Monday, November 11, 2019

The Strange Case of Louie, Louie (and the Profanity You Missed)

When I was a kid I had a couple of books by Dave Berry, a humor columnist for The Miami Herald, and I remember one joke in particular that I didn't get until years later.

I don't recall the context, only the punchline: that readers should submit an essay on whether or not the song "Louie, Louie" had any swear words in it.

Being a column for the general public, and printed in a widely circulated, mainstream newspaper, most of Dave Berry's humor was easily, readily accessible, and it was rare for me not to get a joke.  But this one flew over my head.  I discovered Berry's books when I was only ten or so, and that joke wasn't meant for my generation, but for Berry's.  Berry is a boomer, born in 1947, and would have remembered when the song was catapulted to number two on the Hot Billboard 100 in the early 1960s, ultimately selling over a million record copies and getting banned from being played on the radio in the state of Indiana.

It's been about twenty years since I read Dave Berry's challenge to write an essay about "Louie, Louie," but better late than never.  Without further ado, I present my answer to the question, "Does Louie, Louie contain any swear words?"

(But not the way you think.)

Let's start by talking about which version of "Louie, Louie" we're even talking about.  The original was recorded by Richard Berry (no relation to Dave Berry) in 1957.  Like many great rock songs of the time, it was a calypso song that had been refitted into an R&B pop style with a strong brass section. Berry more or less stole the riff from the Rhythm Rockers' "El Loco Cha Cha," but don't worry, the Rhythm Rockers borrowed the riff from RenĂ© Touzet.

And Berry was heavily influenced by other artists of the time who were taking Calypso-style songs and turning them into R&B hits.  Look no further than Chuck Berry's Havana Moon.  (No relation to Dave Berry or Richard Berry.) (Another great example of this strange trend: the 1965 Dixie Chicks recording of "Iko Iko.")

But back to "Louie Louie."  It was put on the B-side of Richard Berry's album, "You Are My Sunshine," and received little attention.  Berry sold the copyright for $750 in 1959 to pay for his wedding.  The marriage lasted 11 years.

Louie, Louie went on to become the most recorded song of all time, with about 1,600 known covers by popular artists.  The version you're probably familiar with, by the Kingsmen, is arguably the most popular because of what Wikipedia called "its nearly unintelligible (and innocuous) lyrics, widely... misinterpreted as obscene."

The only lyrics you probably remember are "we gotta go," "we gotta go now," and the screeched, "Alright, let's give it to 'em, right now!"  If you listened to Richard Berry's version then you were treated to the gentler and more intelligible (though not more intelligent) lyrics, which include such lines as, "Me sailed the ship all alone / Me never think I'll make it home," and, "Three nights and days I sailed the sea / Me think of girl constantly."

There was never any swearing in the song lyrics; it was a case of people hearing "Paul is dead" when there was nothing to be heard.

But in fairness to the listeners of the 1960s, the Kingsmen's recording is truly completely unintelligible.

It all began when the Kingsmen heard it on a jukebox in 1962.  Remember, this was after Richard Berry had already sold the rights.  The cover heard by the Kingsmen was by Rockin' Robin Roberts, the earliest known cover of Berry's original, recorded in 1960.  It was a dance hit, and the Kingsmen decided to learn it for their own gigs.

 They were correct in their estimation that it was a dance hit.  It was the 1960s version of The Macarena.  People loved this song.  In fact, on April 4th, 1963, the Kingsmen played a 90-minute "Louie Louie" marathon at the Chase club in Oregon.  That marathon had two major consequences:

1) Their manager, Ken Chase, owner of the club, decided to book them a recording session the very next day.

2) Their lead singer, Jack Ely, blew out his vocal chords.

 Jack Ely is the one with braces.

The band staggered into the Portland recording studio at 10 a.m. for a one-hour session, paying $36 (or $50, depending on who you ask) to cram into a tiny, three-microphone room.  Their warm-up went disastrously; Jack Ely throat was ruined and he was screaming to be heard over the instruments in the tight space.  His timing was off, too; he went too quickly, forcing the drummer to struggle to match the time frame.  When the warm-up was over, the band discussed out they would do better next time.

Unfortunately, there was no next time, because that was it.  The recording session covered only a single take and their "warm-up" was what they got.  The band was dissatisfied with their performance but they didn't have another $36.

They needn't have worried.  The song's mysterious, garbled lyrics quickly became the stuff of legends, with people insisting the lyrics were obscene and requesting plays on the radio for specifically that reason.  The song was a hit.  In fact, it was so successful that it ended up with its own FBI investigation to determine if the lyrics were obscene or not.  (You can read the 119 pages of declassified files here.)

When all was said and done, the Kingsmen's version of "Louie, Louie" was - and still is - regarded as one of the most popular and influential rock n' roll singles of all time, with recognition by Rolling Stone, VH1, the National Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame, NPR, and the Grammy Hall of Fame.  There's an International Louie Louie Day (April 11th), and have been Louie Louie parades, festivals, and street fairs.  Louie, Louie has an hell of an origin story and has had an incredible impact on pop culture, and it deserves an essay to be written about it.

"But wait," you say.  "...wasn't the point of this whole thing to talk about the naughty words that were supposedly in the song?  You said there were.  You promised us profanity."

The ultimate conclusion of the FBI investigation of the song was that it was "unintelligible at any speed."  Aside from being unable to determine what the hell Jack Ely was saying in the popular Kingsman version, they interviewed the original artist, Richard Berry, who handed over the simple and inoffensive lyrics.  In the end there was, they determined, no cause for concern.

However - and here's my favorite part of the story - remember how I mentioned the disastrous recording session, wherein Jack Ely began the third verse three bars early and rushed through the song, frustrating the other members of the band, in particular the drummer, Lynn Easton?  If you listen right at that error, you can hear, in the background, Easton yelling "FUCK!"  Turn up your volume all the way; it's at the 56-second mark.  People are so used to hearing the garbled, rushed version by the Kingsmen that every subsequent recording made for radio and public use has re-created the errors, including the background noise.  So Louie, Louie does have at least one swear word, which has been played on the radio for over fifty years ago and was somehow missed by the FBI investigation.

Just another classic case of missing the forest because of all the trees.  Sometimes, what you were looking for was right beneath your nose all along.

Monday, November 4, 2019

The Greyhound Shuffle: Sun Down, then Bounce Back

I have the worst breed of dog.

The kind that takes selfies in portrait mode.

It's called an Italian Greyhound, and it is a nightmare beast whose very existence spits in God's eye.

Don't get me wrong.  I love my "iggy."  I love him like a son.  He's an attractive, gentle, affectionate dog and a lovely companion.  It's not his fault he was put into the frail, skeletal body of a joke breed that has no right to exist.

A bit about Italian greyhounds, before I begin speaking about my own specifically.  The smallest breed of sight hound, this breed is a couple thousand years ago.  They are called "Italian" not because they originated in Italy, but because of their popularity during the Italian Renaissance, when you might recall seeing various paintings and tapestries of noble women in elaborate, frilly dresses holding one of these bug-eyed gargoyles.  They were bred by clever Turkish traders who figured out that Italian noblewomen were gah-gah over these dogs and would pay top dollar for puppies.  (There's some debate about their origin, as we've seen primitive sighthounds at sites like Pompeii.  However, it seems like the modern Italian greyhound has a genetic origin further east than Italy, and the "original" sighthounds of the Mediterranean have been lost.)

The reason for the dogs' popularity was simple.  Sight hounds were a symbol of nobility... for men.  For women in the 16th century, your options were rather limited by your gender, especially if you were someone important.  But one thing you could always opt for was as a nurturer, caregiver, and/or bearer of children.  And what better way to express your maternal prowness than with a dog that was literally designed to emulate the helpless, pathetic, baby-like need for attention? 

Catherine the Great loved iggies like Queen Elizabeth loves Corgis.

Italian greyhounds are one of the few breeds truly bred solely for companionship.  They were never made to hunt, race, or be useful in any discernible way.  What they're great at is being affectionate, and to be honest, they're sort of annoying when you get right down to it, because they are demanding of affection.  They will cuddle you whether you want to cuddle them or not, and because they are so pointy, their snuggling comes with a lot of sharp edges.  They're all elbows.

The funny thing about dog breeds is that people who are really into breeds don't like to speak poorly of them.  So there are few Italian greyhound enthusiasts who will tell you the honest truth about this breed, which is that they are mind-bogglingly stupid and resplendent with health problems.  Their teeth are a nightmare and they are difficult, if not impossible, to house train.  Their spindly little frames and bird-like bones are eager to break, and their voices are shrill and sharp and unpleasant.

The lifespan according to the AKC is about 13 years, but the average lifespan is actually about 9, because a quarter of these dogs die from accidents, which, if you're an Italian greyhound, can be something as seemingly innocuous as jumping off the couch and breaking a leg.

Why, then, would anyone want one of these creatures?

Well, they're cute.

Not necessarily this one.

Make no mistake, they are really cute.  Their buggy eyes, their body shape and weight, their human-like mannerisms were all designed to evoke a fierce desire to protect.  They are the dog equivalent of a cuckoo egg; even the most rational of humans can't help but feel a deep, instinctual, material desire to protect these little baby imposters.  And they get cold so they have to wear clothes.  And their skin, paper-thin and overly warm, is as soft as velvet.  So there are definite pros to this dog.  None that I would consider a big enough boon to justify the continued breeding of them.  Frankly, if not for human meddling with the natural order of things, their obvious inbreeding and terrible genetic problems should have wiped them out centuries ago.

But although I think we should allow the breed itself to die out, I also think that the individuals who exist currently should be taken care of, and that brings me to Carlisle.

Enjoy this rare photo of Carlisle in good health.  
All that follow are a hell of a lot less flattering.

Carlisle has been with me for 11 (going on 12) years, and according to my brother-in-law, he has both the frailty and yet the surprising robustness of Mr. Burns.  Also according to my brother-in-law he has "Three Stooges Syndrome," the same condition as Mr. Burns.

But we've finally hit "the big one."  In California, "the big one" refers to the earthquake that will someday plunge us into the Pacific ocean.  Here in my house, "the big one" refers to the seizure that will finally do Carlisle in.

It started a few weeks ago, when Andrew observed that Carlisle had lost weight.  This was true.  At his biggest, Carlisle was 12 pounds, but he had begun to get skinnier.  Sight hounds aren't a dog with a lot of weight to lose and, within a month, Carlisle had begun to look emaciated beyond reason, as if he'd made a political mistake in North Korea and been sent to one of those camps.  (This isn't a joke; this is both how he looks and how things work in North Korea, and someone really ought to do something about the latter.)

It was something we had partially overlooked because it was a gradual, and also because, in the "cold" months, Carlisle, like most Italian greyhounds, wears fleece sweaters to keep himself warm.  But at a certain point his weight loss became so obvious that we had to take him into the vet.  That, and he had stopped eating, further concerning us.

This is after he regained a pound.
I have more graphic images but honestly they're too sad.
A general rule for dog owners: you should be able to see, but not count, the ribs.

There, they diagnosed him with the usual handful of disorders but could offer no solution as to why he had lost so much weight.  A blood test revealed his albumin levels were in the garbage.  Albumin is a blood component your liver makes that helps blood maintain its viscosity; without it, blood gets thin and watery, and can leak out of your veins.

This explained it when, a few days post-vet, Carlisle began throwing up blood.  Weak from hunger, he staggered around the house, his back end barely holding him up.  It was hard to tell how much of his condition was muscle loss and how much was motor control loss; Carlisle's epilepsy has always made him wobbly, but now, he needed a box to step up onto the couch and bed.  Jumping was out of the question.

It seemed like it was time to say good-bye.  But, as has happened before, Carlisle simply didn't die.

He's alive in this photo, I swear.

He slept for a week, getting up only when we roused him, usually to try to entice him with food: chicken nuggets, scrambled egg, Pop-Tarts.  (The Pop-Tarts were a bigger hit than the chicken, for some reason.)  (Maybe the colorful grey sprinkles on top?)

And then, suddenly, he got better.

He spends most of his time sitting like this, eyes unfocused and tongue hanging out.  

There's no rhyme or reason to how Carlisle operates.  Every few years, he teeters on the edge of death, and then comes back with a sleepy innocence that implies he has no clue what just happened or why everyone seems so upset.

"The greyhound shuffle is not just a dance, 'k?'s a state of unrest."

Now, I will say his bounce-back wasn't entirely 100%.  It wasn't even 50%.  He only gained back one pound and he's still underweight.  His balance is atrocious and he still needs his box.  His tongue hangs out the side of his mouth now, and his general functioning seems slower and... well... worse.  But he's alive.

The "greyhound shuffle" is steps back, then steps forward, but never quite as far forward as he initially was.  Carlisle has been back-and-forthing for over a decade on the precipice of death, sort of in the same way he'll go back-and-forth as he tries to figure out how to jump onto the couch.  (Solution: he never gets there.  He gets caught in a neurological loop and keeps up the repetitive behavior until another dog attacks him, at which point the humans intervene to muzzle the other dog and help him up.)

We're happy he's "better" (a relative, not accurate, term) but also emotionally wrung out.  With a baby on the way, Carlisle picked a bad time to start yet another slide into the grave.  We don't have as much money, time, or energy as we normally would.  I would argue the emotional cost is the worst.  But none of them are inexpensive.

The most important thing, to us, is that he's not in pain.  He doesn't seem to be.  He seems relatively happy, all things considered, and we're trying to give him a peaceful transition.  But it's a slow one and it's hard to watch.  Especially as his motor control and mobility get worse and worse.

The moral of this story, of course, is not to get a fancy dog, because purebred does not mean "healthy," nor "smart," nor "trainable."  Carlisle has been staggering around the house in diapers for weeks with his tongue hanging out and his clothes loosely draped over his boney frame while the Seamus the mutt, who is two years older and was found in a dumpster, runs circles around him.

I love my dog.  I just don't love what he is.

A beautiful fucking disaster.
Hang in there, little guy.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Update on Internship and Writing for Entertainment Journalism

We're halfway through the fall quarter and things are chugging along nicely, though I still haven't gotten those pictures of Spider-Man.

What I can say I've done, though, is slogged through a relatively unsatisfying internship to produce a fair bit of content.  Content production is always on my mind, and I like being challenged to write things I haven't written before.  I can honestly say that this internship has solidified my dislike for local, breaking news; I would never want to work for a newspaper.  But it's good practice for a type of reporting I haven't had much experience in, so I guess in that sense, it's valuable.

In the month of October I produced a whooping eight stories, only three of which ran.  They weren't ones I was especially proud of; they covered such topics as a local fundraiser, a pet Halloween contest, and a small fair in Marina del Rey.

By contrast, I wrote two stories I was actually pretty proud of, such as one detailing L.A. County's budget finalization.  But it was deemed not "breaking" enough, even though, in my opinion, it's somewhat more relevant and important to the citizens of Los Angeles than a pet costume contest.

 Actual photo of me on Day 2 of my internship, attempting to get pictures of Spider-Man.

Of my three classes, only one is truly enjoyable, and that's entertainment journalism.  Funnily I thought this would be my least enjoyable class, as I don't really give two shits about entertainment journalism unless it involves comic book news.  But the instructor is a delight and the writing is fairly interesting.  (Comparatively, my other two classes are nightmares; sociology is a nightmare class of intensive and extremely biased work, and media law is also a nightmare class of intensive work, although the instructor is at least not actively trying to convince us that technology is evil.)  (Irony of ironies, the sociology class, taught by a professor who might literally be Jerry Mander in drag, is an online class.)

Anywho, because of the staggering workload of the three classes, plus the internship,  I have had trouble keeping up with this blog, which is why this post sucks.  In lieu of a regular update, find below my (unpublished) article on L.A. county's 2020 budget plan, as well as my entertainment journalism midterm on a guest lecturer.

Los Angeles County Budget Process Concludes with Unanimous Adoption of $36.1 Billion Supplemental Budget

The Los Angeles County budget process concluded in September with County Supervisors unanimously adopting a $36.1 billion supplemental budget for the 2019/2020 fiscal year. The finalization of the supplemental budget is the last phase in Los Angeles County’s annual budget process. Major focuses of the budget fund services to improve child protection, and combat and prevent homelessness, including $72.8 million in Measure H funds to address the homelessness crisis.

The additional funding brings the total Measure H funding for 2019/2020 to $532.8 million. Of the new funding, $4 million is allotted to expand support services to transitional age youth, ages 18 - 24, $3 million is allotted for a Prevention Action Plan to keep people from falling into homelessness, and $2 million is allotted to implement an Eviction Defense and Prevention Program for residents at risk of losing their housing. Additionally, $756,000 is being allocated to deploy a team of nurses from the Department of Public Health, along with outreach workers, to homeless encampments. A safe storage program will be launched with funds of $810,000, providing temporary storage for homeless people’s belongings to allow them to attend medical appointments, including mental health and/or substance abuse treatment. Furthermore, the supplemental budget provides $12.9 million to expand temporary and transitional homeless shelter assistance for families. $5 million is assigned to develop affordable housing within the county, bringing the total annual allocation for affordable housing initiatives to $80 million. Another $1.5 million is being invested in the Backyard Homes Program, which pushes for approved “accessory dwelling units” in some L.A. county neighborhoods.

The Los Angeles Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative, a ten-year plan, was created in 2015 and approved by voters in March of 2017. The ¼ percent increase to the County’s sales tax provides an estimated $355 million per year.

Another focus of the supplemental budget was the enhancement of oversight and quality within the child protection service. Los Angeles county has the largest child protection service in the nation, serving 34,000 children, according to NPR. The budget issues $4.4 million for the expansion of quality improvement teams within the Department of Children and Family Services to conduct case reviews and provide performance oversight to case workers as well as creation of a new service bureau to strengthen the oversight of 19 regional offices. $10.6 million and 87 positions are expanding Department of Health Services Medical Hubs, and another $7.1 million is establishing 50 student well-being centers across the County, with an emphasis on substance abuse prevention services. $4.2 million is provided for the Emergency Childcare Bridge program, which provides emergency childcare services for children in foster care. $7.6 million is dedicated to provide transportation for foster children to their school of origin. $1.7 million is allotted to support services for children who are victims or at risk of becoming victims of sex trafficking.

Health and social services are the two largest portions of the county budget, with judicial services and facilities representing the third largest category of spending. Major budget investments for law and justice services includes $11.4 million for the phase-out pepper spray from juvenile institutions. The 2019/2020 budget also establishes an Office of Violence Prevention.

On the environmental front, the budget will reserve $285.3 million in Measure W revenues to fund projects and programs to increase stormwater capture and reduce runoff pollution.

The 2019-2020 recommended county budget detailed in an April suggested operating costs would total $32.5 billion. A motion by County Supervisors Hilda L. Solis and Sheila Kuehl to develop and implement a deficit mitigation plan was approved; the motion included a hiring freeze on non-critical civilian positions and placed $143.7 million of the Sheriff’s budget into a special provisional budget to be made available to the department as needed.

"But it's an important visual aid!" I protested. 
"No, Tony.  We're not running the meme," replied my editor, with an inexplicable weariness.

For L.A. Entertainment Reporter Amanda Salas, Laughter Is the Best Medicine

Amanda Salas’s beret is the same red as the carpets she’s been covering for 11 years, and it covers her head for only half of the lecture before she discards it.

“People won’t pity you if you have confidence,” she says shortly after dropping it onto a table. Salas had her last round of chemotherapy 10 days ago. Despite this, she is vivacious and energetic as she speaks about her journey. Upon entering the class, she discovers that one of the students is Italian and launches into a volley of what sounds like, to my untrained ear, fluent dialect. This sets the stage for the rest of her presentation; Salas is full of surprises, quips, puns, and warm-hearted anecdotes.

“What does an entertainment reporter do when she gets cancer? ...she entertains,” she says light-heartedly. An entertainment reporter Good Day L.A., Salas is currently on hiatus as she fights non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a lymphatic cancer that targets white blood cells. She shared her story over the course of an hour, never sitting and usually smiling.

Salas always knew she wanted to go into entertainment. At a Las Vegas high school, she focused her studies on theater and journalism, moving to Los Angeles at the age of 18 to attend Cal State Long Beach. As a senior, she attended an audition for the host of “The Juice,” an Orange County Register WebTV series. She attributes her callback and subsequent job offer to the pun she came up with on the spot to headline a story about Christina Aguilera’s recent birth: “Looks like this genie in a bottle is a genie with a bottle.”

Salas’s love of puns earned her the title of female championship of Brooklyn’s “Punderdome,” where she competed under the stage name “Puns of Steel.” Self-described as a “punsultant,” Salas has the energy and tenacity of a terrier, strutting around the room in black, thigh-high boots as she fondly recalls “11 years of pure Hollywood hustle.” Periodically, she breaks into song; her confidence and effervescence are palpable as she speaks of a decade of fast-paced, intrepid entertainment journalism.

“I went to London, I went to Toronto... and then I went to the doctor’s,” she says. Her tone veers suddenly, becoming softer and more serious, catching the attention of her audience.

One Monday, at the age of 34, Salas went to the doctor with a lump on her chest. She had a biopsy on Tuesday and, by Friday, was on her first round of chemotherapy to battle non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Her hair began falling out the following week. Salas’s life had just taken an abrupt detour; she was forced to leave work for four months as she battled cancer.

But just because she had to take time off professionally didn’t mean she had any intention of becoming sedentary. “I’m the story; I become the story now,” she recalls. After over a decade of reporting, Salas was not content to remain at home without producing something valuable.

“I tied my two passions together - entertainment and puns,” she says. “I use my platform… to help other people. I made a promise when I was in the hospital. I said, ‘God, if you get me through this, I promise that I will help somebody else.’”

Armed with a fierce sense of humor and buoyant personality, Salas used her connections to Fox television stations to shoot a story showing the “real” side of cancer, putting her own outgoing spin on it. The coverage of her “buzz party” (a party to shave away her hair, complete with tequila shots) garnered over 5 million views on Facebook, and gained her over 21,000 followers on Instagram. “Nothing makes you feel prouder than people following you for you,” says Salas. In a moment of uncharacteristic seriousness, her voice breaks a little when she described the 70 - 80 messages she receives a day from people thanking her or asking for advice with regards to their own battles with cancer. On Twitter and Facebook, Salas’s boundless energy pokes gentle fun at her experiences with song parodies and wordplay while working to undermine the stigma of battling cancer.

Having completed her sixth and final round of chemotherapy, Salas plans to return to work in 2020 “so much more enlightened.” She says that her diagnosis and subsequent battle have given her a newfound appreciation for life, and that she has worked to “turn my mess into a message.” Below her ever-present vigor are small signs of the way cancer has altered and pervaded her life. A lime-green lymphoma awareness bracelet on her left wrist clashes terribly with her black ensemble and rose-colored eyeshadow.

In response to a question about whether her relationships have changed, Salas gave an unequivocal “yes.” Getting a cancer diagnosis led her to discover who her real friends were, and “tightened” her circle of friends and her network of emotional support. But Salas sees this as a good thing. She says fighting cancer has forced her to take stock of her life, to slow down and learn to appreciate it more. She describes the support she’s received in the form of flowers, cards, and even a photo shoot. Although the cancer itself is “ugly,” she never lingers on the negative for long.

“It’s not what happens to you,” said Salas, “but how you handle it.”

 "Soon it'll all okay," indeed.

Note: you can follow Amanda's story here.  She is a truly remarkable person.

Monday, October 21, 2019

What to Expect When You're Expecting: Pain, Mostly

Time for a check-in!

We've made it to the third trimester, the point in a pregnancy when you're visibly, upsettingly pregnant.  When you vaguely resemble a cow and gain an unattractive, flat-footed waddle.  When people start standing up for you on the train, and you, in turn, start begrudgingly accepting the offered seat.

Pregnancy has often been described as "miraculous" and a "blessing" by those who have never experienced it.  In reality it is a living nightmare of discomfort and peeing a little whenever you sneeze.

The first trimester did have some benefits.  For one, the fatigue was so severe that I slept for about 16 hours a day, leaving little time for me to dwell on the severe nipple pain.  I will say that I experienced no nausea, which I did unironically consider a "miracle" and a "blessing."  Armed with the overly cautious paranoia of first-time parents, Andrew and I attended every single one of the first trimester appointments to keep track of what was happening.  And what was happening was pretty much what you'd expect.  Each appointment lasted three or four hours and came to the same conclusion: everything looks good.  Everything looks normal.  Everything is perfect.  The dire warnings we had read online of issues like neutral tubes not closing or hernias developing were all for naught, because in every test, the embryo (and later, fetus) was perfectly healthy.  In fact, it was almost unusual how goddamn perfect the thing was growing.

 Kid is overachieving like a North Korean general.

At the very beginning of this whole pregnancy mess, Cedars-Sinai gave us a big informational packet that included a list of all the appointments we should expect to attend.  Most included what the purpose of the visit was: the anatomical scan at week 20, for example, or the RhoGAM injection at week 30 (if needed).  There were a series of visits during the second trimester that were simply labeled "pregnancy check-up."  These seemed, to me, to be general appointments to address any issues one might be having at that time.

The second trimester is generally considered the easiest of the three.  When we reached ours, I looked up a list of what to expect.  It included 9 symptoms, 7 of which included the word "pain."  (One of the ones that didn't include the word pain was "lightning crotch."  Yes, I'm serious.)  Pains include round ligament pain (a sharp, shooting pain in your abdomen), back back, rib pain, and leg cramps.  The discomfort was... well, uncomfortable, but expected and manageable.  The creepily named "quickening" (when you feel the baby move) happened early, around week 16, and became a regular staple of the baby's uterine residence.  All was well.  Well enough that I felt comfortable skipping the vague "pregnancy check-ups."

So today we had the first of our third trimester check-ups, the purpose of which was to get the DTAP and flu vaccines.  By now, the bellybutton has inverted, and fun new symptoms have reared their ugly heads.  Restless leg syndrome and costochronditis and, once again, fatigue.  Still, all expected, and manageable.

Andy and I went in to our 10 a.m. appointment.  We were greeted by the doctor around 12:30 p.m.  "Hi, I'm Dr. Hoffman," she said.  "Where have you been?"

I blinked, taken aback by this greeting.  The short answer was that I had been working full time, interning part time, and attending school full time, leaving little time left for two-hour waiting times at the doctor's office.  I had missed three second trimester appointments, all of which were utterly non-specific and one of which I was overseas for and couldn't have possibly attended even if I'd wanted to.

"My concern is that you missed all of your second trimester appointments--" started Dr. Hoffman, and there began a thirty-minute lecture.

"Did I miss anything specific?  I mean, is there anything I needed to actually come in for...?" I ventured, not entirely sure I understood her upset.

We were clearly misunderstanding each other.

The answer was no, I'd missed nothing of critical importance.  I had missed weigh-ins ("But I have a scale at home.") and blood pressure readings ("But I can take those at home, too.") and the measuring of the stomach.  (For this, Dr. Hoffman pulled out a very medical-looking tape measure and took a very casual measurement of the abdomen.  No clue what the purpose of this was; it seemed like a kid playing doctor if I'm honest.)

Dr. Hoffman expressed concern that Andrew and I were "not taking this pregnancy seriously."  She pointed out that I had missed my glucose test and my DTAP vaccine.  ("But that's literally why I'm here.  I just had my vaccine, and the packet said to get it between week 30 and 33, and I'm at week 31," I protested.  This was ignored.)  Dr. Hoffman said I need to come in to ask questions and have my biometrics monitored, and refused to believe I had been monitoring them myself.  She asked if I'd had any bleeding (no) and how often the baby moved (goddamn constantly).  She seemed almost eager to have a "gotcha" moment, but there was simply no reason for me to have come in, and I had no questions for her.

Actually, that's not true, about me not having questions.  I did have questions.  I wanted to know how to manage the excruciating rib pain.  But we never got to that, because Dr. Hoffman really, really wanted me to take a glucose test for gestational diabetes, one I couldn't take because I hadn't fasted that morning and no one had told me I needed it.  The test looked unpleasant; it involves drinking a massive bottle of Kool-Aid-like substance.  This test seems sort of optional and I would rather not drink a massive bottle of sugary crap, so I asked if I could opt out.  Dr. Hoffman took this as a personal affront and further evidence that Andrew and I are crusty anti-establishment hippies who distrust Western medicine.

"You have to; gestational diabetes can lead to very serious complications," she said.

"But I don't think I have that.  I mean, what's the prevalence?  What are my risk factors?  Are there any symptoms indicating I have it?" I asked.  (Her answers: she doesn't know the prevalence but insists it's common.  I looked it up later; it is relatively common, affecting 1/10 people.  She ignored my question about risk factors, which I looked up later; as I expected, I am in a very low risk category.  She said there are often no symptoms at all, which is patently untrue; there are definitely warning signs, none of which I exhibit.  And if you have gestational diabetes, the prescribed response is typically diet and exercise, two things I'm already doing correctly.  But Dr. Hoffman didn't want to talk about ways to prevent or respond to it; she just wanted me to drink the damn Kool-Aid.)  (Side note: I was not firmly opposed.  In fact, after doing my own research, I decided to do the test after all, but in the moment I wasn't going to be bullied into it, especially since I had not fasted and could literally not take it at that appointment anyway.)

Dr. Hoffman went on to say that she was concerned that we would skip more of our appointments in the third trimester and that the next time she would see us was when we were in labor.

"I intend to come to all of my third trimester appointments," I reassured her.  "Especially since the packet tells me the purpose of all those visits."

 The packet makes a lot of assumptions about the patient having insurance.  'Murica.

She ignored this response and continued in her lecture.  "If you come in when you're in labor, and we've only seen you two or three times, how can we treat you?  You'll come in and say, 'where's my doctor?'  And I can't claim to be your doctor if I never see you."

"...are you threatening to deny us care if we miss any more appointments?" asked Andrew in shock.

Dr. Hoffman backpedaled wildly.  "No, but I would have to talk to my chair about it," she said sternly.

Andrew and I exchanged a look.  Talk to her chair?  What the hell did that mean?  I'm pretty sure if you show up to a hospital in labor, regardless of how many appointments you've missed, the doctors have to deliver the fucking baby.  It sounded like she was threatening to "tell" on us.

"I would like to speak to my partner, please.  In private," said Andrew stiffly.

Dr. Hoffman hoffed out of the room, closing the door a little harder than necessary.

"We're getting a new doctor," said Andrew immediately.  I concurred.  Dr. Hoffman's thirty-minute lecture seemed rooted in a belief she had developed that we were lackadaisical and adversarial.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  We have STEM backgrounds, are extremely pro-Western medicine, and have been keeping very close track of the pregnancy.  Skipping a general check-in with no defined purpose during the safest point of the endeavor had seemed kosher to us.  And we had no intention to skip any in the third trimester, certainly not as we inched closer and closer to actual delivery.

Dr. Hoffman never came back.  We waited ten or fifteen minutes, then left, setting up a follow-up appointment with a different doctor on the way out.  The whole experience left a bad taste in my mouth.  In fairness to Dr. Hoffman, she's at a Beverly Hills hospital and probably has to deal with a lot of anti-vaxxers, herbalists, and aggressive doolahs, but her unwillingness to listen to us or answer our (reasonable) questions about gestational diabetes really, really turned us off on her.  If she wanted patients who didn't question methodologies and submitted themselves to all optional tests without complaint, then she should have become a veterinarian.  Pregnancy has already made me feel enough like a cow without being treated like one by my doctor.  And, as Andrew said as we were leaving, "No one disrespects my cow!"

"Get your yogurt drops and let's go, honey!"

This was my first bad experience with the pregnancy (externally-speaking, anyway; physically I feel like crap).  Our first doctor was actually a nurse practitioner.  Her name was Eleanor and she was an older woman who wore embroidered black leather boots under her white lab coat.  She was amazing, but apparently, we need to see a doctor, not a nurse practitioner, in the third trimester.  We had seen a doctor, a chipper young man, for the 20th week anatomical scan, who we'd liked as well, but apparently, he's no longer practicing at that office so we can't see him.

As we inch closer to the end, I find myself getting anxious.  And not just because I can't take my anti-anxiety meds, or because of the occasional realization that I have an extra brain in my body, along a bunch of fingernails growing inside of my abdomen. 

 Pregnancy nails are amazing, by the way.

I worry about the delivery and of course, the doctor is a big part of that.  Dr. Hoffman is very clearly the wrong doctor for me.  What if the next doctor isn't any better, though?  My experiences with others at Cedars-Sinai has been so great and I worry now that it lulled me into a false sense of security.

Worse, I never got to ask my question about the relief of the chest pain.  The discomfort in my ribs borders on unbearable at times and I would have liked to have been able to have a frank conversation with the doctor about it.

Some other strange and unexpected symptoms as we waddle into the third trimester include ridiculous fucking nail growth and a hemorrhoid, which, it turns out, is super painful.  (I literally though I'd prolapsed my goddamn anus.)

Instead of a picture of that, though, here's my cat.  
You're welcome.

It's exciting to think that this exercise of creating a human being out of blood (one of the most black magic-y things I can honestly imagine) crescendos into a torrent of unimaginable pain and viscera (again, super fucking metal).  In Spartan culture, only two classes of people could have their names inscribed on their tombstones: women who died in childbirth and men who fell in combat.  Yeah, that's right.  Labor was considered on par with going to war.  I suppose that, post-labor, all of the current discomforts will seem small by comparison.  My mom went through twelve-and-a-half hours of natural labor with me.  I can't say I'm looking forward to that long of a labor; I don't want Dr. Hoffman to have the time to go "talk to her chair."  Joking aside, though, I think at this time we have no reason to worry.  The discomfort is temporary.  The glory is eternal!

 All of my drinking motivational posters ironically also apply to pregnancy.

Monday, October 14, 2019

L.A. Comic Con 2019 Photo Dump

It's that time of year again!  You might remember last year's Comic Con, in which Andrew, Jack, and I attended as U.S. Agent, Hawkeye, and Squirrel Girl, respectively.

L.A. Comic Con has long been my favorite comic book convention because it packs as much programming and events as San Diego Comic Con without being quite as crowded.  (I did not attend San Diego this year despite the appeal of being shoulder-to-shoulder with unwashed strangers.)

For me the biggest draw is always the cosplay.

In a sea of Jokers, this one in particular was outstanding.

Of course, this year, there was a bit of a dent in my plans.  I had lovingly crafted three Umbrella Academy outfits (two Klaus and one Five), but no longer fit into them.  Instead, I primarily went as Endgame Thor, whose story arc, I've mentioned before, was surprisingly poignant and largely underappreciated.

 For reference.

My Klausplays did not go to waste, however; Andrew took it upon himself to go as Number Four, and we had a great weekend.


On Saturday we attended a handful of panels, including a "roast of Thanos" and a board game panel that my boss was on.

Sunday, I went for one reason and one reason alone: the Umbrella Academy cosplay meet-up.

 I went as Kenny, arguably the most well-adjusted character in the first ten episodes of Umbrella Academy.

We left after only an hour or so, because I was tired and my feet hurt, but I got what I wanted!

Below are selected photos from my weekend.  For a full album of the Umbrella Academy cosplay meetup, you can go here, to the Temple of Geek's Facebook page.  (They were the organizers.)

 Fat Thor.

 A spitting image, no?

 Day 1:
Andy went as Peter Parker (the sad, washed up version) from Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse.

 Found another Thor!

 Found a Klaus!

 Another take on Thor.

 Stayin' in character.

 The Reginald at the UA meetup was incredible.

 Reggie with two Moms.

 Kenny with two dads.

 Disappointed I didn't get to go as Five and bring my Dolores.
Maybe next year.

 Hazels and Cha-Chas.

 "I'd rather chew off my own foot!"

 Take a look at Bentacles down in front!

I also took the liberty of covering Comic Con for my Entertainment Journal midterm.  Below is a transcript (with names redacted, as I told the people I interviewed it was for a class only and would not be published).


Los Angeles Comic Con took over the Los Angeles Convention Center last weekend for three days, with over 100,000 attendees spending over $14 million at the event. Debuting as “Comikaze Expo” in 2011 and later partnering with Marvel’s Stan Lee, the L.A. Comic Con is one of the most highly attended comic conventions in the world. Despite its label as a “comic book convention,” the exposition had a broad list of presenters and workshops that focus on general pop culture, including sci-fi, anime, and gaming. The main floor boasted over 800 exhibitors spread out over 720,000 square feet of exhibition space, many of whom took up residence in “Artists Alley,” a quarter of the floor dedicated to showcasing individual artists and their crafts.

One vendor, [S.N.], the owner and artist of a company called [place I purchased from last year], sells crocheted dolls of popular characters ranging from Harley Quinn to Harry Potter. She paid over three thousand dollars for a 10-by-10’ booth this year, but says it’s worth it. “I paid extra for a corner. People don’t always walk down the alley, so if you can get a spot on the end, you’ll double your business,” she explained.  [N.]  says that renting a booth as an exhibitor serves a dual function: advertising and sales, with advertising often taking precedent. “We give out a lot of palm flyers,” she said. “There’s always an uptick in business in the months after [a big convention].”

[N.] isn’t the only one for whom Comic Con generates business. [B.L.] , a YouTube content creator who sat on a panel about working in the entertainment industry, says he can count on a huge number of new subscribers any time he sits on a panel. “People who see you and hear you in person, they feel like they know you. That makes them hit the like button,” he said. Another panelist, [C.B.], is a restaurant owner who engaged in a discussion on board gaming; by his estimation, he gave out over 500 discount cards to his establishment.

Whether exhibitors and panelists are selling a product, promoting a brand, or publicizing an establishment, there’s one thing all of them can agree on.

“You don’t really get to take bathroom breaks,” said [N.]. “Every minute you’re talking to someone, either interacting with someone or preparing for the next customer, so bathroom breaks aren’t part of your time management. We just go when the floor closes.”

This sentiment was echoed by cosplayer [A.A.], who attended the convention dressed as Cinderella's fairy godmother in a large, white ball gown. “If your outfit takes an hour to put on, go to the bathroom first. ...once it’s on, that’s it,” she said. When asked how cosplayers go to the bathroom, she shrugged, stating simply, “No one goes to the bathroom at Comic Con.”