Sunday, March 27, 2016

I love my Mom...

...but I'm not going to write about her anymore this week. Today was exhausting, eleven hours spent with her in hospital, with several steps forward, and a few steps back. We'll see how it goes, but the week's not going to get shorter or easier, and I'm gonna take this private.

Still, wish her and me luck, folks. She's a sweet woman with a lot of love for the little things of life and a great sense of playfulness. She's been a great Mom to me. It was a tough day for her, too, and now - long as I stayed - I've left her alone with strangers. Gotta eat, sleep, and go again tomorrow. Hopefully I feel somewhat refreshed.

Edited to add: Somewhat ironically, I realize that part of my exhaustion may be due to my having forgotten to take my meds (Synthroid) this morning...

Fun with Mom re: false teeth

So the other day, when Mom was vomiting a bunch - deep, stinky bile, bearing on her gall bladder issues - somewhere in there, she lost her bottom plate of false teeth. They ended up wrapped in a Kleenex in her purse, and - unusual for her - she went a day without them.

Anyhow, I asked her yesterday if she wanted them in, and she asked me to clean them first (naturally). So we found them in her purse and I gave them a good scrubbing in the ER bathroom. It all put me in mind of a story that I told her at her bedside. When my father was in his last few months, worn out from chemo (and without any travel insurance of any sort!) he took one final, stubborn trip to Nooksack casino in the USA with my Mom, against my protests. He ended up getting really sick on the coach, puking freely into their toilet. May have had some colostomy bag problems, too - it was a real mess. The worst of it was, one plate of his brand new false teeth, which he'd just gotten made because all his weight loss meant his old teeth didn't fit anymore, flew out of his mouth and - plunk! - into the bus toilet, there to ride around in the septic tank beneath the bus, with all the puke and feces and urine and chemicals. Arrrgh! We notified the coach service, and Dad went back to wearing his previous, ill-fitting plate of teeth.

Mom was already laughing as I told her this, which was really good to see; she didn't remember the story at all, she said.

Anyhow, I continued, one day the bus people showed up at our door: they had drained the septic tank and found my father's plate of teeth. They had cleaned them off and brought them to him, wrapped in tissues. But given where they had been, he had no desire to wear them ever again, no matter HOW much they were cleaned. I mean, would YOU put teeth back in your mouth that had ridden around for a couple of days in a bus septic tank?

So when he died, father was cremated with his previous teeth, ill-fitting or no. But that led to the strangely sweet, undeniably funny, and kind of tragic conclusion to the story: because during that very tough week when Mom and I were going through the apartment, deciding what to keep, what to bag up for Big Brothers, and what to just throw away, she came up to me, laughing, with the teeth in hand, still wrapped in tissues.

Telling her the story, Mom got laughing so hard that her blood pressure cuff - because she's tied in to all sorts of monitors and machines that go beep - freaked out; when the patient is agitated, it can't get a proper reading. So between laughs, she started going "ow!" and wincing. We had to calm her down so I could finish the story - "don't laugh too hard;" literally, the machine only hurts you when you laugh.

It was great to see her laughing, though. Dad's photo - which the paramedics were nice enough to take off the wall and bring with her - smiled at us the whole time. She's still exhausted and weak, but seems to be a whole lot better than yesterday.

I'll be showering up and going to spend another day with her today. I slept from about 4:30 pm yesterday to 3AM today, so exhaustion is no excuse to come home early (though I will probably run out of steam by dinnertime).

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Orchard Pinkish: the Alienated Interview

Having declared on this very blog that my favourite acts (of those I saw) at the Bowie Tribute Night last month were Orchard Pinkish, Trailerhawk, Cass King, and Eddy D. and the Sex Bombs, I admit to having done quite a double-take to see that all of them are playing together April 2nd, again at the Rickshaw, as part of the Hillbilly Soul Revue (Facebook page here). I've seen Orchard - I met him as "Richie" - with the Little Guitar Army, of course, and the Strugglers; I have probably seen him with Motorama, too. I hope this interview explains itself, but I had questions, and he had answers, and here they all are! Thanks to the inimitable bev davies for the photos.

Photo of Cass King and Orchard Pinkish (with Old Canadians in the background) by bev davies, not to be reused without permission 

Allan: So what's your backstory on the Vancouver music scene?

Orchard: I moved to Vancouver in 1998. Shortly after that I played bass in a punk band called Autopussy. I liked that band. The songs were catchy but it was a bit rough around the edges live. I played in another band with Mo Sherwood who plays drums for Wasted Strays now. Wasted Strays are fantastic and I am lucky to play Mandolin for them. I played bass in Motorama for 10 years, and got to play a lot of shows in the U.S. thanks to Marcus. If it wasn't for Marcus I probably wouldn't be doing shit to be honest. 

Any comments on the Little Guitar Army? Favourite moments? What do you miss most/ least? What are you proudest of?

Little Guitar Army was the most incredible thing! I think the trip to Creston was the best and worst thing. That band was overwhelming. Having 6 or 8 of those miniature guitars playing is hard. Its hard to hear, its hard to mix, and its a tight squeeze sometimes. When it wasn't all aligned it was bad. When it worked, which was quite a lot, it was compelling. The spectacle component was always a crowd pleaser. I have never had that kind of fan reaction since LGA. It was a really special band. I love all the people who were in that band and I miss working with all of them.

I love anagrams and assume your actual name - tho' I won't print this, if you don't want me to - is Richard Hopkins. How and when did you become Orchard Pinkish? (Were you at one point called "Prickish," as well, or was that some sort of botch in The Skinny?)

I wanted to play some acoustic guitar and sing. I felt I could learn how to sing, and I wanted to do some country type of stuff. I grew up listening to Country and it was something I had never done. I am also a nut for word games, so I picked what I felt was the best country sounding anagram for my name, Richard Hopkins. Seamus and Steve Wire call me Prickish for sure, but that seems to be a comment on my personality. That's fine by me though, at least I have a personality.

After the Bowie show, the next time I was at Red Cat, I went shopping for Orchard Pinkish albums. I couldn't find one. What albums do you have? Do you sell them at the show?

I have one release: "Orchard Pinkish and The Horny Hands -Mittfull of Loonies" I have a few copies left, and I do sell them at shows. Its a decent first effort, and I think a few of the songs are actually pretty good. Its nine originals and one traditional. The songs were written between 2012 and 2014 and recorded 2014-2015. It it a very accurate snapshot of the first couple years of me doing this, warts and all. I am proud of it. Chopper, Matt, Rich, Ben, James and Bert are on it. Those guys are great and their performances on the record are great.

What is the difference between your "Horny Hands," the Old Canadians, Planet Pinkish, and the band(s) you will be playing with at the Rickshaw? Are the Horny Hands still active? Who are they, officially?

The Old Canadians happened specifically for the David Bowie tribute show. I just wanted to sing "Heroes" solo with an acoustic. David Hathaway, who is an old friend, asked to do the Reeves Gabrels parts and of course I accepted. I added Bob Petterson to fill the obvious gap on Bass and he brought Tony Lee along with him. We added the songs "Young Americans" (Bob's request) and "Fame" (David's request). Cass King had posted on the event page that she would like to sing "Fame", so we asked her to join us for that song. We all collectively decided that we needed b/u's for "Young Americans", so Christine Best was added. Cass brought Rachel, Vanessa, Joey and John for added b/u's. To cut a long story even longer, it happened in the best, most organic way possible and a number of new friendships were forged.

The Horny Hands active members are Richard Katynski, Frank 'Chopper' Sivertz, Matt Fiorito, Ben Lightning, Randy Bowman and Christine Best. Its a large unit, that remains active but plays/rehearses rarely due to scheduling difficulties, sloth, and a general lack of public interest. 

I play mostly with a trio I call BFHD (Bird Frightening Hay Dolls) which is Chopper and Bob. Chopper and I have played together since LGA and I play Bass for his surf band "Chopper and the Saucermen". Bob Petterson is just a tremendous bass player and was a great supporter of what I was doing, so when I Richard Katynski became unavailable for the Planet Pinkish series at the Railway he was the clear choice. Jon Card will be joining us on drums for the April 2nd show. I treat him like a normal guy, even though he is less a man than a god.

How did you come to roots music? Do I assume you started as a punk? What was the gateway drug?

My very first guitar teachers were country players. I listened to a lot of Country and Western music as a kid through my parents generation and I loved Opry and HeeHaw on TV. I was a strange, lonely kid, obviously. My siblings were 70's teens, so they brought tons of other stuff to the table, including Devo, Kraftwerk, Zappa, most of the popular 70's and 80's rock. The closest thing to punk before high school was the B-52's. I loved it all. I loved disco and Journey. Everyone seemed to listen to it all, with the grownups leaning toward Country and the youngster towards Rock, and only my brother listening to Devo, Zappa, Kraftwerk and Genesis. My brother remains awesome. True story.

When did you actually begin singing? I was shocked by how great your voice was at the Bowie gig, because I've seen you play many times, but had never heard it before, never having gone to an Orchard Pinkish gig....

Thanks Al. I did my first show as a singer at the Princeton in November of 2011. I think its up on youtube, Karen Hansen videoed the whole thing and posted it.

What's your connection with Cass King?

I met Cass through the Bowie Show. I had heard of her and a few folks told me she was great. When the Bowie thing went down, I just took a leap and asked her to join us. It was a great decision and I consider myself lucky to work with her.

I don't want to give myself credit where it's not due but it's kinda neat to note that the Hillbilly Soul Revue lineup is basically all my favorite acts from the Bowie Tribute Night. How did this get put together? Comments on the other performers?

It all came out of that Bowie show. Mo from the Rickshaw had enjoyed my set and was impressed by Cass. He asked us to put something together. I have know Tony Walker since I started rehearsing at Faceplant in the early 2000's. I have learned more than I can say about being a performer from watching Tony. TrailerHawk is a powerhouse band; the talent in that band is off the charts. The SexBombs are also just stacked with talent, and again are Faceplant friends. I play shows with them as often as they invite me. Then your blog came out and I said, 'Thats our show right there!' That said, I will also be featuring guest vocals from Mellow Friesen, Christine Best and Cass King and an appearance from Neil E Dee. This night is going to literally be non-stop entertainment.

Thanks for the interest Allan. I look forward to seeing you at the show.

Orchard Pinkish's feet (in shoes), by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

Oh, jeez, re: Mom

My Mom and I, taken last weekend; I went for a haircut, and she got a perm:

So maybe four or five days ago - maybe last Sunday, when I was still on IV antibiotics twice daily - Mom had a strange episode. She vomited, had serious chills, and wanted to go to bed really early. She ended up sleeping from about five PM til the next morning; if she woke up much before me, at 7:30 AM, I had no indication of it.

She seemed fine that next day. "Do you want to see the doctor?" "No, no, no!" Emphatic that it was just that she ate something that disagreed with her, etc. There were no further symptoms, though she complained about back pain from time to time, which is nothing really new for her.

When I called her around 11 o'clock this morning - actually using her to test my recorder setup before interviewing Tad Doyle (!) - she seemed fine. I went about my day: I was going to spend the weekend at the apartment in Burnaby catching up on writing projects, and visit her on Tuesday. After talking to Tad, I wrote an intro to the article I was planning, petted the cat a bit, and took a nice hot bath with epsom salts. I'm well behind on writing, with all my illness, and under deadline, but I was taking it slow, because my hands are back to being sore and swollen, now that I've ditched the prednisone.

Before I got back into writing, though, I called Mom, at about 3:30, and was shocked how bad she sounded. She told me, in her aphasic way, that she was very sick, was puking; I could hear her shivering and suffering over the phone. "I need you!" she managed to say emphatically.

I made the commute in record time, with help from a friend who picked me up in Coquitlam. The paramedics made it long before I did.

Sorry Tad, and sorry all the other people I owe writing to (except Orchard Pinkish; I can make time to post that, since it's an email interview and basically fully cooked). Mom is now in the hospital; it turns out she has some serious issues affecting both her gall bladder and her pancreas, is being given antibiotics, and is under consideration for a sort of minor surgery to release what they figure is a gallstone blocking a duct - something apparently complicated by her pancreas issues, however. I don't want to go into more detail but she's very scared and frail, is on IV antibiotics herself now, as well as painkillers, anti-nauseants, and so forth. I've come back to her apartment, cleaned a spatter of vomit off her bathroom floor, and am going to catch a few hours sleep before I head back there to be with her - bringing with me my old phone, full of her favourite songs, and her own pair of headphones, so she can listen to music while she's there. (She listened to a bit on my phone this evening).

Hope she's sleeping as I write this. She lost track of time when I was there, was "disappointed" when I told her I had to go, but then was shocked when I told her that it was 10:30 PM. I had had barely any food since breakfast, and I need a few hours of sleep if I'm going to be good for tomorrow. She kept thanking me, and apologizing, and telling me I was a good son, but no matter what I do, it feels pretty wrong being apart from her right now, I gotta admit, little as I relish the idea of a sleepless night in a chair in the ER. Her apartment feels utterly, horribly barren without her in it (and really uncomfortably hot, because she left the heat on in both rooms, maxed out).

Really hope she's going to be all right. And that I manage a few hours sleep...

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Scrape Records Huge-Ass Sale, plus Amon Amarth's new album

I kinda came out of my metal phase, if you were wondering. It peaked around 2009; this blog has plenty of evidence of it. I needed to spend some time in metal, to get the lay of the land; I had ignored the genre for too long, following a tribal punk pique of my youth, because the headbangers were our enemies back then, the very people who would beat us up when they should have been seeking kinship... which they eventually did, but I never really crossed over, holding a grudge well into my 40's. I'm glad I finally got over it: I've seen a few fantastic shows, fallen in love with a lot of bands, reclaimed a lot of music that I got rid of as a teen (even Priest and Maiden!), and, along the way, learned a lot about what I like and don't like, buying and then selling a bunch of CDs in the process... hard to believe I felt like I needed a dozen Cannibal Corpse albums at one point (tho' I have hung on to two or three).
...FYI, in terms of where my head is at, metal-wise, I really like the new Amon Amarth album, Jomsviking, lately; it's tuneful and melodic and anthemic in all the right places, compared to Deceiver of the Gods, which sounded great - beautifully produced and played - but was kind of lacking, songwise, I thought; none of it infected me the way the best songs on Twilight of the Thunder God and Surtur Rising had. They've punched up the melodies even more on the new album, made this real fist-in-the-air, crowd pleasing stuff, which I have no objection to whatsoever (tho' it makes me curious what goes on backstage in the band, since there's something a bit bipolar manifesting itself here, swinging first away from, and then back towards, writing catchy tunes). It's a bit sad, I guess, that they've - temporarily, I presume - given up singing about Norse mythology in favour of songs inspired by Viking life - songs about killing your first man, about being out on the ocean, about drinking from Viking horn goblets - but that's only because I really like the Norse myth approach. Jomsviking, even if the angle is a bit different, is still very much in keeping with what they've always done, apparently even has a uniting narrative to it (which is not always hard to piece together without a lyric sheet, though Hegg's English has come a long way in a short time; even on Twilight, there's a bunch of stuff where his phrasing is definitely a bit ESL, but he's become completely proficient, from what I can make out of the lyrics). May just go see this gig, if there are tickets. Official site here, and read my interview with former drummer Fredrik Andersson here. (I am unclear if new drummer Tobias Gustafsson plays all or only some of the drums on this album, so I can't really evaluate, but it all sounds like Amon Amarth, in any case).

Anyhow, even tho' I'm not really buying metal in any quantity these days - even tho' I've mostly stepped away - I'm sad that Scrape Records has been in the process of shutting down these last couple of months. I like JJ, the proprietor, and while his vinyl is sometimes on the pricy side, he has an amazing selection of really cool records, can be counted on to have stuff in stock that no one else has. (His CD selection is great, too, and much cheaper). It's very seldom that I go to Scrape looking for something and they don't have it; they sometimes have it at a price I don't want to pay, because I'm kinda cheap, but they usually have it, usually in vinyl, often in some impressive-lookin' European import edition, sometimes (if it's really cool) in two or three different variants. Last I heard he had not found a buyer for the store, don't know if that has changed. But it seems like the end of March will be the last stand, with a Huge-Ass Sale announced on Facebook. JJ has said that his final day would be February 27th, so I'm not sure if he's even still involved with the store, but I want to tip my hat to him no less for being an affable guide to the metal world, as I've poked around, and for maintaining such a cool stock.

If I tried really hard, I could probably think of some records to buy off him, but boy am I broke right now. I might try a little regardless. Bet he still has picture discs of Surtur Rising... Hmmm....

War in my body

So my GP thought prednisone would be a good idea for my reactive arthritis, saying - and thus convincing me - that "we don't want to let this get a foothold."

Reactive arthritis can become a chronic condition, so, yikes, sure, I'll try a steroid, thank you (prednisone is a steroid). It comes with a scary list of side effects, which can include things I really don't want right now, like susceptibility to infection (since I'm now off IV antibiotics, as of Monday, switchin' to oral), diarrhea (already a component of the clyndamycin), and SWELLING (which is what it's allegedly fighting)...  plus there's also a list of things I don't want EVER, like steroidal moon-facedness, decreased vision, trouble thinking, and weight gain.

It also worked like hell, I must say: at 20 mg, it showed signs of rapidly reducing the swelling and soreness in my hands the first day I took it (also Monday, March 21st, at a dose of 20mg). It also manifested side effects almost right away: a jittery, fluttery, unsettled feeling in my chest cavity, kinda like you might get from caffeine anxiety, like my heartrate was goin' a bit funny on me. Maybe a bit of tightness in there, too, just a tiny bit of, um, pain. It was a bit disturbing - but not constant. 

But hey, my hands were much better, so I tried it again yesterday. And again, marked decrease in swelling. Hands almost normal. A bit sore, typing this (tho' I've sent a couple emails this morning as well). Rapid return to being almost completely functional. Then my girlfriend pointed out that there were marked red bags under my eyes - big swollen puffy red bags.

And hey, my vision does feel a bit off.

So: fuck this, no more prednisone. I will phone a pharmacist or two about whether I have to taper off, since I've only been on it for two days, but I think I'm going to let my body heal itself for the duration of this illness. It was moving in that direction already, back before my doctor suggested anti-inflammatories and made it all worse. I appreciate his good intentions, but I do not wish to be a chessboard, nor do I wish any further experience of the side-effects of this particular drug.

Overall, I'm doing much better, however. We'll see what stopping prednisone does.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Macbeth is very, very good

The new film version of Macbeth, with Michael Fassbender in the lead, is astonishing. In its various slow-slow motion sequences, which come across as most painterly, it has a familiar visual aesthetic - not unlike that of A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness from a couple of years ago, or certain romantic paintings that inspired that film; or, say, the cover art for certain black metal and dark ambient records. It's an unsubtle, excessive, almost rock'n'roll version of moodiness, maybe just slightly cliched, slightly obvious at times, but undeniably powerful, effective, potent no less. Musically, it reminded me of the more haunting passages on Kronos Quartet's Black Angels, or maybe Tony Conrad's collaborations with Faust, at times quite droning and dark (not unlike the score for The Witch, but less discordant). Cinematically, on the other hand - in its edits and flows of images and relationship to dialogue, it has a language far more Malick than one might expect, especially in the way Shakespeare's words are sometimes used like the stream-of-consciousness narration of The Thin Red Line. Evil Malick, then? I'm not sure, but as a whole the experience is gripping, one of the greatest film adaptations of Shakespeare that I have seen (tho 'there is only one other filmed Macbeth I've taken in, which would be Kurosawa's Throne of Blood; a very, very different film, needless to say, as apple to this orange as one can get while still being a Macbeth adaptation). And some of the line readings - God, what a way to breathe life into Shakespeare! Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are very, very good, and make vividly, painfully real some of these quotes, in ways that they had previously never been for me. It's a film that makes you want to see it again as soon as possible, to soak up the power of the language, the acting, the images, maybe even memorize a bit or two (because none of the most delightful bits of language I encountered were passages I had noticed much before). And you know it's only going to get better with repeat viewings...
Understand that I grew up hating Macbeth, having been forced to study it in high school, at a time in my life when I was completely unable - naive, idealistic, and innocent, even at my cruelest and most egocentric - to appreciate the very adult emotions the play describes. I've never understood why any curriculum would deem it suitable Shakespeare for teens (as compared to Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet, both entirely appropriate; as for Macbeth, one might just as well heap on Richard III and King Lear, two of my other favourite Shakespeare plays, but also completely unsuitable for young readers. These are songs of experience, folks, not innocence, and should be kept from those too young to begin to comprehend them). Anyhow, I'm very grateful for an English language adaptation of this play that sings to me.
I haven't much else to say about it but if you've noticed this new version of Macbeth out there and wondered if it's any good, oh my yes, it is. See the film, then compare my reaction with Ken Eisner's, for the fun of it (he describes it as a "blood soaked snoozer", and was paid to do so!).

Friday, March 18, 2016

A bit of writing on marijuana

There are all sorts of ill effects that stem from the criminalization and stigmatization of marijuana, but one that gets remarked upon too infrequently is inward, in the minds of those who could profit from its use the most: medical patients. Because of the aura of trouble around this relatively innocent plant, with a host of beneficial uses, when dealing with the medical establishment - assuming you do deal with them, assuming you aren't totally mistrustful of them and content to self-medicate - you don't always think of it as a way of helping you through your pain, helping you deal with your symptoms, even if you have enough experience to know better.

For example: for my reactive arthritis and inflamed foot and such, I'm presently being given prescriptions for a SYNTHETIC OPIATE, Codeine, related to heroin, which I am presently probably working up quite a habit around, complete with apparent withdrawal symptoms when I try to step away from it. Marijuana works just as well as a painkiller, maybe even better, without the addictive component. In any rational world, people would start dealing with the MILDER, less damaging drug before the more dangerous one: marijuana is LESS HARMFUL than heroin (and its cousins), full stop. But after half a month of serious symptoms, no one in the medical establishment has so much as mentioned marijuana to me, not once.

Maybe that's to be expected, but what's craziest is, I haven't even been thinking of it myself. I've smoked pot at different times in my life, for various purposes, but I have it kind of shelved in the "sinful recreation" closet of my brain, something I don't talk to doctors about much (except as a confession, when they ask me if I smoke... "sometimes I smoke a little pot"). I should know better, but it takes some work moving something from one category to another, sometimes.

It puts me in mind of when I was plagued by migraines. I was being prescribed vasoconstrictors - a powerful drug that more or less attacks your circulatory system, narrowing your pathways in some way presumably beneficial to blood flow to the brain, stopping the migraine in its track - WHEN THEY WORK, which is about one in four times. Not great odds, when your head is exploding daily; what's most fun about them, though, is the side effects, which include things like heart attacks, and other fatal possibilities. I took to thinking them as "velociraptors," but obediently took them for a few migrainous days, until it occurred to me that hey, maybe I could just smoke a little pot...

...which not only made the migraines more manageable, but seemed to contribute to their stopping altogether, which a week of velociraptors had been unable to do. Again, why not start with the drug where the side effects are benign (relaxation, snacking, creativity, chattiness) than the one where they include DEATH?

Still, then as now, no doctor mentioned it, and it didn't even occur to me for far too long to ask about it. When my father was dying of cancer a few years ago (plenty of blogging around that near the end of 2009, if you're interested), it DID occur to me to get him on something cannabis related for his chemo discomfort, appetite and such; it helped him, made his last week or so more comfortable. But still WE had to bring the topic up to doctors, for whom it is apparently verboten. (Plus the taboos around it made it far less useful to him than it might have been; he resisted any suggestion of it until the last week or so of his life).

I admit to participating in the stigmatization of this very helpful drug myself. My girl and I have both chuckled at the giant "Pain Management" sign above one of the more visible Vancouver pot shops, because hey, lets face it, the VAST MAJORITY OF PEOPLE are surely using this drug are using it more for "life management" than pain management: it's a FUN DRUG. Of the thousands of times I've used it, in one form or another - smoking joints with friends, taking a hit to increase my flagging energy when engaged in a piece of writing, or sometimes just settling in to an evening of listening to music or watching movies, with enhanced appreciation - there are maybe five or ten times (one of which was last night) where pain management had any bloody thing to do with it at all.

But you know what? So be it. The greatest harm around this plant is the stigmatization and criminalization of it, most tragically in the bad conscience that infects its users, who don't even think of it when they could most be benefitting from it.

Or maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm generalizing from too small a sample, maybe I'm just thick, but I needed to be reminded, two weeks into my ordeal, by a couple of friends on Facebook that hey, this could HELP me right now. God knows the doctors weren't going to suggest it.

I think it's time to get me a dispensary card. (And some fresh weed, because I've been running on dried up freezer burnt crumbs for a year or so).

Thursday, March 17, 2016


A few friends have been texting me on this, so here's a brief update.

The foot has responded to treatment, and seems nearly healed.

The reactive arthritis - whether a reaction to my foot infection or to something vile I ate a few weeks ago I cannot say with certainty - is not getting better at all. My hands and wrists, in particular, are swollen, red and sore, I have a weird red lump in my right arm near my elbow, and I presently cannot touch the tips of my last two fingers to my thumb.

All that - particularly in my right arm - was not so bad last Saturday, when I took a powerful NSAID, related to  Advil, called Indomethacin (or Indocin) on the advice of a doctor. It SEEMED to cause my right arm to double in size from the elbow down, which I posted a pic of a few days ago (at that point, my IV was in that arm).

No one was prepared to sign off on it being a medical reaction, mind you. I've taken Advil for years to no noticeable ill effect. (I haven't been taking it for this condition because I was under the mistaken belief you shouldn't mix it with Tylenol, and I've been having T3's a-plenty.) I stopped all use of it, though, on Saturday, and my arm returned to nearly normal by Monday, when I had quite a burst of energy - welcome, but vaguely manic, wrong.

But Monday I saw my GP, and he really didn't think that Advil (or Indomethacin, or what-have-you) was the culprit. If I was having an allergic reaction, why had I never had one before? Why hadn't the reaction affected me everywhere, instead of primarily my right arm? Besides, clearly I needed an anti-inflammatory (they ARE standard treatment in the case of reactive arthritis, it seems).

So I took his advice, popped one Ibuprofen Monday night, two on Tuesday morning, and then a final one Tuesday afternoon. An hour after taking that pill, boom: the right arm swelled up again, even redder and more painful than before. The odd lump near my elbow became much more pronounced and redder, too, and the swelling increased on my left side, as well. There's clearly something wrong going on.

My foot is nearly healed, but not the rest of me. I can actually make it around okay - getting up from lying down is challenging, but once I'm up, I can Tim Conway my way along well enough, even if I look a bit funny doing so. But typing hurts. Not sure I could hold a pen. And, like I say, it's very uncomfortable.

Plus I sure am peeing a lot.

That's all for now. Ready for this chapter to be over. In other news, I might get to talk to Tad.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Enough illness, plus Todd Serious memorial show

Finally feeling better. My swelling is down in the right arm; my GP had the best explanation for the sudden swelling, in the end, that the IV in the right arm went interstitial - first time I've heard that word outside of a William Gibson novel - such that my arm was swollen with some or all of the actual antibiotics they were pumping into it, which were missing the vein.

The idea had also been raised that it was due to blood clots, but the Ultrasound revealed none of those.

Anyhow, enough on my sickness. I'm up and around, feeling much better. The reactive arthritis will eventually calm down - my wrists are less painful even now, if stiff - and the infection in my foot is responding well to the antibiotics, especially now that the IV is back in my left arm. I'm no longer worried and not especially excited about writing about this anymore.

In other news: the long-rumoured Todd Serious Memorial show was finally announced for May 21, more on that here on Facebook. Stepha and other guest vocalists will assume the vocal duties, so that this will be a concert by the Rebel Spell.

It was actually a touching moment on the bus the other day, when I was feeling really weak... some girl with dyed hair and a leather jacket with a Crass emblem on the sleeve got on the bus, and I was sitting wondering - because punk fashion no longer means that someone is a punk - if this girl, in her 20's, if this girl actually listened to Crass. Then she stood up and I saw a barcode on the back of her jacket, I think, as she put on her backpack, and I thought I saw the word "rebel."

So I asked, as she got off, "hey, is that a Rebel Spell patch?"

She lit up, stepping into the stairwell to exit: "Yeah, I love that band." I smiled at her in return. So yeah, obviously she knows her Crass, too. It was a touching moment for someone feeling kinda weak and vulnerable, actually choked me up a little. Had to take a moment after I got off the bus, before I limped down the driveway to the hospital (the buses don't even let off at the door). But it was good, a good moment.

Wasn't going to write about it, but since the memorial show has been announced....

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Some photos

I'm skeptical about the treatment I'm receiving.

On March 3rd, the day before my first IV therapy, a few days after swelling and redness started to manifest on the left foot, my feet looked like this:

My feet, today - now with redness on the right foot, as well, and deepened redness (tho' less swelling) on the left. After two weeks of IV therapy, the last three days twice a day, you'd think they'd be a little better, no?

Plus good God, my left arm, here with my right foot, which is the one NOT being treated. Admittedly, I had taken a hot bath, but that's still a lot of redness:

And for balance, left arm left foot:

A lot more holes in my arms, but not a lot of improvement in the foot that I can see (the line drawn around the swollen area was courtesy one of the IV nurses, on March 7th, when I began treatment in Maple Ridge).

But here I go again, off to the hospital...

Update on swelling, plus I Drink Your Blood

Sore and miserable and weak, but the codeine tapering might be the lion's share of that. But I'm all swollen in my arms still, very stiff in the hands - for the better part of the day, on my right hand I could only touch my thumb to my index finger and middle, though I can get it as far as the ring now (with some pain).

Anyhow, the doctor who reassessed me this morning did not think it was a medication reaction, largely because it was very asymmetrical. He thought - as did the emerg guy who saw me briefly - that the swelling in my right arm was possibly the result of a clot preventing the arm from draining properly, caused by the IV.

So that means another hour or so of being poked in search of a new IV spot, when I go back in tonight. It also meant that after this morning's antibiotics, I made my way to medical imaging for an ultrasound on my arm. Presumably I will know later today if I have clotting; I might be put on blood thinners.

Before I go back to the hospital, since I have no IV's taped in me at present, I'm going to shave both my arms and try to clean some of the grey tape residue of them, in the course of a long hot bath.


Oh: Shane Burzynski has announced on Facebook the final Northwest Horror Show title, and the one Lynn Lowry will be Q&Aing: I Drink Your Blood. This is awesome and unexpected (I was seriously guessing Shivers). More to come on that. May I be well by then. The film sets up a delightful horror situation, never elsewhere replicated, wherein Satanic bikers on acid are given rabies-infested pot pies and go on a rampage in a small town. You don't get that sort of set up every day. It famously used to screen with an unrelated film called I Eat Your Skin; and presumably the title inspired that of the later Lynn Lowry movie, I Spill Your Guts.

I doubt very much "I drink your milkshake" has any bearing here, however.

Back to the hospital in a little over an hour. Got to eat lunch and bathe and shave off my arm hairs. Might shave my neck while I'm at it, I'm getting pretty fuzzy.

More swelling, plus parallels between Rosemary's Baby and Safe: illness as rebellion

So the medicine that I was prescribed that apparently caused the swelling was Indomethacin. It's basically "super Advil," and I'm presuming it's the culprit because my arm was mostly fine until an hour after I took it; plus swelling is one of the known side effects. Weird that it's only affecting my right arm. This is not normally how big my elbow looks! (My wrists, hands and elbows have been swollen due to this illness but not THIS big, until, uh, now...).

All of this has me wanting to see movies about illness, frankly. Body horror, Cronenberg, etc (has anyone ever made a movie of Clive Barker's "The Body Politic?"). I'm particularly interested in "illness as rebellion" movies - my girl and I watched Rosemary's Baby just before I came out to Maple Ridge. It's really interesting to me how similar it was in ways to Todd Haynes' Safe, both involving women in "apparently" desirable life situations - affluent, married, leisured, with supportive friends all around them - who make a rebellion against their circumstances via forms of illness, insisting against the advice of all those around them that something is wrong. Rosemary's example involves an insistence that her neighbours and husband are all in on a Satanic conspiracy to somehow harm her and/ or her baby; she toggles back and forth between utter conviction and being persuaded she's in the grips of paranoid delusion, getting thinner and frailer, undergoing a very physical transformation. Julianne Moore's rebellion in Safe involves the insistence that she's allergic to the 20th century, that her sensitivity to the chemicals around her is making her sick. Her vulnerabilities are exploited every bit as much as Rosemary's - properly understood, it's the most anti-New Age movie out there, a slap in the face of the whole Louise L. Hay "you can heal your life" mindgame that encourages people to meditate on their complicity in their illnesses, which are clearly just metaphors or manifestations for something emotional. (Now that I note the similarities between the two films I'm delighted even more with Safe, that Haynes is in a way drawing a parallel between the New Age self-help group Moore ends up in and the Satanists in the earlier film!) All the same, her insistence that she IS sick, against the incomprehension and dismissal of the "straight" medical community, is in a way every bit as empowering and necessary as Rosemary's, even if their rebellion may ultimately be leading them down the path to madness (which is arguably where both films leave them). And they're even both redheads!

Incidentally, according to Ms. Hay, edema (swelling) means, "What or who won’t you let go of?", while both inflammation and infection indicate anger and irritation. Or, you know, I could just be having a bad reaction to my meds. (If it's unclear, the difference between insisting you're ill against the pooh-poohing of others and joining a self-help cult is that the first involves an outward-directed rebellion that may force you to change your circumstances, including the political situation; Safe was made in part as a critique of the road many AIDS patients got led down, according to Haynes. Meditating and focusing on self-healing, on the other hand, assuming responsibility for your own illness, involves internalizing the problem, blaming yourself fpr it, withdrawing into a kind of terminal navel gaze that ultimately disempowers you. That seems to be Haynes' argument, anyhow. The film is still, by me, his only masterpiece).

Alas, it seems a bit cruel to subject Mom to my craving for movies about illness, at this juncture. I played her the 1981 film Who's Life Is It Anyway?, a compelling, witty, and very entertaining right-to-die movie, which may or may not have been, when I saw it theatrically, my first exposure to Richard Dreyfus, Bob Balaban, and Christine Lahti, all of whom are excellent in it. I believe I knew who John Cassavetes was at that point - he's the heavy of the film, a doctor who stands in the way of quadriplegic Dreyfus' attempts to be allowed to die - and in fact probably went to see it because he was in it. Alas, as witty as it is - Dreyfus has a lot of fun with the role, believe it or not - Mom found it very, very sad, so I have delayed progressing to the next illness-themed film in my queue, Champions, with John Hurt as a jockey with testicle cancer.

Okay, I'm not itching to see a movie about testicle cancer, either.

Anyhow, sigh, the illness is still with me. My foot is better, my arm is not. I feel a bit better - but I allowed myself a codeine, so I would. (I'm trying to take those no more than once every 36 hours).

Most entertaining other development is that the doctor who diagnosed my reactive arthritis left me a message on the phone basically telling me to eat more bananas, citrus, or tomatoes, because my potassium is low. I'm impressed he's being that thorough. I've had one orange and two bananas since.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Feeling a bit better, but... my giant swollen hand!

The morning was pretty good, actually, thanks to the one T3 I took last night; my withdrawal discomforts abated and I could run around and do various errands, getting groceries, new meds, etc. Even had a pleasant lyrical interlude in a beautiful patch of green near the hospital entrance, on the way to my treatment. Nothing like breathing in the freshness of a wet spring morning in the woods.

On the other hand, the anti-inflammatory I was prescribed to help with my reactive arthritis appears to have doubled the swelling in my right hand. Not so easy to type with a hand like this. Can't even close it. Hell, even mousing is a bit of a challenge. Thanks for the prescription, doc, but I think I will stick to ibuprofen.

But all in all I feel okay. Off for antibiotics round II for the day in a couple of hours. Wish me luck.

Triumph of Mom

So my Mom can be a bit exasperating. For instance, she phones me just after I've been hooked up to the IV to tell me she can't get the TV to work. The Shaw remote confuses her: there's a "TV" button and a "Cable" button and instead of turning the TV on, she'll sometimes turn the cable OFF, then not understand what's happened. The TV will be on, but she won't get a picture. I try to leave it set up properly for her but she is kind of unskilled with it: she will grab it, for instance, to turn up the volume, instead turn it all the way down, curse "shit!" and then fumble to get her thumb into the right place, often turning the volume down lower in the process. Stroke stuff - a lot of her know-how went out the window with her language functions. And, you know, she lived her whole life with two remote-hogging men, grew up in a time when women being handy was discouraged and dependency encouraged, etc. (My father did pretty much everything for her, and then, when she had her stroke and became even more dependent, played a bit of a cruel prank on me by dying. Thanks, Dad!).

Anyhow, I spent half an hour, hooked to an IV, surrounded by an audience of other people hooked to IV's, trying to help her find the "cable" button on the remote control by phone. "Is the yellow light on the cable box on?" No.  "Okay, do you see the big red power button on the top right corner of the remote?" After some prompting and rephrasings, "yes." "Do you see just below that that there's a button marked CBL? Find that, point it at the cable  box, wait til the light turns on, then press the TV button BESIDE the CBL button to turn the power on on the TV."

We never got to the point that she could even find the cable button. And she's done this many, many times before, over the phone, calling me at work, calling me in bed, calling me as I'm walkin' down the street somewhere. Usually we get'er done soon enough, but not today. Someone at the hospital eventually suggested, "maybe she could read a book?"

When I reminded her that I was in the hospital and that she could maybe ask a neighbour, her reaction was, literally, "I forgot."

I mean, I'm sleeping on her couch this week, while being treated. She sees me leaving for the hospital every day, and coming home all bandaged up. That wouldn't necessarily stop her, though: because she broke her salt shaker the other day, and asked me to pick her up a new one, as I was limping out the door.

Maybe she could do that herself, I suggested? There's a loonie store not two blocks from here. She's been to it with me on a dozen occasions, because it's where we get her cookies (the cheapest Fudgee-o's and Oreos and Chips Ahoy in Maple Ridge, usually, at $2.65 a bag). I'm really not doing that well right now, maybe she could be a little... independent?

Anyhow, one of many dark thoughts that went through my head yesterday, as I went through codeine withdrawal and IV therapy and suffered my reactive arthritis, was that maybe it's time Mom goes into a home. If she can't remember her son is in the hospital, if she can no longer even find the three buttons she needs on the remote to operate her TV, maybe it's no longer okay for her to live independently. At times like this, when I'm half-incapacitated, she's kind of helpless, it seems.

But guess what? I got home and a) she had fixed the TV all by herself and b) she had gone out and got a salt and pepper set, and not even at the store I recommended, but by a thrift store I sometimes take her to, when we go for coffee. It's a pretty nice set, too! She hasn't made an independent go-shopping-and-buy-something venture into the world for months, so this is pretty affirming.

Oh: and she did my laundry! She's still my Mom, bless her.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Today at the hospital...

Thanks to the intervention of my GP, I got a proper, thorough examination by an internalist at Ridge Meadows hospital today, during the course of my two IV treatments. His position on my foot was the same as everyone's - that I'm on the right antibiotics for the infection, that it is cellulitis, and that it's not in my joint (since I can walk on it). But refreshingly, he came unbidden to a surprising conclusion about my swollen, reddened, hot and painful hands, wrists and elbows, and various other aches. It was somewhat amusing to me: he thinks I'm suffering from reactive arthritis, caused by the tainted food I ate on the 27th. Which is exactly the conclusion I came to when first Googling my symptoms, as I blogged about here. Pretty interesting vindication, when everyone else has looked at me funny for even suggesting it (and like I say, he came up with it unprovoked, after a thorough examination of me; people have been pooh-poohing the theory, so I gave up mentioning it a week ago).

Otherwise, today was my weakest, sorest, slowest-moving day yet, maybe because it was the second day I went entirely without Tylenol with codeine (tho' I took one just now, because enough is enough). My hands are now so swollen they're difficult to close; I can feel the skin pulling. Reactive arthritis is an autoimmune disorder and takes time to heal, but he's prescribed a powerful antiinflammatory... hoping there's only one more week of this to go.

There was a guy who looked a whole lot like Laurence Fishburne at the IV ward today, but it wasn't him. Nothing much else of note went on. The last photo below may be uncomfortable if you don't like needles.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

More sickness, plus Bone Tomahawk

Typing is a bit difficult due to bandages on my left hand, holding in a shunt left in for tomorrow's IV. I went to the emergency room today, on the advice of my doctor, because the symptoms have gotten worse and weirder. If all of this is a cellulitis / soft tissue infection in my left foot, why have six days of IV antibiotics tailored to treat the same barely made a mark? Why are my hands and wrists swollen, warm, and red, and my elbows now weirdly puffy? (One doctor theorized it was in reaction to antibiotics, but it makes no sense, since wrist pain has been a feature of this from the outset). Blood tests reveal no uric acid buildup - it's not gout; it's not arthritis; and, weirdest, there's no elevated white count, which is what you'd expect if my body is indeed fighting some infection. The most comforting, trustworthy, impressive response in all of this is from my GP, a youngish cat, who flat out says he does not know what is going on (but is taking it seriously). Lots of other people seem to want to leap to a conclusion, dismiss the symptoms that don't fit, and treat what they can see, which would be great, except nothing anyone has done has worked. First dude just put me on oral antibiotics; the Burnaby ER upgraded to 3 days of an IV antibiotic, then put me on oral; the doctor took one look the next day and said the IV must continue; and now, after three more days of IV, my foot is still red and swollen, I'm still running a fever (38.3 this afternoon) and as I say, the swelling, redness, and heat are spreading to my other extremities. A few aches aside, I actually FEEL okay but I'm still kind of nervous about what's going on.

Anyhow, the upshot of the ER visit this afternoon is that I am going to now receive IV antibiotics twice a day, and something more systemic. They only gave me one dose this afternoon, of 900 mg clindamycin, but I go in again tomorrow morning. I will kill time in the hospital for ten hours or so, reading and resting and so forth, until I get my second round in the evening. That's the plan, anyhow.

Meantime, a movie recommendation: Bone Tomahawk is an utter winner. It's a cross-pollination cannibal picture and western, with room for both romantic love and some really vicious gore (a person is scalped and butchered, split up the middle and ripped in two, at one point). Kurt Russell is at his stoic best, as the sheriff of a small western town; Richard Jenkins is great as a positive-thinking, anecdote rich, but not entirely ineffectual old man who serves as an alternate deputy, Patrick Wilson is terrific as the injured spouse of a beautiful young woman among those abducted by said cannibals, who is desperate to resolve unfinished business with her before he, she, or everyone is killed and eaten; and holy shit, Sid Haig has a great, if brief, scene near the beginning where he seems every bit a hirsute resurrection of Slim Pickens. I'm not sure that the politics of the film are defensible - it "Others" the flesh-eating, cave-dwelling bad guys by having a First Nations actor (Zahn McClarnon) go on a rant about how "they aren't Indians, they're troglodytes" or such, so we needn't worry that any culture is being lost by exteminating them... The film is about as friendly to it's natives as The Hills Have Eyes is to hill people - in fact, even less so. But if given permission to hate the savages by a self-identified proud Indian is good enough to salve your PC worry about a really horrifying representation of indigeneity - or if you can just set the politics to one side, which is what you kind of have to do with most thrillers, which almost all have questionable politics on SOME level - the film is bloody good at what it does, and is vastly more entertaining as a comeback vehicle for Kurt Russell than The Hateful Eight. It's also better (though not wetter) than The Green Inferno. It should have gotten a much wider release...!

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

The Reverend Horton Heat, continued: of setlists and slow songs

The Reverend Horton Heat by Gene Ambo

There was more to my conversation with the Reverend Horton Heat than could fit into my article this week over on the Straight website. I didn't get into the other heroes he's met - Willie Nelson, say - or his annual Horton's Hayride event. But the most interesting chunk of interview that didn't fit in the Straight article involved his inclusion of slow songs in the set. As I mentioned in my Big Takeover review of last year's Rickshaw show (also featuring an interview with Jim Heath), the inclusion of the slow blues "Loaded Gun" was a real high point; it seemed to loosen up Heath's playing, even, since he got to really show his chops during that song (one of his very best). So how does he pick songs like that for the setlist?

Jim: Thanks a lot, I appreciate that. Man, I just try to envision in my mind how the crowd will react to the songs, and form a setlist that we will stick to. I used to just call'em. We didn't start doing setlists until about the last ten years. But now we have a setlist - it makes it easier on my guys. I do try to think of one good slow song, because our albums have those, and I think it's fine on an album to have them, but we play to a crowd live, and you have to keep that motor going, or that motor chokes down and shuts off, y'know? And so we play a lot of fast and loud songs, and it's annoying to some people, and I don't blame those people. But Reverend Horton Heat knows how to gin up a crowd, and to keep it goin'. And people love that. But the slow songs, I like to get one or two in there a night, and that's a hard one... "Loaded Gun" is one of my best songs... Right we have another song called "It's a Dark Day," that's off the first album, that's on the setlist right now. And then we've got all these Unknown Hinson songs - we've got a new setlist since you've seen us, I know because we just reformulated it three or four weeks ago or something.


It hasn't been all grim here in Maple Ridge these last few days, as I deal with my diseased foot. There has been some incidental humour, for instance. Overheard a story in the waiting room yesterday about a little old lady, new to social media, who was wishing condolences to the family of a deceased acquaintance, and ended them all with three letters she'd seen people use, which she assumed meant Lots Of Love: "Sorry for your loss, LOL." It was pretty obvious I was eavesdropping when I burst into laughter too.

Or take today at the Lifelabs - where the lab tech found a vein in about two seconds, compared to yesterday's seven holes, for a massive list of blood cultures and tests. There some giggling when one of the women helping me - both youngish - instructed me with the word "fist," and I responded, "I'm fisting!"

It was also kind of amusing to discover that you are now expected, before collecting a urine sample, to use an alcohol wipe. "...On my hands?" I asked. Got a slight smirk out of that, as well.

But generally speaking, things aren't going well. Day five of IV antibiotics, at one hospital or t'other, and there's only slight improvement; the nurse today observed that there was redness, heat and swelling in my right wrist and elbow, saying that only arthritis or septic joints seemed to fit as an explanation for what's going on. She's urging me to see an infectious disease specialist, which I may do tomorrow. I'm definitely seeing my doctor tomorrow - hopefully my bloodwork will be in and instructive - but no one really knows what's going on, and they admit it (the only people who have been sure of anything are the ones who haven't been listening). One clear thing is, it's not getting a whole lot better.

So I will not be at the Reverend Horton Heat tomorrow. See here for my Straight interview (online only); I may post an outtake tomorrow, I have a good one. (I will also not be at the Real McKenzies, Robyn Hitchcock, the Dayglo Abortions, Trailerhawk at the Heritage Grill, or other bands performing this weekend - not even the Devil in the Wood Shack/ Still Spirits gig that takes place at Pat's Pub on Friday, which I wrote about for the West Ender). 

But I do have a few things to direct people to, meantime: a video from the Bowie Tribute Night that I posted, with Cass King and the Old Canadians. Finally there's a video no one had seen of the Rebel Spell in Oct. 2014, playing the CD release for Last Run

However, I think I'm going to take a bit of a break from the internet for the time being. I might get that Jim Heath outtake up tomorrow. Otherwise, I'm lying on my Mom's couch with my foot up, or in the hospital, or... I will post if there's major news. (Amusingly, I'm watching the fantastic Bone Tomahawk with mom tonight, and there's mention of having your foot elevated above your heart...). 

Hope y'all enjoy at least some of the cool music going on this weekend. 

Rough week?

So I wake up on Mom's couch on Tuesday morning and I can see, pretty easily, that the foot's swelling has increased again, just a little. It looks okay colourwise at first but seems to get redder and bigger during the day. I have a 1:45 appointment for the doctor, so I work on some writing for West Ender and Mom and I relax a little, watching Paul Schrader's remake of Cat People. I don't know if I'm going to get a chance to talk to Lynn Lowry but I want to see a few more of the films she's in, if I can. Besides the obvious detail that the young Nastassja Kinski spends 80% of the film naked - if you like that sort of thing - and that you even get to see Annette O'Toole's boobs, which was unexpected - Lowry's scene, as prostitute named Ruthie who gets mauled by Malcolm McDowell's panther-alternate, is perhaps the high point of the movie. It certainly isn't drawn out and boring, which I can't say for the rest of the film; and Lowry somehow is allowed to keep her clothes mostly on (she mustn't have been Schrader's type).

Anyhow... I hobble off to the doctor - my usual, a young guy here in Ridge - and he's shocked to learn that the only thing that the Burnaby people tested me for is gout. He doesn't seem to have access to the bloodwork I'd done previously, but he thinks its obviously wrong that I've been sent away after only three days of IV antibiotics, AND he does something that no one else has done: he really listens about the aches and pains in my wrists (and elsewhere), examines them and finds them swollen, takes my temperature and finds me running around 38 (100 F). (I also have a mysterious lump by my right elbow which he examines and agrees is troubling, and he doesn't actually write off the whole food-borne illness speculation that I previously mentioned). He sets me up for another round of bloodwork and another round of intravenous IV, and I end up on a rush to get to Maple Ridge Hospital, since there's space for me if I make it there soon. I hobble back to Mom's with needed milk and cookies - because I have to take care of her at least marginally while all this is going on - and make a point to quickly shave my forearm, so no further hairs need to get ripped.

Then I call a taxi.

Almost immediately on arriving, I smash into hospital bureaucracy, running into one of those "take a number" types who doesn't seem to understand or care that my priority is saving my foot, not getting bloodwork. Turns out she's going to let me sit there with my number, waiting for the lab to see me, even though she believes that the intravenous IV area ("ambulatory care") closes at the same time her lab does. I get a bit steamed at her, blow off the bloodwork, and hobble downstairs.

A helpful, friendly nurse gets me to ambulatory care, but it turns out they can't do the admitting, so I have to hobble back to the main floor to register. Stairs are involved. But my foot isn't actually hurting that much, it just strikes me as ridiculous, since when I register, they basically just confirm all the information that is in the system from my visits in Burnaby. "Are you still at _____?" Yes, yes I am.

It's going to sound pretty cranky in this context if I say that it took about an hour and twenty minutes, five tag-team nurses, and seven pokes in each arm, fishing around, before anyone found a vein, but in fact I don't blame anyone: I'm fat, I'm swollen, and when you poke me with a needle, I tend to cringe, which doesn't help matters. And everyone was really really nice. One nurse got to listen to me ramble on about Nietzsche. Everyone was pretty indulgent of my weirdness and they really did try to use the left arm for the needle, which is great, because it's the one I'd shaved. Eventually someone found a vein and I got my first of what is now looking like the first of NINE MORE ROUNDS of IV antibiotics.

I go again today, with a detour to a different lab to get my blood tested, because I don't want to deal with the lab at that hospital if I can help it.

Actually, it occurs to me that Mom and I watched Who's Life Is It Anyway?, an excellent right-to-die drama with Richard Dreyfuss, John Cassavetes, and Christine Lahti yesterday, and that Cat People was the night before. I'm kinda in the mood for some hospital movies, for some reason. We started Bang the Drum Slowly last night, but I'm not quite sure I'm enjoying it yet...

Monday, March 07, 2016

Rough day

Things started to go wrong when the blonde-haired battleax admitting nurse at the hospital today tried to grab me by the left forearm to direct me to the Emergency Admitting (which I'd bypassed yesterday, apparently erroneously). She took offense when I recoiled and said "please don't touch me," but aside from the fact that I don't actually care for being touched by strangers without having solicited it, I was there for IV antibiotics, and it happens that she nearly took me by where the IV shunt was taped into my skin. Please don't touch me indeed!

Phase two of the fuckup occurred when the nurse hooking me up to the IV - a different nurse, less grumpy in manner - decided that yesterday's shunt was too red and swollen, and decided to hook me up in my right arm instead. I made the mistake of watching the procedure, figuring after two days this was old hat. But when she figured out that today was actually my last day of IV antibiotics, she changed her mind, removed the new needle, and went with the old one after all.

Watching a bloody needle coming out of my skin is, for me, a bad idea. I nearly passed out. I had to get them to recline the chair so I could close my eyes and breathe deeply for fifteen or twenty minutes. The feeling like you're about to faint is a pretty awful one, actually, one I'd just as soon never experience again. For a minute or two, I thought I might vomit AND pass out, and silently asphyxiate while the nurses walked this way and that, tending to other patients...

Even more irritating for me, I told her specifically that I did not care for unnecessary tape attached to my arm, so please don't use any. "I really don't enjoy ripping out my arm hairs, my skin is sensitive and I don't need a bikini wax on my lower arms." As soon as she got the needle out, though, she stuck tape and gauze on it without a thought. It was actually kind of tempting to scream, "WHAT DID I JUST FUCKING ASK YOU? HELLO? ARE YOU RECEIVING?" But I restrained myself.

At least I was able to stop the next guy from taping up the hole in my left arm, when we were all through, though there was plenty of tape there to rip off already. 

Things were made a bit more interesting by a local figure on the punk scene checking in to the ward on family matters - someone I've interviewed, but never run into in public. But I gave him space.

But the frustrations weren't over: waiting in line at London Drugs to fill a new scrip; waiting for a taxi outside in the rain; trying with difficulty, once I got home, to lower myself into the bath and then get out of it again... mopping up the water I got all over the bathroom floor... it all kinda came to a head when the cat wouldn't stop demanding attention while I sat down to what I hope is a final edit of an article I'm doing. I don't mind him sitting on my lap, but he likes to dig his claws into my flesh, which I can't seem to teach him not to do, and he kept getting in the way of my typing. After numerous attempts to nudge him into a non-irritating position, I lost my temper at him, kinda shoved him off me, and then felt really guilty, because, obviously, he didn't understand. He sits like this with me often when I write.

Somehow, trying to say I was sorry to the cat brought out a flood of tears, and I sat on the couch crying for a bit. I'm not sure the cat really understood that either, though.

Anyhow, he's fine, now, sitting on the side of my lap as I type. I feel a bit better too. Hopefully he doesn't barf on me - I just watched him swallowing a giant dust bunny of his own hair.

By the by, it's my 48th birthday. It's also the one year anniversary of Todd Serious' death. I'll try to post a clip of the Rebel Spell from their second to last Vancouver show when I get back to Maple Ridge later tonight... Thanks to all the sweet people wishin' me well over on Facebook, it's helped with what's been a kind of crappy day, otherwise...

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Erika's Weird Boyfriend

So in the dream, I'm walking down Lougheed Highway in Maple Ridge, around 228th, near where the casino is. I'm not sure if that area is all developed now but it used to be a big field and gully. Some wild area may remain, in fact; it certainly did in my dream. Anyhow, I really needed to pee, and, as I had done before, I walked onto a grassy trail, away from traffic, looking for a good spot. Before I could find one, I saw, watching me, an angry raccoon.

I immediately started to back towards the road, bladder full, heart racing,  as the raccoon came closer. I could see it crawling along a ditch to my left: it had gotten wet in the dirty water, and - as I wondered whether it might be rabid or something - it sort of lost its raccoon-shape and took the form of something between a small bloody poodle and one of the mutant baby-bear monsters from the film Prophecy. I didn't want it to attack me, so I made what was meant to be a scary sound, to drive it away. It came out sounding like a strangled coyote's howl: "aroo- garoo- garoo- ghuhrooo- gah" or such. Never did get to pee, but even in my dream, my cries sounded strange to my ear.

Shift to a rather different dream, and I'm back in my childhood home, again in Maple Ridge, and I am a child, and there's a loud weird sound in the kitchen downstairs of dishes clattering. I think it's because my father has come home and can't find his key; I have the key, so I tell my mother, in the bedroom next to mine, not to be afraid, I will investigate. The sound was so loud, though, that it wakes me up with a start, and I really do need to pee, so I move to get out of bed.

Erika, awake beside me, asks, "I gotta ask: what were you dreaming?"

Turns out no dishes clattered in the kitchen, but yep, I was lying in bed beside her, going  "aroogaroogarooghuhrooogah." Quote: "it was quite a weird sound to wake up to."

It still has nothing on the time I thought she was a Korean guy who had eaten all my Chinese food  at a school meeting. To show him my displeasure, I grabbed him by the belly and started to squeeze  with my fingers, to wake up to Erika's distressed cries: "What are you doing? That hurts!"

She was far more entertained by my strangled coyote-cry... we just had a good 6am laugh over it, as I explained my dream to her. ("You didn't find a place to pee before now, did you?"  ...because I believe I have told her of the time that I dreamed I was Frank Zappa, sitting on a toilet, peeing, and woke up to discover that I was not Frank Zappa, was not sitting on a toilet... but I was peeing, in the bed.

Not this bed, not her bed/ our bed, not this dream, mind you. I made it to the toilet just fine, laughing at myself as the water flowed out of me...

Saturday, March 05, 2016

My left foot, continued

So none of the medical professionals I have seen have thought much of my food-poisoning borne "reactive arthritis" theory. Instead, the consensus seems to be that I have cellulitis - unrelated to cellulite, note - from the inflamed tissue where my boot was rubbing my foot, and that the infection alone is the culprit in my various aches and pains (though there has also been talk of possible strep throat, unrelated to the foot injury). But I'm learning a lot from the experience:

- that skin injuries can be really serious
- that oral antibiotics are insufficient to a swollen, inflamed foot, since the swelling will keep the antibiotics from getting into the infected area; IV antibiotics are far better in such a case (and I'm currently receiving treatment with them, taxiing to the emergency ward out here in Burnaby
- that heat, not ice, is ideal in such cases, since it causes blood to circulate and the antibiotics to get into the infected areas
- that the ideal resting position for the injured foot is propped up so that it is above the level of the heart, and that one should do that for hours at a time during the day, as well as sleeping with the foot raised.

Already the foot looks much better than it did this morning, when the photo above was taken; it really reveals how terrible the swelling was (though the discolouration has been worse at other times). The skin is still discoloured, but my toes are completely restored to normal size and shape, and the pain much reduced. Off to the hospital for round two of IV antibiotics tomorrow.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Guess I better go to the doctor

So for a long time, my favourite Indian restaurant in Vancouver has been a hole-in-the-wall on Granville Street called Crave India. The food is spicy, cheap, and tasty, and the naan fresh and perfect. There used to be a very likeable counterman, too, though I haven't seen him in awhile - he seems to have been replaced by a kid with very limited English skills. But the cook is the same. The place is nothing fancy but for a curry lover the quality and price are fantastic; most of the friends I've taken there have agreed.

I won't be going back there, alas, since a bad experience last week, where most of the chicken in the butter chicken tasted foully fishy, so off that you wanted to just spit it out. My girl and I left big chunks of it behind, had a meal of naan and sauce and palak paneer - all fine. But the kid at the counter didn't seem to understand that I was telling him the chicken had seemingly gone bad.

Funny how that works: a thousand great experiences of a restaurant stop counting when there's just one really really awful one.

And aberration or not, it's got me really worried. See, that was the night that I also injured my ankle, sprinting to see Seijun Suzuki's Tattooed Life and the Cinematheque (the early screening on Saturday the 27th). The ankle injury makes sense, can be tied to something I did, but the thing is, MANY of my joints have been hurting since then. The left ankle is the one out of commission, but my right ankle hurts too; the outsides of both my wrists are very sore, for no reason I can identify; and I woke up this morning with pain in my right hip joint. There are so many aches and pains in my joints - with only the ankle ones making any degree of sense - that I can't help but wonder if there's some connection between the tainted chicken and my aches: for instance, salmonella-borne reactive arthritis. You apparently don't need to actually have food poisoning to develop this condition, which is typified by joint pain, especially in the ankles.

I may just be being paranoid but I think it's time to go to the doctor...

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Red Herring again: musical recommendation for a show I will not be at

I am going to miss Red Herring tomorrow (Thursday) at Slickity Jim's for a damnably dumb reason. See, I was late for a Seijun Suzuki film the other night, sprinted a few blocks in my Blundtstones - good boots but not designed for running - and have thus strained my ankles in a couple of places. It hurts to stand, it hurts to walk, and yet I must do both at times: but I will not be doing anything I do not absolutely HAVE to do once I'm done my piddly hour and a half of work tomorrow, just limping home, putting my feet up, and maybe watching a video with my girl.

Which is a shame, because I love Red Herring. They have an utterly unique "New Wave roots music" thing going on since they reunited, and some of their "new" songs, like "The Monkey Song" - are really powerful. Interview with frontman Enrico Renz, here. Show starts at 9, arrive earlier to get a seat (and/ or have dinner, the food is good!). Highly recommended. Links to songs of theirs on Youtube here, here, here, here and here. If someone could shoot and post videos of "Consuela" and "The Monkey Song" I'd love to hear them again...

Gun and Sword review, plus Seijun Suzuki Retrospective part 2

Kinji Fukasaku - director of The Yakuza Papers films and Battle Royale - writes in the introduction to Chris Desjardins' Gun and Sword: An Encyclopedia of Japanese Gangster Films 1955-1980 that these films are about "the way some people organize a parallel existence [to mainstream society] and codes of behaviour that directly challenge the rule of law and what we often think of as the forces of good."

He's thinking here of Yakuza, samurai, and maybe the Mafia, but for me, it's impossible to read this sentence and not feel that in a way, Yakuza films provide an extreme exemplar of any subcultural movement, where people reject the values of society for their own "code of organization and fellowship," as Fukasaku puts it. This perhaps would explain why an old punk (be it myself or Mr. Desjardins) would be drawn to these movies. Indeed, anyone who has found it impossible or undesirable to find fulfillment by mainstream terms, who has sought out alternate codes and practices, seeking alternate leaders to trust and new values to live by, will be able to find themselves in a Yakuza film, whether criminal or not...

Since I previously posted on Chris D. and the Seijun Suzuki retrospective ongoing at the Cinematheque, I have received my own copy of Gun and Sword in the mail. It's an impressive tome. It's unfortunate that some of the past publishers that considered it ultimately did not - particularly FAB Press (who put out the Cinema Sewer anthologies and Robin Bougie's Graphic Thrills books, and also published Stephen Thrower's essential bible of American exploitation independents, Nightmare USA). For those familiar with FAB, it's pretty easy to imagine a book full of colour movie posters and stills from the movies Chris writes about - and  a beautiful volume it would be, indeed. But it would also appeal only to a very specific niche of readers (Yakuza movies are not exactly mainstream fare) and it would be a hefty, expensive venture, since the book is over 800 pages long; you can't really blame FAB for chickening out.

Chris D. writes his own preface about the publication history of the book - it was even considered by Quentin Tarantino's imprint at one point. Thing is, as published by Poison Fang, the book is by no means humble; it's got no colour save on the cover, and it looks (I guesstimate) to be a standard 8X4 size, though it's a thick tome indeed, as you could imagine. But it's still invaluable for anyone who loves Japanese crime cinema. It offers writeups of every Yakuza film Chris D. has been able to find and watch - including ones he tracked down on VHS without subtitles - all organized alphabetically in sections according to the studio that produced the film. Where the author has been unable to see particular films, they still get listings with what information is known about them; occasionally, as with the first remake of Gate of Flesh, Chris writes at some length about these movies, too (he begins that particular review with "It would be fascinating to see this," then describes why, based on his knowledge of the filmmaker and the other versions of the movie). Fukasaku himself, in a preface written shortly before his death, praises the authority of Desjardins: "He's got it all and he's got it right," describing Gun and Sword as "a remarkable book of scholarship."

The book reminds me a little, in fact, of Barry Gifford's The Devil Thumbs A Ride, which offers short prose pieces recounting the story of various classic films noir; in both books, each writeup is concise, rather hard-boiled in its language choices, and ridden with spoilers: no punches are pulled. These writeups are entirely entertaining in themselves, regardless of whether you're ever likely to have the opportunity to see the films in question - somewhat more challenging in the case of Gun and Sword. But Gifford's book is a slim little thing, of no use whatsoever as a reference, and as entertaining as each article is, if you know your films well enough, you start to notice that there are plot details he gets wrong throughout (I won't trouble myself to dig up examples, but get the book and read it, and you'll probably notice a few). There's still plenty of entertainment value to be had - especially, in one of the more contemporary entries, when he describes Blue Velvet as "phlegm noir," panning the film as a kind of academic pornography, in a piece of writing published only a few years before David Lynch adapted Gifford's own Wild at Heart and collaborated with him on films like Lost Highway. But The Devil Thumbs a Ride is not a work of scholarship; Gun and Sword is. As potent and colourful as the prose is (prostitutes are regularly referred to as "whores," say), it is valuable BOTH as a reference book and as a treasury of entertaining descriptions of very entertaining films.

Let's take, for example, Youth of the Beast, which screens next week at the Cinematheque. After an entry detailing the cast and crew and such, Desjardins writes about the film:
One of Suzuki's absolute wildest. It begins in a similar vein to Fritz Lang's THE BIG HEAT with a prominent cop who may be on the take supposedly committing suicide.  But Suzuki and his writers supply additional sordidness here by making it a death pact with the lawman's whore mistress. We then witness maniac tough guy Shishido swaggering through squalid streets, surreal nightclubs, campy early-sixties apartments beating-the-shit out of anyone who gives him any lip. He infiltrates two gangs and starts the old YOJINBO/ Man with No Name-game of playing one bunch of outlaws off against another. About midway through, it is discovered he is an undercover cop investigating his colleague's death, and guys start tying him upside down to chandeliers and sticking sharp things under his fingernails. This has many odd interludes including a gangster boss's addict mistress hallucinating a hoodlum skipping playfully away from her with her packet of dope - something that causes her to fall off a stairway landing; Shishido reporting-in to a police substation that is disguised as a knitting school; Shishido using a can of hairspray as improvised blowtorch to torture info out of a movie theater manager on the gang's payroll, etc... There is much wild and wooly action choreographed in a riot of carefully selected color and boisterous humor. And it is graced with a downbeat, deliciously ambiguous ending involving Shishido, the suicided cop's wife, and villain Kawaji. 
Chris D. then assigns the film a four star rating - four out of four, which he does also with the film Youth of the Beast is paired with, Gate of Flesh (this week's Kanto Wanderer gets only three stars, with Chris D. saying it is "quite good," but "not as visually stimulating as some of Suzuki's other films"). I mean, even if I didn't have Youth of the Beast on my shelf (I do), this is writing I can read for pleasure, no less entertaining when it comes to films that I suspect I will never, ever see. Even the titles of these films are entertaining: The Hot Little Girl, Tale of Dark Ocean Chivalry - With the Courage of Desperation, United Cries of 100 People, Outlaw Killer - Three Maddog Brothers...

Maybe my only quibble with Gun and Sword is that writeups for certain films are harder than others to track down in the book, since occasionally the titles used are not the ones the films have since become known by. This in no way diminishes it if your desire is just to read about these movies, but can be a bit frustrating if you're using the book as a reference. The Call of Blood, which played last week, has an alternate title, the Cinematheque notes, of Our Blood Will Not Forgive, but Gun and Sword lists it as Our Blood Won't Allow It - which will take a long time to find if you don't know the alternate title and are only looking under the letter C. My Gun is My Passport - as it is listed in the book - has become authoritatively known, thanks to the Nikkatsu retrospective that toured through Vancouver a few years ago, and the subsequent Eclipse box set of Nikkatsu films, as A Colt is My Passport; but it's only by blind luck that I stumbled across the listing for it in the book. (Since Chris gives it a *** 1/2 star rating, it DOES appear in the index, but again, under M, not C; the index ONLY takes in the best of the films described, is by no means a thorough guide to the book's contents). And when you don't find the listing for a certain film, is that because it's listed under a different title, or because it's not IN the book? You can't know, unless you go A-Z in the section for the relevant studio, looking at each title to see if it's the one you want. Suzuki's Story of a Prostitute, for instance - screening tonight and tomorrow - is not listed under that title anywhere in the Nikkatsu section, despite, thanks to a Criterion release, that now being the title the film is best known by, but there's no alternate title obvious for that one and it takes time to go through the nearly 200 pages devoted to that studio to see if there's an alternate. Dope that I am, I got to N before I realized that the film probably simply isn't in the book, because hey, IT'S NOT A GANGSTER FILM! It's about comfort women in Manchuria and the brutalizations they experienced. Duh, but if the indexing were somehow a little more thorough, I might have saved myself some frustration.

That's a quibble, though - it's a great book with a so-so index. It makes me want to watch all my Yakuza films then re-experience them through Chris D's prose. If that sounds good to you, go here (Chris D's Amazon page).


Two things: the Flesh Eaters' Forever Came Today is out now on CD for the first time ever, via Superior Viaduct. It would be my pick for best Flesh Eaters record. It's not the one most important to me (A Hard Road to Follow) or the most aesthetically ambitious (A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die), but the one that is consistently their toughest, darkest, most compelling ROCK album, with my favourite singing from Chris D, I think... Check out "Shallow Water," say, here. You might need a lyric sheet (provided with the CD).

Secondly: Chris D. has responded on Facebook to my frustrations above re: alternate titles. I still kinda wish that the indexing for the book had been more thorough, had found a way to cut through the confusion - maybe by indexing all the titles in romanized Japanese? Or providing a director index? Or somehow cross-referencing the films by year, so if you know what year the movie is from, you can maybe find the title? Hell, I dunno. But to some extent, he writes, the problem is endemic to Japanese gangster cinema, and the carelessness with which it has been distributed here - thus being unavoidable. He writes:  
Just a note, Allan, about English titles for Japanese films. Though this is not true of the accepted mainstream Japanese masters (i.e. Kurosawa, Ozu, who seemed to have somehow earned the rare privilege of titling consistency, one seems to get a different English title for half the Japanese genre films by directors like Suzuki and Fukasaku every couple of years every time a new retrospective comes into being, either evidencing poor scholarship on the programmers' part or an obsession with translating the titles themselves, let alone doing any research for what the original export distributor upon the film's release might have called it in a foreign (i.e. English) language. CALL OF THE BLOOD by Suzuki is an excellent example. When it was part of a Suzuki retrospective in the early 90s, it was called OUR BLOOD WON'T ALLOW IT, and later, OUR BLOOD WON'T FORGIVE. Unlike the Chinese Hong Kong and Taiwanese film industry in the 1960s through the present, whose companies picked an English title of each film and stuck to it. You get virtually none of this confusion with Hong Kong genre films, despite their sometimes negligible quality compared to their Japanese counterparts. Except for the big guns like Kurosawa (or their worldwide release of giant monsters pix), they had no such compunction about sticking to an English title (if even bestowed with one) on lesser known genre films. In fact, when the films were originally available for export, they often retitled the English subtitled version numerous times. There was a genuine apathy about creating confusion about these movies outside Japan. Most of these titles, the defeatist-minded export arms of the originating Japanese studios thought these movies would never be revived, except for perhaps Japanese TV. I go into this in less detail in the closing pages of the Gun and Sword introduction.