Matthew: That makes me happy. That makes me think we’re all gonna ride crescent fresh from here on out.

Me: Then this will either inspire you or overwhelm you:

Matthew: Is that somebody posting Franks pictures…just because?1

Me: Yeah, because that’s what they are interested in. Jonathan Franks as commander rikers.

Matthew: I like the Make It Tso picture, but the others…make me confused.

Me: Cause your wiener tingles?

Matthew: Yeah, dude. I got tingle-dong, no doubt. NO DOUBT, SON!

1 Matt has a signed picture of Jonathan Frakes labelled “Jonathan Franks”

Learning about myself

A panel from Achewood

Today I had some dental work done (my mouth is still numb as I tried this), and for an hour, completely of its own accord, my tongue fought the dentist and his assistant to a near draw. During a break in the work, the dental assistant showed me one of her tools, which had a hard plastic extension, which my tongue had folded and creased. She told me that she was using both hands to hold my tongue still, and that she needed a massage after that workout. The dentist asked me if I bit my tongue when I ate (I don’t), and said that I have a huge tongue, which is very strong.

All I had been doing with it is eating and talking, and I was unaware that I have some kind of superhuman muscle-tongue. I don’t know if that can be exploited to my advantage, or if I really want to be known as the guy with the super strong tongue, but this is really a case of not knowing I could play the piano until I tried.

Incidentally, I have tried to play the piano. I cannot.

(Panel above from Achewood)

Another thing

Another thing that churns up my stomach acid so much that I can’t see, walk, or cry is the dentist. Even if you are a lucky man, and have a job with medical and dental insurance, and make a little bit of money, going to the dentist is a little bit like spinning a wheel to find out what method of execution the state will be using. Let’s try the old compare and contrast method here:

Scenario #1 – Something is wrong with my foot

Something is wrong with my foot. It hurts, even when I’m not doing things like kicking a wall or shooting myself. It is a dull ache and does not prevent me from walking, so I call and make a regular appointment. Usually it will take about a week to get a non-emergency appointment, but sometimes it’s as soon as the same day. Upon arrival at the doctor’s office, I pay them $5. This is a ritual transaction that covers none of the actual cost of my treatment but deters hypochondriacs who may not have a lot of walking around money this month. The doctor examines my foot and determines the most likely cause of my pain. If necessary, the doctor refers me to another doctor, and the process is repeated. If I need an X-ray, that will cost me $10 more. (This, I secretly suspect, does actually cover the cost of my X-ray, because it is all digital now and it only requires a few minutes of the technician’s time.) If the doctor decides to give me narcotics for my pain, the prescription costs me $5 to fill. If I need a cane or crutches or a brace, I get those at a tremendous discount.

My foot problem has cost me less than $20, most likely.

Scenario #2 – Something is wrong with one of my teeth

Something is wrong with one of my teeth. Again, it is not an emergency, so I call for an appointment. This is kind of a wild card, because my dentist works in a very small office, and his schedule is pretty booked. But I’ve had good luck here, so let’s say this again, takes around a week, and maybe the very same day. When I arrive at the building, I don’t pay any money up front. This is because they want me to be able to smile in the exam, and also because if a hypochondriac were to wander in with an imaginary complaint, the doctor has a variety of whitening, straightening, and other cosmetic processes to offer. I am taken to a room and asked briefly about the tooth in question, and then given a full set of X-rays to determine whether or not the rest of my teeth are sound. The dentist recommends a course of treatment for my tooth, and any others that may be offensive, and then leaves the room. A special kind of lady then walks in. She is not a dentist, but she is very good at talking to insurance and credit companies on the phone. She hands you a sheet of paper with an alarmingly high number on it. This number is usually equivalent to between 50 and 100 foot treatments. On one of the lines on the sheet, she has estimated how much your insurance will pay. This number is a guess that a computer makes. The piece of paper lists some options for you, though they are usually all bad. Options include “Pay us now for any dental work we think we can convince you you need,” “Pay us 20% of that mess now, and pay for each treatment as you get it done,” and “open a new line of credit to pay us.”

After you have paid them, they give you another appointment, in about a week, and you come back and have your mouth repeatedly violated.

At some point, 6 weeks or a month later, you get a letter from your insurance provider. It can say one of four things: “we paid $x to your dentist,” where x is much more than the computer estimate; “we paid $y to your dentist,” where y is the exact amount of the estimate; “we paid $z to your dentist,” where z is alarmingly less than the estimate; or “we don’t think we have to pay anything. Here is a number you can call if you’d like to cry tears of humiliation and rage into your phone.” Clearly the first scenario is best, since you are theoretically entitled to a refund from your dentist, but even this is not an out-and-out positive scenario because, like the government, your dentist doesn’t pay you interest on the money you have overpaid, and there will always be a followup visit in which it is casually mentioned that you have credit towards your next terrible violation.

Dentistry is the worst

Which was to be demonstrated.


Appendix A – A Working Couple

You and your spouse both work and both have insurance. You are now, theoretically, double insured. You should, therefore, always get insurance letter 1 above, but instead, both companies will decide that they are not liable for your dental work, so you will get duplicate insurance letter 4’s. Expect this.

Appendix B – Teeth

It is impossible to have a perfect set of teeth. Up to your teenage years, teeth will spontaneously fall out. During your teenage years, your teeth will not be straight enough. As an adult, your teeth will be decaying. You have millions of years of evolution behind you, but only for the last 500 years has it been common to live to see 40, and only for the last 50 has there been an expectation that a 40 year-old would still have all of his teeth. Animals that are serious about teeth have a lot more of them and regrow the ones that fall out.

This is a perfect setup for the dentist, because there is always something he can fix. If, however, he has been beaten to the punch, there can still be something wrong with your gums. Examples include too pink, not pink enough, too puffy, and not puffy enough.

Appendix C – Other types of coverage

It is possible that your medical or dental coverage doesn’t look like mine. That’s okay, because that’s fine. Actually going to the dentist is still terrible. For instance, consider that full X-ray series. When you go to the doctor because you have a cough, they don’t do an MRI looking for other things they can fix. Doctors still want to make money, but they are way less into drumming up their own business. Even a simple cleaning is like one of the circles of hell. Not one of the major ones, like for fornicators or regicides, but one of the peripheral ones, for–I don’t know–people who under report use tax to the state.

Social Commitments

My brother is getting married to a very smart young lady he met in high school, close to ten years ago. That is, of course, delightful. His future parents-in-law are throwing a lovely dinner for them tonight, which is, of course, also delightful. My presence has been requested and required, and my brother and I are close, and I will, in a little under an hour, wrap up my own delightful fiancée and set out for what will, I’m sure, be a perfectly wonderful evening.

Except that I hate dressing up, hate going out, hate meeting new people, hate seeing the old people I already know, hate going to dinner at new restaurants, hate going to dinner with more than three other people at any restaurant, hate driving, hate parking, and hate everything else about virtually any social activity you could name. It has always, always been that way.

My long-tenured friends of long suffering understand this, at least academically, and when I don’t see them for weeks, in some cases months, they don’t take it hard. They know that I attend or fail to attend events as I am able, and that my ability to be social ebbs and flows according to no known calendar. I turned down an invitation to a housewarming party a month ago with no other explanation than “I can’t be in a house with 70 people right now.”

But I know that I’m missing out. When I see my friends, I have a good time. When I meet new people, I make new friends. When I force myself to go out and be social, I’m generally not leaving important projects undone. I’m not skipping out on anything more important than sitting in front of the TV, or reading a book. I’m not missing anything I’m going to regret. I’ve forced myself to be social before. In 2006 I had a chicken fight with some of my friends, seeing who would be the first to back down from a schedule of going out every night. I had the money to spend on the project, which gave me an advantage, but my friends didn’t have the crippling anxiety, which I felt evened it up nicely. My recollection is hazy now, but it was either 13 or 14 consecutive days that we saw each other. 13 or 14 nights that I didn’t spend alone.

In 2009 my lovely fiancée Katie moved in, so of course my nights have ceased to be nights alone, but if anything, that has weakened my resolve to go out and see people even further. I simply don’t get lonely. And the second half of the year especially, I’ve lived that way. I’ve seen my friends a few times, and I’ve seen my family a few times, but I’ev spent most of the year indoors, at home.

And it creates a kind of momentum that is difficult to overcome.

But luckily there are the holidays.

Thanksgiving got us out of the house, if only to go as far as to see my family, and after that had come and gone, Christmas pulled us together for the same. Then of course, we had a family dinner to spend some Christmas money, and finally, on Thursday night, we had a New Year’s Eve party to spread the love around to my friends.

And so tonight I will be going out with my fiancée, and my parents, and my brother and his fiancée to dinner, and yes, there will be some people there I haven’t met before. And in fact they are people who will one day end up on my family tree, so I should get used to the idea. Feelings are feelings and I will admit that I feel nervous and would just as soon not go, but I am going.

So wish me luck.

Trips in July

On the fourth of July, I was in the Florida Keys. That's me there, after fishing for three hours in 95 degree heat and considerable humidity. It turned out that the whole point of the trip to the Keys was fishing, though at the time Katie and I went down there, we thought it was just a family get together. Her brother Adam was there, with Kasie and Dylan and Sean, and her parents. Everyone backed out but me for the first fishing trip, so it was me and Katie's father, which was alright. I'm a city boy and  college boy, so the prospect of undertaking a big traditional man activity with my future father in law was daunting, but it ended up ok.

I don't really understand, though, how anyone lives in the Keys. The heat was oppressive, the humidity mind-boggling, and though the hotel was air conditioned, the air could only just keep up, and plenty of the stores we passed on the road were big open air affairs. I'm used to the kind of heat you can escape by standing in the shade, but that does very little good down there.

The American flag shirts were our cult identifiers that day. Katie's mom bought them for everyone on the trip. I was the last one to change out of mine.

The next weekend Katie and I drove up to Washington for Shannon's wedding, just outside of Longview.  We lost a tire just south of Mt. Shasta city, and put the donut on in some very small neighborhood where only three cars passed us in fifteen minutes. We ended up replacing the tire at Mt.Shasta tire on Mt. Shasta Blvd, but as a result we didn't get to our motel in Longview until about 11.

The wedding was lovely and I got to see some old friends, and generally drank and had a good time. I didn't bring my camera because I am bad at camera ownership. On the way back to San Jose, we took Barbie in our car and generally drove in a convoy with the others, and got home again at about quarter to 11. So 26 hours on the road in three days, and this morning was the first chance I had to sleep in, in my own bed, since July 2nd. Naturally it makes me feel a lot more human.