Archive for December, 2010

ah, sweet “sleep”

I have discovered the “Sleep” feature on my television. Well, maybe not discovered – I knew it was there all along – but lately I have actually been using it to have the television turn off after a set time.

I know I am not the only person in the world who falls asleep in front of the television. Some people do it on purpose while others are the victim of circumstances: long days, hard work, and boring television. Most people, though, wake up at some point and go to bed. I have a tendency to sleep in my chair all night.

Why? Well, to be truthful, a big part of it is my snoring. Living alone, I’m not disturbing anyone else with it, but at times it gets bad enough to disturb me! Though it’s not a cure-all, sleeping in a sitting position helps a lot. The other reason for sleeping in front of the television is also influenced by my living alone; the television is my company. Some people use the radio for company, but when I’m ready for bed, it’s the TV for me.

The problem with falling asleep with the television on is that you do not sleep soundly. Even if you turn the sound down, bits and pieces of the audio invade your sleep, and some commercials seem to ignore the volume setting and come on loud enough to wake the dead, let alone me. It all makes for a potentially restless night.

However, I usually sleep very soundly for the first hour and don’t even hear the television. Setting my “Sleep” function to sixty minutes shuts the TV off before it starts to disturb my slumber. I had my doubts that it would make much difference, but indeed, it has. I don’t wake up in the night anymore, or at least not because of the television. Now if only I could find the “Sleep” button on my bladder.

roads not taken

I just finished watching a television show that I had not seen before, called “Last American Cowboy.” This show is similar in ways to one of my favorite shows, “Holmes on Homes.” Different jobs, same work ethic. Both of the shows make me wish that I was young again and had options such as working with the people in these shows.

I’m a bit too old for that now. They say that a physical job like ranching or carpentry wears a body out, but I can vouch for the fact that your body can wear out just as much, if not more, by being a desk jockey. I’m living proof.

Anyway, the work done in these shows is work that lets you feel like you have accomplished something. Somehow, years of pushing numbers around on a piece of paper, and now a computer, just hasn’t given me a great deal of satisfaction. If I had worked all my life as a rancher or carpenter, would I reach this age wondering if some other work might have been more rewarding? Maybe, but I really believe that it’s not the job as much as what the person brings to the job.

I guess that explains a lot about the current state of my life. Always the easy way. I doubt there’s much hope of changing that at my age. It may seem strange for someone whose life is currently a totally screwed up mess, but the one point of pride that I have is that I take full responsibility for that screwed up mess. No one did it to me. My choices, all the way. It’s just a damn shame that I can’t be taking pride in a life well lived, instead of this mess of a life.

Oh well.

old stony

Kidney stones have been a real pain in my life, and there certainly is no pun intended. The first time I had a kidney stone I thought I was dying. My wife finally drove me to the hospital while I hung my head out of the car window throwing up from the pain. I’m not into heavy-duty drugs, but damn, that Demerol was an angel from heaven that day. Unfortunately that wasn’t my last encounter with a kidney stone, or even my second to last, or third to last, or . .

That first stone passed by itself, the second stone they had to go in and retrieve. Not much fun, and it ruined a Thanksgiving and birthday for my wife. Not like I had a choice. I even tried coming home as soon as I could, only to wind up back in the hospital later the same day. Since then, I have had “attacks” but things have seemed to work themselves out okay, if somewhat painfully. Now I have a new situation.

A while ago, after an MRI for a different problem, they found that I had a kidney stone sitting in each kidney. Well, they weren’t bothering me, so I waited for them to get up and move, but they didn’t. A year ago I had an x-ray that showed they were still there, but the decision was to wait and see what happens. It’s one year later and the latest x-ray shows that one kidney stone is still there and is slightly larger, while the other stone may or may not be there, but if it is, it isn’t large. So it’s time to do something about it.

Enter ESWL – Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy. This sends shock waves from outside of your body to break up the stone. The waves pass harmlessly through your body tissues but when the density of the material the wave is passing through changes, such as when it hits a hard stone after traveling through soft tissue, the shock wave releases it’s energy and breaks up the stone. Theoretically, it breaks it up into very fine sand grain type pieces that are not painful to pass. I sure hope so, because if it just breaks it up into pieces that will cause pain I will not be a happy camper.

It’s an outpatient procedure, so that’s good. They sedate you, so I have to imagine there may be some pain to it. I’ll be happy not to know if there is or not. It’s rather inconvenient because you have to have someone drive you home and I hate to bother anyone with that. Living alone does have its disadvantages. I have to admit that I wonder if passing the sand-type particles will be as easy as it is supposed to be. I guess I’ll find out.

So, as much of an inconvenience as this is, it’s certainly not as bad as the knee replacement I am going to have to have sometime soon, and it certainly is better than having to remove the stone surgically. Ain’t modern medicine grand?

compromising sucks

I have to admit I’m a bit mystified by the compromise being worked out to extend the Bush era tax rates. At this time the few details I have heard are that the Bush tax rates will be extended for all income levels but only for two years and that the compromise includes extending unemployment benefits for a year, decreasing the social security payroll deductions by two percent for one year, and letting the estate tax rate (which is at zero percent right now) jump to 35%. There is so much wrong with all of this.

First, I strongly agree with the extension of the Bush era tax rates. So much so that I would like to see them extended indefinitely, or at least until a more rational tax structure can be designed to replace them. In particular, our current economic condition would suffer even more if the Bush tax rates were not extended for all income levels. People are having a hard enough time paying their mortgages and for the increases in health insurance premiums that have been caused by the efforts of the Democrats. Not extending those rates would be cutting the legs out from under an increasingly burdened citizenry.

On the other hand, while I certainly feel for people who have not managed to get a job in ninety-nine weeks, extending unemployment benefits for another year is adding to the country’s indebtedness. How is this helping our economic recovery? While I’m not suggesting that every unemployed person who has been out of work for ninety-nine weeks is a slacker, one has to imagine that there are a great number of unemployed in that group who have adapted to living on unemployment and will continue to do so if they get an extension on their benefits. At some point in time we have to stop paying people not to work. When is a good time to do this? Why not now?

Social Security is in real trouble, and as someone who is rapidly approaching retirement age (not that I will ever be able to afford to retire) I question the wisdom of reducing Social Security contributions. As I understand it, this is intended to replace an additional “stimulus” package, but it makes no sense to me. As much as I would like to see Social Security totally eliminated eventually, at this time it is the life blood for many people, so why cut its funding right now?

The idea of an estate tax is disgusting. How in the hell does the government think it has the right to any percentage of an estate? The value of an estate is all post-tax; taxes have already been paid on the incomes it took to build the estate. Why should the government be allowed to take an additional, obscenely large, percentage of an estate? Additionally, estate taxes create a real hardship on those who inherit the estate. Assets may be tied up in things like the family house, which often must be sold quickly just to satisfy estate taxes regardless of market conditions or difficulties it causes for people still living in the house. The government wants it’s pound of flesh and the hell with those who inherit the estate. The estate tax rate should be permanently, and I do mean for all time, set at zero. The government does not have a right to someone’s property just because they have died.

In the end, a compromise will go through. Maybe in two years Obama will be sent packing and the tax rates can be extended permanently. Maybe employment will pick up and people will be getting back to work. Maybe our government will start listening to those who have a solid plan for cutting spending. And maybe there really is a Santa Claus, but I doubt it.

losing a 10

We lost a 10 today. Former Cub player Ron Santo, good old #10, has passed away at the indecently young age of 70. I am not a sports fan at all, but back when I was a kid baseball cards were social currency. Trading baseball cards was what you did, regardless of your athletic proclivities. Living in the Chicago suburbs, the Cubs and White Sox players were the cards you wanted, and Ron Santo held a solid position in that lineup.

Growing up past the baseball card collecting stage of my life, I began dating a girl who came from a family of ardent Cub fans (the girl, by the way, was to become my wife). I was immersed in Cubs baseball and the player names I know best come from that era; Ron Santo, Fergie Jenkins, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Randy Hundley, Glenn Beckert, Don Kessinger, Paul Popovitch, and manager Leo Durocher. The 1969 Cubs had us all on the edge of our seats, hoping for a shot at the World Series, a dream that was not to be. Santo was traded to the White Sox a couple years later and then retired as a player in 1974.

In 1990 he was hired by WGN radio as a color commentator for the Cubs baseball broadcasts, working in that capacity all the way through this last season. I think that it would be hard to find anyone as enthusiastic about Cubs baseball as Ron Santo.

Ron’s fight with diabetes and related problems throughout his baseball career and the rest of his life left him wounded but fighting. He served as a role model for people who face hardships in life. It was one of those cases where you wonder why a good man must suffer in this world.

Even as a less than involved baseball fan, I have always found it incomprehensible that Santo was not inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. It was a gross injustice and even if they do eventually induct him, posthumous awards tend to be more of a footnote than a highlight in a man’s life. He should have lived to see this honor and it is a disgrace that he did not. At least the Cubs ball club paid Ron Santo their highest honor; they retired his number 10 in 2003.

At the end of my mother-in-law’s funeral earlier this year, one of the funeral directors, having learned of my mother-in-law’s passion for her Cubbies, donned a Cubs cap and asked us all to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” the song that is always sung at the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field. Knowing that she would never again be able to cheer on her team, the stress of the whole day hit me like a brick at that point. Not only could I not sing, I struggled mightily, and unsuccessfully, to hold onto my composure through the song, If there is a heaven, I sure hope that Ron and my mother-in-law meet up.

I find myself wishing that it were summer and that there was a Cubs home game today. I can count on one hand the number of times I have been to Wrigley Field, and if there were a game today I would be adding one more, just to see Ron’s retired #10 flying on the left field foul pole. Then again, there’s always next year.