Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sue me. I love Peyton Place.

Our friend Leila often spends holidays with us and brings interesting videos when she comes. On Christmas day this year, after the Big Dinner with my folks, we came back and watched an episode of David Halberstam's documentary series, The 'Fifties.

Specifically, we watched the episode about Grace Metalious and her phenomenal bestseller, Peyton Place.

I'd never before felt any interest in Metalious or her book, but her personal story grabbed me. Her complete lack of emotional or educational background for writing, and her determination to do it anyway, drew me in. And then, she didn't just do what her soul longed to do, she did it successfully, at least in terms of sales and celebrity. And never had more than a moment's happiness from it.

Possibly because of the endless TV series, which seemed to be on nearly every night when I was a kid and bored me then, I'd also never had any desire to read the novel. My assumption was that it was both trashy and tame, an artifact of its time that may have been an "adult book" in 1956, but had neither the wickedness nor the literary merit to make it interesting reading now.

I was wrong.

Not entirely. The book is amazing and often awful. It's a crazy-quilt of the lurid, the overly campy, and the insightful. Some of the vignettes in it delighted me, and the best of those are the smallest, not big plot points.

In an early one, two friends, twelve-year-old girls, spend an afternoon together. That's it. Allison is from an (outwardly, but with secrets) proper home. Selena is from an abusive home in a tarpaper shack on the wrong side of the tracks. Their friendship depends on their shared dream of a someday in which each can control her own destiny. But on this occasion, Allison wants to share with Selena a previously hidden aspect of her inner life. She wants them to take, not the usual walk downtown where they buy Silver Screen magazine and dream of pretty dresses in store windows, but one to the wooded glen where Allison goes to daydream about a bohemian literary future. Allison and Selena both feel like outsiders. The glen, outside of and above the town, is Allison's symbol of how outsider status can be superiority, a breaking away. Selena wants to achieve insider status, and can't relate at all to this place or its meaning for Allison.

The afternoon is a disaster. They wander back downtown. In a little chapter in which the pacing is crucial to the depiction of these two mending their friendship by reentering the part of their lives that they can meet in, Metalious nails it. Through ordinary window shopping and ice cream, they gradually find common ground again and part as friends, but as friends who have grown up a small notch by confronting their separateness.

This isn't the only passage in the novel that Metalious handles with intelligence and delicacy. Sometimes she takes you through a character's thought processes, as he or she wrestles with a big inner conflict. The town doctor, a good man, has to help the completely innocent Selena, who has been raped by her stepfather, and faces the ugliness of both of his choices. The nurse he enlists to help him has a little chapter of her own, the only few pages she gets in the book, but the whole interplay of her religious faith, her professionalism, her admiration for the doctor, her astute perception of his conflict, her knowledge that she's made a decision herself and can't pin it on anyone else -- all this makes her real.

This isn't a book review, in the sense of my trying to be Fair and Balanced. I'm neglecting the novel's flaws. It's intentional, because they are well-known, its reputation bad and its merits neglected.

So. I love Metalious's affection for her main character, Allison, yet her willingness to make gentle fun of Allison's earnestness, immaturity and melodrama.

I love the dialog between Allison and the repressed, pale, poetic boy she likes, on a picnic, where their conversation is about beliefs, plans, picnic garbage, sex information from a secretly-purchased mail-order book, all braided together with skilful naturalness.

The violent and awful passages can range from so-so to ghastly, but Metalious did know how to weave such passages over and then under again, with a quiet aftermath. Selena has worked hard to make their poor little shack into a home, and places a fresh log on the fire one winter night -- then gets attacked by, and kills, her stepfather. As she comes out of that trauma-induced altered state, she notices that "the fire made a crisp, crackling, friendly sound as the log she had placed across the andirons began to burn," and that this was all the time that had passed.

There aren't a whole lot of such nifty little passages. She was no Harper Lee, and the weird and grotesque in this little town don't come off with anything like the insight or compassion that a better novelist could have brought to it.

The deck was stacked against Grace Metalious from an early age and still she fought to become a real writer, and had the brains to do it. She set out to be sensational, and succeeded, but she also set out to write well, and did in places. She understood both description and dialog, and how to flesh out character and event using both. I read this thing and it nearly breaks my heart, the "if onlys" of her life and her achievement. With the support and direction that guide and train a writer, she could have been absolutely fantastic, and it shows in her awful-yet-wonderful, rather amazing novel.

So maybe I don't love Peyton Place so much as I love its author for her determination to be who she wanted to be against all odds, and for her even succeeding at it, not in fame but in the novel's Yes! moments.

OK, maybe I really do love Peyton Place.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Because they can.

In 2002 I had an abdominal cat scan. It cost 900.00.

In 2006 I had the exact same scan. (I'm fine. The conclusion is arthritis in my hip joint.) This time it cost 3600.

Why? Because they can. Pricing is not based on what the market will bear. No, wait, it is, actually, but when you are faced with a threat to your life, what price, exactly, will you not "bear"?

And that's if they let you go into debt to pay it.

Our older daughter, who has Crohn's disease, needs 16 pills a day to keep her stable and able to lead a fairly normal life. Because she has been on low hourly wages, and in fact is currently unemployed, we pay the 500 or so per month to keep her on them. Without that medication her colon will ulcerate. She will become infected, anemic, dehydrated, malnourished. Untreated, she will die.

Ulceration happens within days of interrupting the meds. Once the disease flares up, that does not simply end when she resumes meds. Instead, a course of steroids is needed to transition her back onto the regular meds, and a lengthy healing of the damage must be accommodated with more medication and nutritional help. And that's if the ulceration does not require hospitalization.

A year ago, her medication refills ran out and she phoned her doctor. His appointment staff informed her that he could not renew her prescriptions unless she came in for an office visit. This is the responsible practice of medicine -- the patient should be seen so that adjustments to treatment can be made. The right regimen last year may need tweaking this year. She asked to make an appointment.

No, she was told. She had an outstanding balance of about 500.00, and he would not see her until it was paid. No one knew better than he that this would put her in crisis within days.

She was paying Long Island rent of 1200 a month on an hourly-wage job. She did not have 500.00. She had visited the office several times for lab work, which she paid each time, and had never been told of this balance or given a chance to pay it over time. Now, unless she made a single full payment, she could not make the appointment. Without the appointment, she could not have the meds.

Without the meds she would become dangerously ill quite fast. We took it out of our account, along with the Overnight Express fee.

So do I want some silly government that can't even make its own form fit into its own return envelope running my health care system?

Such questions are an outrage. Lose your insurance, and then have a serious illness or an accident. Watch the doors slam: Medicaid, no; partner's employer, no; Disability, no. Watch your provider refuse care. Does National Health look a whole lot better now?

Like many things, it would be better than our daughter's situation, and worse than the situation that the people who still have good plans are in. If we were a sane nation, we'd be finding a good solution under which nobody would get lousy care or no care at all. Waiting until crisis mode creates emotion-fueled, hasty implementation of flawed cures. Didn't we learn squat about the dangers of that in the past? But again we're keeping the status quo on life support, again we're delaying.

And conservative bloggers are helping that happen with their affectedly precious garbage about how government can't do anything but screw up folding questionnaires and build Bridges To Nowhere.

Those of us for whom health care horror stories aren't just newspaper feature articles but living realities will be, I think, forgiven by humorous bloggers for not having much sense of humor about it, but mocking extremes is a time-honored humor tradition and even I really do understand that.

My problem is that I know, and am surprised that more people do not know, that it's not just benign humor. It's unpaid labor on behalf of BigProfitHealth.

BigProfitHealth needs for the status quo to go on as long as possible. They make sure that only the extreme scenarios of health care reform get talked about. If you want a particular answer, then make sure you control the question:

Do you want no-choice totalitarianism? Delays while tumors grow? Forced abortions? Politicians will set your leg, bureaucrats will cut you open, pharmacists will no longer know the difference between benedryl and belladonna!

Am I being just as silly and over-the-top as the conservatives? Sure, paper-pushers will create a bureaucratic mess, but no one has explained why doctors won't know medicine as well, or why pharmacists will be more likely to make mistakes.

Does anybody really have such a naïve lollipops-and-gumdrops view of for-profit health care as to think it doesn't exert plenty of pressure for fewer people to do more work on longer shifts, to pander to the Sacred Bottom Line? Causing nasty mistakes? Could anyone not know what a blind-maze runaround of bureaucracy people get thrown into right now, to get into programs for which they're technically eligible?

But sincere, good people become convinced that Big Socialism is coming and is a danger to their loved ones. And then those sincere, good people work for BigProfitHealth for free, circulating the cute memes for them, which helps keep the general public wary of change and slows reasoned reform to a crawl.

The other thing they don't know is that BigProfitHealth does not give a tinker's damn about them. A simple change in life circumstances is all it takes. BigProfitHealth will pulp its beloved blogger supporters into Soylent Green the day they can't get any more pecuniary benefit out of them. Seriously, lose your job. Sit in that miserable desert with your sick child and strike that goddamned rock till you're blue in the face, and see if BigProfitHealth issues you one crapping drop of water from it. You've defended BigProfitHealth, even if you thought you were only questioning total socialism, and now they. do. not. care.

The world is particularly scary right now, with jobs evaporating and the possibility of losing everything far too much on the minds of people who should be secure, whose hard work and responsible living should pay off in a decent well-earned life.

In a scary world we get overwhelmed and focus on the bad-enough problems on our own plates. We want to make easy choices between either/or scenarios.

The reality on the ground is that those of us who watch suffering and death happen at the hands of medical price gougers don't want stupidity, inefficiency, "rationing" or any other alternative that will merely hurt different people. And believe it or not, we know that to oppose universal or government subsidized care doesn't mean someone wants us and our children harmed either.

The free market is a good thing. It works pretty well for almost any commodity that gives consumers choices. They can choose among competitors, they can say no. And the value of a commodity or a service can find its level that way.

Health care may be the one and the only commodity that can't be free-marketed. How do you value health care?

The question is, how do you value your own, or your child's life? Because THAT is the "commodity" that they are selling to you. Is there any amount that they cannot ask? They price it all the way they can. Because they can.

What exactly are the choices? In a case in which you must have the money in a lump sum, do you even have a choice?

If you have the choice and can get treated with a resulting debt that will bankrupt you, should you "choose" to say no and die?

Do. not. ever. tell me that there's anything remotely humane or decent, much less "Christian" about the idea that any provider is entitled to immense wealth -- I'm not talking fair profit, I'm talking obscene riches -- and to let someone who can't fork over die when that provider has the knowledge to save them. If anything besides Big Government can stop the price-gouging, let's hear about it, but don't tell me that health care pricing right now is one whit different from selling disaster victims 50 dollar gallons of water.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

No excitement here

News of 16,000 acres lost to a wildfire just north of us has friends emailing and ringing the phone to see if we're OK, and in case you've seen it in the news, the answer is yes - we're fine!

The fire is about 30 minutes' drive north of us, plus it's on the other side of the Inland Waterway, and has little effect on us, except to create anxiety among all the animals when the wind shifts and blows smoke this way. There's some serious devastation up there though, some people losing everything. The fire seems to have spared a posh, tree-denuded, pseudo-Mediterranean horror of a development, and swept through wild areas and middle-income housing instead, which bites. This is a nasty one.

In the unlikely event that it should come anywhere near here -- or that a similar fire should start nearby -- we're ready with hoses and packing lists and cat carriers.

Hope they're getting the thing under control.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

It's Helen Forrest's birthday

I looked up Helen Forrest's birth date (April 12, 1917 - July 11, 1999) quite awhile ago, so I could do a blog post for it, and didn't realize at the time that it coincides with Easter this year. Well, a happy and blessed Easter to all, and if you like the Big Band sound, consider this a holiday treat that has no sugar or calories. If you're not into Big Band then go listen to something else. 8~)

Helen sang with three of the greatest bands. She found Benny Goodman rather a pill to work for, as did quite a few others. She thought Artie Shaw was a terrific boss, and she was in love with Harry James, though she lost him to Betty Grable. Her bio is here.

In honor of her birthday, here's my Helen Forrest YouTube playlist of some of the best that they have. There's not much to see in most of these, just music to listen to. Several use the same slideshow for their visuals, or have no visuals at all, though a couple have nice footage.

These are old recordings. SOUND QUALITY VARIES from track to track, and I'm sorry for it, because it would be nice to be able to just "play all" without the volume variations, or the scratches and pops.

Because some of the rougher tracks have pops, scratches and hum that some listeners might find painful, I've made a second "short list" that leaves off the ones with the poorer sound quality.

I found that starting with the volume control at about 75% makes the rougher tracks listenable, and allows the low-volume "You Made Me Love You" to sound clear enough -- but that one is better if it's jacked up a bit. I couldn't resist putting it in.

Here's the full playlist, 11 tracks. The red asterisks indicate tracks with quality problems that have been left off the 7-item "short list."

Perfidia - with Benny Goodman

I've Heard that Song Before - with Harry James

All the Things You Are - with Artie Shaw

You Made Me Love You - with James

Then a two-fer, 2 songs in one Goodman/Forrest clip:
* Taking a Chance on Love (SCRATCHY, but I like it so much!) and
* Cabin in the Sky (equally scratchy)

I Don't Want to Walk Without You - with James.

*Deep Purple - a Shaw/Forrest standard. This choppy clip leaves something to be desired, but I thought it was the better choice. The only other complete version I could find on YouTube is a 78rpm that has such a jarring skip that I couldn't stand it. So I used this very good but truncated version from the film Symphony of Swing (with a silly bit of film drama. That lady would have to be 100 years old in 1939, to clothe her reminiscence in that antebellum dress, but Gone with the Wind imagery was the big thing that year.)

Comes Love - with Shaw. I love this song! "See your dentist right away."

Skylark - with James

*I Had the Craziest Dream - with James. Terribly scratchy, but with some great "G. I. Jive" broadcast material. I wanted to close with this one because Forrest used it as the title of her autobiography.


If you have time or desire to listen to only one, I'd say, make it Skylark. A less perceptive singer would have overdone that plaintive quality, but she uses a subtle hint of it, and I find it kind of haunting. And she makes it sound easy, which it ain't!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Hey, if it worked once...

Monday, April 06, 2009

"Only" a weed

No matter how hard I try to be grouchy in the morning, it's difficult when Larry starts my day by handing me a pretty bouquet.

Linaria canadensis, AKA: Toadflax.

This common, beautiful "weed" is all over the yard and on days like this, I crave a camera that would do really good closeups. Each flower is perfection, yet smaller than a baby lima.

Here's my artificially enhanced, and still lousy, closeup:

but for a good look, go here.