2001 Notebook: Weak XVI
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16 April 2001
Beer-Clean Desk
After months of delay, I finally cleaned my desk tonight. I hadn’t planned on filing (read: throwing away) the small hills of magazines, newspapers, receipts, and other detritus today; I was, as usual, planning on organizing my paperwork mañana.

Rainier Ale, the catalyst for so much wonderfulness in the world, inspired me to remove the clutter. Specifically, the small tidal wave of Rainier Ale that came pouring from a tipped pint glass motivated me to act very quickly. I threw sodden gobs of papers in the rubbish basket, then licked up the small pools of Rainier Ale remaining on the desk. I cleaned the surface of the desk with a fresh, damp sponge, then put the sponge in a pan of boiling water to prepare a broth for tomorrow’s soup. (Although many people think of Rainier Ale as just a breakfast drink, it’s also great for cooking.)

Scott, who’s perhaps the most vigilant and observant person at my laboratory, asked me why I cleaned my desk.

“I just felt like it after I tipped over my glass of Rainier ale,” I replied.

Scott looked shocked.

“David, David, what were you thinking?!” he asked. “The manufacturer delivered the product to you in a sturdy, well-designed aluminum can. And what do you go and do? You pour the contents into a wide-apertured container with a high center of gravity. What were you thinking?!”

“It wasn’t the fault of the glass,” I explained. “Sometimes Rainier Ale just wants to run free. It’s in the waters.”

Scott looked skeptical; I suppose that’s because he hasn’t spent as much time on Tahoma as I have.

17 April 2001
Dr. Cherche’s Acquittal
I just read that Dr. Cherche was acquitted of all the charges against him by the California College of Medical Practitioners.

According to the story in The California Medical Journal, Dr. Cherche intentionally misdiagnosed patients. First, he’d tell a patient that he’d discovered alarming results from a general checkup or a routine lab test. After that, he’d pronounce his grim prognosis: death within months. Dr. Cherche would then perform an exhaustive battery of tests, and solemnly advise the patient to spend the few remaining days wisely.

Witness after witness testified that Dr. Cherche intentionally misdiagnosed his patients. In fact, all of his “terminal” patients were quite healthy. Damning evidence, really.

In his defense, Dr. Cherche cited the Hippocratic Oath. Here’s the text of said oath: I swear by Apollo Physician, by Aesculapius, by Health, by Heal-all, and by all the gods and goddesses, making them witnesses, that I will carry out, according to my ability and judgment, this oath and this indenture: To regard my teacher in this art as equal to my parents; to make him partner in my livelihood, and when he is in need of money to share mine with him; to consider his offspring equal to my brothers; to teach them this art, if they require to learn it, without fee or indenture; and to impart precept, oral instruction, and all the other learning, to my sons, to the sons of my teacher, and to pupils who have signed the indenture and sworn obedience to the physicians’ Law, but to none other. I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but I will never use it to injure or wrong them. I will not give poison to anyone though asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a plan. Similarly I will not give a pessary to a woman to cause abortion. But in purity and in holiness I will guard my life and my art. I will not use the knife on sufferers from stone, but I will give place to such as are craftsmen therein. Into whatsoever houses I enter, I will do so to help the sick, keeping myself free from all intentional wrongdoing and harm, especially from fornication with woman or man, bond or free. Whatsoever in the course of practice I see or hear (or even outside my practice in social intercourse) that ought never to be published abroad, I will not divulge, but consider such things to be holy secrets. Now if I keep this oath, and break it not, may I enjoy honor, in my life and art, among all men for all time; but if I transgress and forswear myself, may the opposite befall me.

The doctor also testified that he briefly, albeit intentionally, misdiagnosed his patients “for the greater good.”

In the end, Dr. Cherche’s patients came to his defense. Each and every one of them testified that Dr. Cherche’s unorthodox treatment was unambiguously beneficial. That’s what the banking executive who quit his job to open a gardening center said, that’s what the scientist who left her family to live with her girlfriend in Manilla said, that’s what they all said.

Good for Dr. Cherche. Like the good doctor’s patients, I hope my first terminal diagnosis is also a false alarm.

18 April 2001
Assuming a Pleasing Expression of Countenance
I saw an old cartoon from an 1859 edition of Harper’s Magazine. The drawing showed a photographer preparing to make a portrait of a nervous client. Students of photographic history will appreciate the sitter’s discomfort, since neck braces and other restraints were required to remain still for a long exposure. (Photography was, for all intents and purposes, a teenager in 1859, and not a very mature one at that.)

Now here’s the best part of the cartoon, the bit that made the cartoon a cartoon. In this instance, the cartoonish bit was the caption, in which the photographer advises his subject, “assume a pleasing expression of Countenance.”

What a great idea! In the unlikely event that I start making portraits again, I too shall advise my victims to assume a pleasing expression of Countenance.

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19 April 2001
Camper Van of the Sky
Jan asked me if I wanted to spend the weekend at her place on the beach in Florida.

“It seems like a long way to go for a weekend,” I said.

“Not really,” she said, “We’ll take my jet.”

Why didn’t I think of that?

I was looking forward to the flight; I’d never been on a small jet before. I figured that since it was Jan’s plane, I could sit in the cockpit and perhaps even drive for a while. After playing video games for almost twenty years, I certainly must know how to fly by now.

It turns out that the Canadair Challenger had both a pilot and a copilot, so I never got to fly the jet. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it also had a third member of the crew who was assigned to bringing us drinks. If I live to be a hundred and twenty-two, I’ll never tire of being asked, “Could I get you another beer?” Other than better seats and service, being on a small, private jet wasn’t all that different than being on a large, commercial airliner. (Oh, yes, and there was the window in the toilet, too. That as a nice touch!)

After we landed, Jan asked me what I thought of the experience.

“I wasn’t really prepared,” I admitted. “Now that I know how these things work, I’ll buy some tortillas, cheese, onions, avocados, and salsa for the trip back. The nice man who brought us the drinks looked rather bored; I bet he’d enjoy frying up some fresh quesadillas.”

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20 April 2001
Frou-Frou Crapola Deluxe
Oh dear, I seem to have ended up in the wrong part of Florida. There’s nothing here except high-rise condominiums, security guards, and Caucasians driving overpriced cars.

The most amusing thing about this place is that all the condominium towers have silly names like Medici I and Medici II, The Monaco, The Marquesa, The Versailles, et cetera. Invariably, the pretentious names are written in bad script in gold paint on a large, “tasteful” sign beside a gaudy, illuminated fountain.

Now that’s what I call taste!

I must admit that there’s something to be said for wretched excess, and I have my own ideas for how the entrance to such a tower should appear. First, I’d do away with the understated fountains and install the real thing, complete with mechanical dolphins spouting bubbles from their neon blowholes, fog machines, and computer-controlled laser lighting to replace the old-fashioned incandescent spotlights. And every Friday night I’d have a mariachi band parachute off the roof; that would signal the start of free margaritas.

And here’s the best part: I’d call my ridiculous building Frou-Frou Crapola Deluxe. What discerning consumer wouldn’t pay big money to live at such a prestigious address?

21 April 2001
Not Rocket Science
Florida is flatter than flat; anyone can see that. I never realized how flat is was, though, until I learned that the highest point in the state is a NASA structure at Cape Canaveral. What a ridiculous state. Even England has hills that are taller than any building there.

I suppose the U.S. government had to build its space center near an ocean so that astronauts had a convenient place to dump their rockets’ booster stages and other trash en route to the heavens above. On the other hand, it seems like the astronauts might have done better starting their journey into space from, say, Mt. Whitney. It just makes sense to start a long trip into space with a head start of a few kilometers.

That’s not rocket science, is it?

22 April 2001
In a Crowd of My Own
I can’t figure out whether life is too short for just one life or too long for just one life. Whatever. In any case, I’ve enjoyed several different lives already, and I’m looking forward to several more.

I was reminded of the changes when I spent this afternoon with a friend I met decades ago along with a new friend.

The new friend asked the old friend what crowd I was in way back then. The old friend paused, considered the question, then answered.

“I’d have to say that he was in a crowd of his own,” she replied.

That’s one of the many great things about old friends; they always know just the right thing to say.

23 April 2001
In the End, an Awards Ceremony
Jessica invited me to go to an awards ceremony tonight.

“I don’t think so,” I replied. “When I think of awards, I think of Frederick Raphael’s remark, ‘Awards are like hemorrhoids; in the end, every asshole gets one.’”

Jessica repeated her invitation.

“I don’t think so,” I replied. “It’s like Bela Bartok said, ‘Competitions are for horses, not artists.’”

Jessica told me there’d be free drinks and acres of hors d’oeuvres.

We went to the awards ceremony; we had a good time.

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©2001 David Glenn Rinehart