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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Parking Lot Etiquette

We've all either seen or experienced the following:

A vehicle is backing out of a parking place. The back-up lights are on, and you can tell that the driver is doing everything "by the book." about two parking spaces away a pedestrian is walking towards the already-in-motion vehicle. The pedestrian sees the vehicle moving but continues walking anyway. The pedestrian/moron decides that the driver is an idiot for not watching where they are going and either yells at the driver or smacks the body of the vehicle. The driver immediately stops. The pedestrian walks past the car, makes eye contact with the driver, then makes some form of gesture - verbal or "hand signals" - indicating to the driver that they are the ones that made the mistake!

Personally, I own a lifted truck, designed for on- or off-road travel. The top of the bed of my truck is five feet off the ground. One thing I've noticed since I bought the truck is that there are a great many people in the Los Angeles area that are LESS than five feet tall! The only thing that saves their lives when I'm backing up is the fact that the wind caught their hair and blew it up into my line of sight. I even watched one man walk behind my truck while it was rolling and throw his hand in the air to let me know where he was (probably the smartest thing he's ever done).

When I grew up, parking lot etiquette was understood by everyone. The basic rules are as follows:
  1. If you are walking through a parking lot and see a car coming out of their spot, stop walking until it is clear! This way you don't "accidentally" get run over.
  2. When walking through a parking lot, cross the driving parts of the lot as if you were crossing a street! Look both ways, then cross at your own risk. Don't walk through the middle of the lane as if you are the king or queen of Dipshit Island!
  3. If you are driving through the parking lot, either looking for a spot or leaving the lot, and a car begins to back out of their spot just ahead of you...STOP YOUR CAR! The ten to thirty seconds that you are delayed will simply not ruin your day (and if it does, you were already going to be late anyway). The driver of the other vehicle doesn't get the crap scared out of them when they almost make impact with you or you lay on your "asshole button" (also known as the car horn). Noone's day gets ruined. As a matter of fact, that person will probably pay it forward and not ruin someone else's day!
Those are pretty simple rules. Not all that complicated as far as I can tell. I used to think that maybe those rules were only taught to American children while they were growing up, because when I moved to San Diego it was only other ethnicities (i.e. not white or black...ahem...sorry...not "caucasian" or "african-american") from other countries (read: Mexico) that broke basic rules of parking lot etiquette. But after I moved to L.A. I realized that it had spread like a disease through that area, to the point that I, myself, am the occasional offender!

We need to get back to basics in the parking lots. We need to teach our children the right and wrong ways before they become offenders. And maybe, just maybe, I need to pretend that I really didn't see that tuft of hair fly up over the bed of my truck!

Monday, May 16, 2011


Proposed Texas immigration law contains convenient loophole for ‘the help’
By Brett Michael Dykes

Texas has long been a hotbed of controversy on immigration issues. And a proposed immigration bill in the Texas state House is sure to raise more than a few eyebrows. The bill would make hiring an "unauthorized alien" a crime punishable by up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine, unless that is, they are hired to do household chores.

Yes, under the House Bill 2012 introduced by a tea party favorite state Rep. Debbie Riddle -- who's been saying for some time that she'd like to see Texas institute an Arizona-style immigration law -- hiring an undocumented maid, caretaker, lawnworker or any type of houseworker would be allowed.

Why? As Texas state Rep. Aaron Pena, also a Republican, told CNN, without the exemption, "a large segment of the Texas population" would wind up in prison if the bill became law.

"When it comes to household employees or yard workers it is extremely common for Texans to hire people who are likely undocumented workers," Pena told the news giant. "It is so common it is overlooked."

Jon English, Rep. Riddle's chief of staff explained that the exemption was an attempt to avoid "stifling the economic engine" in Texas, which today is, somewhat ironically, celebrating its declaring independence from Mexico in 1836.

"Excepting household workers from a anti-immigration laws renders the law impotent and self-contradictory, just like the current U.S. immigration policy, of which it is almost a perfect microcosm," legal ethics writer Jack Marshall wrote on his blog. "It guarantees a measure without integrity that sends a mixed enforcement message and does nothing to stop the long-standing deplorable 'we don't want you but somebody has to do those menial jobs' attitude that has paralyzed our immigration policy for decades."

Rep. Riddle made headlines last year when she claimed unnamed FBI officials had told her that pregnant women from the Middle East were traveling to America as tourists to give birth, and then raising their children to be terrorists who could later enter the U.S. freely as citizens -- so-called "terror babies," a devious offshoot of "anchor babies." She became somewhat infamous on the web when she stumbled repeatedly in a CNN interview about the claims, complaining later that host Anderson Cooper's line of questioning was more intense than she had prepared for.

"They did not tell me you were going to grill me on specific information that I was not ready to give to you tonight," Riddle said when Cooper pressed her for more details. "They did not tell me that, sir."

Cancer - A Long Overdue Update

Part III – A Long Overdue Update

    It's been a while since I've updated this part of my blog; things have been a little crazy. My wife has now completed five of her six cycle of chemo, with the sixth one scheduled for Friday. Before the last cycle we received some amazing news; she's now cancer-free!

    She's still suffering from the side effects of the chemo, and she's confused as to why the sixth cycle is required, knowing that the side effects are cumulative (each cycle is worse than the last) and that she's cancer-free. The doctor has explained to her that the minimum treatment is six cycles, but she's concerned that the chemo drugs are indiscriminate in their killing, and that if there are no remaining cancer cells to kill, how many "good cells" are going to suffer? I understand her logic, but I'm the type of person that tends to "follow protocol" when I'm dealing with important things like this.
    The side effects are bad enough that she had to take a medical leave-of-absence from work. She's been home for about a month now. As far as we can tell she's probably going to be out until the end of July; maybe even longer, but we hope not. The sooner the chemicals are ot of her system the better as far as we're concerned. She was sick before we knew that she had cancer, then had three surgeries in January, directly followed by the chemo treatments. She's tired of "recovering," and she's defensive about getting the final chemo treatment.
    On a good note, now that we know she's cancer-free we're making plans for a victory celebration. Ideas are "a-plenty" for ways to celebrate; the most popular being a family vacation centered around either a cruise or a trip to another country. She also wants a formal party of some sort where the men's dress is coat-and-tie and evening gowns for the women. Whatever we end up doing, it's going to be amazing!

    When my wide was first diagnosed, one of her main concerns was, "Will I live through this?" The doctors assured her that she would and tried to calm her fears, but our day-to-day life, as well as our outlook on life-in-general, immediately began to change.

    Before the diagnosis we lived day-to-day; well, we existed, that is. But things we were either afraid to do or that we didn't want to waste time day-dreaming about suddenly had more of a sense of urgency about them; they needed to get done, and we needed to do them! My fear of heights took a back-seat and I decided that if she wanted to do something, I was going to do it with her! I didn't care if she wanted to do something as crazy as jumping out of a perfectly good airplane! Thank God she's dead-set against riding the rides on top of the Stratosphere hotel in Vegas!

    Personally, I had already made the decision that even if her condition had been terminal (and thank God that it isn't!) that I was going to do my best to complete the items on her bucket list before I even started on mine. Now that she's cancer-free we've decided to not only dream about things that we want to do, but we're going to do everything in our power to make those dreams happen.

    The lessons we're taking away from all of this:

        Follow your dreams!
        Live! Don't just exist
    ...and the old cliche:
        Don't sweat the petty stuff!
        Cuz it's ALL petty stuff!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

To Run for the Los Angeles City Council or Not?

I've been considering running for the office of L.A. City Council. Why not? I would have to be better than any of the current members! I'm fiscally conservative, socially liberal, and politically independent.

One of the things Southerners learn early-on (read: "in childhood") is a saying that goes like this: "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!" Loosely translated it means that if you have something, use it until it is useless in its current form, then let it transition into its "next life"; worn out t-shirts became dust rags; worn out jeans became patches for other jeans that still had life in them; broken toys either became spare parts for other toys or targets for our bb-guns. And if you grew out of clothes before they had formally expired, they were passed on to someone else who could use them, or donated to a church or the Salvation Army. I've kept this mentality throughout my life. I also firmly believe that if I'm able to do something for myself, I would be silly to pay anyone to do it for me.

I struggle to maintain my frugality, but living in L.A. doesn't make that easy. L.A. and the state of California are going a HURRY! And my frugal nature has urged me to look into local and state governmental issues. I have learned that the base pay for a City Council Member in the City of L.A. is $171,648.00 per year with automatic raises every time the county judges get a raise...not to mention the perks! To break it down, that's $14,304.00 a month, $6,731.00 every two weeks, or $3,335.00 per week! Personally, I'd be willing to do it for about half that; a mere $85,824.00 a year. Better yet, round it down to an even $85,000.00 a year. I'd be fine with that. I'd also challenge the other council members to do the same, but I won't hold my breath.

So far I've saved the City of LA $86,648.00! And if all the other fourteen council members followed suit (HAH!) it would be a combined total of almost $1.3 million...per year!

Let's talk about pay raises. According to an article by Jill Stewart in the L.A. Weekly blog, INFORMER ( on October 16, 2008, the L.A. City Council members are the highest paid in the nation; $71,648.00 ahead of New York City. The L.A. council members' raises are tied to county judges' raises, which rise annually by the average pay raise of a state employee. Steeper boosts in judges' pay have also been approved by the legislature. "As the budget balloons in Sacramento and new rounds of pay raises are granted, judicial pay raises increase steadily - far beyond jumps in the cost of living." To make matters even more interesting, "Mayor" Villaraigosa, whose salary was $223,142.00 as of November, 22, 2009, makes 30% more than City Council members. Only one council member, Dennis Zine, who receives an LAPD pension on top of his council pay, voluntarily took a modest 10% pay cut of about $18,000.

Now, about those perks...L.A. council members enjoy huge staffs as compared to council members of other large cities, eight free cars per council member, virtually string-free $100,000 personal slush funds, about $1.2 million annually for office expenses; they even have a special clause that lets them get out of any parking tickets. Some council members, Janice Hahn, Richard Alarcon, Herb Wesson and Ed Reyes, for example, employ about 20 aides - each! The council continues to fight efforts to take away its controversial slush funds that are hidden from the public in plain sight under the misleading title of General City Purposes Fund.

I figure that if I run against my current council member and win, I can save the city's taxpayers several hundred thousands of dollars annually. The first year I would only accept aforementioned $85,000.00 for my salary. I would refuse the eight cars and use my own, accepting only the federal tax deduction of $0.51 per mile for all miles used for city business. Staff member positions would be combined until I was down to  staffers, who would also be responsible for providing their own transportation. Any thing remaining in my slush fund at the end of the year would be shifted to a budget in need, as long as that's actually possible. Office equipment would be used until useless or when it became more cost-effective to replace it, and the office goal would be to go as paperless as possible. There would be no city-provided cell phones; everyone has their own already, so why would they need two? And as far as parking tickets goes, I know the rules to parking on city streets. No need to get a ticket, much less dodge the fine for one.

And all the while I would be publicly denouncing the other council members for not following suit, and encouraging their constituents to run against them until either they did or they were removed from office! After that…on to the office of L.A. City Mayor!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Cancer - How It Has Affected and Is Affecting My Family

Part III – The Results Are In

    January 7th came, and the surgeon removed several axillary lymph nodes and sent them out for testing. He advised us that, barring any complications, the results should be back within three business days. But the three business days came and went, as did the fifth, seventh and tenth. My wife and sister-in-law had a running joke that results would come back negative and that she was either allergic to the convenience store coffee she drank daily or she was allergic to doing the dishes. Her oncologist, however, decided on a different approach. He decided that this most likely meant that she did have lymphoma, and that the lab was busy trying to type it. Privately, my wife had already come to the same decision. He started her on a few medications to get her ready for her chemotherapy regimen...just as a precaution. The plan was to get ahead of the treatment so that she would be ready to start as soon as the results came in. When they came in a few days later, they were proven to be correct - the lab had to run twenty-seven different tests on the nodes, which is why it had taken so much time. That's when she got the formal diagnosis.
    Her next procedure was a bone marrow biopsy - a required procedure for lymphoma patients solely for the purpose of determining the total treatment regimen. Of course the doctors and nurses told her that she would only feel a pinch and some pressure, but very little discomfort. They lied. The doctor injected her with numbing medicine, waited a few minutes, and then began to work a stainless steel tool, similar to a corkscrew without the curves, back and forth in a twisting motion in her right buttock. I was sitting at the head of the operating table letting her hold my hands and watching as they performed the procedure. When the tool made contact with her hip bone it made the sort of sound that your steak knife makes when you hit the bone in your steak by accident. As it turned out, my lovely wife has a very thick pelvic bone that was also very hard, causing this "5-minute procedure" to drag on for almost thirty minutes.
    The final procedure was to install a "port" (portable catheter) into the upper right side of her chest. This would allow nurses and other hospital staff to access her blood stream without having to put an IV into her. Since my wife has small, rolling veins, we viewed it as a very good idea. The port would allow them to take blood samples, as well as administer IV and chemo fluids without taking any chances of collapsing her veins throughout the chemo regimen. And with the results in and all the procedures done the treatment was defined; she would have chemo treatments (called "a cycle") every three weeks for a total of six to eight cycles.

Coming up...Part IV - The Next Steps

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Cancer - How It Has Affected and Is Affecting My Family

Part II - Family Traditions

    Around December 20th my wife began having pains in her lower abdomenal area. She made an appointment to see her physician again and went in on the 23rd for a follow-up visit. I went with her, as I did on many occasions. The doctor stated that the pains were caused by swelling of the lymph nodes in those areas, and that her symptoms were suspicious of some type of lymphoma. The doctor wanted to order more tests, but, since it was the last day before the long Christmas weekend started, instead of sending her through the normal process, she sent her to the hospital's emergency room, that way the test results would be in her hands that same evening. She had a biopsy scheduled for January 7, 2011, and until the results were in no one, not one single doctor (she was seeing three different ones concurrently by then), would give her even a "most-likely" answer regarding her condition.
    During our lovely six-hour stay in the ER they ran more blood tests, a urinalysis, and a CT scan. The blood tests and the urinalysis results came back inconclusive, but the CT scan showed that all of her lymph nodes, as well as her spleen, were enlarged...some bigger than golf balls. The doctor, due to liablity reasons refused to give us a "probable" diagnosis, but did inform us that the it was no longer "very suspicious" of lymphoma, but was "extremely suspicious."
    We had plans to spend the next evening - Christmas Eve - at her sister's house with her family. It had already gone from a small gathering of family members to a fairly large gathering of family and close friends. Given the information that we had at the time, my wife decided that we would have "the best Christmas ever!" She also decided that, instead of "spending the evening" with the rest of her family, we would all spend the night there and open presents as a family in the morning. Of course, she never mentioned the "best Christmas ever" idea...just that it sounded like a lot of fun. The thing is, her brother and sister began to suspect that something was going on, but they refused to make any comments...just in case.
    One of the family traditions at these holiday get-togethers is to play a game of Pictionary. My wife and her sister are the "dynamic duo" of the family - an unstoppable force that has rarely ever been beaten. The one time that her brother and I beat them, a never-ending dispute started in which they denied that we won, and we, in turn, denied them. Since that time I have refused to partake in the tradition - no need to have a dispute between me and my wife! As it was Christmas Eve, my wife insisted on playing the traditional game. My sister-in-law reminded my wife that there was no way I was going to play, which would leave her brother without a good partner. My wife said, "He'll play tonight," and her sister caught on. "OK! WHAT'S GOING ON?" she my wife explained it all to her. They both agreed that she should tell her brother, and just as she started to he changed the subject and left the room.
    During the course of the game, which, for once, was a close one, my brother-in-law accused his sisters of cheating. This prompted a heated banter that ended with my wife proclaiming that this was "the last game of Pictionary EVER!" My brother-in-law proceeded to grab the die, all the drawing paper and all the pencils. He said to her, "TAKE IT BACK! TAKE IT BACK NOW!"...telling us that he knew that there was something very serious going on with her, but he wasn't ready to deal with it at the moment.

Coming up...Cancer - Part III - The Results Are In

"You look Southern."

I can understand it when someone says, "You look Chinese," or, "You look Mexican." I can understand that about almost any race of people. Not that I approve or condone those types of comments, just that I get it. I really understand it when someone says, "You look sunburned," or tired, sick, depressed, etc. But what does it mean when someone says, "You look Southern"? Yes, I’m from the South. I was born and raised in North Carolina in a little city called Gastonia, about twenty miles west of Charlotte. I try to be a "Southern gentleman" in every positive sense of the term. I have a "small-town, Southern" attitude towards life in general. But if you saw me walking down the street, you wouldn't think, "He looks Southern," because, barring the Beverly Hillbillies stereotype and cartoons like Li’l Abner, Southerners don't have a look. To me, when someone says, “You look Southern,” it has a negative connotation. It’s like they’re saying that someone looks stupid; that their clothes don’t fit properly; or that they look appallingly poor. “You act Southern,” on the other hand, would be quite the compliment!

We're just normal people, no matter what color our skin is, that tend to be raised in a much stricter environment than other people. We say "yes, ma'am" and "no sir" whenever the occasion calls for it...and most occasions do. We respect our elders...without question. We call women "ma'am" (Southern for "madam") and men “sir” no matter what age they are…even the children. We say the blessing before a meal. We open doors for women…simply because we respect them, because without them, none of us would be here. Many of us have family ties to the military – mostly for patriotic reasons, but it’s also one of the ways we try to get out of our “small-town” surroundings.

One of my grandmother’s neighbors wrote and published his own book, titled We Came from Nowhere. It was written from a child’s perspective about life in the Depression-era mill villages of the South. It sums up how most of the children in our area made it through life, including all the bumps, bruises and broken bones, up until the late 1970’s. My grandmother was one of those Depression-era children that started working in a cotton mill when she was thirteen, giving at least half of her wages to her mother to help support the family. Whenever I asked her or her mother about what life was like during the Great Depression, they would say, “What Great Depression? We were poor. We didn’t notice anything different.” One of my grandfathers only made it through the third grade before he had to go to work. It’s just the way it was. Third-World countries aren’t the only ones in the world to utilize child labor, but then again, the South was a Third-World country, too.

My aunt and my mother were the first two in their family to graduate from high school. My father and uncle were the first two in their family, as well. My mother and father were the first ones in either family to attend college. My little sister even has three degrees. My grandfathers were both WWII veterans; one in the Army and one in the Navy. They were both cooks, primarily, but they both saw combat – one in the D-Day invasion of Normandy; one on the USS Colorado in the Pacific. My father served in the Marine Corps; my mother in the Army. Both I and my younger brother served in the Marine Corps, and our baby brother served in the Navy.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Cancer - How It Has Affected and Is Affecting My Family

Part I – A Little History for You

    Cancer has long been a part of life in my family. My great-grandfather died of skin cancer. My uncle died of some rare form of cancer that made him dwindle away to skin and bones before he died. My grandfather survived a battle with prostrate cancer before dying of lung cancer that metastasized to his liver. My mother-in-law battled breast and stomach cancer. My father-in-law was believed to have a minor case of bladder cancer. And now, as of mid-January, 2011, my wife has been diagnosed with a rare form - there's that phrase again - of lymphoma, affecting only 1% of all lymphoma patients. She suffers from a condition called "angio immunoblastic T-cell lymphoma."
    Around Halloween of 2010 she found a small lump on the left side of her collar bone. Friends suggested that it was probably just a swollen lymph node and that she was "probably coming down with something." A few weeks later she had found several more lumps, prompting her to pay a visit to her physician. The doctor agreed that she might be coming down with some sort of cold or infection, but she also wanted to run some tests to be sure. Blood samples were drawn and an appointment was made for an ultrasound.
    A few days before the ultrasound was to be done cancer took another swing at my family when my grandmother passed away from lung cancer that had metastasized to one of her ribs, a few vertebrae, and, most likely, the base of her brain. We made the trip from Los Angeles to the Charlotte, NC, area to attend the viewing and funeral along with many, many other family members and close friends. Unfortunately, during the week-long trip, my wife noticed that the lumps were not only getting larger, but there were even more of them - now there were several large lumps in each arm pit (axillary lymph nodes). We began to grow a little more concerned and she began scouring the internet and searching all of her symptoms, which is probably the absolute worst thing anyone with any type of condition can do.
    She kept coming back to lymphoma and leukemia as being the most probable diagnosis of her symptoms. On top of that, if it was lymphoma it was a choice between Hodgkin’s or non-Hodgkin's. And if it was non-Hodgkin’s there were at least twenty-three (23) different varieties. All of our family members and friends kept telling her to stay off the internet because she was only depressing herself, but she refused to listen. She insisted that she was just "gathering information" and "informing" herself so that she knew more about the possible conditions and would be able to discuss all options with the doctor or doctors, as the case may be. Our anxiety about the situation was only made worse by the fact that every test came back negative or inconclusive. At this time we hadn't shared any of this with anyone else, as we didn't want to "poke a stick at a sleeping bear" and stir up any negative feelings before we knew something more definite.

Coming up...Cancer - Part II - Family Traditions