Saturday, November 17, 2007

Cough It Up

Some people can get through a chest cold without much trouble.

My wife, on the other hand, used up all her best genes on brains and looks, mainly at the expense of her lungs.

So in her case, a chest cold quickly becomes bronchitis, which progresses to pneumonia, then double-pneumonia, then emphysema, then toenail fungus, hives, and leprosy.

As if that wasn't bad enough, by the time she gets through all that, the PMS sets in.

So we like to take care of things at the bronchitis stage, if possible, which is why I find myself standing in front of the pharmacist, staring mournfully at the Flovent.

Flovent is a steroid that apparently comes in a titanium-plated inhaler autographed by David Ortiz. The pharmacist yawns, waiting for me to decide if I'm actually going to plop down 180 beans for a few hits of poison mist.

My shoulders have slumped in resignation. After several moments of dejected silence, my left hand suddenly darts out and swipes the precious box from the chemistry geek's unsuspecting grasp, and I sprint out the door, leaving the other customers in open-mouthed shock.

With liberating, oversized strides, I zip across the parking lot, leap over a small embankment, and into an open field, whooping and laughing in a defiant, celebratory moment of triumph against the pharmaceutical industry and its corporate bedfellows.

Ah, who am I kidding. Even if I had the guts to pull such a stunt, those lame automatic doors always open too slowly for anyone to “sprint” out of a drug store. I'd either slam headlong into the glass, or I'd have to stop for a moment, like a fool, and wait for the doors before I could resume sprinting.

I bet Carl Lewis has this problem all the time (except he probably has decent health insurance).

In the end, I leave the Flovent on the counter and settle for some regular asthma treatment. As I write these words, my wife seems to be getting better. Maybe I can fall asleep tonight without worrying that she might drown in mucous.

Of course, it's all my fault for becoming a teacher, which provides all the perks of a student loan payment without those annoying professional-level benefits.

I should have gone into the insurance business, which requires no actual work. All you have to do is:

  1. Convince people they're irresponsible if they don't buy a policy from you.

  2. Collect fat checks.

  3. Figure out ways to not give people what they think they're buying.

In the rare instance that one of your policies has a “loophole” that requires you to actually pay someone, you can penalize that person by jacking up their rates.

What a racket! Imagine applying that price structure elsewhere. Open up a gas station and charge $1.99 a gallon. People would come from miles around to line up at your pumps. But as soon as they start the cars, charge their credit cards another $60.

That'll teach 'em to use your product!

Your health insurance company doesn't wait for a reason to increase rates. They spike them 25% a year, no matter what, just because they can.

Obviously, the government should intervene, but for some reason there seem to be a lot of (wealthy) people who love the insurance industry just the way it is.

I guess as long as the automatic doors at Rite-Aid remain too slow for the rest of us to sprint through, they have no reason not to.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Food of the God(s)

As brown, curled-up leaves decompose in the frosty November dawn, one amazing burst of life and flavor carries my otherwise depressed spirit into the Holiday Season.

Wait... should I say “Holiday Season?” Some people might think I'm anti-Christian because I did not mention Christmas by name.

(I realize this same logic would mean that when I tell people I like gourds, I'm also saying I hate pumpkins. But I must account for the fact that not everyone can enjoy the benefits of logical thinking).

Okay. As I was saying. The one thing that helps me get to Christmastime is... No, that won't work, either. I can see the angry Hebrew emails popping into my inbox now. And if any native Africans lived in Maine, I might hear about Kwanzaa, too.

And rightly so. Why must inclusiveness be a sin? Can't we use language that encourages recognition and celebration of everyone's religious traditions, without undermining any one set of beliefs?

Right. So the one thing that really helps me keep going into the holiday season is...

Uh-oh... Here come the Pagans, who want me to mention the Winter Solstice. Is that a “holiday?” I don't know much about Wicca and such, but the stereotypes make me nervous (stereotypes always have some truth to them, right?).

So how about this: There is one thing that carries me me into December, a month in which many people in the world engage in festive recognition of spirituality through intense gluttonous feasting that gives them the same physical properties as a bowling ball for several weeks.

That one thing is: the arrival of pomegranates at my local grocery store.

(That's right! This column was supposed to be about pomegranates.)

In case you're unfamiliar, a pomegranate looks like a dirty red croquet ball with a giant nipple. You cut it open and eat the seeds, which are unbelievably juicy and sweet. In fact, each seed contains about 40 ounces of juice that will squirt directly onto your clothes, no matter how careful you are.

You can separate the seeds from the fruit much more easily if you hold the thing under water after cutting it up.

Though pomegranates grow in warm climates all over the world, they are native to Iran, and are widely used in a variety of Persian cuisine, which means I've just spent the last three paragraphs subversively trying to convert you to Islam.

Did it work? Happy Eid Al-Adha!

Believe me, after eating a pomegranate, you would willingly convert to anything in order to get more pomegranates. They are profoundly delicious. They also contain anti-oxidants, which supposedly fight cancer. They are truly food of the gods.

I mean that in a strictly colloquial, non-polytheistic sense. Please, no monotheistic hate mail.

You know what? From now on, I'm going to mention atheist holidays only. You might have noticed that atheists have no holidays, only because atheism is impossible to commercialize.

Who would buy gifts to observe the pure nothingness that would follow our meaningless biological exercise?

Try finding that aisle at Wal-Mart.

If Seinfeld could make a TV show out of nothing, I can make a column out of nothing. I'm sure you'll let me know how it works out.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

'Til Debt Do Us Part

Our chances of building a house in the next 10 years are about the same as our chances of starting up a viable snow plowing business using a 1998 Toyota Camry.

For one thing, my wife and I don't have any carpentry skills. The last thing we tried to build was a yard sale sign. It collapsed under the weight of its own plumbing.

But hiring someone to build a house, by the time you account for land, materials, and tips, can result in a mortgage that exceeds the annual budget of most municipalities in Somerset County.

Still, my wife can't stop thinking about it.

She's reading this book called Mortgage Free by Rob Roy, which means that sandwiched around the needs of our two-year-old is a lot of staccato discussion about how to build a house without becoming some bank executive’s personal sado-masochistic plaything.

Unfortunately, I don’t have time to read. Since the World Series ended, all my free time has been tied up with reminiscing about how great the World Series was.

So our literary conversations tend to list to one side like a leaky yacht:

Me: “Maybe we should get a babysitter tomorrow night and go do something fun.”

Wife: “Yeah. We’ll be too far away from town for that kind of thing if we build.”

Me: “We could always stay home and watch a movie.”

Wife: “The book says it may cost too much to run electricity to our site. We might have to get solar panels.”

Me: “I’m thinking of seeing other women.”

Wife: “In that case, we might need to add a third bedroom. What do you think that will cost?

From what I’ve gleaned so far, Mortgage Free is a fascinating book. The author outlines two primary means to financially independent living:

  1. Get your parents to give you some land with a house on it.

  2. Build a 12’x16’ shed and live in it for 17 years while you fumble around trying to build your own house from raw cedar logs and mounds of clay and rock.

Between these two options, the more probable for us is to travel back in time and arrange to have wealthy parents.

We have friends who have chosen option 2, living for years without electricity or running water before finally moving into their “dream house,” which to this day is not totally “finished,” in the sense of having final touches like paint, trim, and windows.

Seems like a lot to go through to avoid a mortgage (even if it’s true that the word “mortgage” derives from the old French for “death pledge”).

If you’re already stuck with one, Roy recommends using those surplus piles of cash you have laying around to make an extra payment or two per year.

I prefer the financial wisdom I heard on the radio while cleaning cat vomit out of my rug early one winter morning. It turns out many financial experts say you'd do better to invest that money instead.

What a relief! I no longer have to stress about having a mortgage that eats up more than half of my paycheck. I can continue to invest in Boston Red Sox commemorative championship DVDs and expect to be able to pay for my retirement on a remote private island in the South Pacific.

That guy from the bank will never find me there...