Wednesday, March 25, 2009

My cat, the punk rocker

A common danger of unemployment is convincing yourself there's no need to pay someone for work you could do yourself. Preparing meals, cutting the lawn and washing the car may be fine. But dentistry, tax preparation and boiler repair are best left to those who know precisely what they're doing. Topping that list has to be pet grooming.

One of our cats, Simon, has always been prone to dreadlocks. We've kept him from turning too Bob Marley-ish by getting him foo-foo trims called lion cuts, where the groomer buzzes off all his fur except for what's on his head, feet and tail, making him look like a mini king of the jungle. We then pay them about $75, and Simon looks bitchin' for a few months.

This time, my wife announced, we were going to save that money by trimming Simon our selves. Then came the question that should be a warning to every under-employed person out there: How hard could it be? We had clippers. It was just a matter of running it through his fur.

Turns out it was like diapering a tiger cub. Simon fought with all he had, making us wonder if the groomer used one of those dart rifles you see on "Wild Kingdom" to sedate him first.

Even when the blood flow could be staunched sufficiently for me to get a hold on him before I grew too weak, the dreadlocks proved impossible to shear.

Simon finally fought his way free and fled, no doubt to secure a weapon of some sort. We figured we had no choice but to surrender, given my blood loss by then.

And now he looks as if he was no stranger to CBGB's. Here's his picture, below. The moral: Don't try this at home.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Like being behind the scenes of 'ER'

Being unemployed, you tend to be volunteered as a responder to any family situation, no matter how silly, vexing or time-wasting. Yesterday was the classic example.

It started off as what seemed to be a true crisis. Spring made a surprise appearance in New York, with temperatures climbing to a record-tying 69 degrees. My wife and I decided to enjoy it by driving into the country.

But halfway into the outbound trip, she fielded a call from the son of her father’s girlfriend. Her father, 89 years old, was in the emergency room. He’d taken himself there because of pain in his fingers, explained the caller, Javier, whom we’d never met. Because of language problems, we couldn’t get any details, but feared that we’d be dealing with a serious heart problem.

Then we got the hospital’s input, though it could’ve come from Larry David. My father-in-law had gone to the emergency room not because of pain, but because the tips of his fingers were tingling. Three weeks earlier, he’d explained to one of the nurses, he’d gone out without his gloves during a cold snap. I must have frostbite, he informed her.

Amazingly, the ER suggested he get an MRI to see if that was the case.

We trucked into Queens to be of assistance, despite an occasional suggestion—from me, if you hadn’t guessed—that frostbite might be a little far-fetched. Indeed, it seemed bizarre, given that we weren’t wearing coats. Might it just be another in a long, long string of hypochondriacal panics on her father's part?

But we dutifully drove to Elhurst Hospital, one of New York’s more infamous institutions. The ER care there is top-notch, perhaps because the staff is so fire-hardened. It’s the facility where gunshot victims are usually taken, as we’d seen firsthand in earlier visits. It also serves as the hospital for Riker’s Island, the city's notorious prison. We had no idea of its adeptness at treating frostbite, but confidence was high.

They allowed us back into the treatment area, where my father-in-law was lying in a bed, talking to everyone and seemingly having a decent time. He confirmed that he feared the onset of frostbite, and had been worried about it for the last three weeks. But we couldn’t get an reply to our queries about why he’d waited to seek attention, or why he didn’t call his doctor instead of going to one of the world’s busiest ERs.

We got there about 2:15. He’d been there two hours already. But the wait was just starting. As we sat in the grim, windowless room, I tried not to think about the weather outside. That task was eased a bit by distractions like the guy who waddled past in ankle chains with a police escort, or the fellow in the orange DOC (Department of Corrections) jumpsuit. There was also the obviously troubled soul who loudly demanded to be released. He shut up after the staff pointed out that he was there voluntarily and could leave at any time.

Sadly, because I had to make the hour's drive back to our house to tend to the dogs, and then trek back, I missed some of the entertainment. A high point was my father-in-law’s revelation, after persistent prodding, that he’d sought help that day from the ER because he thought gangrene had started to set in.

He did get his MRI. And a diagnosis. No, it wasn’t frostbite. The problem was Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

We thanked everyone, said we’d pick up a wrist brace for the patient, and left the hospital—at 9 p.m.

I, personally, plan to see that he also gets a new pair of warm gloves, just in case.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Insanity of the times, Take II

A contact for a freelance story promised to get back to me by a certain day. Halfway through that day I sent him an e-mail as a reminder. The e-mail bounced back with a "no known addressee"-type message.

I'd sent the message to an address that incorporated my contact's division in the suffix--i.e., Thinking that maybe his filters were acting up, I re-sent it, using a suffix that included the parent company's name.

It, too, bounced back.

In any other time, I would've taken it as a technical glitch. But now I was certain my contact had been pink-slipped. Mindful of a friend's experience in being an intruder on D-Day, I figured I'd give the situation an hour and then place a call to my source's office.

Minutes later, an e-mail arrived from my source, providing the information I'd been seeking. He'd been reassigned to a new division, with his e-mail suffix adjusted accordingly.

Any other time, that would've merited no more than 15 seconds of reflection. But it was as if he'd survived and airplane crash and was letting me know. He was alive! Corporately speaking, of course.

I held off from calling the guy, afraid I'd gush.

Insanity of the times, Take I

A friend went to make a sales call with several colleagues on a large manufacturing company in the heartland. Because of the place's remoteness, you can count on a day's travel to get there.

The group knew something was amiss when they tried to check in at the company's front desk. Instead of the usual security process, the guard waved them on without hesitation and directed them to an elevator.

Similarly, everyone seemed distracted on their contact's floor, hardly noticing their presence. So, on they marched to the client's cubicle.

There he was, packing his desk. He'd not only been pink-slipped that day as part of a cutback, but that very hour. All he could do is wave them away, his shock evident enough for my friend to note it.

He and his group had come 800 miles to catch a client in his underwear, so to speak.