Gross Misdiagnosis

I watch a significant amount of television, and a significant portion of the commercials I view are for pharmaceuticals engineered to assist erectile dysfunction. I usually just tune them out, but this latest one really cracked me up: 


Man walks down the sidewalk, and suddenly his reflection talks back to him: "So, headed to the doctor?"

I can't think of a more appropriate question coming from a hallucination. But then the hallucination starts hassling him about their ED. After encouraging him, "You can do this," he says ok and proceeds. 

The man sees the doctor and after they exchange slow building handshake, we now know the doctor gave the poor man Viagra instead of the antipsychotic he so clearly needed. Maybe the doc chose to ignore the odd way his patient described he problem as "we" rather than "I". And had the doctor asked, "So what brought you in today?", the answer would have been a little too unsettling to prescribe Viagra. If only doc could have seen his patient high five his hallucination in his office window. He might have known something was amiss. 

Then we see him happily go to lunch with his lady. She clearly adores him. Did he tell her about the talk with his doctor? We don't really know. But when he leans back and exchanges confident glances with his magic friend in the window, we know he believes all is well.

Little does he know that in a month or so things are going to take a new turn for the worse. His lady will start catching him talking with his reflection. Then she'll start seeking out his reflection for company. They hit it off because she can see that he is more confident and more encouraging than her real man. Then she starts an affair with the reflection. Then the man returns to the doctor, tells him all about what's happened, and he finally gets put on the medication he really needs. 

And then the doctor tells himself that he should have just asked the guy about talking reflections in the first place. 

Better luck next time, doc.

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Holiday Commercial Vomit

I'm so weary of jewelry commercials in December. There is a new one out with a couple by a window with a storm raging outside. Lightening flashes and it gets dark. She jumps surprised and her handsome man is right there. 

"I'm here. And I always will be. Now, here is some jewelry for you."

She says, "Don't let go. Ever."

Oh, vomit. 

The one that's been running for years is the sign language one. "Hey, my sign language is rusty...blah, blah, blah. Here's some jewelry."

And then she loves him. The formula is the same. Man says something that a woman watching a commercial clearly would love to hear. Then he delivers some sweet jewelry. And then she delivers subtle innuendo that intercourse may come later. 

Hey lady, I'm trying to be romantic. Oooh, I love romantic. Yeah? Well here is your jewelry. Oooh, I love you and jewelry! And so on and so forth.

Anyway, I just wanted to say I'm officially tired of it. 

And those dumb cars with bows on them. I mean, who gives cars for Christmas, anyway?

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Football Means Business, Men!

I've noticed over the past few weeks of watching NFL Gameday Morning on NFL Network as the show comes in and out of commercials they occasionally cut to various players showing up to stadiums. It's kinda cool. It's a few hours before kickoff. They are setting a feel for the games later on. We're all getting ready, checking our fantasy teams for surprise injuries or whatever. Anyway, they usually show players exiting their cars and walking across a parking lot and talking on cell phones. Most of the time they are wearing a suit or dress pants and a jacket--I just don't get the athletes wearing business clothes thing.

I remember my freshman basketball coach telling our team that we had to wear a shirt and tie to school on game days. Looking back, it kinda made sense. 15 year olds mess around instead of focusing by default. The coaches sold to us that we needed to focus the day of a game. Be Gallant, not Goofus. The coaches weren't putting us on team bus to horse around and then get pummeled because we weren't taking it seriously. I remember feeling very serious while tying my tie before school and getting on the bus. Football was different, though. I don't think we wore ties on game day, but we did wear our jerseys. With pride, as I recall. On one occasion we traveled to Jefferson City, MO on a chartered a bus, and I'm pretty sure we had to dress nicely for our journey. Jeff City High blasted us off their awesome field in front of their enthusiastic, Friday night in Texas-like crowd. A lot of good that tie did us.



"We're going on a business trip, men! We're taking care of business! Focus! Yeah!"


Business guys don't act like this at all. I see those fellas traveling on Southwest Airlines, playing Sudoku, snoozing, or fooling around with a movie and headphones on their laptop. Sure, they aren't dressed like slobs. But they aren't in a 3-piece, either. Anyway, the only reason business travelers aren't dressed in their jam jams and flip flops on the planes is because they are wearing clothes suitable for a meeting later after the flight, or they just finished a meeting. The rest of the goofballs on the plane in jeans and polos are the business travelers who aren't doing business that day.

So if NFL coaches want to adhere to the business logic of dress while traveling, they certainly wouldn't have their players waste time putting on a $10,000 suit for a plane flight, only to change clothes at their place of business and get into their actual work clothes.

Come to think of it, the NFL, NBA, etc. must be the only profession that forces their employees to dress as though they were in a completely different profession--while traveling. It's so weird when you think about it. What if your boss told you tomorrow that when heading to the meeting across town, you must dress like a hotel bellhop? When you ask why, your boss tells you that the act of wearing this other profession's attire will help keep you focused while traveling to the meeting. When you ask if you are to wear the bellhop attire at the meeting, your boss then says to change back into your regular clothes in the bathroom. It's not happening, you see.

Maybe coaches think this way: Picture Tom Brady traveling with the team on a jet to a game. He's wearing a nice shirt and nerd sweater like he does for the press after a game. His eyes are closed, but he's not resting. Fingers interlaced across his chest, he feels the rich, supple wool of his $565 nerd sweater. It reminds him that he's loaded, that football made him loaded, and he's about to go to work on the San Diego Chargers again, and then he thinks about each offensive play to Moss and Welker, etc.. What if he were wearing his coach's 3/4 sleeveless hoodie? Fingers interlaced across his chest, he feels the ok-quality cotton of the NFL Store. This reminds him of all the nobodies that watch him and think about him and write about him and wish they were him, and that thought makes him smile and feel satisfied, and then he feels good about ordering another Reuben sandwich, and then sleeps the rest of the flight. Is that the Tom Brady Patriots fans want? They want his nerd sweater.

Heck, I want his nerd sweater. And I want for one Sunday to turn on NFL Gameday Morning and see all the fellas getting out of their rigs and walking across the parking lot in game pants, jerseys and cleats. Now that would make some sense.

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The Haircut, The Follow-Up

My barber Tom calls me six weeks after every haircut to remind me that it's time for another one. I really like this system, as it relieves me from the duty of having to judge this on my own. Before I found Tom, I would wait until someone else cued me to get a haircut. My parents would visit, and my mother would suggest it. Maybe someone at work would ask about my hair in a neutral way that would make me think about getting a cut later: "Gavin, growing your hair out, huh?" Oblivious to the message, I'd say, "No", but later it would occur to me that my follicles needed clipping. 

So the reminder system works for me, but it doesn't work perfectly for Tom. You see, he ALWAYS calls six weeks after the haircut, but I usually procrastinate calling back for a couple more weeks. He has a little card file on his table with all his clients names, and he writes down when it's time to call for haircut. This system also helps him predict his cashflow. 

As I was getting my haircut last month, he asked what took me so long to call back and get a cut. I said I was low on cash and wanted to wait until I got paid again. Then he said, "Aw, who cares about Tom's cash flow?!" He was quite serious, but I couldn't help chuckling at his bringing this to my attention. I agreed that I didn't care about his cashflow, and that I was in this relationship for haircuts purely at my convenience. He didn't love it, but he knew it was true.

Earlier that morning I realized I was going somewhere that weekend and I needed Tom to clean me up. I called him and he conveniently fit me in that day. The problem was that I didn't have any cash, and I didn't have time to get more prior to the haircut. Tom doesn't take credit cards; his patrons pay in cash without complaint. So after he finished, I told him I didn't have any cash on me, but I could pay him tomorrow. Of course, this wasn't a problem, and we worked something out so that I could come by the next day. 

The following day I saw he was open, so I dropped by and saw some old dude sitting in my barber chair. After years of haircuts and never seeing anyone else getting a haircut, the chair kind of starting to feel as though it was mine. Tom's an older guy, and the guy in the chair was old, and Tom gives out the BS like nobody's business, so I decided to dole some out myself. 

I hollered, "Tom, your haircut stunk, so I'm paying late and I'm paying HALF." Neither Tom nor his patron looked amused. Tom just calmly said, "Oh, hi Gavin. Why don't you just leave the money on the counter." 

Maybe they didn't understand I was joking, I thought. Better lay it on thick. I thumbed the old guy's direction and said, "Is this the guy you practiced on before you hacked me up last time. My condolences!" Tom and the old dude just exchanged glances. Neither seemed to think it was funny. Here I was, clearly in the old man, universally accepted, BS-certified barber forum, and I was apparently not pulling it off. Maybe I wasn't old enough, not quite ready for the barber shop BS club yet. Or maybe this was a new customer that Tom was trying to impress. Yeah, it was probably that one. I'm sure it's real easy keeping customers as the sole proprietor and operator of a cash only business in this economy. Well, it wouldn't be the first time I'd put my foot in my mouth. 

Seeing this wasn't going over well, I said meekly, "Tom, here's $22 plus a little bit more. Nice work on the haircut. Call me when it's time again." And I left. 

Sorry, Tom. I'm sure I'll hear about this one later. 

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My barber Tom calls me six weeks after every haircut to remind me that it's time for another one. I really like this system, as it relieves me from the duty of having to judge this on my own. Before I found Tom, I would wait until someone else cued me to get a haircut. My parents would visit, and my mother would suggest it. Maybe someone at work would ask about my hair in a neutral way that would make me think about getting a cut later: "Gavin, growing your hair out, huh?" Oblivious to the message, I'd say, "No", but later it would occur to me that my follicles needed clipping. 

So the reminder system works for me, but it doesn't work perfectly for Tom. You see, he ALWAYS calls six weeks after the haircut, but I usually procrastinate calling back for a couple more weeks. He has a little card file on his table with all his clients names, and he writes down when it's time to call for haircut. This system also helps him predict his cashflow. 

As I was getting my haircut last month, he asked what took me so long to call back and get a cut. I said I was low on cash and wanted to wait until I got paid again. Then he said, "Aw, who cares about Tom's cash flow?!" He was quite serious, but I couldn't help chuckling at his bringing this to my attention. I agreed that I didn't care about his cashflow, and that I was in this relationship for haircuts purely at my convenience. He didn't love it, but he knew it was true.

Earlier that morning I realized I was going somewhere that weekend and I needed Tom to clean me up. I called him and he conveniently fit me in that day. The problem was that I didn't have any cash, and I didn't have time to get more prior to the haircut. Tom doesn't take credit cards; his patrons pay in cash without complaint. So after he finished, I told him I didn't have any cash on me, but I could pay him tomorrow. Of course, this wasn't a problem, and we worked something out so that I could come by the next day. 

The following day I saw he was open, so I dropped by and saw some old dude sitting in my barber chair. After years of haircuts and never seeing anyone else getting a haircut, the chair kind of starting to feel as though it was mine. Tom's an older guy, and the guy in the chair was old, and Tom gives out the BS like nobody's business, so I decided to dole some out myself. 

I hollered, "Tom, your haircut stunk, so I'm paying late and I'm paying HALF." Neither Tom nor his patron looked amused. Tom just calmly said, "Oh, hi Gavin. Why don't you just leave the money on the counter." 

Maybe they didn't understand I was joking, I thought. Better lay it on thick. I thumbed the old guy's direction and said, "Is this the guy you practiced on before you hacked me up last time. My condolences!" Tom and the old dude just exchanged glances. Neither seemed to think it was funny. Here I was, clearly in the old man, universally accepted, BS-certified barber forum, and I was apparently not pulling it off. Maybe I wasn't old enough, not quite ready for the barber shop BS club yet. Or maybe this was a new customer that Tom was trying to impress. Yeah, it was probably that one. I'm sure it's real easy keeping customers as the sole proprietor and operator of a cash only business in this economy. Well, it wouldn't be the first time I'd put my foot in my mouth. 

Seeing this wasn't going over well, I said meekly, "Tom, here's $22 plus a little bit more. Nice work on the haircut. Call me when it's time again." And I left. 

Sorry, Tom. I'm sure I'll hear about this one later. 

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Love Me NFL

It's August 18th and I have the NFL on my mind. I was also thinking about the NFL July 18th and June 18th...

In truth, the NFL (National Football League) of American Football (for the benefit of my international readers) is on my mind every month of the year. It's hard to blame me with ESPN running NFL Tonight year-round. For a regular season that is only 4 months long, the NFL impressively gets the majority of the American sports coverage. And it's hard to blame the media for covering the NFL so extensively, with 31% of sports-following Americas claiming it as their favorite and second place MLB getting 16%

But I wonder why I care so much about the NFL. Maybe it's because football is played in the fall, and fall is my favorite season. Another reason I love the NFL could be a deep rooted mental association with heavy fall food staples such as chili, stews, smoked ribs, and cheese. But there is something else about me that should be considered: My NFL past.

In real life I have a wonderful family now, and I was raised in normal, loving fashion by my biological parents who are still married. I thankfully escaped childhood without actual trauma. But my budding Fanhood (the fan as a person) was rocked by betrayal and abandonment. Indeed, my Fanhood is dysfunctional.

Even as I write this blog post and remember my 8 year old Fanhood, I sense latent pain. The pain memory triggers new anger with the NFL. I ask, "Why do I even care about you? You were so bad to me!" I repeat: My Fanhood is dysfunctional. The NFL should not have a place in my heart.

Most football fans realize they like football at some young age and then pull for their team the rest of their lives. It's simple: If at any point during the fan's life their football team should win, they become happy. If they lose, fans become sad. But what about the football fan who discovered a love and passion for a team at age 7, but that team left his city by the time he was 12? And what if a new team moves to his town when he's 19?  

I remember sitting in Sunday School thinking about the St. Louis Cardinals (we called this team the "football Cardinals" to avoid confusion with the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team) games. I was 8 years old in 1984, the year my heart broke. Looking back, oh how pathetic it seems. I was this chubby kid daydreaming about Neil Lomax completing passes to Roy Green instead of watching a skit about John the Baptist. The football Cardinals weren't any good most years, and were pretty good occasionally. In 1984 the football Cardinals were pretty good.

Certainly there are thousands of football Cardinals fans who would count me as lucky that I wasn't put through the years of harebrained team ownership that caused bad team after bad team. In the 28 years the football Cardinals played in St. Louis, they made the playoffs three times and didn't win any of them. There was a brief, three year run in the early 80's of consecutive winning seasons. And this is when I discovered that I loved the football Cardinals. I have no memory of watching the football Cardinals playing at home in Busch Stadium, the Astro-turfed venue they shared with the baseball team. This is because the football Cardinals rarely sold out so the local broadcast was usually blacked out. I remember looking forward specifically to the away games so I could actually see the game and not be forced to listen to them on KMOX. I should point out that a healthy, growing Fanhood would actually look forward to home games because they are much more festive, the fans on TV cheer when you cheer, and dad might actually take you to a game. Self-loathing is essential to dysfunctional Fanhoods.

So I remember on Sunday December 16th, 1984 chatting up the football Cardinals with other kids at church, about how if they won today they would make the playoffs. I was excited. It was the last game of the season against the division powerhouse Redskins. I also remember very few, if any other kids actually matching my level of enthusiasm. I didn't know a single person in my family, church or school who cared about the football Cardinals like I did. I remember a classmate--Sarah Moore--in 6th grade telling me about her father, a Cardinals season ticket owner and how crazy he was about the team. I remember wishing I could meet this great man. But, of course, I could not. Isolation is a key ingredient to a dysfunctional Fanhood.

I don't remember a whole lot of the game--only that it was very close. I do remember how it ended. Neil O'Donoghue missed a field goal as time expired and the Cards lost by two points: 27-29. Neil O'Donoghue should have never been employed in the NFL in 1984. His lifetime field goal percentage was under 60%, hitting 112 of 189 attempts. That is very bad, yet the football Cardinals employed him for years. In 1983 his famously missed three field goals in overtime and the game ended in a tie. He was dreadful. Neil O'Donoghue missed the field goal that would have validated my lonely enthusiasm. Misplaced blame is a pillar of dysfunctional Fanhood.

The game lost, I was devastated. I remember visiting my dad in the cold while he repaired something on our front porch. He didn't know what to say to me, so I'm pretty sure he used the old standard, "The Cardinals are worthless." I felt like crying but I knew I couldn't do that. The first sting of your team disappointing you is the most painful. You grow callouses that help you for future disappointments. The silver lining from the games outcome was that I knew better how to deal with the baseball Cardinals World Series losses in 1985 and 1987.

I continued to follow the Cardinals crappy season after crappy season. In 1987 I remember walking around my grandparents' church in Southwest Missouri after the service asking adults which channel the Cardinals game might be on, as I was unfamiliar with the lineup. I walked up to my Grandfather and interrupted him in mid conversation with another elder, pointed to him and said, "The Cardinals game may be on channel 3 out of Joplin." He just looked at me like I was ridiculous and continued his conversation. This is one of the few conversations I even remember having with my grandfather. Genius football Cardinals owner Bill Bidwell moved the team to Phoenix in 1988. After all those seasons of luring me in, grooming me as a young lad to be a faithful NFL devotee, the football Cardinals betrayed and abandoned me. They left me with nothing but Phoenix Cardinals games each week on the television, wasting my viewing time on Vai Sikahema when I should have been tuned in to a real football franchise. Of all the NFL teams in all the cities in America, I had to live in one that moved their team. They left me with nothing. Abandonment is foundational to a dysfunctional Fanhood.

In 1995 the Los Angeles Rams announced they were moving to St. Louis, who had built a dome stadium for the purposes of obtaining another NFL franchise through expansion (no thanks to idiot Paul Tagliabue for sending a new team to beautiful Jacksonville, FL) or relocation. The St. Louis Post Dispatch had a special edition paper with Jerome Bettis (first a Ram before experiencing glory with the Steelers) on the front page announcing the move was official. My parents sent me a copy of the paper to me in college. I was kinda happy. The Rams were kinda my team now. I followed the Rams through the Chris Miller and Tony Banks eras. They won the Super Bowl with Kurt Warner following the 1999 season, and I was finally NFL-happy. But I felt at the time that I didn't deserve to be thrilled. This wasn't the team of my youth. Shame is another element in a dysfunctional Fanhood.

My Fanhood dysfunction reached a boiling point in 2008. Last season I experienced some Fanhood confusion. You see, after a few years of the Rams being worse than mediocre and only 12 total years of modest interest in the team, my wandering eyes found the San Diego Chargers. They seemed to be on every week here on the West coast and they had some really good players. I bought a shirt to see how it felt to wear another team's colors. I even told some close friends that I was thinking of converting. This news was met with ridicule, as it should have been. You can't just change teams. But sometimes I look at the Cleveland Browns and think, "It might be fun to be a Browns fan." I've considered the Kansas City Chiefs because I've known a lot of Chiefs fans and maybe I could cheer with them in case they ever have success.

Sometimes its hard to understand why victims of domestic violence return to their partners. It's painful to see an abused dog come limping home. It's amazing how certain people divorce and marry over and over, confused as to why they have trouble with intimacy but continually wanting it. And here I am self-loathing, isolated, blaming, abandoned, shamed, and fan-confused by the NFL, and yet still wanting it's sweet embrace. 

Love me NFL. I'll be a good Rams fan. Just stay here forever.

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Obsession and Google Voice

I don't believe that people who know me would say I'm the obsessive type, but my wife could tell you that I've obsessed about phones now and again over the years.

Several years ago I went through a Vonage phase when I played with the idea of losing my wireless phone for financial reasons and adding a home phone via VOIP. But Vonage was $25 a month, you couldn't text message with it, and the silly wifi phone that I chose seemed next to worthless when I was anywhere but home. This was also the period in Portland when we had city-wide free wireless internet. My idea was that I could take calls all over Portland with my wifi phone. Unfortunately my plan was fruitless because, A. Even though the wireless internet is free, you still had to be at a computer to log in, and B. Free wifi couldn't get enough ad support in Portland and folded after a year or less. All we have left are the memories. And the beautiful transmitters still mounted to the stop lights all over town.

The truth was-and continues to be-that I hated carrying both my personal and work cell phones. So when I was considering vonage and other VOIP services, I spent hours reading websites and spending a few dollars here and there to try out my ideas for changing up my phone service and making it a little cheaper or simpler.  In the end, I decided that if we were going to add a phone, we'd add an old-school land line so we could use the telephone to call 911 without having telling the operator where we were in Portland exactly. This line has no long distance or any features whatsoever, and it costs us $20 a month. Now that I have google voice, it turns out that was a pretty smooth move. More on that later.

My wife tells my I also obsessed about which mobile phone to buy when my contract was coming up for renewal a couple years ago. I do remember pouring over all kinds of different phones, but the LG Voyager really caught my eye and seemed to do everything that I ever wanted it to do. And my Voyager has been a very good phone to me. My problem is that I love my work blackberry curve more. The voyager looks cool and plays video way better, but the blackberry carries out day to day operations smoother and easier. I couldn't give up one for the other, so I had been looking for a way to somehow digitize my personal phone number so that I could lose my costly wireless contract with Verizon and maybe do all my SMS's via email. It was a dream until Google Voice caught my eye early this year. 

For the past six months I have been reading about Google Voice nearly daily. Google Voice is a service that allows users to communicate for free via a phone number they issue to you. The big reason why people were initially excited is that you can forward phone calls to the Google Voice number out to all your other phones simultaneously. I signed up to get to get a google voice account early on, and a month ago I finally got my invitation. So far the service hasn't let me down at all, but that is mostly because I knew exactly what the capabilities were going in. In truth, I haven't yet embedded Google Voice into my daily life yet because of one main reason: Google Voice doesn't yet allow users to port their number over to Google Voice. You need to use a new phone number. 

Google Voice does have a nice Blackberry App which allows users to SMS via their data plan, so it's nice to finally have a way to avoid burning through you phone plan text messages. The app will also allow you to make phone calls using the blackberry directory, but those calls are made over the regular phone connections and they use your minutes like normal. On the plus side, you can pick which of your phone numbers you want the person on the other end to read on their caller ID, so that is pretty slick. One drawback on the app is that it doesn't let you just pick anyone from your address book to SMS. It's designed so that people can SMS you to your google voice number, and you can reply back. The app also lets you view and listen to your Google Voice text messages.

Over the past week I've been mulling over a rival service called 3jam, which allows you to port your number to them, anyone can join right now and it lets you do all your SMS'ing via email (Google Voice does not yet). The problem is that it costs money and I don't want to port to them now, only to port over to Google Voice in a month or so, or whenever they decide to open up this option to users. 

There are a bunch of other features that are really cool and free, so this service looks to be really sweet overall. But until GV allows users to port their own phone numbers over, I may be stuck only obsessing about GV rather than really embracing it and using all of the features. 

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Should I Facebook-Friend Request My Former Midwife?

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Dear Mr. Loose Gravel,

I am struggling with that classic dilemma...whether or not to friend request someone on Facebook. In my quest for answers, I stumbled upon your excellent January post about this very topic. However, my scenario is a bit different. The other day, my nurse-midwife popped up on the "do you know this person" section of my home page. I do know her. We are friendly, exchange emails about general things and medical things, but we don't have a relationship outside of this. I am no longer her patient, as I have moved away. She is a really great person, and is so interesting. I like the way she practices (her profession), and I'm always recommending her to other ladies. But, do I ask her to be my Facebook friend? I don't want to put her in an uncomfortable, or unethical, position. What's your opinion on this matter? Where do we all draw the line?

Thanks,

Afraid-to-Overstep

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Dear Afraid-to-Overstep,

You're thoughtful and responsible to consider your former midwife's feelings regarding whether or not it's proper to friend her on Facebook. 

I'm assuming you want to friend her because you are interested in her life, you enjoy Facebook, and want to continue your interactions with her in that forum. If instead you are feeling guilty that you haven't yet friended your former midwife, the person who helped you through one of the biggest moments of your life, then don't friend request her. Guilt is not a good reason to friend her in this case.

Ask yourself this: Would you friend request a former therapist? How about a former general practitioner? Former garbage man? When a professional relationship ceases, there really is no hard and fast rule for how the parties should continue interaction. I think if you are considering using her services in the future, then it would probably be best to maintain status quo and avoid facebook friending altogether.

Where was your relationship headed prior to your move? You explain clearly in your question that your interactions haven't become friendlier than general and medical exchanges. If several months have passed since her services ended, this could be a sign that you two might not have been progressing towards sharing backyard barbecues, splitting appletinis during ladies night at the club, or taking each other out for birthday brunches even if you had not moved.

That said, many people use facebook for professional reasons. She may appreciate being your facebook friend, as you may be able to help her with references in the future. This article from the Wall Street Journal talks about how people use LinkedIn and Facebook to help build up what sociologists call "weak ties" for getting a job, mining for clients, or finding prospective employees.

As I stated in my facebook post from January 22nd, the folks you choose as friends can typically view all of your content. Many people accept hundreds of friends but routinely post content directed towards a much smaller group of people. Consequently, it's much easier to inadvertantly publish information and pictures to forgotten Facebook friends that you normally wouldn't show them. Facebook users can choose to edit their privacy settings (top right of facebook homepage, 'Settings', 'Privacy Settings') and customize exactly which content certain users can see. For example, let's say a college student's mother discovers Facebook, and she sends an invitation request to her son or daughter. While the student keeps mom happy by accepting her as a facebook friend, they can simultaneously protect mom from the horror of seeing her offspring doing a keg stand or participating in a wet t-shirt contest during Spring Break at Daytona by excluding her from certain, tagged, or all pics. 

Keep in mind that the onus for professionalism and boundaries in this case is on your former midwife, not you. It isn't the client--or former client's--job to know whether or not friending on facebook would be an ethical dilemma; it is her's. If she is the professional you say she is, you should expect her to either accept your friend request without reservations, or decline with a polite explanation about her policy. Maybe you two can split appletinis yet.

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Misplaced Old Men and Mailboxes

Last Friday evening I had one sweet hour to kill--alone. 

It wasn't that long ago--2007, in fact--when I didn't really have to be anywhere after work. If I was going to hang out with some friends after quitting time, I just told my wife the plan a few hours in advance and that was my life. As most of you are aware, all it takes is one small child to change everything. 

Last Friday afternoon I read a text message from my wife reporting that the family was meeting at Deschutes Brewery for my mother in-law's birthday at 5:30. I was at an all-day training kinda close to the brewery, so at 4pm I called my dear wife to announce that I was heading straight to the party instead of going home first. There was first a moment of silence, then she asked: "What are you going to do until everyone gets there?" 

"Um, hang out alone and enjoy myself." She was jealous. 

A few minutes later I was parking my car near the brewery. But my mission for solo time couldn't happen until I mailed off my life insurance premium, which was due in three days. So I had to find a mail drop box, and find it fast. While I was very familiar with the neighborhood, I couldn't think of where a drop box might be. Who remembers the location of such things? I walked past a Ben and Jerry's and thought about asking an employee, but I refused to suffer the pained grimace of an annoyed teenager who wouldn't know the location of a drop box if it was outside their high school locker. Walking several blocks with no box in sight, I thought, "Google Maps, of course." I pulled up my location on my handheld device and searched for a mailbox. No help. 

As I strolled a few more steps, anxiety rising, I spotted an older gentlemen at the end of the block. He had just exited a local store and was adjusting a sandwich board. Of all the people that were walking around that Friday evening in the hip part of Portland, he was the only one who instantly gave me hope. As I walked closer I saw his head turn, and he was smoking a pipe! Hah! Jackpot! Old man+tobacco pipe=Archiver of random facts. I was now certain he could help. 

From out of nowhere another guy went up to my old man and asked, "Where is the lady who sets up her art in a booth over here. You see, when I was here four years ago there was a lady..." This guy knew what I knew: The man with the pipe knows stuff. The old man patiently listened to him for a minute as I circled the two, grumpy that another dude beat me to the punch. When he noticed me there, and I interrupted them and asked, "Where is a mailbox?"

The old man pointed to the next street corner and said, "It's over there by the stop sign." 

And that was the end of it. I'm insured for another year, and I secured an hour to myself at the brewery before the rest of the family showed up. 

Old guys who smoke tobacco pipes know where stuff is.

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Buffet Fantasies and the Golden Dragon

I had some bad Chinese food the other day, and I totally should have seen it coming. I will elaborate, but first I offer this question: Would you eat lunch here?

main front.jpgYes, there is a restaurant in the picture. I'll help you find it. First, find the tattoo parlor with the creative sign: STRAIGHT TO THE POINT. Next, find the strip club. Now, look at the yellow sign in between that says, "Golden Dragon". Jackpot.

After nearly four years at my workplace location downtown, it's shocking that I coexisted with a buffet in close proximity, yet did not one time grace it. A mere two blocks away from my 6x6 cube, I had passed near the Golden Dragon on foot infinity plus a google times. It seems as though I'm always hungry, and I rarely shy away from opportunities to eat enormous proportions or try a bizarre combination. I'll never forget a chocolate ice cream and bacon shake I tried a few years ago here in Portland. The first few bites were great, then the flavors...evolved, let's say. I suppose I'm a food prospector, always looking for that next enormous or strange bite. A food adventurer, if you will. You might also call me a glutton. You choose.

I like Chinese food pretty well. And 'buffet' is a word that lands softly and sweetly on my ears. It's my comfort word. Sometimes when I am having trouble getting to sleep, I just picture steam tray after delicious steam tray of meatloaf and ears of corn and mashed potatoes and gravy with it's skin lining the perimeter. In this soothing fantasy, I'm sliding a giant platter along giant buffet rails on an enormous steam table. As I add each enormous helping, I hear the platter grind slightly louder against the rails until it's a deafening roar at the end by the desserts. But while this cacophony disrupts everyone else around, it comforts me like white noise on the television after I've fallen asleep.

And buffets have meaning for me, as well. In my personal nomenclature, 'buffet' is synonymous with 'license to binge with or without shame'. Pop psychology has saturated us with the concept that the Chinese translation for 'crisis' incorporates both danger AND opportunity (apparently this is not actually true, but it's a legitimate idea based on the nature of change, nonetheless), and I believe it is also the most accurate description of my experience when I've engaged virtually every buffet through the years. First, opportunity: I fill myself to the brim with semi-tasty, unwholesome calories and finally feel complete as a person. Second, danger: Immediate dizziness, occasional narcolepsy followed by ALL of the predictable consequences of an overtaxed gastrointestinal system.

Last month while again passing by the Golden Dragon Chinese buffet and wondering how on earth it had taken me so long to set foot inside, I took a moment to superficially explore the surrounding elements for clues. Of course, there was the ever-present sandwich board outside that has always read "$5.95 All You Can Eat". I think my glances at the buffet's advertised cheap price had subconsciously triggered ambivalence, touching simultaneously on my thriftiness as well as my vague concern for taste and atmosphere. It also occurred to me how off-putting it was that I couldn't see any patrons from the sidewalk. Most restaurants have a window providing quick validation that normal people are eating normal meals inside. This restaurant-foul provided yet another challenge to me. But, as I described in the picture above, the Golden Dragon's neighbors--bookends of vice--have most likely provided reason enough to dine elsewhere. Despite my persistent generalized hunger. Despite my relative fondness for Chinese food. And even despite my fantasies about buffet food. I've taken the liberty to illustrate a number of challenges the Golden Dragon must overcome to get someone to their cash register:

main front.edited.jpg
Overcome with curiosity about the Golden Dragon, I recently decided to ignore all the obvious negatives and dine there alone for lunch. Proudly shame-free, I strolled over to this seedy block for a cheap dining adventure. Here is what I saw after opening the door:

gd-stairs.jpgAnother challenge and another turnoff for me. I had to admit that a nice long pre-meal flight of stairs was the perfect exercise for the buffet consumer. You might call it a show of compassion from the Golden Dragon. The Chinese-looking references and stylings in the tattered wallpaper and ceiling fixtures helped remind me of where I actually was despite the stairwell's odd likeness to the urban sequences of any of the Matrix movies. As I began to climb towards the summit, I had the unique experience of full awareness--awareness that through the wall to my left were folks were paying professionals to put permanent stains on their skin, and through wall on my right were other folks paying professionals to put permanent stains on their clothes. If awareness is supposed to be followed by internal calm, I was mostly aware that I was not calm. It's not that I am fully opposed to tattoos and strip clubs. As I've discussed previously, buffet experience is an emotional one for me, so intermingling with a little grime gives me pause. Cresting the stairs, my wariness eased a bit with the subtle knowledge that I was now above fray and riffraff, about to eat Chinese buffet with other like-minded individuals.

A friendly Chinese woman then greeted me and asked me what I wanted. I replied, "How are you doing today?" She smiled back and said, "Fine." Pause. Then, "What is your order?"

"Um, do you own the Golden Dragon?" She glanced towards the wall, smile fading, "No." I cleared my throat. "Who does?"

"My brother," she said with finality. I appeased her, "I would like one buffet meal, please." While my credit card processed, I exercised my small-talk superpowers with, "How long has he owned this place?" She put the receipt on the table with a pen, then said, "Twenty years," while walking away. But it was ok. After all, I was at a buffet, and I knew the rules.

The idea that one person owned this place for twenty years stuck in my head for a little while as I looked around the place. I got the impression that they must have given up on atmosphere years ago. Reminds me of when single or widowed men get into their 60's and don't have anyone to remind them the comb their hair or put on clean clothes when going out in public or to trim their ear and nose hair. The Golden Dragon is a widowed 65 year old man that is not yet retired and sees no end in sight, wearily working simply because someone will employ him and he must continue to survive.

The dining room was enormous. I counted 25 people eating, but it felt like 5 were actually there. There is a bar (picture below) that I walked through and actually thought was kind of cool. But with zero booze, it was merely a memory of happier days, possibly when then the homeless patrons currently eating their won tons were a little better off. It was also the place where they store piles of dishes in bus tubs waiting to be washed.

gd-mainroom.jpgKeeping my belongings on my person at all times, I grabbed a tray and a couple of hot plates. I piled some orange chicken, fried rice, egg rolls and pot stickers and chose to sit from one of many big, empty booths. I was able to count by feel three distinct springs holding me up beneath the ancient seat fabric. Unfortunately, I needed to use the facilities and I spotted them here behind the bar:

gd-restrooms.jpgThe emergency exit doubled as the entrance to the restroom. After eating some of this food, it was clear that this hallway had probably serviced many "emergencies" that were solved easily via fast access to a toilet. I was cheered a bit by "Rest Rooms" glowing in neon (camera couldn't decipher the lettering well), but I don't believe the owner was thinking of my mood when he hung it there. I'm all but certain the sign was given it's second or third chance at utility here at the Golden Dragon after being pilfered from some poor failed restaurant long ago.

After customarily stuffing myself with average Chinese food, I felt strangely depressed rather than whole again. The other folks eating their fried fish and rice looked a bit crestfallen. Some looked downright impoverished, or even homeless. Suddenly there was noise outside as a parade of 15 protesters marched down the sidewalk calling for a Free Tibet. Normally you would see a group of people get up and check it out. Instead, everyone glanced up for a second, but then just continued eating through the ruckus (many of the windows were open) without care, myself included. Maybe that's just life in downtown Portland with the frequent demonstrations, but I wonder if we were just all too overcome with calories and melancholy to move. I started to pack up my belongings and fought off the urge to search the steam trays for antidepressants. This passed quickly as I suddenly realized I might not be feeling the good "buffet effect" kind of physically bad, but instead just physically bad.

Aware my insides were decidedly wrong and settling back on my three springs for another moment, my thoughts drifted to a happy place. I saw myself at a buffet, gliding my platter along the steam table rails and happily noticing it's weight making more and more noise. Then somewhere between a malodorous vagrant passing me by and the sight of six tables unbussed, it occurred to me that it was time to make my exit.

As I staggered green to the bottom of the stairs and went out the door, I turned back trying to remember if I had all my belongings with me. A middle-aged man and his loving bride passed me on their way out, smiles around. The man apparently mistook me for someone entering the Golden Dragon to eat. He said, "You'll enjoy it...best Chinese food around. Enjoy."

4/7/09 Addendum: You may wonder why there might be a strip club in the middle of downtown Portland and not on the outskirts of town. The answer is simple: Strip clubs are not disallowed in the City of Portland. They aren't on every street corner as one might imagine, but strip clubs are here and there all over town.


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