respect the unusual generosity of giving credit to a predecessor.
In the U.S., unlike Europe, successful artists rarely give recognition to those whose works they borrowed or built upon. Everyone here is a genius, whose work attests to a one of-a-kind talent. Artists from older countries give homage to those, whose shoulders they “stand-upon,” proud to be part of a tradition. Here, people think it detracts from their fame.
A couple of examples:
Movies, like “Being There,” “Forrest Gump,” “Zelig,” all borrow from Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. The idea of a divine fool, who becomes a blank slate for all to project on and functions as a critique of a whole society, is central to The Idiot. In Being There, the “idiot” hero meets a Prince Mishkin, the same name as the title character of the novel. Gump and Zelig also drop hints pointing to the original conceit.
A novel on high school reading lists is Doctorow’s Ragtime, celebrated for the technique of mixing real people with fictional ones, and to present scenes visually, through the cinematic eye, as the novel travels through time. Yet John Dos Passos’ U.S.A. trilogy was first, from his broad historical canvas, mixing real people with fictional, and his chapter, “The Camera Eye,”which pioneered filmic perspective. Dos Passos’ take on the beginning of Wall Street, not to mention the public relations field, is an eye-opener in 2014. Our culture is much poorer for the fact that Doctorow guarded his fame and Dos Passos, as easy to read as a mini-series, has fallen off the high school map.
Some people may have discovered Sturgeon from the oblique references to Kilgore Trout, a brilliant janitor in Kurt Vonnegut’s novels. Colleagues in science fiction, Vonnegut was amused by the fish allusion, and may have wanted to “out” his modest friend, who had worked as a janitor. It’s one of those not really mythic stories about genius in low places, like Einstein’s gig as a night watchman..Vonnegut’s Trout was probably a form of homage, though he may not have called it such.
I once encountered Vonnegut in Iowa City. He was getting off a plane and I was waiting to get on one. I was reading Fitzgerald’s “The Crack-up,” when I sensed someone trying to get my attention. I looked up, surprised. I had never met Vonnegut. He smiled, pointed to the cover, and gave me a big thumb’s up. He mimed he loved Fitzgerald, I mimed back same. This was a guy enthusiastic about great writers.
Another true story. I did publicity for Blue Jay Books, then a small publisher of classic science fiction/fantasy–in hard-cover with acid free pages! I worked briefly with Theodore Sturgeon toward the end of his life. This was a writer, who never made much money but loved the work and having readers. Among the more humble of writers, he was all about the process and the miraculous. Sturgeon also suffered years of writer’s block.
My point with all this? Writers may need to imitate those they admire. And the truth is that genius usually stands on someone else’s shoulders. Most writers, like Mr. Sturgeon, play the long game. They write and hope their work makes some splash. They also hope to continue, despite obscurity. Recognizing progenitors benefits everyone—especially readers.
I am happy this Halloween to publish my own “It!” story. IT STARTED IN THE PRIMEVAL OOZE OF MY FATHER’S ANCIENT PC. It's on MAGLOMANIAC tomorrow. 
Thanks for reading.
SW