Thursday, December 5, 2013

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Healthcare Rant, part II

I went to the Affordable Healthcare site, which directed me to the Maryland AHC site.

I found the round- up of plans offered to be indecipherable so I went to, where the summation is far more user friendly.

I chose a plan- $4000.00 deductible, affordable co- pay. It cost $387.00 per month, but after I factored in my tiny income, it's costing me less than $200 per month.

So I signed up.

As of 1 January 2014 I have health insurance for the first time in five years.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Me, Me, and Me- the Healthcare Rant

I don't like writing about myself. You may think, from the writings here, that I do, but I don't. I'm a private person. I don't even have a Face Book account anymore.

But I'm going to make a startling and very personal admission: I don't have any healthcare insurance.

And I haven't had any for the last five years.

Luckily, I haven't had any accidents. Knock on wood, as they say. I'm almost reluctant to say this, but my health is pretty good. I have untreated Type II diabetes and I remain about 50 pounds overweight, but aside from that I'm good.

But the diabetes and weight are time bombs. I know that one day they'll go off and I'll be screwed.

I've gone onto websites offering health coverage and applied to several carriers for the kind of insurance that has a $10,000- $50,000 deductible, but I was always turned down because of the diabetes. The pre- existing condition clause.

I can't get my diabetes medication without going to my doctor for a check- up and that would cost over $400.00, including the mandatory blood tests. And it's very difficult to think of myself as being worth $400, when I could spend it on someone else who really needs the money or what it can buy.

All of which brings us to Obamacare, or the Affordable Healthcare Act.

I had such high hopes. No pre- existing conditions, income based, affordable, keep your current physician, etc. I couldn't wait.

Now all I read about is the disastrous roll out. And that you can't get on it anyway. And that it's incomprehensible.

At first I thought this was all Republican sour grapes. It's not giving anything away to point out that the country has been divided politically since the current president was elected, but I had put that down to the old problem of racism in this country. Which, of course, remains rampant, whether you think it does or not. If you think that it's not, ask one of your black friends and I'm sure they will be happy to straighten you out.

As it turns out, the rollout is a disaster.

I'm no closer to healthcare than I was when I lost it five years ago. It was a great policy, by the way. I went for check- ups and wellness visits as often as I could.

I actually felt like a real grown-up for awhile there.

So, why is it a disaster? Why couldn't the government have hired the best and the brightest to handle the Health Care Act and the roll out?

I think I know the reason. Somehow,  in this age of information, we no longer know who the experts are, or even why we need experts. Instead of the most competent people guiding us though these incredibly complex matters, we have hired, or voted in, the most mediocre people.

Because we no longer appreciate the nuances of true expertise, we can't even tell the difference between excellence and mediocrity. in fact, I will go so far as to say that Americans are suspicious of intelligent people, and feel threatened by them.

Stupid people are running this country deep into the ground.

And how could they not? Most of the vast personal fortunes in this country that are not digitally based, such as Bill Gates, are inherited. And these heirs, although very good looking, like, say, Mitt Romney, have all the intelligence of inbred canines. They're like newts.

The spirit which created the fortune in the first place is gone, having been subsumed by private schools and Ivy League educations (which can be bought, in case you didn't know that), where the heirs cavort with each other in eating clubs set aside for these inbred morons.

Meanwhile I can't afford to have my diabetes treated, and I'll probably have to hack my leg off myself eventually, maybe with my fine Swiss Army knife (those things are amazing!), since I won't be able to afford to go to a doctor.

Luckily, unlike buying decent healthcare, it's not that hard or expensive to get some some heroin, so I'll at least be pain free when I do it.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Happy 100th, Mr. Morganfield

Mr. Muckle or Happy Birthday, Bill Fields!

From "My Little Chickadee": Mae West and W. C. Fields
Whenever I read something biographical about W. C. Fields, he is always referred to as Bill. I can imagine him at a card table with his pals like Gene Fowler and Dave Chasen, mumbling into his deck and all his pals calling him Bill. Like only the most inside of the insiders would call him Bill. The same people who called Gary Cooper "Coop" or Hitchcock "Hitch".

But then, I've heard him called Bill on radio shows from the '40's, where he shared the microphone with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. Don Ameche calls him Bill. As do all the others. (Wait- what others- it's just Edgar Bergen. But such was the power of radio in the 1940's.)  After awhile, it's jarring when someone calls him W. C. Too slick, too agent-y.

Bill Fields, a remarkably gifted man, was born January 29th 1880 and died on Xmas Day, 1946. He drank to excess, to the point where it not only threatened his ability to do his job,  but also to the brink of death and beyond.

Towards the end, clearly showing the effects of alcohol.
He had a remarkable relationship with alcohol and was very high- functioning. But he was pretty much drunk during most of his waking hours. Considering that he authored most of his films, under ridiculous pseudonyms, this is quite an achievement.

He was born into abject poverty, much like Chaplin, whom Fields admired but distrusted ("He's a goddamn ballet dancer!"). The story of his childhood was so painful that he seldom told it.

By the time he was in his mid- twenties, he was arguably the best juggler in the world. He was a star of the Zeigfeld Follies, an international headliner, second only to Will Rogers. In those days, performers could use the same act over and over, seldom changing it at all from night to night. Fields was different. He was constantly perfecting techniques, juggling difficult objects with seeming indifference.

In the movies when he juggles, the audiences feign indifference or even disgust. This is the cruel beauty of the W. C. Fields world: nothing, not even the world's greatest juggler is extraordinary to this bunch.

Here he recreates his Zeigfeld's routine in this clip from "The Old Fashioned Way."

He worked out a pool table act with a crooked cue stick that he controlled perfectly. Eventually he started making films.  "Pool Sharks", from 1915, shows a lean, mustachioed Fields, the vaudevillian in the process of transforming into the movie comedian.

Bill Fields probably got away with more "outside" stuff than any comedian/ writer/ director of the times, and those times, in particular, were full of c/w/d's, from Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, Laurel, to lesser knowns like Charlie Chase and Harry Langdon.  Certainly he had the more bizarre sense of humor.

There is this scene, this amazing scene- no- the most amazing scene in all his films- no- the comic tour de force of all his movies that features Mr. Muckle the blind man, from the comic masterpiece "It's a Gift":

Such was W. C. Fields' gift. To me, Mr. Muckle the blind man has an invincibility second only to Superman. The intensity of his destruction is equalled only by Fields' utter helplessness in the face of the unstoppable force of Mr. Muckle the blind man.

This is an incredible comic premise, ahead of its time, whatever that means, in that we are urged to suspend our sympathies toward the handicapped, the innocent, the meek that will inherit, etc. and guard ourselves against the apparently unstoppable forces of a blind coot with a cane and an ineffectual hearing aid. Can I even say blind coot without engendering offense?

It doesn't matter, because I don't have to say anything. W. C. Fields already said it.

Originally I had hoped to have this ready by January 29th, Bill Fields' birthday in 1880, but events overtook me and I wasn't able to finish it in time. Thus the discrepancy.

I went to my very first W. C. Fields movie with my grandfather, a man so serious that his own daughter could describe him as dour.  But he wasn't, not really, because he roared throughout the movie. Maybe I didn't appreciate the nuanced, jaundiced view of life in the way that he did, or that I do now, but I remember laughing along with him at all the same places, so I must have gotten some of it. 

The gift of genius, Bill Fields. Thanks.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Photographs of Moments I Wish I had Witnessed, pt. 1

These are from Retronaut:

This is a picture of a man dressed as a fly.

Evidently the Hippo was very docile and enjoyed towing the cart. 

I've always had a weakness for women who could make a letter "S" with their bodies.
This is "LaSylphe".

Courtesy LA Chamber of Congress, of course.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Shorpy Collection: Movie Theaters of Washington, DC

These pictures made me think that maybe, one foggy night, driving home from some gig, I could take a wrong turn and there I'd be... ah, well... you know the rest.

Thanks to Shorpy. What a website!

Sunday, March 31, 2013


Covarrubias by Nicholas Muray
José Miguel Covarrubias Duclaud (22 November 1904- 4 February 1957) , aka Covarrubias: master of the disturbing art of caricature.

In 1924, at the age of 19, Miguel Covarrubias came to this country on a grant from the Mexican government. He immediately found favor with luminaries such as Carl Van Vechten and began his career as chief caricaturist for Vanity Fair, at the time just beginning to print color in the magazine. From there he expanded to The New Yorker and ultimately Vogue Magazine.

His caricatures were a combination of impeccable technique, whether in charcoal, pen and ink, or oils combined with a scathing take on the subject. His work was an enormous influence on the great Al Hirschfeld and changed the landscape of caricature forever.

 Covarrubias also designed sets for operas, painted "serious" canvasses, wrote and illustrated books, and authored a serious text on the island of Bali, where he and his wife, Rosa Rolando maintained a residence. He was also an important scholar of Olmec art and Balinese art.

Rosa and Miguel
However, it will be his remarkable caricatures that we will ultimately remember, a reminder that the art and practice of satire needs to be revived, probably now as much as ever before.

From Vanity Fair's series of impossible interviews: Haile Selassie and Joe Lewis, 1935. Covarrubias was fascinated by African- American culture, but as prominent a leader as W. E. B. DuBois hated his work.

This painting of Emily Post, which seemed to deliberately demean everything she stood for- good taste, manners, decorum- turned out to be a favorite of the subject.
She wrote a note to Vanity Fair thanking them for all the publicity.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


Mark Carrington's Latest Gumbo
I love gumbo. Especially the Cajun kind prevalent in New Orleans. The best gumbo I've had so far was in New Orleans, at Commander's Palace. The second best was from a Korean lunch counter on N. Carrolton.

My friend Mark decided around six months ago to learn how to make gumbo. So far, I've attended two gumbo sessions at his house, and can attest that the second was an improvement (not a vast improvement, but an improvement still) on the first. I think the difference is the roux.

The roux. Of course, that's always the thing in gumbo. Making gumbo, at least in New Orleans, is a huge point of pride. Family recipes are guarded tightly, memorized and never written down, passed along maternal lines, etc. The most popular is the kind with sausage and shrimp, my personal favorite. But anything will do. It's a gumbo- a mixture of ingredients, the great metaphor of race and culture in life. And all good gumbo starts with a roux.

The first gumbo Mark made used the oven method to cook his roux. I saw this originally on the Food Network. Alton Brown used this as his foolproof, go- to, never fail, works great every time method. In short, you bake the oil and flour for around two hours.

And I have to say it was one smooth roux. But hey- two, maybe two and a half hours? No matter, though- the gumbo was just fine.

The next time, however, was near perfection. This time he used butter and flour and tended his stove very closely. After twenty or so minutes he was preciding over a fine sauce, into which he began ladling broth.

About an hour later we were eating Mark's Andouille sausage gumbo. No shrimp this time, but no matter- a gumbo to make a man proud. I ate three helpings.

Today I watched Chef John Besh make his signature gumbo, a combination of a family recipe with that of an early mentor d' cuisine. Chef Besh use cooking oil for his roux. And let it get a deep brown. He made it look easy, which it is, I guess. To him.

Two Christmas's ago I was in New Orleans (see: Xmas in a Primitive Land) and all the bartenders and little dive managers were making gumbo on hot plates in the back of the venue. "Taste this" they'd say. "What do you think?"

It all tasted great to me, and I told them so. What could I add to someone's great aunt's maid's recipe?

I hate the prevalence of the term "bucket list", but that's the boomer generation for you. Those of us who grew up in the era the Dymo labeller feel compelled to use it on everything. But I sure would like to master a good pot of gumbo before me+ death= no more gumbo.

And, by good, I mean, like "Hey, Bret's having gumbo tonight! Drop everything, gang!" type of good.

Of course, to do that, I'd have to actually do it. Hmmm... there's an idea.