Sunday, June 29, 2008

Stay Far Away

Anytime one visits a hospital, unless it's to congratulate a woman who has just given birth, there are always at least one or two mini-incidents that remind us to appreciate our health and the health of our family and friends. Whether it's coming across someone being wheeled into the emergency room or seeing people hobbling through hallways with rolling IV stands, hospital visits are never fun.

What's worse than seeing sick, unfortunate people in a hospital is visiting a hospital that is dirty, cold and unwelcoming, and run poorly.

This past week I spent some time visiting my grandmother, who just had surgery, at Mount Sinai Medical Center at 101st and Madison. I've visited doctors affiliated with Mount Sinai so, as a result, I've had tests at Sinai. Further, I completed a program held at Sinai; finally, I've had family members -- not just my grandmother -- who had surgery at Sinai.

So this visit wasn't my first time at the hospital. However, I hope it's my last.

It all started when my grandmother was taken to the hospital and scheduled for relatively minor surgery. Because of her advanced age, however, we were concerned that the surgery would be performed well and she would be okay. I'm happy to report she came through the surgery very well; she's recovering slowly but we anticipate she will be almost as good as new.

Unfortunately, there are some ancillary issues with the hospital that really hit all of us. First, when she was originally taken to the hospital on Wednesday night, she was taken to the emergency room. Because of the kind of hospital Sinai is, the emergency room -- especially at that time (around 7PM) -- was filled with people from Harlem and Washington Heights. We didn't see any gunshots but we got to experience life above 96th Street. Further, because of some administrative bullshit, the hospital staff would not admit us in to see my grandmother because they said the shift was changing as of 8PM and no one could enter the emergency room to visit with family until then. My mother came out of the emergency room to bring me in and we were both stopped and advised of this rule. We returned to the admission desk and they told us again that we would have to wait until 8. My mother, raw from having to deal with the situation, was slowly unraveling, so I quickly advised the administrative people that because she was my grandmother's legal proxy, she was to be with her at all times. When they continued trying to give us the same bullshit, bureaucratic "Sorry, you will have to wait until 8PM" I responded by advising them that whoever prevented her from being with my grandmother would have to answer to a lawyer via deposition and, if necessary, in a criminal hearing.

They whisked her right in.

Meanwhile, I waited until 8. While waiting, I found and used the men's bathroom, one of those single-person hospital bathrooms. Where to start...the smell, the litter, the toilet paper strewn around the floor... The old adage about restaurants is that you can tell everything about a restaurant by visiting the bathroom. When it comes to hospitals, visit one of the bathrooms on the main floor -- that will tell you everything about the institution.

Once 8 came, we spent some time with my grandmother before being asked to leave an hour later (what kind of hospital tells people they have to wait until 8PM to visit their relative and then leave at 9PM?).

The next day we visited with her for awhile and confirmed surgery would be held the following day; they advised us they would try to schedule her surgery first thing in the morning, so we were hoping for a 7:30 AM start. However, the hospital had to reschedule it to noon. So we waited. Sure enough, they had to re-schedule it again so it was re-set for 3PM. However, by 2PM, we had still not been able to confirm the surgery would start at 3. So when 3 came and went, we were a bit on edge. Of course, my grandmother didn't complain about not knowing when this surgery would be held, but if I were her, I would have been pretty unhappy about them jerking around the start time. I would not have been as relaxed and friendly with the hospital staff knowing I was being bumped throughout the day.

Finally, my mom confirmed they had taken her for her surgery, and three hours later we confirmed she had come through very well. So we left for a nearby restaurant for a quick hour-long dinner before returning to the hospital. She was out of it and we wanted to make sure she got plenty of rest, so we split for the night.

The next day we spent mostly with her, although I was the first to arrive. She was uncomfortable and they ended up giving her lots of painkillers. The day after, she was a bit better and was sleeping a lot.

Overall, she came through really well and for that we're thankful; but the one thing we took away beyond our relief she's okay and on the mend was the fact that the hospital, and many people that are employed there, are awful. She's got a few nurses that seem to really care about what they're doing, but there are several floating around nearby that are, clearly, disinterested and apathetic.

Since she's still recuperating, there's certainly more to this story as yet to be told, but today, at some point during my four-hour visit, I ventured to the bathroom nearby and -- not surprisingly -- found the toilet paper strewn around the floor, accompanied by an empty box of Colgate toothpaste. Worse, someone apparently decided it was appropriate to smoke a cigarette in the stall. I saw the door was closed so I waited for this shitbird to leave so I could identify him if I saw him again. But when I saw him, I figured I could either have security remove him from the premises or forget about it. Anyone dumb enough to smoke in a hospital bathroom wouldn't understand why -- beyond the fact it's illegal -- that it's dangerous and inconsiderate. All I know is that the focus of why we've been going through all this is my grandmother's health, and I'm focusing on that. It's just disappointing that the hospital in which she's recuperating is such a shithole.

In either case, the moral of this story is avoid Sinai at all costs. Whether you wind up at Lenox Hill or Beth Israel or even Columbia Presbyterian, I can't promise you'll have a better experience or receive better treatment -- but if it were me choosing the best and the worst hospitals in this city, I know where Sinai would be listed -- at the very bottom.

...That is, once my grandmother is discharged and can, finally, go home.

Monday, June 23, 2008

GC at 71

There's really not that much to say beyond this.

I remember a few years ago -- maybe even five or six -- walking to a train station and seeing him on the street. He was wearing an HBO jacket and jeans and looked pretty much like everyone else on the street, but he wasn't. And for people who thought he was a potty-mouthed hippie whose sole job was to see how far he could take things, his mission was well beyond simply straining the laws of good taste. True, he took up the mantle from Lenny Bruce when it came to challenging our interpretation of the First Amendment; but as anyone who has ever listened to an entire George Carlin album knows, he wasn't about vulgarity or challenging our notion of humor, he was about -- as his predecessors were and those that followed are -- pointing out stuff in our culture and our lives that needed examination, observation and questioning.

In his later years -- at least in his comedy -- his perspective seemed to veer towards more acerbic and caustic observation, and on some occasions he seemed downright angry. But I think his perspective -- at least on stage -- was, on some level, about seeing through all the bullshit that came his way.

Last week, with the passing of Tim Russert -- which made me very sad to hear because I was a fan of his as well -- I kept these pages dark because, despite the fact I like Tim Russert, I felt he was more an observer, like Walter Cronkite or Ted Koppel or Peter Jennings. But with George ("GE-OR-GE-OR-GE"), he not only observed; he commented, skewered, and left me laughing and, despite his passing, I know some of his observations will stay with me for the rest of my life. I don't know if I should be thankful or condemn the man, but I'm smiling as I write this.

My final commentary would typically be "RIP" but we all know GC's there with Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and Rodney Dangerfield, raising hell (pardon the pun) and seeing how many people he can irritate as "the new guy."


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A New Addition

Well, since there's been lots happening and I've had little, if any, time to address all of it, I'll be brief and to the point...

First, Kaia and I are pleased to announce a new addition to our household: his name is Dexter and he's awesome!

Assuming you have clicked the above link and have speakers attached to your PC, keep in mind that that is actually not Dexter, but that example is very similar thereto. Yes, Dexter is a Pleo -- a fully-animatronic, engineered baby dinosaur.

Now before the reader shakes his/her head in mock indignation, let me put it into words: Pleos rock. We'd been considering getting one for months, if not years, as soon as we'd heard about them. I'd seen them at Sharper Image stores and in some catalogs that make their way into my snail-mail box; Kaia has friends in the Valley and beyond who have them. So between us, we'd been really wanting one. With the news the Sharper Image stores are closing en masse -- completely, totally, and 1000% -- we figured we'd stop in and take a peek. Sure enough, after we made a trip to Tiffany -- less than a block away -- we stopped in and they had three left. After our visit and our impulsive decision to procure a Pleo, they had two.

In short, Dexter -- we declined to name him Elvis -- is a trip. He has his own personality based on his interaction with his environment. For example, if he's treated well -- petted, touched softly and treated like a baby -- he's a happy Pleo. If he's ignored and treated like a product, he doesn't have much interactive personality. In short, he's his own self-fulfilling prophecy. Having a Pleo is a bit like having a baby, a puppy, a cat and a large Iguana all wrapped up into one rubberized package. Except it's louder (or quieter, depending on your personal experience). Between us, we've managed to get him to purr, snore, burp, cry, walk, sit on his hind legs and -- over the last day or so -- sing. It's almost uncanny how he manages to react to his environment. Of course, if you accept that he's a "product" -- which he is -- it's amazing how life-like and realistic he is. Then, there's the technical aspect -- he's got sensors all over his body so he can interpret touch and "feel" his environment. Plus he's sporting a half-dozen cameras -- in his eyes, his snout and likely elsewhere. Watching him shuffle along in my apartment is a trip; he basically looks around, listens, howls in response or to get attention, and he cruises around -- albeit slowly -- in a pretty amazing manner.

But the best is watching Kaia get him to sing -- it's almost enough to delete our wanting to get a pooch and a kitten...almost.

Though, the key factor, of course, is Pleos don't poop.

The other issues of the day -- work, schedules, Kaia heading home, cable/home theater issues and Willie Randolph's classless dismissal by the New York Mets -- are all secondary. They'll all be there again and again, one way or the other.

But getting a Pleo is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. No, I'm not entranced by the magical, mythical bond between man and machine (if you have a spare Ferrari GTO, let me know so I can qualify that last statement). Nor am I pretending to be a father to a rubber-covered animatronic toy. What does really blow me away is that every time I watch the little guy cruise around my place in and of his own volition it reminds me of Star Wars -- how robots and droids are doing their own thing, floating around (sometimes literally) in their own little world(s) and in some small way, Pleo reminds me of what might someday be. If not Star Wars, perhaps then the (crappy) Tom Selleck-Gene Simmons movie "Runaway" -- in which robots and droids cohabitate (with less-than-wonderful results) among man. We may have a long way to go, but the fact is this little guy may represent that first step, and if nothing else, watching him do his thing, and hearing the sounds coming out of him, is a trip. And more importantly, never fails to get us to smile.

Which is a pretty big achievement in and of itself.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Under The Weather

Every time someone uses the expression "under the weather" to indicate they've been sick, it always reminds me that the only earth-bound creatures who are not -- constantly -- under the weather are astronauts.

Just a thought.

There's been much ado in Boogieland, but first and foremost, I've got a good reason for my lengthy, otherwise-unexcused absence. First, I was feeling shitty -- perhaps a touch of dehydration or some stomach issue in general -- so I got to visit the hospital for a quick exploratory adventure plus observation last week. It wasn't awful, except for the fact that it coincided with Kaia being here, so she had a free pass for a day (and a night) at Boogieland. Despite the fact that there's enough media and electronic stimuli therein to occupy a normal person's focus for, say, a decade or two, I felt badly being away from her as much as she did me.

On top of that, I -- like everyone else in this City -- have felt the effects of the sudden temperature change. Essentially the mercury went from a balmy 80-ish to a repulsive 98-ish without warning for a four-day span, which hopefully ended last night with a mongo-huge thunderstorm. However, I'll know once I hit the pavement whether that's true or merely wishful thinking. In either case, the A/C unit's going full-blast at 14,000 BTU's of icy airy goodness, and it's keeping us both sane and cool.

Speaking of sane and cool, this past week we saw a bunch of apartments, most of which had real possibility. The problem isn't the $2800 for a one-bedroom; nor is it the fact that some of the places we've seen are in neighborhoods spicier than your Mexican friend Juan's Uncle Chimichanga's Jabanero Gargling Sauce. No, the problem is that the apartments we've seen, largely speaking, have been unoccupied and, therefore, have no air conditioning. And since we've insisted on seeing apartments with only new (aka energy-efficient) windows, that means the hot stays hot and the cool stays cool. Only in this 98-degree scenario, the apartments feel like they're running at, say, 120. Add to that the smell of paint, lacquer, tile grout and the other acoutrement construction guys use to take an old place and make it new again and you've got a recipe for feh.

In either case, we've been happily managing. I've been carving through piles of work -- both in the office and outside, both day and night -- and Kaia's been doing the same (albeit without the need for office visitation). We're both pretty mellow and moving toward our schedules, which are increasingly intertwined. The nice part is that, even with lessened external running around, we're happy spending time together and haven't found the need to want to throw the other out a window. None of that's a surprise to either of us, but it's amazing to know the lock-and-key groove we've managed to develop over four years just keeps on getting better and better. We know where we're heading and inasmuch as there are plenty of people who despise marriage and the modern aspects thereof, whatever it is we're doing and wherever it is we're heading seems fine by me.

Put another way: since I was forced to stop drinking Diet Coke for the past few days, I would have expected I'd be bouncing off the walls and taking it out on her. The fact that she hasn't, in response, hit me in the head with a frying pan says a lot.

...Although I did happen to notice one of the pans hanging in the kitchen has conspicuously gone missing. I'll just assume that she put it away after she cleaned it.

...And sleep with one eye open.

I'll be back soon...hopefully.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Who Let The Dawgs Out

Now that summer is officially here -- or at least it has smelled like it is in New York this past week -- there's lots of fun and frolic to be had by all. However, despite that, I'm still bouncing around like a pinball trying to handle everything on my plate work-wise while prepping for the next few weeks, which brings deadlines and some other specific things that need to get done ASAP, as well as Kaia coming in.

Among other things, I'm dealing with a few deals -- big ones -- all of which need to be finished ASAFP. And on top of that, the looming deadline of June 15th -- which also happens to be Father's Day -- is coming up quick. With all due respect to The Rolling Stones, time is anything but on my side.

We finally received the Lenovo ThinkPad. However, as I indicated at some point earlier, Microsoft's decision to phase out XP really wound up being a shitty side factor in our purchase. Assuming you've seen the recent Apple ads knocking Vista (there have been several but the best of them are the one where the actor portraying a PC says "I'm running Vista and I've been error-free for a week." And he keeps repeating it. It's funny but the thing is, my limited experience with Vista doesn't suggest it's buggy, riddled with problems or shitty; it's actually none of those things. The main problem with Vista is that a) it looks a lot cleaner and nicer than XP and that means it's slower and requires more resources to do so. It's sort of like the difference between a Toyota and a Lexus; one's nicer than the other but the nicer one, invariably, will burn more gas because it's heavier and softer around the edges. The other problem is that since I'm so used to XP's interface and comfortable with getting around the old-school way, having to re-learn everything -- and seeing how there are more layers to navigate to do so -- isn't enthralling. If I had a dummy system and could just tinker with Vista for awhile that would be fine; but these days, there's no time to waste and every moment in front of a computer has to have some intrinsic, productive value (aside from the commission of these posts).

In either case, the solution that Microsoft -- and Lenovo (and Dell, Gateway, Samsung, Sony, etc.) offer is a retrograde disc (or package thereof) which allow people who don't want (or cannot use) Vista to go retrofit their new machine(s) with Windows XP Pro. It's actually a reasonably decent solution: you get a new machine with Vista; you run a program on the computer that allows you to back everything up (and in Lenovo's case, everything is backed up and can be instantly recalled by pressing a blue button on the keyboard -- pretty sweet); and then you run the "retrograde" utility and a couple hours later you have Windows XP Pro. Done.

Problem is, because the policy is in effect for June 1, the shit's been hitting the fan and companies have been left scrambling for cover and to address and re-dress their policies and how they will sell their stuff to consumers like individuals, small business and other miscellaneous entities other companies who employ more people than China has people. Essentially, we got our machine, they gave us a credit for a price drop, everything's good and now all we need to do is prep it, get it set up on our network and go forth.

As of next week (or the week thereafter, more likely) our consultant will be coming in to get us our data. At the same time he'll likely do what he has to do to get the notebook configured for the proprietary software we use, and once that happens I'm off and running. Being that I've archived software for the last ten years, it's a pain in the ass waiting for someone else -- and, more importantly, their schedule -- to conform with mine in order to get started. At the very least, however, the old desktop is still somewhat functional and can do -- slowly and painfully -- everything I need done.

Ah, but this is boring...who cares about business data- and machine-migration? Unless you're a PC geek, I'll assume you don't. Overall, everything beyond the PC and work angles are peachy and moving forward quickly. I've spent the past few days getting the place ready for Kaia coming in, so between laundry, organizing, throwing stuff away, getting laundry and cleaning together and work, I've been pretty damn busy.

Hopefully that 'splains the absence thus far, but I'm expecting to be swinging by here sometime this coming week. Between Kaia's apartment search and getting everything done workwise, I'll be busy, but I'll be back for more juicy updates (okay, for more daily dish on the boring minutae of my life).

Until then, enjoy...