The Hustle

twenties“twenties” by TheTruthAbout is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

People who know me know how much time I spend husltin’ for those Benjamins. Though at this point, I’m thankful for every Hamilton and Lincoln I get, as well. Being an artist is full-time work, with no guarantee that you’ll ever be paid for anything you do. And while I’m working on being the next Andy Warhole, (hell, I’d be happy to be Bob freakin’ Ross), those dreams don’t keep me in the champagne and caviar lifestyle to which I am accustomed. Welcome to the gig economy. And while most of these gigs can be a pain in the ass, you occasionally come across some of the best jobs in the world. Last week, I got paid to drink whiskey.

Taste tests aren’t that unusual; for the past five years, I’ve been making spare change going to the Oregon State University Food Innovation Center . I was lucky enough to have a friend clue me in about getting on their mailing list, so I’d get emails every month or so about different tastings they would put on. There is an application process. Most importantly, one has to be available for the days and times that they scheduled for the tasting, but there are several other questions. These are usually about food allergies or dietary restrictions, what foods or beverages are commonly eaten, and any other questions they deem pertinent to putting together the focus group. The tests can range from about 15 minutes to an hour and, once it is finished, the participants get paid in cold, hard cash immediately after.

Tasting at Stickmen Brewery, Lake Oswego Oregon“Tasting at Stickmen Brewery, Lake Oswego Oregon” by PDX Beer Geek is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

I’ve done taste tests for beer, hamburgers and breakfast cereal. I did a particularly daring one with sushi. Then, I came across this most recent one for tasting whiskey. At first, I thought, I must be dreaming, but it turned out to be the real deal. The application process was extensive. What types of whiskey do you drink? How much and how often? The online survey took me about 20 minutes to fill out. I got a call back about a week later from someone, regarding the study, with even more questions to answer, but after that, I was in. I was scheduled with one of several focus groups. There were to be three days of tasting, each group lasting about 75 minutes.

_DSF8787“_DSF8787” by Chipps Chippendale is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Before anyone gets too envious about my whiskey tasting adventures, they were far from a drunken bacchanal. There were rigid and methodical steps to the process. We were each sat at a station with a computer terminal and given strict instructions not to talk to anyone. When we were ready, a small sample of whiskey was brought to us, with a numbered identification label. The computer prompted us to rate the color and aroma of each sample before, ultimately, tasting it. Therein followed a series of questions. How much would you pay for this whiskey? How often would you drink it? At which of the following events would you drink this at? Honestly, I could barely finish on time for each of the days. Then, at the end, we were given a breathalyzer test before we were allowed to leave.

Which was ridiculous, in my opinion. When I say the samples were small, we had been informed beforehand that the five samples we were to rate each day would amount to a total of 1.25 oz. of whiskey. That’s a little over a single shot. The samples themselves ran the gamut from some heavenly nectars I’m sure I couldn’t afford to swill so foul that I could barely drink it. That being said, I still got paid to drink and that ain’t too bad. Such are the opportunities afforded by a gig economy. Last week, I got $30 to use a new shampoo and give feedback about it. This week, I’m being paid $20 to take part in an online, political forum. If anyone is interested, both of these opportunities were found on a website called Swagbucks. If you decide to sign up, let them know I sent you. They have a referral program which rewards me for signing up new members. Trust me, I need the money. My supply of champagne is running low.

DSC_0347“DSC_0347” by bovinum is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Hamell on Trial

I realize that the few people who actually read my blog probably lose interest fast, because it’s not about any one thing, but they’re wrong. It is about one thing: me. It’s about me and I’m a random guy, my interests and pursuits shifting between art and science, cooking and comic books. Allow me to change the subject once again and talk a little about music. I love music and it makes up a big part of my life, a constant stream of music echoing through head by an internal radio station that plays 24/7. I’ve mentioned my susceptibility to the dreaded ear worm and how I constantly make up little songs about everyday things that make up the bulk of my existence. Now I’d like to talk about one of my most profound musical experiences.

This was roughly 30 years ago and I was finishing up my undergraduate studies at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. On this particular evening, I was in Portsmouth, NH, at The Portsmouth Brewery, because my favorite local band, Groove Child, was playing. I got there early, mainly because I like to grab a good seat and order my beer before the masses arrived, and partly because I always get to where I’m going early. The basement room where the shows went on was not big. I doubt it could hold 100 people, 60-70 being a more realistic estimate. Of course, this was several decades ago and memory is a fickle thing, so take much of what I say with a grain of salt. This is more about how I perceived this experience that a factual account, so get the hell off my back. Suffice it to say that I had a front row seat at a rather intimate music venue when the show began.

I’m eagerly awaiting Groove Child, the main attraction, when the opening act comes out. He’s a bald, white guy, a bit stocky, a bit Uncle Festerish, in a faded, black tee shirt and well-worn jeans, with an acoustic guitar that looks like it’s seen better days. Walking out and assessing the crowd, he opens with a joke. It’s a dumb joke, a dad joke. He delivers the predictable punchline and pauses for the inevitable chuckle that such a bad joke brings, and then, so abruptly i nearly gives me whiplash, launches one of the most powerful live performances I’ve ever seen. It started with a thundering, staccato guitar strum with enough bass (I later found out he tuned his strings down an octave to make his sound bassier) to push me back in my seat and lyrics delivered with the speed of a rap star freestyling on the mic. Following this explosive opening was a roughly 45 minute set that simply blew me away. His material shifted between hard punk rap and slow, heartful ballads, from more dumb jokes to poems about drug dealers getting stabbed to death. No joke, I was so affected by his set that, after he was done, I simply paid my tab and walked out. No one could have followed that act and not looked dull by comparison.

Ed Hamill, also known as Hamill on Trial, was born in Syracuse, NY, but got his big break on the Austin music scene. I still don’t know all the specifics of his life, but both his stories and his songs speak of a history of drug use, hard times and heartbreak. I recall him relating a bad car accident that nearly killed him and left him with chronic pain. After his marriage of 22 years ended, he wrote a song a day for a year. They’re on his YouTube channel if you’re curious enough to take a look. He is brash, honest and outspoken, with several songs commenting on political and societal issues. He put a few albums out on Ani Defranco’s record label. I’ve seen him a handful of times and own several of his albums. His music is easy to find online, but, trust me, none of his recordings can match the sheer intensity of his live performance. I always appreciate a live performance, particularly because of the bravery it takes to get and share a part of yourself with an audience, but Ed Hamill shines on stage. He has a stage presence that is large and commanding and if you, at all, like what you hear on this blog post, I encourage you to see him.

How Nick Fury Became Black

 

Battle Scars #1

I’ve been reading comics for a long time and I’m pretty familiar with most of the big players and even a few of the minor ones. Few comic book characters are bigger than Nick Fury. For one thing, he has been around longer than most. Created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, Nick Fury first appeared in Sgt. Nick Fury and his Howling Commandos #1 in 1963, so he’s been around since the Silver Age of comics. Starting out as a grade-A military badass, his character morphed into the super secret agent leader of SHIELD. Secondly, through his involvement with SHIELD, he has, at one time or another, played some role in nearly every Marvel comic book title I can think of, from Iron Man to the Punisher. For a character so under-powered in the Marvel universe, he has been written as a shadowy puppet master, pulling the strings behind a veil of secrecy. Then, in 2002, Nick Fury shows up once more in the title, The Ultimates, but with some notable differences. In that comic, he’s black.

Before I go further, I want to say that my issue with this change is not about race. I know there are some comic/movie fans out there that throw a fit when there’s some white-washing, or race changing, or virtue signalling, or any one of a number of bullshit things these people want to whine about. I don’t give a good Goddamn if they want to write Nick Fury as a black man, an Asian woman or a nonbinary Latinix with breast augmentation and a big dick. What does matter to me, however, is continuity. I was actually pretty shocked I didn’t hear more complaints about a character that has been white for four decades suddenly becoming a black man with no explanation. I believe the short answer that was given at the time was that this was merely an alternate dimension, which is the lamest writer cop out that I have heard. Then came Battle Scars.

A six issue limited run written by Chris Yost, Cullen Bunn and Matt Fraction, this lukewarm story actually addressed this race change perfectly, albeit somewhat weakly. So well, in fact, that I have always wondered why I have heard little mention of it in comic book discussions. I don’t think I’ve even met someone who has read it. It was such a mandatory retcon, in my opinion, that I’ve wanted to write about it for a while now. I had forgotten about it until I started rearranging my comic book collection and ran across it and reread all six of the comics in a day. This is where I must put a spoiler warning. Spoiler alert, spoilers ahead, if you at all care then you already know what I am talking about. This may be overkill, because I have a feeling that no one cares, that this little bit of comics history is so insignificant (not to mention, this blog itself) that it is but a forgotten footnote in Marvel lore. That being said, I know some people can get pretty testy out there when any sort of spoiler comes along, so you’ve been warned. If you want to read this series for yourself, without foreknowledge of the plot, then read no further.

Battle Scars #5

In the start of the series, we are introduced to Sgt. Marcus Johnson, a tough and savvy army ranger who returns to the states from his tour in Afghanistan. The return is not a happy one, since it is for his mother’s funeral, but he barely has time to mourn before he gets attacked by Task Master and his henchmen. Given that he’s outnumbered and that Task Master has fought the likes of Captain American and Spiderman, Johnson holds his own pretty well, but still has to be rescued by the Avengers. They hand him over to SHIELD who immediately take him into custody and, oddly enough, treat him like a prisoner. He does the obvious thing and escapes, determined to find out who killed his mom. Along the way, he meets up with his comrade-in-arms, Cheese. I shit you not, his nickname is Cheese and I don’t want to imagine what happened to award him that nom de guerre. What follows is a circuitous mess of a plot that I won’t bore you with.

I know I warned you about spoilers, and they’re here, but the story itself is not great. It feels like the sort of thing that could’ve been fit into a single comic, but they padded it to make a short run series. Shit, even Deadpool couldn’t make this entertaining. Yep, Deadpool is in it, but he doesn’t help that much. Long story short, it turns out that Nick Fury was up to some hanky-panky with a fellow agent on one of his missions. That agent turns out to be Marcus’s mom and, deciding to keep the baby, assumes a secret identity to keep the child safe.

Fury reveals all this just before he and Marcus get captured by Some super baddie by the name of Orion. He’s an arch nemesis of Fury’s, but he wants Marcus because his body produces something called the Infinity Formula. This is the stuff that has kept Fury alive for so long and makes Marcus just a little stronger/faster/tougher than the average human. They ultimately escape and, in the process, Marcus gets an eye taken out, hence the eye patch that Fury is known for. Once the battle is over, Fury announces his retirement from SHEILD and asks Marcus to take his place. Not only does Marcus agree to that, but it’s also discovered that the name on his actual birth certificate just so happens to be Nick Fury. Isn’t that convenient. Oh, and his buddy Cheese? He just happens to be Phil Coulson.

So, there you have it. The story of how Nick Fury became black. Again, not the best story in the world, but at least Marvel did give some explanation about the change. I rarely care what is cannon or not, but that race change was too big not to have some reason offered, no matter how thin. I’m sure you were all dying to know. Until next time, True Believers, happy reading.

Time

I’ve been thinking about time. Part of those thoughts are how long it’s been since I’ve posted on this blog and I mean to remedy that. One of the reasons for that is that there are so many things to take up one’s time, such as goats. Two of our goats gave birth this summer. One of our goats, Moon Pie, gave birth to two baby boys (bucklings) right around the Fourth of July. I remember we were worried that the goats might go into early labor because of the frightening nature of the fireworks, but that didn’t happen. Keeping in line with our tradition of naming our goats after superheroes, the two boys were named Starlord and Drax. About four days after that, our other goat, Colleen, gave birth to another pair of bucklings, which we named Apollo and Midnighter.

Apollo and Midnighter
Drax

 

Starlord

Four young bucklings are enough to distract anyone, and I certainly have been no exception. They are playful, rambunctious and irresistibly easy to pick up and hold in your arms. And, like many of the best things in life, were only around for a limited time, because we do not have the room for 7 goats. We knew we would have to sell them off, so we had work to do. Their horns needed to be disbudded, they needed shots and, given that they weren’t really breeding stock, they needed to be castrated. We also spent a fair amount of time crafting an ad to put on Craig’s List, because we didn’t want them going to just anyone. We had to emphasize that they were NOT meat goats, that they couldn’t be sold individually, unless as a companion for an already existing goat and, preferably, each pair of brothers would be kept together. Happily, that’s exactly what happened, each pair of brothers going to lovely new homes. One of those homes with llamas, which should be interesting.

The male half of the wedding party

I also got to perform a wedding. The second one I’ve ever done. It’s a habit of mine to prepare myself to death and this was no exception. I had to walk a fine line, because one side of the family is ultra-religious and they basically wanted a full on Catholic ceremony, whereas the other side of the family cares not for religion. I met with the couple twice, took notes, watched YouTube videos and studied up on wedding ceremonies in general. Getting ready for that ceremony took hours and hours, but an event like that you want to be just perfect and I think my hard work paid off.

And then there’s the garden, which got me thinking about how glorious it is for something to be ephemeral. Our bumper crop has been tomatoes and we’ve been struggling to keep up with them. My wife canned a ton of them up, which is fantastic, but there’s just nothing like fresh tomatoes from the garden. They’re so good that I don’t really eat any other tomatoes. I don’t care how good a restaurant or grocery store is, if they aren’t in season, it’s just not worth it to me to eat them. And that makes them all the better. The same with berries, the same with apples, the same with corn. Portland has such a bounty of great produce that we are blessed and it makes one realize how good fresh produce is and makes anything out of season taste like crap. If it’s even available at all.

I just watched the Netflix show, Glitch, and one of the characters says, “The beauty of life is that it ends.” This is the glory of time. That’s there’s simply not enough of it. Knowing that there’s an end makes it all that much better.

Outsider Art


“Slotin Folk Art Auction (2017)”by Marcus O. Bst is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

I’m not sure if my art can be considered “Outsider Art” or not. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t care one way or another. I don’t like labels. I am who I am and the art I create is just what happens when I create and I neither know nor care what others call it. The public at large, however, demands labels, thrives off of what others identify with. People don’t like what they can’t define and, more pragmatically, they can’t buy and sell things that have no description. So, while I don’t really care, if I want to make a living as an artist, I need to label my art, my style.

When I first heard about outsider art, I gravitated towards the term. Mainly because, at a fundamental level, I’ve always felt like an outsider. I learned very early in life that I think differently than most others and that, on the rare occasion that I have dared to voice my opinions, the reaction from the hoi polloi has been swift and punishing. Hence, I became a chameleon, blending into whatever group was convenient. It made an identity fairly useless to me, even burdensome at times. Now that I’m trying to grab at least a little of the spotlight, I must acquire an identity, but which to choose?

“earth totem”by artyfishal44 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

The term “outsider art”, according to the magazine, Raw Vision, was first coined as the title of a book written by Roger Cardinal in 1972. Even with a whole book about it, the term outsider art continues to be very loosely defined. At its most basic meaning, the term can refer to someone who is simply untrained. I certainly fit into that category; I’ve taken one drawing class in my whole life and have taught myself everything I know about painting, color theory/paint mixing, digital art, etc. It also often refers to those who suffer from mental illness and I would contend that I can check a box in this category as well, though I will be appropriately vague on the details.

On the other hand, I’m not sure I would describe myself “on the margins of society”. I had a relatively normal, middle class upbringing. My education is pretty extensive and I’ve been going to museums and galleries for as long as I can remember. I’ve even lived vicariously through several artist friends in college. I am, as I have claimed, self-taught, but in gaining this knowledge, I have followed the advice of several art books and YouTube tutorials. Hardly an esoteric education. If anything, I have immersed myself in pop culture to advance my training, though I’m not sure if anyone would guess that, given the bulk of my art.

“Slotin Folk Art Auction (2017)”by Marcus O. Bst is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

So, I continue to ponder the outsider designation. Oddly, I don’t think my art is “out there” enough to really earn the title. My search for a label goes on, though my lack of enthusiasm will probably mean that this will be a long and meandering endeavor. But that doesn’t really bother me, since I’ll still be doing art throughout the whole process. By the time I’ve decided on a box to fit myself in, my style will probably have completely changed anyway.

Trying New Things

Sorry I haven’t posted for a while. I got caught up in two paintings I’ve been doing for a show. Most people associate art with emotion and freedom, the expression of feelings and ideas that are beyond the power of logic and reason to describe. There numerous articles written about the association of art and madness, but few realize the planning and discipline that go into painting. I know I don’t speak for everyone, but I don’t just throw a canvas up and start in on it with my brush like an enraged knife fighter. There is a great deal of forethought that goes into my work.

Recently, I was a invited to be part of a zodiac-themed show at a Portland gallery called the Splendorporium. I can’t guarantee that was the reality of the situation, but it’s how my ego has chosen to define the situation in my mind, so that’s the narrative I’m going with. I had actually shown at the Splendorporium before, a few years ago. They’re a great space. Every month, they hold a group show around a particular theme and allow a very wide latitude on the artist’s take on the theme. As such, their shows are always fresh and exciting, with all types and skill levels represented. I’m still trying to get my art, as a business, off the ground and, while I knew about the zodiac show, wasn’t planning on contributing to it, thinking my time might be better spent elsewhere. However, I am an artist and flattery will get you everywhere and an off hand email telling me that my art might go well in the show was all the encouragement I needed.

The fact is that I don’t have much zodiac themed work. I would have to create some pieces, de novo, and with a ticking time clock in the background. Now this was exciting! First, I need some ideas, so I took out my trusty sketchbook and began drawing my takes on the different signs of the zodiac. I searched for zodiac-themed art on Google Images, DeviantArt and Pinterest. In the end, I settled on the signs Capricorn and Scorpio. I found it odd that more signs, even my own (Libra), didn’t resonate with me. But, in the end, you gotta go with your gut, and my gut told me that the goat and the scorpion would be fun to paint, so the first part of my direction was set.

I chose two canvases of the same size and began to prep them as I refined my design ideas. How to make them interesting was foremost in my mind. The problem was that I really don’t do symbolic imagery or allegorical scenes. If I paint a skull, then it’s a skull, not a representation of man’s mortality or the wages of sin or some such bullshit. So, if I wanted to provide some depth to my paintings, some “umph!”, it had to be a purely visual punch. I’ve been playing with artists’ tape and using it to block out areas of the canvas to break up the surface, visually, and create a sort of tension in my works. This is what I decided to do for my zodiac pieces.

My first steps of preparation were the same as I always do, gesso, sand and then apply a thin wash. I painted some light marks to give me a sense of the overall composition and then I got my tape out. While I don’t do symbolic imagery, I love actual symbols and the zodiac is full of them. Capricorn is an earth sign and one of the symbols for that is a triangle, the apex pointed downward, with a horizontal line cutting across near the middle of the triangle. Likewise, Scorpio is a water sign, whose symbol is also a downward pointing triangle, without the horizontal line. I created such triangles with tape, in the center of the canvases, and continued to paint.

Early stages of my Zodiac paintings

I tried to ignore the tape and paint the main images. The animal symbol would be front and center, dominating the painting, a goat’s head for Capricorn and a scorpion for Scorpio. Scorpio has three other symbols associated with it; the symbol for the sign itself, and then a symbol for each of its ruling planets, mars and pluto. Despite my previous comment about planning, I set the same composition for the Capricorn painting, before realizing that it only has one ruling planet (actually, depending on who you ask, some say it has ten ruling celestial bodies), Saturn. Figuring out what symbol to place in the third area I had laid out for it took my two days of research and pondering, but I finally decided on the Chinese character for goat, which seemed appropriate since the goat also makes an appearance in the Chinese zodiac as well.

Before removing tape

 

After removing tape

Next came the moment of truth. Time to take off the tape. Now my nice paintings were marred by blank triangular forms in the middle of them. My wife was dismayed, but, as I told her, with art, you gotta take some risks. How to incorporate these triangles? A few ways played out in my head. Paint them in with complementary colors? Make them black and white? I chose complementary colors. Ultimately, this worked far better for my Scorpio painting than it did for Capricorn. I ended up creating a more complex design for Capricorn than Scorpio, resulting in a triangle that contrasted less, and was therefore, less noticeable in the chaos. While I’m not entirely unhappy with it, I feel that my gambit clearly paid off with Scorpio.

Before removing tape

 

After removing tape

So, there you have it. These are the ways I spend my time as an artist. These paintings will be up at the Splendorporium for the month of June if you wish to see them in person. Tell me what you think.

Capricorn, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 24

 

Scorpio, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 24

Teaching

Okay, pop quiz! No seriously. I’ve already talked about my love of anatomy and my love of comic books. When I used to teach the class, I was able to combine the two in the form of test questions that would be an endless source of amusement to my students. Not really, but one can dream. So, here’s a few questions for you. Answers are at the end.

  1. Doctor Midnight has his hands full looking after the Justice League and today is no different as he assesses Wonder Woman and her swollen hand. “That must have been some punch,” he says, holding up an x-ray, “ you have a boxer’s fracture, a fracture of the 4th and 5th metacarpal bones.”With your physiology, you’ll heal in no time, but it’ll still be painful, because you have some important muscular attachments there. Do you know what they are?”

Wonder Woman’s correct reply would be:
A) “By Hera’s Bodice, the flexor carpi ulnaris attaches there!”
B) “By Zeus’ codpiece, that’s where the the extensor digitorum attaches!”
C) “By all the popcorn shrimp in Poseidon’s galley, the extensor carpi radialis has an attachment there!”
D) “Oh, I’m just a girl. How would I know of such things?”

2) Hannibal loves it when a plan comes together, but it doesn’t always come together the way one plans. That what he was thinking as they go visit Face in the hospital. The surgery to remove the bullet was a success, but now Face is complaining about his eye. “I’m glad to be out of surgery, but now it feels like I have something in my eye all the time. It’s all gritty and watering. I can’t run a con like this.”
Hannibal pats him on the back. “Ah, it’s just a corneal abrasion, Face. Man up, you’ll be fine in a few days.”
“That’s easy for you to say. It’s driving me nuts. I just want to scratch my eyes all the time.”
Which one of the following would be the most appropriate response from Mr. T?

A) “Well, don’t scratch it, fool! That sensation travels along the oculomotor nerve to the Edinger-Westphal nucleus. You’ll mess up your pupillary reflex!”
B) “Stop it with all your jibber jabber! If you scratch that, the sensation will travel through the facial nerve and you’ll develop ptosis.”
C) “I pity the fool that don’t know the sensations of the cornea travel through the trigeminal nerve!”
D) “You’d be a fool to scratch your eyes! Your watery eyes would overload the nerve signals travelling through the optic nerves themselves!”

3) It was a rousing game of quidditch, but now Harry Potter is in Hogwart’s medical center, along with Ron and Hermione. “Oh, why can’t they pad those broomsticks a little better?” moans Harry, clutching his groin.
“Just try and not move around too much. They said your pubic bone is fractured.” Ron offered, obviously uncomfortable with Harry’s anguish.
“That’s going to affect every muscle in the adductor compartment of the thigh.” Hermione observed.
“No, it bloody will not!” Ron countered, “the adductor magnus has a different attachment.”
“Well, here comes Professor Snape. Let’s ask him who’s right.”

What is Professor Snape’s answer?

A) “Oddly enough, Ron is correct for once; the adductor magnus has no attachment to the pubic bone.”
B) “You’re both wrong; only the gracillis, adductor longus and the pectineus have attachments to the pubic bone.”
C) “Hermione, as annoying as she is, is right. All the adductor muscles of the thigh have attachments to the pubic bone. Young Harry here is in for a world of pain.”
D) “Leave me alone, you vile, little children. It is the posterior compartment of the thigh that has attachments to the pubic bone.”

4) Finn drew his sword and leveled it at the Ice King. “Let Princess Kandy Korn go, Ice King, or we’ll have to get rough with you.”
“Ha, I’d like to see you try.” said the frosty monarch, “I’ve enchanted my castle. You can’t get in without answering a question.”
“Name it! What’s your question?We’ll answer it and then rescue the princess.”
“Alright, smarty pants! Tell me which one of the following nerves is a nerve of the sacral plexus. Is it the genitofemoral, the iliohypogastric, the obturator or the pudendal nerve?”

What is Jake’s (let’s face it, Finn and Jake always take on the Ice King together) answer?

A) “Aw, come on. That’s an easy one, man. It’s the pudendal nerve. Totally lame question.” 
B) “That’s a trick question, ya big dummy. None of those nerve come from the sacral plexus.”
C) “Everyone knows it’s the genitofemoral nerve, dude. Now quit rustling our jimmies and let the princess go.” 
D) “What? You think ‘cause I’m a dog, I don’t know human anatomy? It’s the obturator nerve, ya stinker.”

I love teaching. For me, teaching is like telling people, “Hey, I know this really cool thing. Let me share it with you!” The first time I realized this was right after I had earned my black belt in Kenpo Karate. One of my instructors came up to me and started talking me up. Dominic, you seem to really know your stuff, you have a great ability to relate this material to others, you have a natural talent for this, how would you like to be in charge of teaching some of your own classes? I leapt at the opportunity. Great, he said, you’re in charge of all the kids’ classes. Open the studio at 8AM next Saturday.

I knew I had been conned, he hated teaching kids, but I didn’t care. I was an instructor. I don’t know how I did it, I was only 18 at the time, and completely inexperienced, but I knew enough to make it fun. The parental units weren’t paying us to turn their children into deadly kung fu masters, they wanted an hour of peace and quiet while we tired their little darlings out. The youngest student I’ve taught was 2 ½ years old and the oldest, when I started teaching all the classes, was around 60. I co-ran a studio in Concord, NH for about 2 years, before leaving to go out to school in California.

After that, I tutored calculus, chemistry and anatomy in college, earned a teaching fellowship in medical school and taught anatomy for 8 years at a naturopathic medical school. Whatever form it has taken, I have always found teaching to be one of the most gratifying activities I have ever known. The experience of being able to expand one’s understanding of a subject is indescribable, and I am eternally grateful that I have been able to do this. It’s tough to judge one’s self, but the feedback I have received about my teaching has been for the most part favorable. I attribute this to two techniques I use while teaching. I’ve already said the first one, keep it fun. The second is to use stories.

As humans, we have an innate affinity for stories. We remember them better than just dry facts and figures, and they attach a narrative to knowledge imparted this way that allows one to extrapolate upon this knowledge better. If I just tell my class that the gluteus medius muscle is innervated by the superior gluteal nerve, how the hell are they supposed to remember that? But, if I talk about the police officer I knew, who shot herself in the ass, damaging her superior gluteal nerve, now walked with a limp and had a positive Trendelenburg’s sign, well that’s a story to remember. This story describes the innervation to the gluteus medius, as well as the action of the muscle and the physical exam finding (positive Trendelenburg sign) if there is dysfunction. If I can get the students themselves to come up with a story that relates to them personally, then I know the knowledge will stick with them, though I truly hope all of my students’ superior gluteal nerves are intact.

But, enough about teaching; how about them answers:

  1. A
  2. C
  3. C
  4. A

Keep Your Eyes on the Seatbelt Sign

I make up songs all the time. My wife does it, too, thankfully, because if she didn’t I’d probably drive her nuts. It’s often unconscious, I’ll simply sing something instead of say it. “I’m going to pick up the milk.” “I gotta go to work.” “David’s coming to dinner tomorrow night.” Almost any phrase can be sung instead of spoken. I know I’m not alone in this, although, admittedly, I have not met anyone other than my wife who does this. Many are the times that I considered writing jingles for commercials, but I have no idea how one would go about breaking into that field.

One of the drawbacks to this idiosyncrasy is that I am highly susceptible to earworms. An earworm is defined as “a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person’s mind after it is no longer playing.” It could be anything, a song, a jingle, the theme song of a television show, if it’s got a tune, it can stick in my head for weeks. It’s one of the reasons that, despite being a hardcore Star Trek fan, I couldn’t watch the TV show Enterprise. Note to television producers, a theme song should never have lyrics. One time, I made the mistake of visiting the website www.tunnelsnakes.com. If you are as susceptible as I am, I will warn you right now, DO NOT visit that site. I would wake up hearing that song for months. It would not leave and almost drove me insane. Perhaps it did; who am I to judge?

This background sets the scene for the creation of my latest song. Or earworm, because I hear it in my head all the time. It should be noted that I hate flying. The whole process makes me feel like livestock being herded and then trapped in a tiny seat for hours. I can feel the impatience and anxiety of every passenger on the plane. The last time I flew, it was a short flight, but there was some delay on the tarmac and we sat around for what felt like forever. As I sat, stewing in my seat, trying to distract myself with a book, the pilot’s voice droned over the intercom. “Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize for the delay. We’ll try to have you disboarding as soon as we can. In the meantime, please stay seated with your seatbelts fastened. Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign above and, when it turns off, you’ll be free to move around the cabin.”

It was so bland and rote that it was little more than background noise. Not a single one of the weary, jaded passengers even gave it notice. Everyone, except an energetic, five-year old girl. I can’t imagine how much pent up energy she had inside her, but, right after that message, she leapt up onto her seat, eyes sparkling and fists clenched tight and chanted, “Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign! Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign! Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign!”

That’s all it took. I hear that little girl’s chant, like some punk rock anthem, playing in my head so frequently that it feels like my theme song. The tone is some combination of Rage Against the Machine ferocity and the upbeat poppiness of Pretty Reckless. I made it into a fuller song in a futile effort to purge it’s insane catchiness from my mind, but it’s only been partially successful. I know that, since I can’t sing it for you, something will be lost in translation, but I just wanted to share.

Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign
Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign
Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign
Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign

We’re waiting on the runway
Trapped here in our seats
I need to go to the bathroom
And I want something to eat
At the mercy of the pilot
Stuck here on his plane
And his only words of wisdom
I sing in my refrain

Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign
Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign
Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign
Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign

That’s all that I can think of
My eyes focused on that sign
Trying to will it to go out
With the power of my mind
Claustrophobia starts to grip me
And the rest of the passengers, too
All of us desperate to escape
But there’s only one thing we can do

Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign
Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign
Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign
Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign


Animals

I’ve always been a bit conflicted regarding the subject of pets. On one hand, I hate the concept of ownership of another living thing. On the other hand, I love the adorable, little things. If left on my own, I probably would not have a pet, but my wife was a ferret owner before I came along, so when we moved in together, we all became part of the same family. Since then, our family has grown. Animals take up a significant part of our life now, so allow me to introduce you to our triumvirate of triumvirates.

Ferrets

I’ve already mentioned these guys to you and, since they were our first pets, it seems only right that I should talk about them first. Currently, we have 3; one male, Ollie, and two females, Luna and Harley. They are rescue ferrets, as all of ours have been for the past decade or so. The most ferrets we’ve had at any one time is five, which is a lot of ferrets. They are crepuscular, meaning that they are most active during dawn and dusk, and are obligate carnivores. Mischievous and sly, they have the “fuck you” attitude that I like in my pets. They’ll sleep 20 hours out of a day and spend the rest planning an Oceans 11 style bank heist.

Before you get any ideas about owning a ferret, let me destroy them for you. Ferrets are not for you. I have talked more people out of owning ferrets than I have talked people out of suicide, and I worked on a suicide hotline. Born escape artists, if you don’t tirelessly scrutinize every inch of whatever area you’re going to keep them in, they will find a way out. They will be gone and most likely dead inside of a week. Leave anything around for them to chew on and something will inevitably get stuck in their intestinal track and, boom, dead. That or surgery for a few grand. Courageous to the point of stupidity, they laugh in death’s face every damn day. Oh, did I mention their tendency towards adrenal disease and kidney failure? I’ve fed the little suckers by hand, injected water under their skin (sub-Q) to keep them hydrated and stayed awake over 24 hours at a stretch caring for one post-op. Unless you love ferret enough to see yourself doing those things, ferrets are not for you.

Chickens

When we first expanded our menagerie, chickens were our first non-ferret to join. I gotta admit, these girls are hard to love. They are not cuddly. They do not love you. They are straight up bitches sometimes. That being said, if you had any idea how much chicken art I’ve done, then you know I find them gorgeous. Also, you can’t beat fresh eggs from your own free range chickens. I shit you not. Seriously, the difference between what our girls lay and the bland, uniform monstrosities that you buy in the grocery store is straight up legit.

These guys do demand a degree of vigilance, because everything thinks they are so very tasty. I’ve fought off more than one racoon who was looking for our little Chic-fil-A. We’ve lost at least one to a raccoon and one just disappeared. Could’ve been a hawk that flew off with it, but there weren’t even signs of a struggle. We have an 8 x 8 chicken run, walled in on all sides with fine mesh (about 1cm, I think) wire screening on all sides. When I say all sides, I mean it; four walls, a top and a bottom. Why a bottom? Because you wouldn’t believe the number of things that want to burrow up from below. If not to eat our chickens, then to get to their tasy, tasty feed.

 

Goats

The latest addition to our crew are two Nigerian dwarf goats near the end of 2017, Colleen and Moon Pie. Colleen got bred and, in the summer of 2018, gave birth to our little chocolate chunk, Starfire. We didn’t initially intend to keep Starfire, but she kind of grew on us and now we have three goats, hence, our triumvirate of triumvirates. They are pets, but we milk them, too. Or rather, my wife milks them; I have yet to put in the time in to learn. She uses the milk to make cheese and yogurt.

I lump goats into one of three categories: meat, milk and fiber, depending on their uses. Ours are basically pets, so there’s a fourth category, but goats, in general, are considered livestock, so have been defined by the resources they provide. As much as I love goat meat, the last thing either my wife or I want is a slaughterhouse in our backyard. The neighbors probably wouldn’t be too thrilled either. Since my wife spins and knits her own fiber, I would’ve guessed that we would have fiber goats, but the cheese making won out. No complaints here. I like our goats, and their milk, just fine.

Speaking of our backyard, we actually delivered Starfire ourselves there. It was quite the experience. I can remember, back in medical school and internship, being with an OB/GYN doc and waiting for a patient to go into labor. Just waiting for my pager to go off. Yes, I’m that old, we used pagers. It could be an hour or it could be a day. Every minute that ticked off was one spent in anxious anticipation, like an exam that one was nervous about and the proctor could jump out at any moment, even if you were asleep, and proceed to start the test. Waiting for Starfire to be born was very much like that. Not having any experience in recognizing the signs of goat labor, we probably spent a week or two in that Sword of Damocles state, getting maybe 3-5 hours of sleep a night. Once it began, the delivery itself was over in about 40 minutes, but, boy, that waiting. And, we’re about to breed Colleen and Moon Pie again, so hopefully I’ll handle it better this time. On the plus side, I’ll have a blog post all about new baby goats in a few months, so it’ll all be worth it.

Emergency: Hand Laceration!

During my internship, my fellow interns and I were assigned a different service each month. It was part of a family practice residency, so we rotated through most of the basic things we would be expected to deal with. A few months of pediatrics, a few months of OB/GYN, a few months of internal medicine, etc. Four months out of the year, we were house docs, just staying in house (in the hospital) and taking care of whatever needed a doctor, or to be more accurate, a doctor’s signature. Mostly, this was just keeping things on an even keel. The patients were stable for the most part, with orders written already. We were there in case something came up; complaints of constipation, keeping blood sugars in check, talking with family member who wanted info if the attending wasn’t around, stuff like that.

Two of these months were the day shift, coming in at 6AM for morning report and working until 6PM. Two of those months were night shift, coming in at 6PM and leaving, usually, after morning report, around 7AM. The nights were quiet for the most part, but whoever was on was the only doctor in the hospital. That’s not entirely true; there was an ER doc on overnight, too, but, except for the most life threatening of emergencies, he was never seen. And while the hospital was not large, it consisted of a standard medical/post-surgical floor, an ER, a rehab unit (occupational/physical therapy rehab, not drug rehab), a geropsych lockdown unit and a 5 bed ICU. I loved working nights. I’m a night person, so I never slept when I was working nights and I made sure everything ran smoothly.

I would come in at 6PM and meet with whoever was on day shift and get the report. How many patients were in each unit, what needed to be done, what problems should be anticipated; that sort of thing. Then, and this is the important part, I would meet with the nurses on each unit. They are the boots on the ground and could usually tell me more about the patients than the doctors’ notes. If things were quiet, I’d go back to the residents’ break room and get some food in me. There was cable TV and internet, so I could occupy myself quite well, but I knew that an emergency could arise at any second. So I would round every 3-4 hours, visiting each unit, talking to the nurses, preemptively taking care of whatever I could. For the vast majority of the time, things worked great. Every now and again, however, I would get something story worthy.

One such night was going swimmingly. Quiet Med/Surg floor, empty ICU, empty rehab unit. I was happily surveying our empty ER when I saw two men standing at the admitting desk. Both swayed ever so slightly, one of whom was holding his arm up, a crimson towel wrapped around his right hand. I was slow to realize that the towel had originally been white. Once back in the ER, I learned that the gentleman in question had just recently been fired. He had been a cook at a local bar and, after getting his walking papers, decided a day of drinking would be in order. Evidently, he had drunk enough, with his companion, that it had seemed like a good idea to go back to the fine establishment he had been fired from, to continue his inebriation. Upon encountering the manager that had fired him, my patient had decided that it would be better to put his fist through a plate glass window, rather than his former manager’s face, leading to him now sitting before me.

Unwrapping the bloody towel, I found his hand to be a gory mess, oozing red, with a single, pulsing jet of arterial spray providing dramatic effect to the whole scene. I rewrapped the hand and excused myself, swiftly walking to find the ER doc. Explaining to him that I felt that this man needed more than what I could provide, that he needed an orthopedic hand surgeon, he groggily followed me to inspect the damage. He was nonplussed. Pointing to the spouting arterial, he said, “Tie that off first, then repair that tendon, and that one, and then sew him up. He can follow up with a specialist later.” With that, he wearily went back to bed.

Resigned to the task at hand, I set up my sterile field, gloved up and injected his hand with anesthetic. Luckily, both of the men were so inebriated that I don’t think either of them were feeling much of anything. It took me roughly 90 minutes to put his hand back together. After it was done, I was convinced that I had mutilated and crippled this man. I urged him to follow up with some doctor (any doctor, for the love of God!), fearing infection, fearing disability, and sent him on his way. It was one of the more trying experiences in my life and it remains vivid in my mind and I’m not sure I would be telling anyone any of this, if this were the ending I had. As they say in the infomercials, however, but, wait, there’s more.

Years later, after I had left medicine, I was working out at some gym (I don’t remember which one I was with at the time) and I heard someone say, “Excuse me.” I didn’t recognize the man, but he asked if I was a doctor. After a few more questions, we had determined that I was, indeed, the man that had sewed his hand up. I openly expressed how convinced I had been that I had ruined his hand. He showed me the appendage in question and there wasn’t a single scar upon it. His take on the night, though fuzzy, was very different. He felt very well cared for and said his hand healed better than he expected it would. I don’t live in a world of black and white, but his words allowed me to chalk this experience up to a win. The whole reason for me to go into medicine was to feel like I was helping people, and his thanks to me is an experience I will always cherish.