Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Strange Day At The Dentist

Dental surgery strikes fear into the heart of humans everywhere and has since the beginning of recorded time. When I was a kid I was one of those fearful people, and I might add, with reason. I grew up under the auspices of socialized medicine during my years at an English boarding school. It was in post World War Two Europe at a time when the capitalists of the west felt an obligation to be kind to their people to prove to the communists of the east that they weren't the greedy oligarchs they have since proved themselves to be. As a result I got excellent free medical and dental care as and when needed including home visits by a family doctor, all vaccinations and teeth filled with no bills, no company's, no arguing with insurance company bureaucrats. We got the medical care the medical professionals deemed we needed, with no lawyers lawsuits or refused coverage. On that subject my dentist was according to dentists who inspected his work later in my life, workmanlike if not pretty. But I'll tell you what, Dr Calvert instilled a holy terror of dentists in my young life. Free or not that man exacted a price with his National Health Service drill.

These days modern American dentists numb up your gums with gentle, gradually more powerful cocaine-derived injections that leave your face feeling like an Easter Island moai . In those days when I needed a filling Dr Calvert got in there like an enthusiastic road mender with a jackhammer.mto no avail my wriggles or screams for mercy. He drilled until he had the hole he needed. It was aversion therapy of the most brutal sort; tough love that kept me away from dentists for a decade. Then when at last I tired of feeling holes in my teeth I approached my first American fee-for-service dentist in California.

That reversed the trend of my youth. I had a dentist who cured what ailed me, didn't hurt me and allowed me to spread my payments as monthly charges to make it all affordable. I lost my fear of dentistry. Then one day I got a note telling me my dentist had died and I had to rebuild my relationship with his replacement. Imagine my shock when I discovered that gentle man who had taught me not to fear the drill had decided to connect the exhaust of his car to the passenger compartment and took his own life. He had helped me make my life pain free but his own pain he apparently could not handle. That shook me up.

I suppose one has to admit that with advancing age one does tend to look around and wonder what medical services you can find in a small town on a small speck of land in the middle of a gorgeous blue ocean. The short answer is not bad and getting better as Key West gentrifies. Besides, Miami isn't very far away and they have world class facilities there to keep you alive if you can afford them. So it should come as no surprise that I easily found a fine dental office with lots of novocaine and a policy of taking my city insurance policy.

Thus far it's a fairly standard story of middle class dentistry, me who has lost my fear of the chair, would make six monthly appointments for cleaning and checking, and my dentist a cheerful eccentric who takes pleasure in his work, and all was well with the world. Especislky as it turns out I have been fortunate to get strong dental genes. In adulthood my tooth problems have been minor, not even many fillings over the years. My cleanings, free through my insurance, are perfunctory as I floss and brush regularly and my only artificial tooth was a front tooth knocked out in a mountain biking accident 25 years ago in California's SabtaCruz mountains.

Last year a molar that had been dying finally had to come out and it was with fascination I followed along as my dentist pulled the brown dead stub and the pain in my jaw went away even as the ever-necessary novocaine wore off. "We'll do the other half after the new year so you get the full insurance benefit for each calendar year" he said as I put down my $200 co-pay. That also gave the hole time to heal before he put in the artificial replacement. And so it was with breezy cheerfulness I returned last week to start the process anew.

Thanks to my lack of fear, for me going to the dentist is a chance to relax and read while stuck in the chair, then I get to chat with the dentist who shares my eccentric and inappropriate sense of humor. I listen to him gossip with his assistant and I have been known to drift off to sleep as they set forms in my jaw or take measurements. I awoke from this pleasant nirvana with a shock, as breath taking as a cold shower when I emerged to talk yo the scheduler to to make my copayment. "That will be twenty eight hundred and forty dollars please," she said as though she expected me to produce a wad of cash like a mobster. I stood there like an idiot. I expected the other half of the bill to resemble the first but she went on with a steely flint in her eye: "We expect fifty percent immediately" literally holding out her hand. I pushed forward my credit card feeling like I was getting raped and wondering what my wife would say when I told her I needed to crank, seriously on the overtime. I wandered out in a daze. Apparently the two "halves" of my treatment were slightly, ever so slightly, mismatched.

I am as they say slow to anger but when the resentment has built up, out of sight in my chest, and fermented for a while in my head, I get into towering rages and they usually come as a surprise to people who don't see the inner symptoms. I am not very good at expressing building irritation but when it does surface it incinerates anything in its path. As was the case here as I slowly and inexorably decided this sort of bill paying scheme was pissing me off royally. I already have a permanent burr up my butt about our medical system that feeds insurers first, providers second and slices a pound of flesh off us the customers. Among all the many right wing critics of the Affordable Care Act I have yet to hear one with any idea of how to improve it and expand the small gains it makes for us the consumers. The idea of going back to the hell of an open market place where insurance companies raped us, denied service at random and excluded anyone with an illness is too awful to contemplate. Not that the situation right now is brilliant but it is marginally better.

Funnily enough my dentist had been on vacation in Thailand of all places where he slipped in the shower and broke his arm. World class treatment for this break was a big far zero and he ended up paying just seventy bucks for pain killers on prescription. Cheers all round I thought at the time then suddenly here I was in the jaws of an inexorable medical system that suddenly sticks me, without warning, with thousands of dollars in fees and my dentist, my former champion of single payer, is sticking it to me! What The Fuck? I guess the office was surprised when I spoke by phone explaining I was burnt out on this method of extracting fees by stealth and would they mind if I dropped them and found another dentist to finish the treatment? This after three days of agitation and self recrimination and getting all stressed out and giving myself a head cold. Yup I guess I should have spoken up but I thought we were splitting the costs in half to get maximum insurance coverage? Apparently not, it was in point of fact a one fifth - four fifths split. A bit of a surprise.

After my phone blow up the tension drained from me, just like a drained abscess and I started sleeping again. Then I got a call back from the dentist himself. I was a bit anxious but he immediately broke into an abject apology about the whole mess and everything was changing in his office now thanks to this mess and everyone will get a written estimate of charges generated by their next appointment. "Thanks to you," my dentist said, "we are revamping all our office procedures so this will never happen again.Thank you for speaking up." Completely weird having a love in with my dentist over the phone but it really did happen. He personally made an appointment for my follow up x-ray on Monday and now I face the prospect of going into the office and facing all these people I got really annoyed at. I believe I was justified and I never totally lost my shit on them, but's all rather embarrassing. Exactly what you don't want to do in a small town!

I think I would rather deal with Dr Calvert and his novocaine-free socialized drill, than have to walk into the dental office I have turned upside down with my temper tantrum. After all these years I am nervous once again about going to the dentist.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Night Shift

The laid back Key West lifestyle is a rare and precious commodity, reserved for those with special attributes. I'm not sure if that attribute is genetic, inasmuch as some people are laid back by nature, and I'm guessing there are a few of them in Kiev right now idly watching the Molotov cocktails fly. Perhaps wealth has something to do with it; life in Key West, adapting an English saying about life itself, is like a turd sandwich: the more bread you have, the less shit you eat. But that's always true isn't it? So here's the thing: how is it I get to have time off in the middle of a weekday to dirt at the beach and watch kayakers paddle by on their meager vacation time?

It's because I work at night of course! I appreciate my topsy turvy schedule more than ever since I spent the last Dix months working days. I used to sit in the dispatch center looking out at the sunshine, and then I only got to leave the building as the sun went down. It was almost like a game: could I get out into the fresh air before it got dark. I usually lost. Then I got back on night shift and my life fell back into the proper order of things. Dropping off the Vespa for a tune up became a simple matter of tiding in, taking the bus home and still I had time to work out at home before leaving for work! And Jiri, my trusted Czech mechanic, still had time to exchange a few pleasantries with me. We share a shy misplaced nostalgia for the good bits about our different yet similar European childhoods- and motorcycles.

I even like the ride in at night. I had a short overtime shift and riding the Bonneville through the night on the road propped between the shining moonlit waters is the best way to start and end a shift. And getting 43 miles to each gallon isn't so bad either.

There is something in my own genetic make up that allows me yo switch sleep patterns depending on my work schedule and when I sleep I pass out. If I ever suffer from insomnia there is a direct cause, a worry nagging at my mind. My wife who is a light sleeper is envious of my sleep habits. My dog is happy to have me back on nights. She did not like my day shift schedule one bit and she is at last getting used to me coming home at a civilized hour, around 6:40am.

We get to walk together on day shift, watching people coming to and going from work, people wobbling by on rental bicycles enjoying a slice of paradise under a winter sun.

The city is packed too, the highway a constant stream of Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee, Qu├ębec, and Ontario tags. I take an extra ten minutes in the evening to allow for a relaxed commute as the stream of visitors rolls slowly across the bridges over the teal sun speckled waters looking for paradise. And it's there all tight, every stereotypical button pushed. Palms? Check! Salt water? Check! Sailboat? Check!

I don't mind working my way through the night, I enjoy it, being awake when they are abed. My home is my refuge during the day, my neighbors at work, my dog snoring, the sun shining, stories of ice storms on the iPad filtered by people who talk of an endless winter.

The thing is I love it here even in the summer when the people around me complain of the heat. I ride through the night sweating, and sometimes I freeze when I arrive at work, the air conditioning cranking dementedly in an effort to keep the radio, telephone and computer equipment cool. It's crazy but the computers will overheat, banks of flashing green lights, fans whirring, unless we keep them cool. I love the heat, not sitting in a chair all night because if the air breaks we sit and sweat while the emergency units blows cold air on our blinking green lights in their little room. But I love stepping out in the morning and feeling the heat. I live it like so many people like the hard bar stools and gloomy lights and expensive drinks that are the allure for so many to Key West. Me? It's the heat and endless sun. Outside Don's Place a tricycle that will keep its rider upright no matter what. Ideal you'd think.

You can live and hold fine three jobs, live as one of the fifty percent without health insurance because buying insurance cuts into the beer allocation and besides when you're young you don't get sick. Do you? Deliver sandwiches by scooter, work as a beer back, janitor some store and crash on a couch. Key West is paradise, riding in the February sun.

I overheard two young girls talking about college. This place, one said to the other, would be beyond awesome if there was a school here. They pedaled off to explore paradise. I watched a buff pair of carefully plucked eyebrows saunter out of the gym on Truman, and his gaze caught the headline in the newspaper box:

Remains found in woods ID'd

The skeletal remains found Sunday in a wooded area off College Road on Stock Island were identified Wednesday as those of 53-year-old William Brian Norton of Naples.

Monroe County Medical Examiner Dr. E. Hunt Scheuerman used dental records after sheriff's office detectives reached Norton's family, who then put him in contact with one of Norton's former dentists.

Yes, I said to myself as we set off for Boca Chica Beach to read the full story in my own paper, fully paid for, at the water's edge. That's exactly what night shift in paradise is: beyond awesome.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Being A Local

This August voters in the city of a Key a west vote for mayor. I work in the city but I live in unincorporated Monroe County so I am a mere spectator at the feast of decision making. But the spectacle seems to be heating up at least in the pages of the newspaper. Riding the bus out of town I had time to read and wonder and there has been much to wonder about. For instance, why do people who wait for the bus like to scratch the plastic windows of the bus shelter? Do they expect to make pretty patterns or is it purely destructive intent?

The Mayor Craig Cates is the don of a well known force of nature in 20th century Key West. Emma Cates was a second generation Conch well known as a strong businesswoman who ran a health food outlet on Duval Street when such things were eccentricities. She was a woman, they say, of conviction. The Mayor has exhibited similar traits actually while in office. He was the promoter of a new city hall at Glynn Archer school a Palladian structure on White Street where work is soon to begin on demolition to make way for the new fifteen million dollar building. There were many competing proposals but Cates got his way and frankly I think it will work well when it's done.

Margaret Romero another Conch and a retired executive ran twice against Cates but this year the as yet undeclared candidate is Tony Yaniz a city commissioner who has told the paper he's thinking about a run against Cates. Yaniz has lived in Key West most of his life though he was born in Cuba. He is also it seems fond of the occasional platitude. From the city page: "He says that his philosophy in life is simple: "Be good to your friends and family, they are the best thing that you have. When you were born everyone around you smiled while you cried; live your life so that when you die those around you cry, as you leave with a smile. You need to keep yourself somewhere near the top of the list of the people that you love. Have fun, love hard, and remember that if you live your life right, guilt is not an issue. Keep in mind that a truly happy person knows how to walk the fine line between complacency and ambition."

However he has been pretty outspoken lately in ways that surprise me in this small town. Complacency seems a long way from ambition. The headline in the paper screamed that the city manager was accused of inappropriate touching. That's how unwanted sexual advances are described these days. Under the headline there squatted a truly peculiar story that in some manner hinted at a connection to Commissioner Yaniz. The story rather unravels in the details. It seems the new city manager attended his first Fantasy a Fest parade fifteen months ago and in the manner of the cheerful revelers bumped hips with his supposed friends who were attending with him. The husband took umbrage and the poor incomer fresh from sedateolitical pastures Up North by everyone's account apologized profusely. End of story until commissioner Yaniz writes his evaluation of the manager and alone commissioners gives him a failing grade. The newspaper story suggested the two were connected by comments appended to the evaluations comments. For someone aspiring to take the complex political reins of the mayor's job this whole episode seems rather amateurish.

Craig Cates isn't immune to mistakes. Following his successful steam roller ing of the new site for city hall he got back on his white horse and led the charge for a reformed approach yo dealing with the city' shameless population. A lawsuit threatened by the residents of an expensive condominium complex near, but not next to the homeless shelter, forced the city to literally fold its tents and run off to seek a fresh solution to house the homeless. The Florida Supreme Court has ruled that before jurisdictions round up public sleepers they must offer a secure place for them to sleep. The condo owners, not apparently threatened themselves with imminent penury got fed up with the city' swirling poor lining up to get free showers and beds for the night in front of the splendid gated community. Hence the suit. However Mayor Cates, understanding the various pressing issues suggested creating a center to not only house the homeless but also to help redirect them into mainstream life. Well, that idea was the mother of all lead balloons in a city plagued by a shortage of affordable housing. Every single influential voice rose up in a roar of disapproval threatening the usual electoral unseating of the idiot mayor. The overnight shelter has to close and no one else has a replacement to offer. When it does close the city will be obliged by law to allow public sleeping. What do the Mayor's critics think should be done?

I remember what Key West was like before the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter opened and it was frankly a shambles. I have all the empathy in the world for the working poor; it seems like every year I get closer to being one myself. But Key West is always going to be a magnet for the seasonal travelers who descend in winter and plan a cheap existence on the streets. Yet there is no coherent round table discussion about how to deal with them. To me it is the classic American political Catch 22. If you discuss what to do about the homeless then taxpayers accuse you of planning to waste their money on looking after them. When you fail to house them as the Supreme Court requires they end up on the streets cluttering up the neighborhoods so the taxpayers stamp their feet like entitled children demanding to know why you have done nothing about them. Who would want to be Mayor?

Political discussion and compromise and sensible adult debate has fled the land, at every level from Washington to the city commissions around the nation. Posturing and impossible expectations leave us in the straits we are in. Unhappily the Conch Republic is not immune to this madness. Because I live in the county I do still get to vote for county Commissioner. In my district I am represented by George Neugent a Democrat turned Republican as county voters are in the majority of that persuasion. He has been in office long enough he has managed yo annoy everyone, including me, even though he is at heart a decent man I believe. His opponent has announced a second attempt to unseat the incumbent. Last time Danny Coll was an oddly endearing amateur, an empty suit, inarticulate and to all appearances running to make someone else happy. Heaven knows what kind of campaign he will run this time when his opening proposal is to view “...the upcoming campaign as an opportunity to meet my neighbors and a positive way to address their hopes and concerns.” He and Yaniz could cut costs and share the same platitude writer. Are not our issues serious enough to deserve serious consideration, even at the risk of upsetting the entitled among the voters? I always thought I'd rather remove my own tonsils with rusty pliers than vote republican but life south of reality sees me still holding on to my 56 year old tonsils even though I've voted for two Republicans so far- Richard Roth and George Neugent- and I'm sure there are more in my future in this crazy place.

One day the voters will have to grasp the nettle and understand that compromise is the art of politics. When that day returns we won't electrocute our leaders for talking to each other and suggesting ideas but we will cheer them on in sure and certain hope of a better future through negotiation not as we are stuck now in fear of a worse one, which is a self fulfilling prophecy if we don't learn to communicate like thoughtful adults.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Painting By Numbers

It was a busy enough night at work, my nose was running, my chest was...chesty, the night seemed interminable, I felt feverish. The company was good, Nick and Shannon and I make a good team and we squeeze a few laughs out of the hours spent together answering 911 calls. The work does not often yield much merriment but between ourselves we find our own quirks a source of amusement. Going home is always a joy especially these days as sunrise tends to be right on time as I arrive home over the Niles Channel Bridge.

With a fierce head cold plaguing me I prefer to drive than ride, not so much to avoid the cold night air, which at 62 degrees may not seem cold to everyone, but because riding requires concentration, more so even than driving I drive when I feel less than my best. I should have stayed home but there were some administrative chores only I could do, so in I went, snuffling and coughing and spluttering.

Cheyenne was waiting when I got home at 6:30, and my state of health was no bar to her enjoyment of an early morning walk. Above, the view west from my street, below the full moon over Ramrod Key.

Me, I found myself sitting reading the paper, which, as much as I love it, seemed a sacrilegious thing to do.

Then of course as I looked around I wanted to record what I saw.

A log in the newly created fire ring was smoldering. People do like to come here and drink and talk, loudly, and in the summer to swim. You can see why.

Cheyenne loves this place which attracts lots of visiting dogs and who leave tons of scents.


I could watch Cheyenne all day. Some days I do.

My Android camera does amazing things with pixels.
It is a county park but I love that Ramrod Pool is undeveloped. It was a planned housing development that never came to fruition happily. We get a deep water undeveloped canal to swim in and gravel to park on and no one to bother us. As drunk as people get this is a peaceful low-key spot and I have never encountered anything but good cheer here. People don't seem to get angry in this place which is a quality I really enjoy.

I pulled out my beach chair and snoozed as the sun came up. My neighbor Linda bicycled by and laughed at me sprawled in my wooly sweatshirt baking gently under my dog's watchful gaze.