The Obamanator

RSS

George Zimmerman, state-sanctioned killer

For all the talk about cloudy evidence in the George Zimmerman trail, the basic facts were crystal clear.

Zimmerman stalked Trayvon Martin, an innocent kid walking home from the store with candy in his pocket. Whatever confrontation they had, whatever violence they engaged in — none of it would have happened if Zimmerman had simply minded his own business.

I’d call Zimmerman a vigilante, but that would imply that Martin had actually done something wrong.

George Zimmerman is just a killer. And even the warped Florida laws that make vigilantism legal should not have kept him out of jail.

BACK OFF, BARACK!

I spent $3,000 of my wife’s money to get you reelected.

I flew from Seattle to Florida to help get out the Obama vote in the Sunshine State.

And now I’m mad as hell at you, Barack.

Leave poor Edward Snowden alone!

He did us all a big favor. He told us the truth about our government. 

That’s not a crime. At least, it shouldn’t be.

The surveillance program he exposed doesn’t creep me out too much. I don’t care if you include me in a database that lists to whom I placed a call, when I placed it, or for how long. Tracking such data might help catch a terrorist now and then. 

None of us has any privacy any more, so what’s the damned difference?  As long as you don’t eavesdrop while I whisper sweet nothings to my secret lover or place a deal with my drug dealer, who cares?

The chances of you zeroing in on me — or anyone else I’ve met during my entire life — are infinitesimal. I lead a pretty boring life.  Don’t most of us?

But I am appalled that you are hunting down Mr. Snowden as if he were some kind of traitor. His revelations didn’t hurt anyone. 

Americans have a right to know if their government is tracking our phone calls. Keeping the program secret doesn’t make it any more effective.

If you’re going to maintain a Big Brother database, make your case in public. It’s really not such a hard case to make.

When Snowden goes on about his decision to blow your cover, he seems a bit sanctimonious.  He derives too much pleasure from depicting himself as a crusader for truth and justice.

But the man is no criminal. And your efforts to track him down carry a Nixonian stench.

Let him be.

May 8

The Leaker Is Back

BEN STOCKING HAS A HOLE IN HIS HEAD, PART XXIII, A CHRONICLE OF MY BRAIN SURGERY

Drip, drip, drip.

Drip, drip, drip.

As you may recall, Dear Reader, that was the sound of the fluid leaking from my brain.

Drip, drip, drip.

I’m pleased to report, the leaking has stopped. I’m no longer required to wear that goofy ace bandage around my head. I’m just like a normal person. Almost.

I still have a titanium plate screwed into my skull.  I still procrastinate. And I still suffer from the heartbreak of psoriasis.

It’s been two weeks since Dr. Ryder Gwinn removed the funky headdress. If I remain leak-free for two more, he says, I can consider myself healed.

I will be able to run around Green Lake and hit tennis balls with my daughter. I will even be able to go to the gym and attempt to restore my withered body to its former glory.

Believe it or not, Dear Reader, my physique once bore a striking resemblance to The David. Now, after nearly four months of surgery-induced indolence and twenty years of middle age, I look more like that guy at the beach in the Speedo — the one with the pot belly and sagging buttocks who makes you snap your head in the opposite direction.

Actually, I’m still eight pounds lighter than I was before the surgery, but my muscle tone has deteriorated. And my flesh just keeps getting saggier and saggier.

I still worry that I’m going to spring another leak. Each morning, I run my finger over my incision to make sure it hasn’t blown up into another CFL goose egg. 

As you know, Dear Reader, CFL is medical-speak for “cerebrospinal fluid leak.” If you ever want speedy service from your medical practitioner, just give her a jingle and say you have a CFL.

I’m pleased to report that, thus far, my daily inspections have revealed no such abnormalities. There’s a thick scar and an indentation where Dr. Gwinn bore through my skull with his drill on January 21, 2013. Thus far, however, I have discovered no gelatinous lumps such as the one he drained from my scalp nearly six weeks ago.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Gwinn for his circumspect approach to skull drilling. Many a neurosurgeon would have cracked my head open a second time when I showed up with my gargantuan CFL. Instead, he opted for the head wrap, which made the hair on the top of my head stand up as though I had an extremely goofy mohawk.

When I checked in a week later, still leaking, Dr. Gwinn ordered another week in the wrap. Likewise, a week later. More time in the wrap. This went on for an entire month. By then, even I was ready to suggest more radical measures.

If the wrap hadn’t worked, Plan B was to shove a tube up my spine and drain the fluid out my tail.

Dr. Gwinn, I’m grateful it hasn’t came to that.

Apr 6

'DAD, YOU GOTTA GET A JOB'

BEN STOCKING HAS A HOLE IN HIS HEAD, PART XXII, A CHRONICLE OF MY BRAIN SURGERY

Dear Reader, did you know I’m a house husband?

For three years now, I’ve spent most of my time chauffeuring the kids around town, buying groceries and cooking dinner.

“Dad, you gotta get a job,” my 12-year-old daughter says during the ride home from school. “And don’t get a crappy-ass job as a barista. You’d make like $20 a day. That’s disturbing.”

She places special emphasis on the word “disturbing.”

“Maybe you could be someone’s assistant,” she suggests.

I consider the idea for a moment, but it doesn’t seem like a good fit. 

I’m always right and my boss is always wrong. Today’s employers are probably looking for a more pliable assistant.

I’m not a total sloth, Dear Reader. I do the occasional freelance writing gig. I’m working on a terrific novel.

Unfortunately, I came down with a bad case of writer’s block about a year ago and haven’t written a word since.

As you know, Dear Reader, I’m recovering from brain surgery. I need my rest.

But I will only be able to milk this excuse for so much longer. I’m going to get better someday. Right, Dr. Gwinn?

I’ve started poking around in search of more work. If you know anyone looking for a writer/editor, please let me know.

I was a foreign correspondent once. I was a bureau chief in a dynamic foreign capital full of secret police, one of whom beat me up and bloodied my head.

I mattered, damnit!

Please pass me a tissue. And feel free to suggest entirely new and exciting career paths to this washed-up, middle-aged hack. 

My wife tells me there’s going to be a piece on NPR today about a recovering journalist who has turned his life around.

“He’s working as a truck driver,” Diana tells me. “And he’s earning three times as much as he did before.”

Apr 5

WHO’S THIS GUY WHO DRILLED INTO MY SKULL?

BEN STOCKING HAS A HOLE IN HIS HEAD, PART XXI, A CHRONICLE OF MY BRAIN SURGERY

Who is this Ryder Gwinn?

I know remarkably little about the man who rewired my brain.

He’s short. He’s wiry. He has a twinkle in his eye.

Oh, and he made my horrific twitch go away.

He came highly recommended by the neurologist who used to shoot the right side of my face full of Botox.

As you know, Dear Reader, I had an appointment with Dr. Gwinn yesterday.

He unwrapped my Frankenstein headdress and examined the hole in my head — the one that has been leaking brain fluid.

He gave a mixed report.

The good news: The swelling is way down.

The bad news: There’s still a little excess fluid in there.

I have to wear my funky headband for another week, then the doc will take another look and determine what comes next.

If I’m still leaking, he’ll stick a tube up my spine and let the excess fluid drain out.

If the oozing has stopped, I can take off this moronic headdress and live the life of a semi-normal, late middle-aged man whose career has gone up in flames.

Dr. Gwinn says my overall trajectory is quite good, and he gives me a better than even chance of being fluid-free in a week.

The best-case scenario: In six weeks I can jog again, play tennis again, swim again. Perhaps I’ll even have sex again!

The worst-case scenario: Let’s not discuss it.

When you manage to get Dr. Gwinn out of the operating room for a conversation, he’s very patient and responsive. He answers questions thoroughly and draws clever little diagrams to illustrate his points.

He is an appealing combination of confidence and caution.

Anyone who cuts heads open for a living has got to be a cocky sonofabitch. But, compared to the other neurosurgeon I consulted, he was conservative in his predictions of success and more candid in his assessment of the risks.

The guy at the University of Washington Medical School, who’s about a foot taller than Dr. Gwinn and about 150 pounds heavier, boldly predicted my chances of success at 95 percent. Dr. Gwinn said 80 percent.

The U. Washington guy also looked like he swills beer from a keg in the back of his pickup at Husky tailgating parties.

When my wife consulted Dr. Gwinn on the telephone once, she said it sounded as though he was speeding down the highway in a convertible Mercedes, on his way home for a Friday evening martini by the lake.

But all this is sheer speculation. For all we know, he’s a tee-totaling, born-again Christian.

Hallelujah!

Here are a couple of solid facts about the man:

He wears clogs at work. He’s an Eagles fan in a Seahawks city.

And my fate is in his hands.

image

MY NEUROSURGEON AND ME

Apr 4

TODAY’S A BIG DAY

BEN STOCKING HAS A HOLE IN HIS HEAD, PART XX, A CHRONICLE OF MY BRAIN SURGERY

Today could mark a turning point in my surgery saga. 

I will find out whether I’m still leaking brain fluid like oil from a rusty car. (Dear Reader, you don’t want me to park in your living room.)

I have an appointment with Dr. Ryder Gwinn, my cranial mechanic, at 3 p.m. PDT. 

He will peel off my Frankenstein wrap, examine my second-rate head, and decide whether I am healed enough to abandon this peculiar fashion accessory.

If that happens, hallelujahs will ensue.

The alternative is grim: another week with an Ace bandage on my head, and more anxiety. If this thing doesn’t stop the leaking, he’s going to shove a tube up my spine and drain the excess fluid out my tail (not to be confused with my asshole.) This procedure would require a three-day hospital stay.

As you know, Dear Reader, if the tube doesn’t work, he’s going to split my head open again and try to patch up the leak from inside.

If you’re confused by the mechanics of all this, don’t worry, so am I.

The basics are simple:

I have a hole in my head.

Dr. Gwinn, by all accounts a world-class surgeon, performed a cranial decompression eleven weeks ago in order to make my face stop twitching. (It did.)

He cut out a piece of my skull roughly the size of a silver dollar, and he sliced through my dura — the protective membrane inside which one’s cranium floats in a pool of cerebrospinal fluid.

He had to do this in order to rewire my screwed up facial nerve, which made me twitch like a circus freak.

Then he screwed a titanium plate into my head, and laid the hunk of bone he had removed back on top of it. He sealed me up with a combination of titanium screws, glue and stitches.

The nurses all agreed he had done a masterful job of closing my gargantuan wound. They gushed over his handiwork.

Unfortunately, several weeks later, I gushed. (I had been warned that this might happen; it’s a common side-effect of craniotomies.)

Just in time for Easter, an egg-sized lump formed on the back of my head. It was the brain fluid, leaking through a tiny hole in my dura and pooling between my skull and my scalp.

Last week, Dr. Gwinn drained the fluid into a syringe and wrapped me in this goofy  bandage, which is meant to put pressure on my scalp, keep the fluid out and allow the dura to seal itself up again.

Which brings us to the present.

I am pleased to report, Dear Reader, that this really is the present. I am no longer writing retrospectively. From now on, you will be traveling with me in real time.

You can experience my anxieties with me — because you don’t have enough anxieties of your own.

I hope you enjoy the ride.

Here’s my latest worry: My titanium plate has lost its mooring and is going to sink into my gray matter, rendering me permanently brain damaged.

This is a somewhat paranoid, but not entirely irrational, concern.

I am allowed to remove my headdress every few days in order to shower. When I took it off yesterday, there was a large dent where the Easter egg used to be.

This could be a good sign — clearly the fluid is gone, at least for the time being.

Alternatively, it could be a harbinger of yet another disaster.

For the answer, tune in tonight.

Apr 3

GET YOUR ELBOWS OFF THE TABLE

BEN STOCKING HAS A HOLE IN HIS HEAD, PART XVIIII, A CHRONICLE OF MY BRAIN SURGERY

This Stocking comes from good stock.

My maternal grandfather was city editor at the New York Daily News, back when it really meant something. My paternal grandfather was the president of the American Economics Association, an advisor to presidents and a professor at Columbia University.

Both of my parents went to Harvard.

It’s a mystery, then, that I have such bad manners.

Perhaps it was an act of rebellion on my parents’ part, but Emily Post wasn’t a fixture at our house when I was growing up.

As I’ve mentioned before, Dear Reader, we raised our voices at the dinner table and hurled epithets with abandon. We told dirty jokes over dessert.

My dear old dad used his fingers instead of a knife to push food onto his fork and he made smacking noises with his lips while he chewed.

Passions and emotions were openly displayed in all their glory. Diplomacy was not a byword emblazoned on our family crest.

My in-laws, who are here in Seattle to help out during my convalescence, come from a different tradition.

As I mentioned previously, my mother-in-law’s clan were Empire Loyalists, backing the British during the American Revolution. They were forced to flee New England for Canada during the Revolutionary War.

To this day, the family matriarch reads “Royalist” magazine, and my mother-in-law prides herself on knowing the intricacies of the most complicated table settings.

My father-in-law grew up in blue-collar England but pulled himself up by his bootstraps in a culture notorious for its class distinctions. He knows all about propriety and decorum and he’s nothing if not a diplomat.

I tell you all this so you will have a proper appreciation of our dinner table conversation tonight.

“Lila, it’s not polite to put your elbows on the table,” Grandma Carol gently scolded my 12-year-old daughter.

“Why not, Grandma?”

This seemed to me like a perfectly reasonable question. Why not, indeed?

“I really don’t see why it’s such a big deal to put your elbows on the table,” I opine. “It’s comfortable. It doesn’t harm anyone. That prohibition seems like an outmoded piece of etiquette to me, and nobody pays any attention to it anyway.”

My wife looks horrified. Tension fills the room.

“Of course it’s important,” Diana says. “It’s very important.”

I’m poised to launch into a diatribe, but, miraculously, I bite my tongue before it’s too late. I’ve already done enough damage.

All this is just a warm-up, however, for our family viewing of tonight’s episode of Downton Abbey, the season finale.

Tony, Carol, Diana and I gather around our glorious flat screen to watch the latest adventures of Lord Grantham and his clan. Lord Grantham is desperately trying to persuade his son-in-law Tom Branson to participate in a cricket match pitting his family and staff against a team from the village. Lady Mary Crawley is about to deliver a baby. Her husband is about to die in a car crash, a melodramatic plot twist for which the show’s writers should apologize.

In the midst of all this, my son walks into the TV room wearing nothing but his boxer shorts.

He parades around the house like this all the time. I usually don’t notice, but when I do, it’s to take note of what a finely formed young lad he is.

“Sam, go put some clothes on,” his grandfather suggests, with an uncharacteristic edge in his voice.

I push the pause button.

“It’s really no big deal,” I say. “He just looks like he’s wearing a bathing suit.”

“It is a big deal,” Tony says. “It’s a big deal by any reasonable standard to prance around in your underwear in front of your grandmother. I’m sorry for my tone, but I just had to say something about this.”

“I just have to say that your position is unreasonable and that nobody would agree with you.”

Upon issuing my rejoinder, I feel immediate regret. I sink into the couch and focus on Lord Grantham.

I feel like Tom Branson, the chauffeur who married into the Grantham family but didn’t really comprehend or appreciate the complex rules of etiquette by which they conducted themselves.

By the end of season three, however, he’s getting along famously with Lord Grantham.

I think I can learn something from Tom’s example. It shouldn’t be so hard.

My differences with Tony are not nearly so vast as those that separate Tom and his father-in-law. True, Tony’s a diplomat and I’m an instigator. But we both gave the maximum legal donation to Barack Obama. Our fundamental values are the same.


Apr 2

OH, NO, NOT AGAIN

BEN STOCKING HAS A HOLE IN HIS HEAD, PART XVIII, A CHRONICLE OF MY BRAIN SURGERY

I’m looking at the man in the mirror, and he’s twitching like a freak.

This can’t be happening, Dear Reader. Two and a half weeks after Dr. Ryder Gwinn split open my skull in order to banish the dastardly twitch, it’s back.

Worse yet, aside from these regular spasmodic eruptions, the right side of my face is paralyzed and drooping.

So far, of all the rare side effects caused by a cranial decompression, I’ve suffered virtually every one.

Hearing loss? Check.

Vertigo? Check.

Cerebrospinal Fluid Leak? Check.

And now this: Bell’s Palsy.

The odds of any one of those happening is less than 10 percent.

Somehow, I’ve defied the numbers in spectacular fashion.

Dr. Gwinn considers me a blot on his record. Understandably.

Diana calls to tell him about my frozen face. He prescribes steroids. It’s urgent that I take them right away, he says, to ensure that the palsy doesn’t become permanent.

They’re tiny little pills. I’ve got to take seven the first day, six the second, five the third, etc.

By the time I’ve finished them, the twitch is gone and my face is moving again. 

When I started the steroids, just shuffling from room to room was an ordeal. Now I’m walking two miles a day with Tony, my father-in-law, still spry at 78.

I feel like the Million Dollar Mutant. My recovery should be complete in no time.

No sooner do I finish the steroids, however, than I’m feeling like an utter wreck. I’ve got no energy. My head aches. I’m sleeping all day. I finally have the strength to watch some television, but that’s about it.

Now I understand Barry Bonds and those other fraudulent home-run kings. I want steroids, too. I want them bad.

MAKING THE GRANDPARENTS PROUD

BEN STOCKING HAS A HOLE IN HIS HEAD, PART XVII, A CHRONICLE OF MY BRAIN SURGERY

I have made the arduous journey from my bedroom to the kitchen, and I’m having lunch with the in-laws, Tony and Carol.

Tony is an MD/PhD who has had a very distinguished career in international health. He’s British, but he loves American politics — in particular Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. He shares my loathing for the Tea Party.

Carol is a powerhouse/whirlwind/force of nature from Nova Scotia. She knows how to fix things, she’s practical and, even in this New Gilded Age, she doesn’t countenance waste. She has an American passport now, but she hails from a family of Empire Loyalists. Yes, that means they supported the crown during the American Revolution. Her 101-year-old mom reads something called Royalist magazine and they all follow the doings of the Windsors with keen interest.

Tony and Carol have very proper manners and a keen sense of right and wrong.

In my family, we swore at the dinner table, raised our voices and stuck our fingers in the salad bowl.

My head is still pounding. I’ve got vertigo. It’s a challenge for me to stand up. It’s a challenge for me to do anything but sleep. I still can’t even watch the TV or use my computer or read a book. All of this makes me nauseous.

I’m doing my best to maintain a simple conversation with the in-laws when the phone rings.

“Dad, is mom home?”

“No, she’s at work.”

“Ummm. Dad, I have to tell you something. Try not to get mad.”

“Ok, what is it?”

“I stole a slice of pizza at Whole Foods and I got caught. You have to come get me.”

“You stole a slice of pizza? Are you kidding?”

“No, I’m not. I need you to come sign some papers so I can get out of here.”

“OK, I’ll be there in five minutes.”

Tony and Carol are looking alarmed and confused.

“Was that Sam? Did he really steal a slice of pizza?” Tony asks.

“I’m afraid he did. I need you to drive me to Whole Foods so I can get him.”

We’re all shocked. Sam has never stolen anything before. We speculate about his motives. Did he lose his school lunch money? Did some other kids pressure him into it?

Then the biggest, darkest question of them all: Is he about to embark on a life of crime?

With Tony’s assistance, I shuffle out to the car and hoist myself into the passenger seat.

Within minutes, we’re in the Whole Foods parking lot. I’m not sure I have the strength to walk into the store and deal with this situation, but it’s got to be done.

I go to the Customer Service desk.

“Excuse me, my son was caught stealing a slice of pizza from your store. I’m here to pick him up.”

“Just a moment, sir. I’ll call the manager.”

The manager arrives. He flashes me a look of pity even before I tell him about my brain surgery.

“You know kids,” he says. “They’re always doing crazy stuff. I got caught shoplifting when I was a teenager too.”

I share my criminal credentials: I stole a piece of Bazooka bubble gum when I was three. And I swiped a Flair pen when I was about 10.

The manager leads me into a warehouse at the back of the store, and then into a little interrogation room where the in-house undercover cop is sitting at a table with Sam, who flashes a very awkward grin when I walk in.

I quickly tell the cop, who is disguised to blend with all the other affluent, anti-gluten health-food aficionados, about my surgery.

He has no mercy.

“I caught your son and a couple of other kids stealing a slice of pizza,” he informs me. “The other two got away.”

He hands me a document and tells me to sign it. It’s full of legalese, but the message is simple: Sam is not allowed to set foot in any Whole Foods franchise for one year. If he is caught shoplifting again, he will be prosecuted as a felon.

Fortunately, the slice of pizza was worth less than $5, so this incident will be overlooked for now.

I sign the document, and we walk to the car. I know Sam is feeling utterly humiliated, so I remain silent. No need to pile on.

“Dad, are Grandpa and Grandma here?”

“I’m afraid they are.”

Sam winces.

We get in the car. Sam and Tony exchange pleasantries. We drive home.

Sam heads to his man cave in the basement. I head to bed and take another painkiller.

YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE ROOTING FOR ME

BEN STOCKING HAS A HOLE IN HIS HEAD, PART XVI, A CHRONICLE OF MY BRAIN SURGERY

Let’s go back to a simpler time, before cerebrospinal fluid began seeping through my skull.

It is early February, Dear Reader, two weeks after I underwent brain surgery to stop the horrible facial twitch that had rendered my life a living hell. 

I have moved out of the hospital bed in the TV room. I can make it to an upstairs bedroom now, just barely, if I cling to the railing for dear life. By the time I get there, I’m exhausted. I’m still taking narcotic painkillers, and I spend most of my time asleep, making occasional appearances for meals, which I pick at without finishing.

The in-laws have arrived to look after me. 

We’re out for a family dinner at our favorite Indian restaurant, Chutneys. Needless to say, it’s a big adventure for me, my first trip out of the house aside from my visit to rehab.

With six of us at the table, the ordering process is a bit chaotic. Everyone has suggested a dish and some appetizers. We could sit here all night and never eat if we mull over the menu options much longer.

I’m tired, cranky and impatient. So I call the waitress over and start ordering for the group, doing my best to recall the dishes upon which everyone seemed to agree. Chicken tikka masala, daal, aloo gobhi, vegetable samosas, plain naan, garlic naan.

My adolescent son has been hemming and hawing throughout my recitation, presumably because he’s irked by my bossy manner. He becomes particularly irritated when I forget to order a crucial menu item. Maybe he’s just put off by the enormous scar on my head.

I will confess, I am behaving in a somewhat domineering manner, but it seems like the only way we’re ever going to eat.

“Dad…” Sam begins in a tone of utter disgust.

Before he can even articulate his complaint, I blow up. 

“Don’t talk to me like that! It’s completely disrespectful to address your father like that! Have you no shame? Do you want everyone in the restaurant to think you’re an insolent little brat?”

Everyone at the table — my father-in-law, my mother-in-law, my wife, my son, my daughter — turns pale. The waitress looks uneasy. People a few tables away glance over to see what the commotion’s about.

They’re all looking at me.

I’m the antagonist. My son has become the sympathetic hero in this dinnertime saga.

How could they get the plot so horribly, terribly wrong?

I’m the guy with the hole in my head. I’m the hero. They’re supposed to be rooting for me.