Saturday, November 13, 2010

That mysterious trip I mentioned a while ago

starts tomorrow, when I leave mid-afternoon. I'm heading to Spain, Barcelona to be precise, for some research for a special project I'm not going to announce for a while. I won't be back home until late Saturday night.

I'm also going to be doing something extremely special while I'm there: eating at El Bulli.

[insert here an entirely unmanly squee of foodie delight]

If you don't already know about El Bulli, feel free to Google it for a few minutes; I'll wait.

As you'll quickly learn, El Bulli is one of the most famous and highest rated restaurants in the world. It and Ferran Adria, its chef, are legends among foodies and chefs alike (not that the two groups are mutually exclusive). Adria led the development of molecular gastronomy and has continued to innovate throughout his career. A seat there is one of the hardest reservations in the world to get.

Yet it's closing soon, to reopen in 2014 in a new form. I won't even pretend to summarize Adria's reasons for this choice; you'll have to read them (and there seem to be several) for yourself.

Its closing, however, makes it doubly lucky that I'm getting this chance to eat there.

Wednesday night at 7:30, I'll be doing just that.

Two squees would be entirely too much for one post, so instead imagine here a more manly, fist-thumping, "Hell, yeah!"

Friday, November 12, 2010

Me vs. the needles

As I mentioned Wednesday, while I was at the allergy clinic giving them extortion money so I could keep taking allergy shots getting my annual check-up, the woman at the front desk who had processed my paperwork moments earlier called my house and asked if I could come in to pick up my allergy serum. So, yesterday, I returned to do just that.

The appointment started off perfectly when this same receptionist greeted me by saying, "Hi, Mr. Van Name. Weren't you just in here yesterday?"

I'm very proud to say that I did not yell at her, dive through the open window and beat her head against the desk while screaming, "Yes, you idiot, because you made me come back when you could have just given me my serum then," or even point out that she had made the trip necessary. Instead, I forced a smile, admittedly the kind of thin-lipped, angry smile you make right before inserting the shiv between two ribs, and then I sat and waited.

My Asian nemesis scouted me from behind the receptionist for a few seconds before opening the door and waving me in. No words: we are past the time for niceties, he and I.

Before I could sit in the chair, he showed me the two vials of serum and grunted. No words; just a grunt.

I said what I always say: "Yes, that's my name. My address, though, is still wrong."

He grunted again and smiled.

Damn! I fell for it. Score one for my nemesis.

He came to my right arm, but I shook my head and instead pulled my left from my long-sleeved shirt. Not a whole point, but a quarter of one.

Unfortunately, he countered that small gain by wiggling each needle unnecessarily once it was in my arm. I showed no reaction, however, so he got no more than that quarter point.

He pointed to the door, and out I went. We both know the drill.

He greeted the next person with a pleasant smile and a "Would you like to come back now?" invitation.

Ten minutes later, he emerged to check to see whether I had reacted excessively to the serum. As always, he was carrying my serum and a tube of cream, in case I had reacted.

I showed him my arm.

He didn't bother to measure. He just said, "You pass."

I stared at the tube in his hand.

He opened it, squeezed some cream onto his index finger...and I put my arm back in my sleeve.

Got him!

He glared, knowing we had tied, then left, his finger aloft until he could wipe it clean.

Not a victory, but after my earlier error, I was happy to have the draw.

As I was walking up to my car door, I noticed a woman sitting in the passenger seat of the car next to mine, a late-model Elantra. She was leaning all the way back, almost horizontal. Her toes, sporting the chipped red paint of an abandoned barn, tapped quietly on the dash. She was talking into a cell phone.

As I drew closer, she smiled, pointed at the phone, and kept on talking. "Yeah, baby, stroke it. You can do it for me. That's right, I want it. Oh, you know I do."

I got in my car and drove off.

Just another trip to the allergy clinic.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A few thoughts on Veterans Day

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, an armistice brought an end to the heavy fighting of the war to end all wars, World War I.

Would that it had been the last, but of course, many wars have followed it.

Today, we celebrated Veterans Day, though few people seem to remember that once it was Armistice Day, and few with whom I spoke today bothered to note the holiday.

I always note it, because though I never served in the military, many people I care about did. I'm going to focus on two.

One is my friend, Dave. He served in Viet Nam, and it messed him up. It still does. You can read his take on it here. He didn't believe in this war, but he did what he felt was his duty as a citizen. He paid a huge price. He still does.

The other is my stepfather, Edmund D. Livingston, Sr. Eddie died on July 19, 2000, while on vacation at the beach with all of us. He was a Marine in World War II. The day he died, he visited a Marine Corps base and an old battleship. In the war, he went ashore at Okinawa. He was wounded twice, but thanks to paperwork mess-ups, he received only one Purple Heart--a fact that angers me to this day. He was part of the occupation of Japan. The shrapnel he carried would still sometimes set off metal detectors over fifty years after he left the Marines. Ed paid hugely and many times for his service, but he wouldn't have dreamed of not serving when his country called.

Neither Dave nor Ed is the type of person who would seek a doctor's diagnosis, but I'd be stunned if PTSD didn't afflict them both. PTSD is a bitch; I know.

On this holiday, I don't want us just to thank the vets we know, or to think of those now gone. I want us to help those vets among us. I want all of us and our government to fully and openly acknowledge the traumas they endured and allocate enough funds to help them make it back to our world. (For a longer take on this topic, check out Aaron Sorkin's piece here.) It's not enough to say "thank you" to those who do the jobs most of us never want to touch; we must show that gratitude by welcoming them into the world they protected and helping them feel, after and despite all they've endured, that they finally once again belong.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Me vs. the allergy clinic--again

The ENT firm I use is the only one that would let me give myself the allergy shots when I started taking them. I knew I'd never keep up the shots if I had to invest 90 minutes each time to take them (30 minutes drive each way, 10 minutes waiting in the office, 20 minutes you have to wait after receiving the shots), so self-administering the shots was vital. Now, I've been with this firm for eight years, and they have all my records, etc. I'm locked in.

I'd like to think that's why they treat me with such a cavalierly incompetent attitude, but sadly the real answer is probably more simple: they abuse patients because they can, and because they're incompetent at customer service.

Today, for example, was my annual allergy check-up. This piece of health-care ripoffery involves the same ritual each year:

I arrive a few minutes late, hoping not to have to wait.

I wait a few minutes, frustrated as always with the utter lack of bandwidth or free wifi in the office.

A nurse deposits me in a small room, takes my pulse and blood pressure, and leaves.

I wait a few minutes more and begin to wonder if I could employ my otherwise useless iPhone as an edged weapon to kill the first enemy who walks through the door.

The doctor enters, shakes my hand, asks if everything is all right (it always is), and looks quickly in my ears, nose, and throat. (Wow, actual ENT-age.) Yes, indeed: all is well! One new prescription for an Epi-Pen, and one for more allergy shot needles, and I'm good to go.

Transaction time with the doctor: under four minutes.

Bill: over a hundred bucks. Yeah, sure, my insurance covers it, but, really?
On the way out, I ask the receptionist if there is anything else I need to do.

She says, no.

When I get home, I find a voicemail message on my home office phone--the number I have asked them for 7.5 years to stop calling--telling me I can pick up my allergy serum at the same damn place I had been this morning.

The timestamp on the voicemail is 11:15 a.m.

I was in the examination room at that exact time, and the woman who called was the receptionist who handled my paperwork and told me I didn't need to do anything else.

Now, I have to make another trip and face my Chinese nemesis mano-a-mano in allergy test fu.

My only solace is the faint possibility that he's behind the whole thing and I truly am facing a master torturer in a boss fight of wills.

A guy's gotta have hope.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Why I'm not doing a reading or signing near you

Several folks have written and asked why, given that I've been doing all these readings and signings, I'm not doing one in their area.

The answer is simple: I'm not there.

Okay, that's the snarky answer, and these folks deserve better. First, I have to note that I don't really do many signings. To help raise money for Falling Whistles, I've done more this year than in the past, but most of them have been local, within less than an hour of my home. I also did an appearance in San Francisco, but that was because I happened to be there for business.

Some authors tour. When they do, it's usually because their publisher is paying for it, though some fund their own tours. I don't sell enough books to warrant a tour, and I'm not doing it on my own.

Thus, the more complete answer is that no one has set up a signing in your area and paid my expenses to come there.

I will, of course, sign books you send me, as I explained in the last post, so if you really want an autographed book from me, it's not that hard to get.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sit and listen a spell

I'm blessed to have amazing friends and family who are also amazingly talented. I'm always honored that they let me hang with them.

One of them, a friend since he was a student of mine in a computer science class I taught back in holy shit we can't be that old was it really 19-no way am I typing that some years ago, recently competed in a local StorySLAM competition at The Monti. I was unable to attend, because I was signing that night at The Regulator Bookshop, but I had really hoped to be there. Now, having listened to his entry, I'm doubly sorry I missed it, because he did a very fine job indeed.

Give his story a listen by going here and clicking on the entry with Eric's name under it.

You'll be glad you did.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

About signing books

Recently, some folks have emailed me about whether I would sign books for them. I have to dream that someday I'll be so successful that I'll receive so many such requests that I could never say yes to all of them, but that's not where I am today. So, yes, I'll happily sign your books. All you have to do is contact me (email me via the Contact page on my site) and I'll tell you where to send the books. When you mail the book(s), please include a return envelope and postage, and I'll get them back to you as quickly as I can.

Publisher Toni would have every right to beat me senseless if I didn't also add that copies of Children No More, Jump Gate Twist, Overthrowing Heaven, Slanted Jack, and One Jump Ahead make excellent holiday gifts for the entire family.

There. Now she won't beat me.


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