“We Appreciate the Opportunity to Serve You!”

Willkommen, bienvenue, and welcome to the horrorshow that is my neverending battle with Universal Diagnostic Testing, LLC. Ladies, I’d rather babysit Chucky and Rosemary’s Baby than follow the pained trajectory of the last eleven months, but would that make for a good story? Clearly not. Hence, the blog.

It all started with a fateful conversation with my loving (some might say too concerned) parents indicating that during vacation visits I tended to stop breathing when I slept. Stop breathing. Completely. Like I would stop breathing, and then start again, gasping for air like a drunken sailor thrown overboard after a night of hot toddies. This caused them considerable concern, and I promised them that I would contact my primary care provider about the situation to determine whether or not asphyxiation was a medical condition.

Turns out, it is.

My doctor, who I must say is incredible and awesome 99.9% of the time, referred me to a sleep specialist center for further evaluation. Med One Medical. In Sandy. For those of you unfamiliar with the Salt Lake environment, Sandy is to Salt Lake as is Dallas to Montpelier. The towns are beyond far apart, connected by the equivalent of the Jersey Turnpike on Thanksgiving. Road conditions are unpredictable, the service… We’ll cross that bridge shortly.

Needless to say, I was optimistic about solving a problem I was heretofore unaware of, what with it occurring when I was unconscious. I went in, had them strap what can only be described as a SCUBA diving system’s country cousin to my face, and laid down for a second. A second that turned into 15 minutes of pure sleep ecstasy. When the nurse/medical assistant came and shook me awake, I thought I was peering into the face of Jesus Christ. I hadn’t realized that my sleep apnea (a condition I was born with, apparently, compounded in severity by my poor eating habits and allergy to exercise) was the reason that no matter how many hours of sleep, no matter the number of Ambiens I popped or Tom Collins I chugged down, that my sleep wasn’t restful because my system was too busy keeping me alive to process toxins and rock the REM time.

In a word, it was glorious. For two blessed weeks, I slept like a sweet baby, looking forward to hours of peaceful rest not preceded by a fifth of Svedka or six tablets of Unisom. It was a miracle, an incredibly awkward and truly unflattering in the Sexy Department miracle.

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And then, the medical profession reared its more prototypical, “I’m going to fix you until I break you worse” mentality. The CPAP machine was replaced by a BiPAP, for my benefit, because the real doctors, people I would later find out were contracted and not actually affiliated with the Sandy location, determined from my patterns that I needed a more complex, cumbersome, and expensive sleep device. Numerous sleep studies were conducted. None of them worked. People I didn’t know, nor do I care to know, watched me while I slept. Flashback to Sleeping with the Enemy. My shit-tastic insurance didn’t cover any specialty care, and my frequent visits to no-man’s land started to concern me. The “calibrations” done by the cross-eyed sleep techs left much to be desired.

I’m not what one would consider solidly middle class. I get by. I work for a non-profit that provides health care for the homeless, health care that I would kill for in terms of its comprehensiveness and focus on quality and continuity of care. That being said, I called the sadists at “Med One” asking about my bill, hoping to set up some sort of payment plan or to determine the going rate for a 65% healthy kidney on the black market. Tragic foreshadowing.

The girl who answered said not to worry about billing. It was an issue for them and insurance to decide, she said. I would get a bill, if any, in the mail shortly, she said. In July, she said. Fast forward to this week, after battling Mother Nature to even get to Utah to open my mail, I receive a letter. No, not a letter. A notice.

A notice that informs me that not only do I owe “Universal  Diagnostic Testing”, the company that was once Med One Medical, which was forced to restructure because they were a poorly run business, two THOUSAND dollars, but that, get this, I am past due and if I don’t pay up immediately, they will send me to a collection agent.

Let’s do a quick review, shall we?

  1. I have never received a bill or invoice from Med One Medical or their shady new business Universal Diagnostic Testing, LLC.
  2. I have never, in my life, shirked a bill, and have been late on a payment one time. In 11,323 days on this Earth, I have paid any and all billls sent to me in a timely fashion.
  3. Threats to my credit history are equal to and/or on par with threats to my credibility, integrity, and honor as a queer man.

Needless to say, I made some calls. Angry calls. I wanted to feel sorry for whoever answered the phone, but you know what, I didn’t. Mostly because they worked at a shady business, but more importantly, that they worked in the billing department, the very area that completely failed in this enterprise. So I called. And called. Until Alta answered.

Yes, her name was Alta.

I told Alta that I was calling in regards to a nasty notice I received after not receiving any bills or invoices to my address, and that I was calling to pay the bill in full. I reiterated that I had never received any bills, which was interesting in that the “final notice” was sent to my home address, which meant they had that address in the system if they had so wished to send me an actual bill prior to threatening to ruin my credit. I reminded Alta that they also had my phone number on file, should they have wished for payment and could have called me, and that, if their file clerk was dyscalculic (e.g., dyslexic with numbers) they could have also contacted my primary care provider for information that would assist them in sucking me dry for services that did not alleviate the problem of me suffocating on a daily basis. I also inquired as to whether any additional new surprises awaited me in the mail moving forward.

After a sigh and long pause, my phone-a-friend informed me of the outstanding charges, asked me if I wanted to pay them which would be hilarious considering the context of the call but I avoided bringing that into the conversation, and then asked if, IF I wanted a receipt.

Newsflash. When someone pays someone else over a month’s worth of their take home, you bet your ass to Christmas Mass they want a goddamned receipt. And that receipt? Clutch the pearls, the last line stated that Universal Diagnostic Testing, LLC, “appreciated the opportunity to serve me”At that point, while reading that last line, I swear I popped a blood vessel in my eye. The rage. Oh, the rage.

But I digress. What did I learn? Many things. First, while I work in healthcare, I am loathe to ever access it again in the next 12-18 months for fear of being bent over and violated by the powers that be. Second, the road to hell is paved with good intentions: five grand later, and I still have a glamorized SCUBA mask that doesn’t help me breathe at night, which has ignited a huge family argument over not only my health, but one’s ability to understand subtle social cues and overt entreaties to drop sensitive subjects. Third, if I get another unsolicited and unexpected bill from the 84070 zip code, I will implode, and I will take any and everyone with me.

Word to the wise? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Move over Dorothy: There’s no Place Like Home…

As I say goodbye and goodnight to the first half of my visit back East, I thought I would share some of my ponderings on how this trip has reminded me that my life in the Land of Zion is quite different from the life I grep up in. I am not saying better. I am not saying worse. I am saying different.

For example, Salt Lake City is a tiny spec of humanity in the center of a desert wasteland, within its 110 square miles things are dense. Driving to the grocery store takes five minutes of city traffic, ten during rush hour. If I have an early morning meeting, my 15 minute drive downtown takes maybe 8. Tops. The farthest I go out of my comfort zone is the glory of IKEA, which is still a good distance from Utah County thank the sweet lord baby Jesus (sorry Orem-ites, the Happy Valley is all your’s). I can’t typically exit my driveway without saying hello to three neighbors and narrowly missing a cyclist or two on the sidewalk. You spend the entire day literally tripping over people. It’s insane.

Things in Midlothian, Virginia are… different. Fancier. More spread out. Driving from my brother’s house to my sister’s is a short jaunt, from the Needham Market section down one twisted wooded road to a central artery for three lights, then down another twisted road to the Primrose Section in Fox Creek. It’s half the distance it used to be. But to go to the store*, to run an errand, to fill a prescription? These are not small trips; these are activities that require planning so that everything that happens commercially can be conducted during one long haul. Why? Because Wal-Mart is not four blocks away, and no there isn’t a 7-11 within walking distance. Where people live and where people work (and shop) is measured less on reliable time estimates and more on miles per hour, radio traffic updates, and time of day. Also, the neighborhoods I am used to, ones that span a series of heavily gridded blocks in designated areas of town have been replaced in the ‘burbs by large swathes of new homes on crooked lots with large, scripted entrance signs and lush and well-tended landscapes. To say that the entrance to 15th and 15th (which you wouldn’t know was a neighborhood if no one told you) lacks a physical descriptor and only lives in the minds of residents is an understatement. And the way that those areas grow and change over time is night and day. The grid system, until you reach its outer limits, provides a sense of order to the grand scheme of the Capitol City and its county. The suburgatory of Central Virginia… not so much.

Take an aerial view of Salt Lake City looks something like this:

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Do you see the central business district, ringed by smaller buildings and then giving way to organized chaos that is a the greater metropolitan area? This is what I’ve become accustomed to. Compare this to what the typical suburbs look like from above:

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Do you see the difference? In SL,UT, we’re all packed like sardines, centered in the arable pockets where water can be found. If I make a wrong left, I make a right at the next intersection and 90° later I am back where I started. In Virginia, property lines are typically delineated by small, forested “beds” where arbovitae and cedar mulch let good friends know that while they’re always welcome for a martini, they’re not always welcome to sneak a peek into the breakfast nook.

The suburbs also have breakfast nooks.

There’s also the issue of driving. While both locales have their fair share of terrible and terrifying drivers and roadways, what Utahns lack, Virginians have in abundance: fast reaction times, quick brakes, and a shit-ton of curves in the road. On the flip side, those in Salt Lake (barring the interstate) typically err on an overreliance on “manners”, politely waving each other into an intersection with disastrous results. Newsflash, when no one goes at a four way stop, everyone decides to go simultaneously.

I’ve seen it happen. Three times. Since September.

I also don’t have any blood family west of the Mississippi. Well… at least that I know of. You never know when it comes to the Yarra’s and the Siemionko’s. When I fly the 2,000+ miles back to the wild drives and vast lawns of Midlothian, I am surrounded by parents, siblings, nieces, nephews. Neighbors and friends become part of the good-old family, surrogate and otherwise over Trivial Pursuit or a shot of Silver Patròn while watching Oceans 13. In Salt Lake I’ve got my besties, my sister-wives, my new family, the crazy gays, the girls I go out drinking with, the work and weekend shopping crews. I guess that what strikes me after all this time is that while it’s always hard to live what some may consider a dual life, split by time zones, I am grateful for things I find comfortable, both Eastern and Mountain Daylight Savings Time:

The Farmer’s Market downtown. My parent’s sectional couch. The Ocho in full bloom. Driving a Honda Minivan rocking out to Pink with singing children. Guadalupe Park and a Diet Coke. These seemingly disparate parts of my life somehow coalesce into something somewhat intoxicated (yes, not intoxicating) and fabulous. And while I could do without 100 degree weather in July or occasional drunken family trip-and-fall, at the same time, who could ask for anything more?

I mean, I guess I could. I’m such a stupid bitch.

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But until Virginia’s liberal (in comparison) liquor laws meet up with Utah’s relaxed attitude, it looks like my split life will continue to include frequent flier miles, a travel Xanax, and an attempt at keeping everyone sufficiently napping and/or intoxicated. It’s the life I’ve led, and it’s the life I’ll continue to lead.

Until high-speed rail finally catches on.

* = the store is the hardware store, or the grocery store, for god’s sake the yarn store, what type of business being referred to is irrelevant.

Happy Holidays from the Inky Shadows

Ok, back me up, people. I recognize that many holiday songs involve words we never use (seriously, wassailing?) in common language. I don’t typically wish my grocery store checkout gal good tidings of comfort and joy; I don’t creepily chant Merry Merry Merry Merry Christmas to myself as I mosey down the lines of the divine church of the DABC; and I think that it’s damned near tragic that there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime. Doesn’t Africa suffer enough problems? That being said, I will let things slide in terms of uncommon language usage and the occasional reliance on a slant rhyme to bring wonder and magic to the days following the solstice and upcoming Mayan Apocalypse.

‘Tis the season.

What freaks me out more, though, is the seedy underbelly of that holiday season. Beneath the singsong voices of young kids and their haughty parents showing up (unannounced) on your front porch, screeching Christmas at you unabated until you are expected to let them come into your here-to-fore clean foyer to eat you out of house and home, beneath the veneer of all of that there are some seriously creepy things to consider in the words of those cheery tunes. For instance, read the following set of lyrics pulled from a common Christmas tune, followed by the stalker’s national anthem:

“He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake.” -Santa Claus is Coming to Town

“Every smile you fake, every claim you stake, I’ll be watching you.” -Sting, I’ll Be Watching You

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He sees me when I’m sleeping, and he knows when I’m awake? Can I get a restraining order? Seriously?! What the hell is that all about? Oh, did also I mention the fact that the original “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” included a verse that ended with… “it may be your last”? That makes me feel the spirit of the season I’ll tell you that much. And then of course there’s the cheerful banter of “Baby it’s Cold Outside,” which, when read out loud sounds more like a Lifetime Television Movie script. Picture it: An unsuspecting woman takes a drink from an otherwise unassuming man who continues to make unwanted advances until she realizes to herself, desperately trying to break free and away from this man that, “the neighbors might think (baby, it’s bad out there), say what’s in this DRINK?!?“.

Hint. It’s a sedative.

I am not trying to be a Grinch about things; I mean, if I did, I’d be at risk of being told I make people nauseous, that I am appalling, and that I am disgraceful. What I am trying to do is bring light to the fact, as have many internet brethren, that some of these songs could be the background introduction music for John Carpenter’s Next Nightmare. Telling children that a magical snowman will come to life if you tell him his name is Parson Brown, and that you can get married is going to set up at least 3-4 young children for failure.

And so I bring forth this call to action. To those out there, the young intrepid songwriters of the future, please, for the sake of our future humanity, try to avoid themes that include (but are not limited to):

  • Stalking, being watched, or other covert invasions of privacy
  • Drugging of a character in the song, be it intentional or otherwise
  • References to death, dismemberment, or pitfalls, especially geared towards a specific geographic location (i.e., Africa).
  • Delusions, especially those that encourage changing one’s marital status
  • Vilifying of a given individual, group, state, or culture

Now where did I put that tinsel…

Gearing up for Protein Hell

Greetings, all of my friends (and those who follow my blog out of spite and the hopes of taking me down when I’m weak) that recognize the shared sacrifice of bidding a farewell, adieux to the wonderful world of carbohydrates. While you skinny bitches, with your “cleanses” and your “calorie counts” sit back, relax, and enjoy your perch on a holier than thou place of existence, recognize that there is one weapon in my arsenal that will bring you and all of Hollywood to its knees.

And his name, dear friends, was Robert Atkins.

While his diet is insane, focusing on limiting the number of carbs one eats while gorging on bacon, chicken and steak seems untenable, girl let me just tell you. I have been there. I have taken the challenge. I have limited my intake of potatoes, full flavored sodas and corn-based food products. I have said goodbye to Twinkies and hello to tuna salads. I embraced vodka and diet tonics. And, if my mind serves me correctly, I can say without any hesitation that, after the first two weeks of utter hatred of the human race, I loved living that life. LOVED. IT. Did it increase my blood pressure initially, when bacon and pot roast took the place of cereal and an attitude problem? You bet your ass to Christmas Mass it did. And I could give a rat’s ASS about that, and do you know why?

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I’ll tell you honey.

Because when all is said and done, when those men are done roping cattle and wondering what to do with their lonesome evenings, when the lights are set to low, there is one thing that will keep bringing that milkshake back out to the yard. And that one thing is a tight, fit ass. It’s a set of tits this side of the Mississippi that makes them praise the sweet lord baby Jesus that they are red-blooded men. And after struggling with food, with diets and exercise, with machines that guarantee to make you feel shitty about yourself while simultaneously affirming your place in the national debt cycle, I admit that this bullshit diet is the only one I can admit to while recognizing it will make me a walking cliché.

But you know what, I could care less. If eating mostly meat, cheese, and Cool Whip gets me to drop a few sizes and recognize the crazier, skinner queer within, pass me the celery sticks. With cream cheese. Because I submit to you all, to the inner Paula Deens and honest-to-goodness Southern Queens that I will fight the good fight as well as I can. And if that means coating cauliflower with Cheddar Cheese, than as God as my Witness, let us make it so.

 Now pass me those chicken wings like you mean it.

I’m Just a Notch in your Bedpost, but You’re Just a Line in a Song…

I am sick of the negative headlines.

While I lament unwarranted killings of children (as anyone would with a semblance of his circumstance), and as I take into account the unconscionable actions of those involved, I need to stay strong. To rise above it. To not post time and again on social media outlets about my collective rage. In an effort to focus on the positive, to hone in on those stories that keep us from focusing on the Newtown, Connecticut stories of death, harm, and virulence, I offer you a (however underdeveloped) chance at peace. After all, as the old adage goes: All we are saying is give peace a chance.

I submit to you. Those metrosexuals that cling to hetero-tendencies.Those fag-hags that not only tolerate but support the most unwilling of endeavors. The drag kings and queens that are in the process of putting on their MAC makeup.  I ask you. Implore you. Let them drown in your feminine growls. Let them eat cake.

Give us something to aspire to. Take the hate and hurt from the most recent tragedies, and make those remembrances beautiful. Let U2 make the world a safer place. Let fun! make important national security problems a reality that we can all get our heads around instead of areas we avoid talking about in casual conversation. Focus on those things that make the human condition worth living for.

How many kids were born today? Who contributed to society? How many crises were avoided by incredible people, people who put themselves in harm’s way to help others? What happened today that reminds us that living as human beings is not only worthwhile, but important, positive, commendable? Who made the world a better place today, and how? Everyone, in the face of tragedy, focus on what makes us whole and good, not what separates and divides us. Forget quarrels about gun control and access to mental health services for five seconds, grieve what we’ve lost, and get a fresh perspective.

I wish for a time when I could leave the doors and windows locked circa 1942. Bring me there by remembering the things we do that bring us together instead of tearing us apart. Please?

It’s the End of The World As We Know It

And I feel fine…

Ok, I don’t feel fine. But seriously, who does? Better question, who on God’s green f-ing Earth decided that the entire world, the entire world would end 4 days before Christmas? Are you kidding? Do you know how that would affect the retail world? Does the word “Kohl’s” mean anything to anyone anymore? Honestly, guys, let’s take this and break it down for a hot second.

People on the fringes of our society (for the most part) are worried. Fearful. In a super-creepy way, “prepared” for an apocalyptic nightmare that only those with vivid imaginations or a subscription to Netflix might even imagine. Why, you ask? Why is it that seemingly rational people have bunkered down, buying flats of canned goods and automatic rifles without safety switches (this is Am-ur-ica gaddangit), lamenting that the end is indeed nigh? I’ll tell you why. The movie 2012 comes to mind: John Cusack and Amanda Peet 3 years ago outrunning tornadoes, toppling freeways, earthquakes beyond imagination. My boyfriend Jake Gyllenhaal, whose name I had to Wikipedia in the movie “The Day After Tomorrow” because while I wish someday for he and I to shoop, his surname is worse to pronounce and spell than mine (point one for our side Dad). But most of all, I blame the Mayan Long Count Calendar, which by the way, forecast out in time since like a Bonnie Bedelia-n years ago, is coming to its next epoch.

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Let me tell you something right quick, something that I might regret when the world actually does come to an end in a mere 8 and a half days. The Mayan Long Count Calendar does not predict the end of the world.

If only.

The Maya people planned out eons of time, in advance, through a complex calendar system that allowed them to consider life in terms of thousands of years. Thousands. Of years. I don’t even know what airline I am flying on my way home to Virginia next week, what I might consider packing to wear during my visit, what DAY it is, let alone what I am doing five years from now.

If anything, we should be fist-pumping in honor of the Mayans for planning so goddamned-far in advance. Can we say “planners”? Keeping to my daily and monthly calendar, with all of the auto-reminders and phone pings, is still tricky. This civilization, this bastion of sanity in Meso-America, was able to build something that outshone and outlived the entirety of existence. This culture surpassed itself with something that not only endures, it strikes fear into the hearts of… dozens of dozens of deluded people that are convinced that an aluminum foil helmet and a lifetime supply of peanut butter will aid their quest against mass human extinction.

All I am saying is that instead of deciding that the end of a particular calendar (which, again, spans lengths of time unfathomable to me) is predictive of the end of the human condition, let’s respect the fact that inevitably, as one plans ahead, they run out of paper. They can’t forecast out beyond, say, 1,000 years from now. It’s not that they didn’t have the foresight to think about what might happen to their great-great-great-great-great-great grandchildren. They simply didn’t plan that far ahead. Because they’re not insane.

What poison and Joan Rivers have in common

I will never be a timeless beauty. I see the greys coming in on my scalp, and the tiny lines around my eyes from laughing and smiling. Mostly laughing. I may flirt with a different body frame from decade to decade, depending on the most recent herbal supplement and how true I can be to the Atkin’s Diet because there are only so many cheeseburgers one can eat bun-less. And I know that at the ripe old age of 31, I may very well end up eating crow decades from now for the grammatical tirade I am about to unleash into the blogosphere.  That being said, I feel it only fair that I put my thoughts to e-paper, to share my feelings on what I consider one of the grossest injustices that beset man and woman in this day and age.

I am talking about the glossy images of picture perfect people that grace magazine covers, imploring you to tighten things here, loosen things there, and have this and that completely removed. I am calling out all of the billions of dollars in advertising that are spent making people feel shitty about their appearance and offering special cures and creams that promise to melt the years away for the bargain price of your child’s college education fund. I am talking about people taking that deplorable messaging to heart and desperately trying to look young. Not younger. Not their natural and glorious age, but young. As Goldie Hawn said in the First Wives Club, “Science Fiction Young.” Truer words were never spoken.

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I can already feel the pushback from some who consider this not only a delicate subject, but one I have no business pursuing given that I am still careening through the second quarter of my life. That youth is beauty, and that in our culture of worship for the twenty-something with big boobs and no waist it is only natural for us to attempt to defy our ages, to invest in turnaround creams and skin tonics and anything else that will smooth out the evidence of our years on this planet on our bodies.

Let me be clear. I am not saying some routine maintenance as we grow older is anathema to living well. I am all for doing what we can to look our best; to trying to eat healthier not only to trim up our sagging waistlines but to live longer; to the occasional hair dye job to keep things monochromatic. Where I get queasy is at the cutting edge of the pseudoscience of turning back time (cue Cher’s incredible 1989 classic). Skin creams, while overrated and overpriced are fine. Injecting one’s face with botulism toxin, the most acutely toxic substance known to science, is troubling. You want a nip and tuck to keep those age lines at bay, I can get behind a lift or two, or even three depending on how heavy the lifting might be. When you get to the point where you can’t express human emotions by utilizing your face muscles (c.f., Joan Rivers aka the Cryptkeeper), I worry.

Why are we so youth obsessed? And what are the consequences? This can’t just be unhealthy to the individual. What kind of message is this to young people? Those we aim to emulate? Does this type of activity not instill in young people the notion that they are squandering their best years of attraction? Do any of us remember how incredibly awkward and sometimes downright embarrassing life was in our late teens and early twenties?

The collective amnesia about this era in our lives betrays us in that we wish so eagerly to look a certain way that we looked “back then”, but with all of the information and wisdom that we have now. Did I have a better ass in college? Yes. Could anyone see it given I wore a pair of homemade jean bellbottoms during my first two years of schooling? Most likely not. It’s a fantasy perpetuated by the media (both print, social, and electronic) that pushes us all to want to look younger while being savvy and wise. And as fallible human beings, we want our cake and to be able to eat it too (a phrase I still don’t quite understand but is still relevant), and for it to not go directly to our waistlines. As in most cases, I don’t have any easy answers, or any answer at that, on how to go about challenging this phenomenon, other than to rant against it electronically and hope someone will take the message to heart. I just worry that, given our trajectory and the runaway train of youth obsession, one day we’ll all wake up looking exactly the same, having all gone out and purchased our beautiful heads and faces like that creepy scene in the Return to Oz.