Life Sucks (and here’s why): A personal post

I haven’t posted on this blog as frequently as I normally do, but I’m going through a lot right now in my personal life. Please forgive me as I write this out as a cathartic exercise. (Those of you who only care about my political posts can stop now).

Let’s start with Marcia.

MARCIA FLAMMONDE was a real bohemian in Greenwich Village in the early ’60s. She appeared in off-Broadway plays and worked selling antiques. With Ukranian Jewish blood, you could be sure she always spoke her mind.

Her husband Paris Flammonde had a talk radio show where he interviewed and made friends with some of the New York science fiction community, including Isaac Asimov and Lester Del Rey. He loved secrets and conspiracy theories and wrote a few non-fiction books of his own. His biggest seller was “UFOs Exist” (which I read as a kid).

Paris, as painted by Marcia

In the 80s, they moved to the beautiful Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, buying a house that had been converted from an old barn. It had high ceilings, exposed beams, and lots of bookshelves, which Paris immediately filled. There were four acres of woods and a large back yard with a small pond and a beautiful creek.

Paris continued to write, including a huge three book treatise on the JFK assassination, and Marcia took up painting. Her work began selling and it was shown in local galleries.

We moved to the Poconos in 1997. My wife Heidi Hooper is an artist and through the local art community, got to know Marcia and Paris. We loved visiting them in their beautiful house.

But things were not going well for the two. Money was scarce. Paris’ books weren’t selling and they were both basically getting by on social security. They took an escrow loan out on the house to pay the bills.

And then, about ten years ago, Paris died.

Marcia knew she couldn’t afford to keep the house, but also did not want to leave. So, after some discussions, we decided to buy the house from her by paying off her loan, with the agreement that she could live there for the rest of her life rent-free.

This worked out for both of us. We could never have been able to afford what the house is really worth, and the house was large enough that we could also easily split it in half. The back of the house had a separate bathroom and a room that could easily turn into a kitchen and laundry room. We built a temporary wall in the hallway connecting the two sides to give us both privacy, and bought Marcia a refrigerator and stove and apartment-sized washer and dryer combo. She had the back entrance and we had the front.

Marcia self-portrait

Marcia continued to paint, and Heidi was glad to have someone to visit from time to time. Every year, we’d add something to the house to improve both our and Marcia’s life, including propane fireplaces, a generator, ductless air conditioning, and so on. Marcia was able to live comfortably on her social security income without worrying about rent or utilities.

And then, about six months ago, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

A more recent Marcia self-portrait

This is an incurable cancer. The doctors told her they could use all sorts of chemo and radiation but all it would do would be to extend her life another six months or so, and it would be painful. She said no. She said she wanted to go peacefully on her own. As an atheist, she handled it well, knowing this would be the end, and accepted her fate.

We helped her as she got thinner and weaker and had friends visit to watch over her and help her. Nurses were assigned to come and visit every few days to check on her and take care of her, and for the past two weeks or so, we made sure someone was staying with her at all times, by putting a small bed in her room.

Last night, her pain was unbearable to the point where I called the nurse. The nurse came and did everything she could, but it was clear that the extra medication was doing no good. Although Marcia said she always wanted to die in the house, when she was told that the best way to fight the pain was to go to the hospice, she agreed. An ambulance was called, and arrived around 3 a.m.

She died soon after arriving there.

So here’s to Marcia Flammonde — a true individual.

Now let me talk about my wife.

HEIDI HOOPER is the world’s most famous dryer lint artist, appearing on national TV and in magazines and shows all over. But how she got that way is interesting and sad.

I love this picture of Heidi with Mel Brooks when Heidi was a guest on ABC TV’s “To Tell the Truth”

Heidi was a metalsmith with a Master’s Degree in art. She had a booth at the New York Renaissance Faire selling her armor, and her smaller work could be found in galleries around the country. And then, in 1999 or so, she was diagnosed with a type of cancer called a desmoid tumor. It was a microscopic cancer that ate away at her right arm. She went through years of treatments, including radiation, and eventually the doctors were able to save her arm — but her entire upper muscle had to be removed. They took a muscle from her back to patch onto her arm just to protect the bone, but she had no use of it and cannot feel anything there.

This gave her lymphedema and they provided her with a machine she could place her arm in when the absence of lymph nodes would cause the arm to get infected and swell up.

Heidi is a DES child. That’s a medication they used to give to pregnant mothers in the 50s and 60s before they determined it caused birth defects. Heidi had previously had other tumors removed and had constantly had health problems, so in some way, this was not surprising.

Then, a few years ago, her machine broke and the insurance company gave us such a hassle about providing a replacement that she went some time without the treatment. This caused her arm to get infected and for her lymphedema to reach stage two. She now has to get into that machine three times a day for the rest of her life, for an hour each time. So not only does she have even less strength and agility in her right arm (and yes, she’s right-handed), she spends three hours a day doing nothing but sitting there. She also has to wear a tight-fitting sleeve on her arm 24 hours a day.

She has been unable to drive since the original operation and unable to work because of the need to rest often and her limited mobility. She had to find another way to make art since she could no longer work with metal, so she tried many things and ended up with dryer lint.

Then last year, she slipped on the ice and broke the wrist in her other hand. Two operations haven’t made things much better, so she has even less control now, and I have to do much of the housework and cooking and cleaning and so on. At least they finally have her on medical marijuana, which has helped her tremendously with her pain and has kept her mind clearer than when she was on the heavy duty painkillers previously.

Heidi’s latest dryer lint piece: “Mrs. Premise’s Tango Lesson”

But she never gave up, and last year, the local chapter of the American Cancer Society gave her the Bravery Award and featured her in their telethon.

Then around two months ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

We kept that secret from Marcia and hardly told anyone else for fear it would get back to her. We were afraid that this extra news would stress Marcia to the point where it would affect her health. And although Marcia was indeed suspicious of all the doctor visits I was taking Heidi to, we were able to keep this secret.

So Marcia is gone now. We are meeting with Heidi’s doctor in a few days who will tell us the results of her biopsy, but we’re expecting she will have to go through radiation treatment again and probably have a mastectomy. (The only good news is that science has progressed to the point where maybe, when this is all over, she can have a lymph node transplant.)

So if I seem out of it, stressed, or upset a lot lately, you will know why.

“How can we help?” I know some of you will ask. And we appreciate that. We do have insurance but of course it doesn’t pay for everything. We’re not rich but at the same time, we’re not poor, so there are people who need your help more than we do.

However, if you want to support Heidi, maybe become a patron of hers. Even a dollar shows you care, and she very much appreciates it. I think the number of patrons is more important to her than how much they pledge. And you’ll get something out of it too…She always gives her patrons a gift every year (signed prints, a calendar, etc.) with her artwork.

Otherwise, just let her know you’re thinking of her. If you are friends with her, send her a message, give her a call. That will mean a lot to both of us.

OK, thanks for taking the time to read this. I needed this.

Trump judge gets rid of mask mandates from CDC

A federal judge in Florida recently struck down the CDC’s mask mandate. It violates passenger’s freedoms, apparently. Making people take off their shoes and go through detectors that can see through clothing? Perfectly fine.

Here’s the problem with this decision:

The CDC has the power to set these regulations. A judge is supposed to check to make sure the regulations don’t violate the law or the Constitution.

This judge ruled against it based on looking at the facts and basically saying, “I disagree with the CDC’s decision.”

In other words, the judge replaced the experts’ opinion on what should be done with her own, without any legal reason to make such a decision.

That’s called “judicial activism” which conservatives hate except when they do it.

This judge (Kathryn Kimball Mizelle) was appointed by Trump after he had already lost the election. The Republicans rushed her through confirmation, which is something they had previously said was outrageous when Obama tried to appoint a judge a year before the election. Like many of Trump’s judicial appointments, she was rated “unqualified” by the American Bar Association.

#1 cause of death for police officers? Covid

Being a police officer is a dangerous job, we’re constantly told. While that’s true, on the list of dangerous jobs, it’s #22. You’re much more likely to die from a work-related incident if you’re a farmer.

But last year, the main cause of death for officers was covid. And that’s not too surprising, given how many police unions and officers believe the Trump conspiracy theories and are protesting having to wear masks or get vaccines.

You know, masks and vaccines. Used to protect the public. The public. The people the officers swear to protect. Those people.

But apparently, laws and rules should only apply to us lesser people and not the police themselves. The New York subway system has a rule that everyone must wear a mask while on the subway and on the platforms, so when one person asked why officers there weren’t masked, he was kicked off the subway and harassed by the cops. (Good thing someone was filming it, because now the officers have to answer for this.)

“You wouldn’t be in trouble if you’d just comply,” these same officers had probably said to people they were arresting in the past.

Some officers have resigned rather than get the vaccine, so we should all be thankful for that — someone who refuses to care about others and refuses to obey laws, rules, and regulations should never be someone who has power over others in their job to enforce laws, rules, and regulations.

I am saddened whenever someone dies from covid, but less so when they could have prevented it by taking basic precautions that doctors and experts recommend.

A twitter page where you can upload pictures of cops not wearing their masks as required

No pity for the ignorant anti-vaxxers

I don’t have any more pity for these people.

If they had just gotten the vaccine and worn a mask, we’d be pretty much over this by now. Their selfishness and ignorance is why we’re still dealing with it.

And a lot of it is willful ignorance. They’re listening to Trump and people who are lying to them, and they are believing the lies without taking the slightest bit of impartial investigation for themselves to learn the truth.

The cult of ignorance is literally killing us.

And it’s especially frustrating when you get health care workers objecting to the vaccine. I don’t remember them objecting to getting a flu vaccine in order to work, do you?

Look, a health care worker should lose their job if they don’t believe in science and health. An astronaut should lose their job if they think the earth is flat. A biologist should lose their job if they don’t believe in evolution. A lawyer should lose their job if they refuse to pledge to follow the law. A cop should lose their job if they belong to the klan and therefore don’t believe in protecting the citizens.It’s a job requirement.

Don’t like it? Get another job. Stop putting the rest of us at risk because of your delusions.

A cartoon from 100 years ago that is still relevant

Not a smart man

No, it’s the perfect time to fire anyone who refuses to get vaccinated and who could thus infect vulnerable patients. You want this to end? You need to get the people transferring the virus away from those who can get infected.

The hospitals know this. The doctors know this. The lawyers for the hospitals know this.

But I guess the meme is right: He’s not a smart man.

Do your own research!

While it’s a waste to debate with idiots who deny Fauci and tell me I “need to do my research,” it’s still fun to taunt them, as I did to one idiot on someone else’s page. Here’s what I wrote:

I am not qualified to do my own research. Dammit, Jim, I’m a lawyer, not a doctor. I’m going to assume experts who have spent their entire career after graduating at the top of their class probably know more about medicine than I do. For some reason, I trust them over random people who spout conspiracy theories without any evidence whatsoever.

If I have a plumbing problem and the plumber tells me that I need new pipes, I don’t claim that he is involved in some vast conspiracy and therefore I must do my own research to prove that he’s wrong. I’m going to assume he knows his job. And this is especially true if he is the world’s leading plumber and all the other leading plumbers in the world agree with him.

When people start with their conclusion that something they disagree with politically therefore must be wrong, it’s easy to find things that you consider facts to deny them. That’s an absolutely backwards way of thinking.

I’m using the word “thinking” sarcastically here.

Viruses and who to blame

Viruses evolve, which is why we get new ones all the time.

But they can only spread if people spread them. They can’t travel by themselves. Had everyone worn masks, gotten vaccinated, and stayed apart, the virus would have died on its own. Instead, the refusal of people to take even the simplest precautions only helped it grow and mutate.

It’s very easy to see who to blame for this. And my sympathy for those who are stubborn and refuse to take care of themselves and others is waning daily.

The mask is only about “freedom” if you’re a selfish bastard

After pointing out how Montana Governor Greg Gianforte got covid after telling everyone in his state they don’t have to wear a mask, the anti-maskers suddenly realized how stupid and selfish they had been and have begun wearing their masks everywhere for everyone’s benefit.

I’m kidding, of course.

They buckled down, screamed about freedom, and looked like the selfish bastards they are.

“But I know people who wore masks and still got it!” some reply.

Well, sure. Nothing is 100%. Sometimes a seat belt doesn’t save you. Not every parachute always works. There are risks in everything.

But mostly, this ignores the main point: It’s not always about you.

I’ve blogged before about how conservativism is all about finding excuses for your selfishness, and this is just another very clear example.

It’s not about you, it’s about whether you are a carrier (which you could be completely unaware of) and about you infecting others.

This is why when you see pictures of crowded spaces in Tokyo, you’ll often see a few people wearing masks. It’s because they are fighting the flu or otherwise feel a bit sick and want to protect others from their sickness. You know, that whole “caring for other people” thing that too many Americans think is a sign of weakness or a violation of their freedom to be assholes to their fellow human beings.

As my friend writer Michael Strauss said, “You wear a mask for the same reason you wear a condom. It doesn’t prevent you from getting pregnant. It prevents her from getting pregnant. It isn’t 100% effective, but it is a hell of lot more effective than spray and pray.’

Why we need to push Medicare for All

Here’s how law and politics work:

You ask for X, knowing that your chance of getting it is slim. The other side asks for Z. You argue back and forth, make deals, and eventually get Y, somewhere between the two extremes.

So when people say “Medicare for All will never pass” please understand: We have to aim high. We fight for that and if we have to settle for something less, we do because it’s got to be better than what we have now.

If we start off with something weak as a proposal, all that’s going to happen is that the something weak will get whittled down to something even weaker.

You always negotiate by asking for more than what you are willing to settle for.

For a good example, look at Obamacare. Democrats gave in to Republicans over and over again and instead of a good national health care plan, we ended up with the plan originally proposed by Romney and the Republicans themselves.

So stop yelling at Democrats who want “Medicare for All” or forcing them to weaken their own plans before Republicans can even make a counter offer. Stop doing their job for them!

I was wrong about medical marijuana

I’ve always been a skeptic and a cynic, so when I saw all the people saying marijuana was a miracle drug, I didn’t believe them — especially when they’d make outrageous claims like it cures cancer. (It doesn’t.)

I just assumed it helped with pain in the same way drinking enough wine kills the pain, and that people who wanted medical marijuana were just looking for excuses to use it legally.

Mind you, I always thought (and still do think) that marijuana should be legal for recreational use anyway. I just didn’t believe all the hype.

marijana-map-01-22-2018

Now let me tell you about my wife, award-winning artist Heidi Hooper. Heidi studied metalsmithing for her Master’s Degree and taught courses at the Massachusetts College of Art. Her work was shown in galleries all over the country.

Then she got a cancerous tumor that ate away her right arm muscle. After years of operations and radiation treatments, they saved her arm but the muscle was removed completely and in order to keep the bone from being exposed, they took a muscle out of her back and laid it over her arm, just for protection. She doesn’t feel a thing on that flap of skin, but for a dozen years or so now, she has been in constant pain overall and has to get into a lymphedema machine every once in a while or her arm swells up and we have to rush her to the hospital.

Since the operation, they’ve had her on gabapentin which deadens the nerves. It still doesn’t help when the weather is bad or when she uses her arm too much. She’d often have to drink wine or rum on top of it just to kill it enough to get some sleep at night.

However, she refused to give up her artwork and eventually found her niche with dryer lint art. She’s won awards for it, sells it for thousands of dollars, has it in galleries, and is in Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museums (and their books). She’ll be a guest on ABC TV’s “To Tell the Truth” soon (“Which one is the real dryer lint artist?”).

v

Here she is with Mel Brooks on the “To Tell The Truth” set

But here’s the thing: Medical marijuana is now legal in Pennsylvania, and if anyone is eligible for it, it’s someone like her. The doctor put her on marinol pills and then she has a vape that she uses when the pain is really bad. They weaned her off the gabapentin and there were a few weeks of withdrawal where she did little but lie in bed because she said she felt like she had the constant flu.

The withdrawal symptoms have subsided but not left completely, but the amazing thing is how well the marijuana is working without making her feel high. As someone explained to me, when you’re at -5, it raises you to zero so you feel normal. And that’s what she says — she hasn’t felt this “normal” in years.

Even better, she’s thinking clearer, as if a cloud has lifted. “I used to lose my train of thought in the middle of a sentence, or walk into a room and not remember why I did so. It’s so great to be able to be aware and clear.”

I know, I know, that goes against the pot cliche, but it’s true — and compared to the other medication she was on, it’s practically a miracle.

So I’m a convert. I was wrong. It doesn’t just make you high to the point where it kills the pain. It really works.

Now let’s hope the Governor can convince the legislature to legalize it. Although her marinol pills are covered by insurance, the vape is not and it’s expensive!

(Plug:  If you want to support Heidi and encourage her after all she’s been through, why not become a patron of her art? Even a dollar a month means a lot to her!)

sd.jpg

This is 3 feet by 4 feet and made entirely out of dryer lint