General: October 2004 Archives

Bush Salute.jpg
file photograph

Fascism, it's so US. Are there still any doubters out there?

The Bush campaign is now asking followers to swear allegiance to Bush, right hands extended. The pledge:

"I care about freedom and liberty. I care about my family. I care about my country. Because I care, I promise to work hard to re-elect, re-elect George W. Bush as president of the United States."
The principle established, the words can easily be rearranged in the future as needed.

[image from Chemtrails]

alex barry
Alex Barry I Wish I Was Sean Landers (2003-2004) ink on paper 4.25" x 5.5"

No, really, I'm fine. In fact, the radiation side effects have nearly disappeared. I just decided I could now share this wonderful little Alex Barry drawing, one of several my partner Barry and I picked up late in June at the TAG Projects show in DUMBO.

The image and its text wouldn't have made much sense on this site before a few weeks ago, when I first wrote about what I did on my summer vacation. I liked the drawing and its wisdom then and I like it even more now, after what we call the recent unpleasantness. I have no idea what inspired the piece. Although it almost surely references some personal experience of the artist, I think its humor will register with most people.

Unfortunately I can't find any links to Barry's other work, but I'm going to try to record and post the really beautiful, much larger drawing he sent to us as a gift, more or less out of the blue. We still haven't even met him, but surely will, and we want to visit the studio where these drawings begin.

outside Chelsea Health Center, Tuesday, 7:45 am

[if you're only interested in the logistics, go straight to the bold area within the text below]

I'm not going to go into the political, social, even moral issues surrounding the disastrous loss of half of the nation's supply of influenza vaccine this year. I'm not going to write about what the ensuing chaos in the distribution of the remaining supply says for the competence or resolution of our local, state and federal authorities. And I won't even allude to the implications this mess has for our ability to deal with the major terrorist biological strike those same authorities have been warning us about for at least three years.

I'm only going to describe how I got a flu shot yesterday morning, in the hopes that the story will help others to duplicate my success.

Although I'm not 65 years old, I happen to fall within at least three so-called risk groups for getting a serious case of influenza. Even before those numbers had added up, I had been innoculated every year.

This year as usual, for many weeks beginning late summer, I had trusted in the ability of my primary care doctor, a specialist in HIV disease, to secure a vaccine virtually all of his patients really depend upon each year. The office assured me several times that it was only the usual delay that was postponing my shot. I suspected otherwise, but I did not think any other source would be more reliable than my own physician. When my last call to the office, made the week before this one, produced a flat confession that they would not be getting any supples and (more shocking) that they could not direct me anywhere else, I was left totally to my own devices. By this time the possibilities were of course extremely limited, since the national panic had already begun.

I called every local governmental, institutional and private office I could think of, but every lead came up empty (most of them actually only directing me to each other). My worst experiences (for incompetence) were with the New York's 311 operators and the recordings and individuals answering the phones at the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. One hotline person said there was nothing in my zip code area, suggested I give him another one, and when I suggested rather that he give me one, I was asked, "How about New York, New York?"

Council Member Chistine Quinn's office showed some real interest in my search when I called on Monday, and they had in fact already been trying, thus far without much success, to assemble practical information for those who needed it. Many reports had said that the Chelsea Health Center was giving innoculations, but no one was able to describe the circumstances. Quinn's office promised to continue its investigation and suggested that I stop by the center, which was only five blocks from our apartment. I walked over early that afternoon where I got the information which got me back at their doorstep the next day before dawn.

It was pretty dark. I had forgotten that there even were such hours as those crowded around 6:30 am. The night doorman was still on duty, which seemed to surprise me, perhaps because I wasn't really very much together yet, this being mathematically the middle hour of my usual sleep assignment. A few feet further down the block I smiled to the nice South Asian fruit and vegetable guy as he assembled his display on the sidewalk (he's regularly still at his stand until early evening - his kids will probably end up at Columbia or NYU). The guy who runs the corner newstand was still assembling his display, and inside the doorway of the still locked Gristede's across the street were big bags of fresh crusty bread, apparently at no risk of being snatched away before they were liberated by store staff.

I decided I really like dawn - and the thereafter. But there would still be that problem with getting to bed eight hours earlier, so I'm not likely to rearrange things so long as I live in Manhattan.

I got to the neatly-landscaped art deco Health Center building (west side of 9th Avenue, just below 27th Street) at 6:45. I had been advised the day before to be there by 7 am, to be among the 350 people who would be given shots that day. I was out by 10:30, having drawn number 126 when they distributed the cards which assigned the order to the people lined outside the building.


Shots are available at seven clinics in the city, but I can only describe the specifics of my own experience. At the Chelsea clinic 350 shots are allocated each Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday (I don't know how finite the total supply may be).

Access to rest rooms is available in the building, although I'm not sure at what time that first becomes possible. There is an elevator to their basement location. Bottled water is occasionally distributed to those waiting, and there is a drink vending machine inside.

I did not see any neighborhood address requirement being invoked, although it may be necessary to be a resident of New York City to receive an innoculation. Only those who are most at risk are being given shots, and some evidence of risk status is being required. That could mean a drivers license or Medicare card for proof of age 65 or above, a doctor's certificate describing an immune suppression (including those with HIV disease), or conditions like heart disease, lung problems and asthma, diabetes, kidney disease, treatment for cancer, high doses of steroids, and sickle cell anemia. I saw some people accepted who were only able to produce (easily identified) prescription items. I did not see any babies.

Around 8 o'clock you are given a number corresponding to your position in line and you are then free to leave for a while or take shelter sitting with your very interesting neighbors inside one of the city buses parked at the curb. Shots will be distributed beginning at 8:30, at the rate of approximately 100 per hour, so you will have a good idea of when you should be back in line.

Once your number is called there is an efficient screening interview and then the vaccine is delivered in your upper arm.

ADDENDUM: If you're looking for a neat little spot close by for a snack or a coffee, head for Lunch Basket on the north side of 24th Street, just west of 9th Avenue. Owner-crafted light food, very cozy, with a few chairs.

Remarkably, especially for those who know me well, I found the entire experience to be totally stress-free. There were no snags, no uncomfortable incidents. Most of the people I was surrounded by were older than myself, and there was certainly a strong element of crusty Lefty veterans of urban campaigns. But overall, there was an amazing diversity, camaraderie and just plain good will and caregiving (a number of people had canes, walkers, wheel chairs, folding seats of every description, and accompanying one elderly couple seen inside the building was a large oxygen tank which served the very sprightly and beautiful wife).

Everything was very orderly, with absolutely no confusion. The clinic staff was efficient, but they were also magnificently considerate, informative and charming. Everyone, patients and employees or volunteers, seemed to delight in a gentle comic humor as well.

But the fact remains, none of those people should have had to leave their homes in the night and wait outside in the cold in order to get a simple flu vaccine in the first place. We should do better, at least as well as the rest of the developed world does for its citizens, but I doubt that we ever will. It's all about the god of the free market, a false and indifferent god, but it's our very own.

from the front of the bus, 9th Avenue in the forties, on a Saturday afternoon (these vehicles aren't moving)

We live in Manhattan. We're supposed to be able to get around the city without each of us piloting two or three tons of private metal, but it's getting harder and harder to assume the availability of the public transportation which makes this city possible.

Barry and I had decided early this afternoon that we should have no trouble running up to 57th Street to see two gallery shows which close today and then heading back in time to look into a number of Chelsea locations before their doors were locked at 6 pm. But we hadn't bargained on the virtual disappearance of both subway and bus service, and in the end we were reminded that Manhattan's transportation failings are far greater scale than that represented by a badly-organized and underfunded MTA.

When we discovered (only after descending the stairs into the station) that there were no uptown trains running from our corner, 23rd Street and 8th Avenue, all weekend, we decided to risk a cab and potential Midtown congestion. There were no complications once we settled into our roomy Toyota van, but less than an hour later the transportation mishaps started to pile on top of each other.

We made the mistake of trying to rely on the subway in order to get back to Chelsea. Our train ground to a halt in the staition just one stop south of 59th Street, where we had boarded it. The repeated announcements about a short delay were eventually replaced by one saying that there was a train broken down ahead of us and there was no way of knowing how long we would be held in the station. We abandoned our car and walked a long block to the 9th Avenue bus, thinking that passing only a couple of dozen numbered streets would be a quick hop, since there was so little traffic in sight. Traffic suddenly appeared out of nowhere and we ended up frozen virtually immobile by the SUV's heading back to New Jersey through the Lincoln Tubes (see the picture above).

Well over an hour after leaving 57th Street we finally emerged back on 23rd Street. We had made the trip (a total of about a mile and three quarters) at the dizzying pace of 1.5 miles per hour. I have to remind myself that all this was happening on a quiet Saturday afternoon.

The subway had failed us once again (this is not uncommon); surface transportation was ridiculous (even in the best of circumstances we have to live with primitive bus designs, passengers exiting through the front, or entry, doors, clumsy fare-collection machinery and the total absence of dedicated bus lanes). In addition, every intersection box was blocked by cross traffic, meaning that the bus had to wait through two signal changes even after it reached the stripe at the cross street (there were no traffic police in place anywhere along our route).

I saw one fire truck in the middle of the almost chaotic scene; fortunately those guys were not on an emergency call this time, but had the circumstance been otherwise . . . .

All forms of transportation on at least the west side of Manhattan, with theoretically the most mobile population in the nation, had been rendered impossible. And still our elected and appointed officials persist in believing that the job of municipal transportation oversight is to get more cars to move still faster into and through the streets of a city already suffering from an impossible burden of private car ownership.

Oh yeah, I just reminded myself that all of this traffic was created even without the impact of the insane proposal for a West Side stadium.

This week the MTA announced liklihood of really major cutbacks in service, which will leave room for still more cars. Great planning.

Facing years of spiraling deficits, the MTA is proposing to eliminate 14 percent of its bus lines as part of a severe cost-saving package that would come on top of a fare hike and more than 160 subway token booth closings.

The bus route closures, slated for 2006, would hit all five boroughs and include some lines that follow major arteries in Manhattan.


Riiiiing! Riiiiing!

It was our phone sounding at 7:30 in the morning last June 10th. [those of you who are familiar with Barry's and my sleeping schedule will understand just how much that call violated all reasonable decorum in this household] When I picked up the receiver the short message I heard was, "Would you mind if we cancelled your radiation lab appointment for 2 o'clock today?" After answering that it would be no problem, I managed to ask my oncologist's office, "why?" [not why call at 7:30 am, which is what I should have asked first, but why cancel]

[A LITTLE BIT OF BACKGROUND: I was scheduled to begin radiation treatments that afternoon to combat a serious prostate cancer diagnosed early in April. I had already managed to make my peace with the prescribed regimen, but the message nevertheless registered as something of a last-minute reprieve, even better than hearing that classes had been cancelled for the next day when you had not done the assigned homework.]

The nurse's answer to my question was, under the special, very high-tech and critical circumstances of the procedure involved, and one which has to be precisely directed at an extremely important part of the body's plumbing apparatus, not a little disturbing. Her explanation: "We're having mechanical problems with the machine."

Umm, maybe it was actually a good thing that I wasn't fully awake.

In any event, later that day I was given the all clear signal, and I eventually went off to go under the big zapper - on the following day. I was in and out in under a half hour, and I didn't feel a thing. I went back every weekday for a total of five weeks and then took a break for three more (squeezing in a trip to the West Coast) before going into the hospital for an outpatient procedure during which radiated "seeds" were implanted in my prostate.

I'll spare the details, but mine is a serious case, because of the growth's size, and beyond serious consideration of a cancer removal operation. There are major, not easily measured, risks in the radiation treatments, and no one knows at this point what are my chances of escaping from the ultimate capital sentence. But from the evidence available this thing sounds pretty pokey to me. I believe most men die of something else before this cancer gets them, and I still expect, as I have for years, that I'm more likely to be shot by a road-raging driver than I am to die in bed.

I feel fine, and my head seems to be alright. I'm a wee bit distracted, but I don't think I'm really depressed. Actually the worst seemed to be over once I had decided on the treatment regimen.

Barry's been great, of course. His welfare will always be my biggest concern.

I was initially reluctant to tell many people about this thing. I wanted to wait until I knew more about what was going on, and at first it barely went beyond my immediate family. At this point however (9 weeks after the implant procedure and 7 months after a diagnosis) although there are already probably too many friends who have had to listen to my all-too-complete response when they ask, "so how was your summer?," I'm now ready to visit it upon the blog world.

Those who regularly look at the site know that I've generally kept most of myself out of it until now. It's always been about other stuff, and it's definitely not a journal. I decided to make at least one exception and to write this post months ago because I thought it might help some people (and incidently give me an opportunity to mention the success story of my long-term seropositive status at the same time). I've regularly put it off since, mostly because I thought it would be such a chore to get it right, that is, to not sound too self-indulgent and to avoid any morbidity.

I don't understand morbid.

If I had not been really blown away by the original cancer diagnosis last spring, it was largely because I'd had to deal with virtual or almost-death sentences several times before, and I'd managed to get past each one. I see no reason to imagine this thing going any differently.

There's this history.

When I was 17 I was in a car accident which two of my best friends did not survive; rescuers didn't find me in the burning car at first, and once I was deposited in the emergency room hallway I was given "last rites." Thanks to the excellence of a great little hospital I was able to leave its care a month later, even if encumbered by a full body brace and crutches.

Years passed and in 1989, at my regular doctor's casual suggestion, I decided to take a blood test for HIV disease. He called me at the office a week later and quite matter-of-factly told me it came up positive. At that moment the only thing shielding an uptight corporation from seeing my pretty dramatic response to a short phone message were the opaque walls of my private office; I left for the day soon after in order to share the news with a very wonderful friend. Today, 20 or 25 years after being infected, I remain asymptomatic; I know I'm one of the very fortunate ones. My doctor himself didn't make it.

Five years ago just outside my front door I was assaulted from behind by an irate SUV driver. After he had nearly run over myself and an elderly blind neighbor crossing with the light, I had slapped his truck's rear end with the palm of my hand. I went to the emergency room for immediate care and an x-ray - just in case; the diagnosis for serious injury was an all clear, but I was shocked to be told that, by the way, there was a mysterious growth in my right lung. Months later, after a major operation and a couple of extraordinarily painful complications, I had learned that the tumor was benign but that they weren't going to replace the damn rib.

I think I'm very likely to shake this latest threat to my plans for a slightly cranky old age, just as I have all of the others so far.

Since I now have a few more years under my belt than I did in 1989, I'll admit that I'm now a little more comfortable when I think about my mother's immediate and unsentimental response that year after I told her I had the AIDS virus: "Well, you've had a good life."* Okay, I can go along with the "good" part, but I'm still not ready to call it a complete life.

Still just a little too cranky.

* Eighty-two at the time and with almost 8 more years to live, she had instantly changed the direction, if not the subject, of our converstion; maybe that's what she was hoping to do, maybe she thought that would be a good thing and maybe it was.

[image by Gahan Wilson from the New Yorker]

We're back! Yesterday afternoon Time Warner finally managed to figure out what they had done to our cable modem on Monday, but I think I've almost forgotten how to run this thing in the interim. Now, what's this button down on the left do?

UPDATE: I have made the main RSS 2.0 a full post-only feed. I will update the one with comments to 2.0 later.

ACT UP's on a roll lately! Members have been working very hard - and very cleverly. The media has had to salute their brilliant zaps, even describing the issues for a change, but this time the attention came without a single clenched fist being raised in anger. Well, yes, documentation of AIDS issues wasn't actually part of the coverage this time, but the unexpected homage still represented great exposure.

Saturday Night Live returned for the Fall season three nights ago* introducing the show with a skit which satirized the first presidential debate and its format. Chris Parnell, impersonating the moderator Jim Lehrer, after explaining the order of the candidates' exchange, continued his instruction:

Following Senator Kerry's rebuttal, there will be a brief demonstration by members of ACT UP.
The studio audience roared, and Barry and I almost fell off the couch.

* I haven't tried to post anything until now because, while we had watched the recorded program on Sunday night, we've been without a decent internet connection since Monday morning. Time Warner came for a repair of our TV cable service yesterday. They failed to fix the problem, but did manage to knock out the cable modem. If we're lucky it will be fixed later today.

Working with a wireless network borrowed from a friend at some remove in our building, I was fortunate to be able to put up this story, but I won't attempt anything right now which has an image.

This page is an archive of entries in the General category from October 2004.

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