July 27, 2015


You know what really moves me just to the left of complete apoplexy? 
“No, Carson,” you reply.  “What is it today?”
I will ignore the sarcasm of your snide question, because #1—there’s a bit of truth to it, curmudgeon that I am fast becoming, and #2—you'll read my ramblings anyway.
The answer is:  modern medicine.
I have never felt more bovine than when I am visiting my doctor.  Oh, and that’s another thing—“visiting” --like it’s some kind of a social gathering—for which you must pay and pay dearly.  And since when do you pay to visit someone, anyhow?  I think a trip to the doctor should be called “fiscal disquietude” or perhaps, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” with a picture of an empty wallet spotted with tear stains, or alternatively, a bleeding stone.
Whether you have health insurance or not, staying alive and well has become financially ruinous.  I happen to have insurance, but the policy I could afford has a deductible that rivals the National Debt; so I’m alive and well and now I’m also depressed and stressed out and eating Cheerios three meals a day to pay for all this good health.
It might not be so ghastly if you could actually have a mutually concerned partnership with your medico. 
It is to laugh.
These days, at least in Arizona, this is how a patient fleecing usually goes—you sign in and you wait—oh, and before I forget, bring a book with you (preferably War and Peace) and enough food and water to last a couple of days, anyway.  So while you’re chewing on your last piece of beef jerky and are on the last page, the doctor’s assistant ushers you into the inner sanctum, where you will be weighed (love that part) and your pulse and blood pressure will be taken.  I always ask about the blood pressure results, just to confirm how totally pissed off I am by that point.
The assistant looks at me like it’s none of my damned business, mumbles something, then legs it out of the room.
I sigh.  I grab a magazine from the rack in the room.  Oh, joy.  A copy of “Guns and Ammo” from 1976.  I read it with interest, as I am hoping to pick up a few pointers for when I return later that afternoon, with 'my leetle friend.'
Finally, the doctor, or, as I like to refer to him, 'Henry Ford,'  because there is nobody but a present-day doctor who can make you understand the concept of an assembly line better, arrives.
Now, I’ve been going to this ding-dong for quite a while now, and though he’s finally learned my name, he is unable to remember much else about me.  One might think he’d take a moment to consult my file before he walked in; but no.  Such niceties have gone the way of $1.00 a gallon gasoline.
Let me give you an example:
In the initial new patient paperwork that we all fill out, there is an area that requires you to list any surgeries you’ve had.  I had a hysterectomy in 1999, so I put it down.
A couple of months later, I came in for a physical.
“You need a PAP smear,” the doctor said.
“For what?” I asked.  “I had a hysterectomy.  I don’t think that stuff grows back.”
“You need it.  You can still get cancer of the vaginal wall.”
At that time, I had no insurance at all, and I knew a referral to an OB/GYN would cost me big.  My doctor in Connecticut (whom I miss sorely—he was one of the all-around great guys) always did the smears himself, so I figured this guy could deal with it here.
“Can you do it? I asked foolishly
He got all his mining equipment together squished on the KY and got on with it. 
 Then, he asked me the question.
“Have you had a hysterectomy?”
“Yes,” I replied, wondering in which landfill my new patient paperwork was currently mouldering.  You’d have been proud of me—I didn’t say anything more than “yes.” 
The holes in my tongue are pretty well healed up now.
So he did the smear.  “Come back in a week,” he said.
“But what about the rest of the physical?”
“I want to get one thing dealt with at a time,” he replied as he hopped it out of the consulting room.
He was with me for a total of ten minutes…for $143.00.  And that didn’t include the cost of the lab work for the test.
Okay. One week later, I’m back in his office.  He arrives in the consulting room.
“The test was inconclusive.  We'll have to do it again.”
Since I had taken the precaution of gagging myself before he walked in, lest I inadvertently blurt out something obscene, I simply nodded.
I did, however, glare at him in a hostile manner.
Another ten minutes, another $143.00, and ‘come back in a week.
Back in a week.
“The test was inconclusive.  We have to do it again.”  Behind my gag, I thought of how fortunate it was that I had had the foresight to have someone tie my hands behind my back that morning.
“But the good news is, I spoke to the GYN down the hall and she told me about a better way to do this.  Should give us some results this time.”
The mere thought of where in hell this guy got his medical training makes me shudder and take to my bed to this day.
So, in we go again. 
“Have you had a hysterectomy?” he asks.
That was pretty much it.  The bonds on my wrists shredded like paper, the gag blew out of my mouth and imbedded itself in the opposite wall as Carson Buckingham, mild mannered writer, went somewhere else and the Incredible Hulk, or S.J. Perelman—I’m not sure which—took over.
WHAT?  If I’m not mistaken…Doctor…you have been spelunking in my body three times now!  Can you not see that the usual suspects have taken a powder?  Do I need to tattoo my inner thigh as a friendly reminder?  Of course, that won’t do any good anyway, because I have serious doubts that you know how to read.  And where did you get your diploma—Billy Bob's Medical School and Fish Shack?  I have seen things lying on their backs at the bottom of bird cages that are more adept!”
Oh, I did go on—for exactly ten minutes—then he left, mid-rant. But believe me; I made those ten minutes count.
And when I got the bills from the lab and the doctor, I wrote a two word message on each and sent them back.  
“Finances Inconclusive.”      

July 16, 2015


        These days, with the economy in the state it’s in (Rhode Island, I think), I am doing my level best to find multiple uses for everyday items in the home in order to save money and make my husband, Stij, realize what a clever wife he has and how lucky he is.
And you know, I think I’m doing pretty well at it.
For instance—homemade jam.  I grow grapes in the back yard and this past season I was able to put up a quart and a half of grape jam.  I’m sure it’s delicious, but I managed to overcook it to the point where the seven packets of pectin I added just said, “Oh, fuck it,” and vulcanized the entire batch.
However, being the inventive person that I am, after scraping it out of the pot with a crowbar, I discovered a myriad (don’t you love that word?) of other uses.  For example, after a mere hour of blowtorching, I found that I could reshape the jam into intriguing sculptural forms; that is, until Stij came in, demanding to know “…what that horrific smell is and why are there 127,000 fire ants on the counter?” just prior to his donning oven mitts and chucking the whole thing into a trash can--which he then threw over the wall into our neighbor’s yard.
“He’ll never know where it came from,” Stij said confidently.
 "Oh, I wouldn't take bets on that," I muttered.
 All right, so the multi-use jam didn’t work out too well.  But how about brownies?  Brownies can be used for a lot of different things, too.
Recently, I made a quadruple batch of them, but forgot to add the eggs.  After employing the crowbar previously used in the jam, and cutting the hardened sheets into pieces on Stij’s band saw, there were enough of them to glue to the concrete slab by the front door in a really attractive herringbone pattern.  While debating whether or not to paint them, Stij walked by and told me that if I put any more of my failed baked goods outside, the fire ants have threatened to eat the tires on his truck—just to get rid of the taste.
So much for that.
Well, how about taffy, then?  See?  I don’t even need to write anything; you’re already laughing.  Why bother?
So since I screwed up the stuff anybody can make, I reasoned, “I guess they’re just too simple—maybe I should try something more challenging.”
Oh, don’t ask ME where I get this logic—just roll with it.
I tried baklava, which ended up tasting like a balaclava.  However, if carefully sanded and polished to a high gloss, it makes a really interesting sound when it hits the garbage can—ask my husband.
Another thing I made that had multiple purposes, which was the original premise of this column—remember?—was pancake syrup.  I figured, no problem, I’ll go outside, tap a tree, and do it the old fashioned way.  So out I went with my peg and bucket and my drill.  I drilled an appropriately sized hole, affixed the bucket hanger and adjourned indoors to watch “Jeopardy.” 
When I went back out, the bucket was full of milky white sap.  I hauled it in and dumped it into a pot on the stove to begin boiling it down.
It didn’t boil down.
It boiled over the pot, ran down the side of the oven, and onto the linoleum floor, where it proceeded to eat right through to the foundation.  The fumes alone were removing the paint, sheetrock, and framing.
It is to Stij’s credit that when he walked in on Armageddon he didn’t just kill me and toss me over the wall to keep the garbage can company.
 When we finally got everything back under control, we assessed the wreckage.  We had exactly half a house left.  Why it stopped at half, I’ll never know.  Maybe the doorknobs gave it indigestion.  All I know is that Stij managed to stuff it all into his refuse trailer and drove it off to the landfill, after first saying a Novena that they would take it when he got there. 
He was underwhelmed upon his return three hours later.
“What happened?  Did they take it?”
“Eventually,” he said.  “When they asked me what it was, I said, ‘pancake syrup,’ then they got all pissed off because they thought I was being a smartass.”
“So what happened?”
“I explained your culinary exploits.  Two of them have wives who cook just like you do.  We cracked a couple of beers and traded stories, and here I am.  What I want to ask you is this—which tree did you tap?”
“That huge Rubber Tree out back.”
“That is NOT the kind of tree you tap for syrup.  You tap a MAPLE tree.”
 “Oh, I know that.  I just thought I’d add some maple flavoring to it after it was boiled down.  Sap is sap, right?  Your face is really red—are you having blood pressure problems again?”
“High blood pressure is the least of my worries lately.” 
“Well, then, what do you want for dinner?”
“A paid-up life insurance policy.  Since we only have half a kitchen left, we’ll be eating out—for the next five months, probably.”
Now see that?  Multiple uses.  Beyond its usual use, my pancake syrup can also be used to get your house remodeled, give your husband the opportunity to make new friends, and get you taken out to dinner.  It also makes a great fire ant killer.
I’ll be releasing a cook book later this year, dear reader, so watch this page!