Saturday, December 29, 2012

I am Locutus - of Borg. Resistance - is futile. Your life, as it has been - is over. From this time forward, you will service - us

The 25th episode, in the 5th season of Star Trek: The Next Generation is entitled "The Inner Light" and I think that everyone should go and watch it right now; even if you've seen it before.

Now, I am a fan of ST: TNG and have been since it first aired on broadcast television, starting in the late 80's and into the mid-90's. I realize that my attachment stems from feeling like I grew up watching this show, and while I do like all things Start Trek, I don't love any other show, movie, comic or fan-fiction creation like I do TNG. But, all this matters not where the specific episode mentioned above is concerned.

Some might say that the following is needing a "SPOILER ALERT" to avoid ruining the episode I've directed everyone to watch. However, I'm thinking that not many of you will go and watch it, but most importantly, I can write page after page about this episode and still not ruin it for any virgin viewer. So, here is a quick synopsis of the episode:

A routine investigation of a unknown interstellar satellite or spacecraft quickly turns dangerous (as far as the Enterprise crew is concerned) when a beam of unknown and powerful means overtakes Capt. Picard, rendering him unconscious and in a dream state. Meanwhile, Picard is shown waking up disoriented but apparently living another person's life on a planet with a civilization on the cusp of achieving space exploration. Picard is supposed to be a young man when he "arrives" on this planet, and has a wife and young children. Back on the Enterprise, the crew and Dr. Beverly Crusher attempt to break the Captain away from the controlling energy beam, but when they do, Picard's vitals fall and he begins to crash, so they reinstate the beam. Picard is shown growing into an old man, with grown children who are beginning their careers and schooling decisions. Also, it is found that the planet is doomed, as one of the nearby stars is about to destroy the planet. And, at this point, some of the people that were in Picard's dreamed life on this planet present themselves and explain to him that he has just gone through a program designed to allow the memories and lives of this civilization, now a thousand years gone, to survive, if only in the memory of one individual. Picard awakens on the Enterprise, everything is okay again -- then, at the very end of the episode Number 2 comes to Picard's quarters and brings him a flute, which was the only thing found in the satellite. A flute that Picard feels like he spent the last 40 years (or so) playing as he lived as another man, a man with a wife, children and a full and satisfying life on a  planet that has been destroyed for a millennium.

It is worth noting that up to this point in the show's progress, Picard has been shown to dislike children and have very little romantic interests; the one possibility (Dr. Crusher) is the widow of one of his best friends. After this episode, it has been noted that Picard softens significantly.

Now, I will grant that this episode isn't a cinematic or television masterpiece in terms of production, acting (except for a few key scenes with Sir. Patrick Stewart) or script, but what it does have is an eternal message that hits at the heart of human existence: what if I had chosen differently? It could be argued that every single moment of existence is full of choices, and that each one could lead into completely different futures. There is an idea that there are parallel universes that are constantly spinning off, where there is versions of "us" in each one, where all possible variations of all choices are being fulfilled in different dimensions. Okay, maybe this is happening, but it matters not, unless we can figure out how to manipulate (much less, prove this is the case) or affect such parallel worlds. So, whether or not this is the case, it seems to me that when one looks back, there are certain decisions that loom larger than others. For instance, Picard chooses to pursue a career in Star Fleet, consciously choosing to sacrifice a wife, children or a family at all. Sometimes these choices are well contemplated and mindfully chosen, at other times we make choices that can only be judged to carry such weight when we look back in hindsight (which, I would argue is heavily skewed by confirmation bias and in no way is "hindsight 20/20!") can we see the fork in the road and how far the roads eventually diverged.

While I most likely will never be a Captain of a starship, I am on the path to becoming a physician, which calls for similar (granted, I know this is quite a stretch) sacrifices, in terms of time sacrifices and stressful situations (at least, in the emergency room and other high pressure specialties) and I will most likely never get the opportunity to live another life in the span of 25 minutes, I can always turn to Netflix and watch this episode and let my mind imagine what things would be like had I chosen some other prongs of the proverbial fork.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Let it snow.

I am thankful for my family -- the immediate and extended alike. Living away from most of them for almost ten years makes for fun, filled, and always, trips that are too short. Unlike most undergraduate programs, which allow for a month plus break in the winter, medical school (at least, my program, and most DO programs, I'm sure) allows for just over two weeks between semesters. That, coupled with my wife's work schedule afforded us a small window with which to travel north up to Portland, Oregon. Various issues (the least not being my wife's father's continued health struggles) were at play that would have made staying at home the prudent decision, but one of the nice things about once again living on the West Coast, is that we are within a (relatively) short drive up I-5 from Portland. Also, my plans to spend most of next summer in Israel, involved with an Emergency Medicine rotation means my opportunities to see family will be severely limited, that, coupled with the beginning of the clinical years of medical school means I may not be around for the next few years.

Living in Northern California allows for some well received rain storms to pass overhead. A large system was moving through on the day we decided to head north. I-5 has a couple of passes that can see winter driving conditions at various times of the festive season, but compared to driving in Colorado and even I-80 over the Sierra Nevada passes, adverse conditions are short and usually sweet. The morning before we left I was checking the weather reports, and snow was definitely falling around Mt. Shasta, and chains were required on trucks and towing vehicles -- no big deal, especially for a seasoned Colorado alpine driver armed with an AWD Subaru wagon. After we hit the road, headed north, we drive for nearly 3 hours before we start seeing road signs warning us that I-5 is closed 10 miles north of Redding. Further investigation reveals that the interstate is also closed at the pass south of Ashland as well. There is no timetable provided for potential re-opening of the freeway.

Options at this point include turning around, and spending Christmas with beloved friends and family near home; we also thought about waiting out the closure either at a Starbucks, rest-stop or at a hotel; or, we could take a small, winding state highway due west to highway 101, which we could take north and eventually make our way back to I-5. Complicating matters is the third member of our traveling party: our 100lb Akita, who is a wonderful dog, but has a weakness for eating kitty-cats. My parents have a cat, and so far has shown a sharp distaste for being eaten. We have a kennel in Oregon we know and trust and as such we were going to keep her there during our stay -- the key being that if we didn't get her there prior to 3pm on Saturday before Christmas, we wouldn't be able to board her at all, which would have been a major problem. In light of all this, but perhaps most importantly, I like the feeling of going somewhere over waiting things out, we decide to take State Route 36 from Redbluff to Humboldt County. I'm sure that driving this road on a sunny afternoon in the summer, with the top down, provides for a stunning, world-class drive, not only for the scenery, but also because of the (seemingly) never-ending switchbacks and hairpin turns while hugging the side of a mountain while hanging over a deep ravine -- I'm sure the lack of guardrails provide for an unimpeded view for the river that I imagine courses through the valley floor, far below the highway. That said, driving this route in a winter storm, with snow and ice packed roads, near white-out conditions and not a town, service or cell-phone reception within hours behind or in front of us made for a challenging drive. Falling asleep was not an issue, nor was it an issue on Highway 199, which connects Crescent City to Grant's Pass, and was also significantly treacherous for an hour or so. 

All in all, an 8 hour drive was pushed to nearly 17 hours. But we made it safe and sound, with hours to spare for getting Petra to the kennel before they closed for the holiday. 

Despite the stressful aspects of the drive to Portland, I am still thankful for the opportunity to have such a wonderful family to visit. I got to spend time with people that I haven't been able to for many years, and even  meet younger members (I'm looking at you, baby Jenna!) that I hadn't ever seen before. Seeing cousins grow up and start their own families is satisfying and enjoyable. For those that weren't able to be in Portland (I'm looking at you, Phil, Bobby, Rob & Bella (and Sabo Kiddos)) know that we were thinking about you and that you were missed. 

Here is to the last remaining days of freedom (for medical students, and, convicted and soon to be sentenced criminals, I guess) and happy new year everyone.  

Saturday, November 17, 2012

But mom, there are no taste buds in the tummy!

I don't like corn from a can, or frozen corn but I really enjoy corn on the cob.

These days I don't drink much soda, but when I do, I will seek out a 12oz can. I will avoid plastic bottles or fountain soda. Glass bottles are okay.

I won't wear socks until they're showing any signs of wear. I will buy new ones. Someday soon I will only wear socks a handful of times before I donate them.

I refuse to wear pants that have pleats in them.

I also refuse to wear a button-up shirt that doesn't have long sleeves.

I think rollerblades suck. But, skateboards are cool, dude.

I don't like coconut flavors or coconut candy. I love coconut milk curries.

If someone asked me what I thought about "reality television" I would try to convey my hatred. But, recently, I realized I like chef and cooking shows which, in general, are just as bad as any other reality television.

The fact that I don't have any tattoos or piercings has actually made me look rebellious and unique, in light of the circle of friends that I (for the most part, used to) associate with.

I don't like to drink out of straws.

I like to take dangerous, sharp things and flip them in the air and then catch them. Flipping a razor blade or butcher knife in the air and trying to catch it by the handle provides for a moment where complete attention is given to an act; this is rare and at times, requires an exogenous threat of danger to attain.

I really dislike having my toothbrush moistened prior to the paste application and subsequent teeth brushing.

While I recognize the safety and efficiency of a microwave oven, I almost always prefer to use the stove or toaster oven for heating items which others seem to prefer the microwave.

I hate having eyedrops applied to my eyeballs. This is one of the biggest reasons I am thankful I still (at 34) have 20/15 vision.

Despite thinking, when I was younger, that I would never think the music is too loud, I do in fact, at times, think the music is too loud.

I always use my turn signals while driving, and those that don't irritate me.

Drivers who pilot their vehicles in a dangerous and reckless fashion are, without a doubt, putting my and my passenger's life at risk and sometimes I have to squelch the tendencies of road-rage that are not healthy, nor becoming of a doctor in training (or anyone, for that matter.)

I like my beer as cold as it can be, and have a hard time imagining that I would get used to warmer beer -- despite protestations otherwise of those who have said I would indeed get used to it.

Even when I live in a house-hold with a dishwasher machine, I still use dishware, utensils and cups many times over in an effort to reduce instances of washing.

I let my dog lick my face even though I've seen her lick her genitalia, butt-hole and even eat her vomit.

I almost always prefer rain to sunshine. When I was a skateboarder, I couldn't imagine a time where this would be true. Also, a good portion of my formative years were spent in various parking garages in Portland, OR, as this was the only place to go skating when it rained.

I don't like runny eggs. I really don't like boiled eggs. You would be forgiven in thinking that my Hungarian heritage might allow for Deviled eggs to be tolerated -- no, not even with extra paprika.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Night Eddie Spaghetti Invited Me on Stage.

The last time I saw the Supersuckers, live and in concert was the first time I attended an over 21 only show. It was at Berbati's Pan, a small club in downtown Portland -- the fact that it is a relatively small venue is worth noting. I went to the show with a number of friends, but by the end of the night I'm sure they would have testified that they didn't know me, and I don't blame them. This night was to become a seminal point in my maturation process, and it goes to prove that I usually have to learn things the hard way. 

Seeing as how I was an immature drinker, I didn't know how to pace myself and I dived right in. Drinking heavily from the opening band (I have no idea who they were, I probably never did) in anticipation of the Supersuckers set. I really loved them as a band, and they carry this persona that conveys bad-ass, and general not giving a shit-ness. In fact, I guess I bought into this persona that they played up that I thought they would appreciate a drunk guy in the back of the club screaming "F@*# You!" and "You suck" at the top of his lungs. I thought they would understand that this was my ode to their persona, and general rock-star awesomeness. I did this screaming for awhile, got tired, drank a bunch more, visited with different friends but then went right back to screaming vulgarities and insults at what was my favorite band. I was probably giving them the finger -- I don't specifically recall. 

And then it happened. I was screaming at the band. There was at least a hundred people dancing and singing and generally having a good time and being loud between me and the stage. But Eddie Spaghetti (the lead singer) still must have been able to hear me and my vulgar offerings. He also must not have understood the manner in which I wanted him and the rest of the band to take said offerings. He stopped the music in mid-song. He pointed at me and said something to the effect of "Hey punk, you think you can do a better job, why don't you come up here and show us all how its done." Well, okay. 

Perhaps a drink or two earlier I would've understood this as my cue to slink away into the darkness and stop being such a jerk. But no! I thought that this was my time, my time to make friends with the band, to show the rest of the concert goers that I was in fact the biggest and best Supersuckers fan of all! So I went up to the stage, and Eddie handed me the microphone. It was very quiet and the people looked unhappy as I looked out upon their faces. I'm pretty sure I screamed into the microphone "F#$* You!" I then dropped it and leaped off the stage. I had envisioned the crowd yearning to come together, triumphantly lifting me up so I could body surf to the back of the club where I would be placed back into my original position and  metaphorical place, which was the king of the Supersuckers fandom. But No! I leapt and the crowd parted like the Red Sea on steroids and I landed on the beer soaked, cigarette encrusted concrete floor. The one friend that witnessed all this came to help me up and at that point she knew that I wasn't totally okay to be left alone; not only was I a danger to myself, there were a couple of hundred people who were not at all happy with me at that point. She got me home, I assume with a cab. 

I can only imagine what I would be thinking to myself if I was at a show tonight and some 21 year old jack ass pulled what I pulled that night. To say I would be scornful would be a statement of minimal quantification. There is no doubt that I've continued to make a fool of myself, with or without imbibing in spirits since that fateful night, but that was (that I can think of right now, at least) to be the night I peaked; where my personal wave of drunken stupidity crashed upon the rocky shores of Mt. adult. I'm glad it happened as early as it did. The next morning I had to be reminded why my side hurt so much and why my hip and lateral thigh was so badly bruised. 

So, even though all my Supersuckers CD's are long gone, and I don't have a Supersuckers station on Pandora, I still, at times, lean back and think about that night and I probably always will. Thank you Mr. Spaghetti. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Kickflips, Kitchen Confidential, Carpets, and Coagulation Cascades.

I've written about this before, but with summer coming to an end (even thought that really doesn't mean that  much in California) I feel compelled (perhaps a dash of early mid-life crisis is stirring) to write about skateboarding. It is a relatively recent development that has led to skateboarding being omitted from my daily thoughts, much less activities and social life. I'm okay with this, and am very excited for the future, which will undoubtedly have very little skateboarding in it. But, once in awhile, it is fun to go back and remember exactly what it was that made me fall in love with a kid's wooden toy on wheels.

1992. Summertime. I spent a couple of months in Edmonton, AB Canada with family. It was a glorious time, filled with cousins and friends who all were caught up in skateboarding -- except me, I was not a skateboarder, but the allure of 36mm wheels and jeans with a 36" leg cuffs, a World Industries with a Rocco and a Jason Lee not yet on network television was too much for me to resist: I was all in. 

At the end of the summer of 1992 I bought an old Alva Skateboard, with generic trucks and wheels from a friend's older brother. Even at this point it was outdated and a point of ridicule. Thankfully my birthday was right around the corner and I did my best to ensure that my parents would supply the new setup that I needed. I remember calling, everyday, the main skateshop in Portland at that time, a place called Cal Skate, which even though they were in a different location back then, is still in business today. At one point, after calling every day after school for what was probably weeks, the guy who answered the phone said, basically: "look little kid, we have the Morrision New Deal board in stock, we will have it in stock, PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PLEASE STOP CALLING EVERYDAY!" Luckily, my birthday came and I was able to get my new setup. I'll never forget that I got a New Deal, Andrew Morrison model, with an everslick bottom, Venture low profile trucks and some grey Sidewalk Surfer wheels, probably about 42mm in diameter. I no longer looked like a "poseur," I was finally on the inside.

I learned to ollie and heelflip on the carpet in my parent's basement, and then took the tricks to the dangerous concrete of the garage. Portland is a rainy place, and finding places to ride when it rains is tough. What the climate does do, however, is engender a tighter nit community than otherwise would be found in metro areas of similar sizes. Perhaps this is part of the reason I so eagerly glommed on to the "skateboarder" persona. Undoubtedly, the relative unpopular nature of skateboarding in the early 90's had a lot to do with it as well. There were a couple of other "skaters" at the high school I attended, and but I really began to make friends with the other skaters all over the city, which meant I nearly completely withdrew from any and all social aspects of my high school. I am thankful for this.

My thoughts, as far as this specific post is concerned, is much larger than a teenager and his coming of age via skateboarding (not nearly as kinky as it sounds...) but more to do with the various labels that we either construct for ourselves, or find thrust upon us -- usually an amalgamation of both is in a perpetual flux, a constant waxing and waning of who we want to be, who we actually are and, of course, how others perceive us.

In my moments of deeper reflection I can easily distinguish different "epochs" of my life, in that my geographic locations, occupations, peer groups, short and long term goals have drastically changed. The first twenty years of my life were spent surrounded by family, close distant relatives -- literally hundreds if not thousands of them at different times. I am thankful for this time in my life, as I feel as if I was raised by a village and that I am better for it. But, most of these people haven't known me in a long time, and the last time they've seen me (or, perhaps even heard how I was doing) was in a time when my short and long term goals were directly related to skateboarding and the culture there within.

Understandably, when these people hear that I am in  medical school, an element of surprise is present. If I were asked, twenty years ago, if I would be the one out of my peer group (well, depending on who I was with at the time...) to become a doctor, I would have laughed in scorn for even suggesting such a thing.

I would also like to think that exogenous states of being, such as one's occupation, level of education or cultural sensibilities aren't as judged as harshly as they are. Of course, they are. And, of course, I often fall in the same trap. I find myself judging those who can't spell or use grammar to a certain degree, which led to this as a birthday gift a year or two ago.

In no way does it surprise me that people perceive me differently when they know I am a student-doctor, versus when I was a career coffee roaster, a line cook (ahem...chef!) or a construction worker -- or, a skateboarder. But, I really try and remember that I am still the same person as when I did all those other things. This isn't as difficult as I am making it sound, as I do still feel like the same person.

When I hear stories of doctors that act like jerks (thus far, I've actually heard many, many more stories versus dealing with them in person) I can't help but imagine that they've burrowed into the persona too such a degree, they can't see their way out. I'm thankful for my days as a skateboarder (even though I still consider myself a "skater") and all the other personas I've embodied, whether by perception or by construction over the years, as sometimes any help we can get to help us stay grounded is necessary.

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