Category Archives: satire

Of Sickness and Health

guy1It’s no longer a question of staying healthy. It’s a question of finding a sickness you like.
—Jackie Mason

The best thing about getting a flu shot is that you never again need to wash your hands. That’s how I see it.
—Chuck Palahniuk

I wake up every morning at nine and grab for the morning paper. Then I look at the obituary page. If my name is not on it, I get up.
—Benjamin Franklin

This column required so many disclaimers it almost did not get written, which may not have been a bad thing. How can I possibly complain about being ill when famine, pestilence, drought, and disease strike so many? There are natural disasters like the earthquake in Nepal and man-made tragedies like plane and train crashes in the news. We have all suffered the premature loss of loved ones, friends and acquaintances to cruel accidents and catastrophic illness.

Let me gingerly state that my “suffering” does not even register on a scale of one being Vexed and ten being Death. I was sick, not life flashing before me, writhing in pain, praying to die, or iron lung, do not resuscitate, gather the children, last rites sick. I had what felt like a 24-hour flu and while there was no writhing, it went on (and on) for over a month. It was finally diagnosed as a mycoplasma infection (walking pneumonia). Bless my family, friends, casual acquaintances, and the kindly woman at Costco who witnessed my coughing and were ready with consolation and advice.

The consolation was great. But the “getting all up in my grill,” as we young people say, is tiring. People from many walks of life attempted to diagnose and fix me. Unfortunately none of them had any medical training. A jewelry maker I know thought it was viral, but a leather importer was not convinced it was respiratory. I am sure their inquiries were genuine, but as I entered the third week of ill health I became more of a Sudoku to be solved. My continued hacking seemed to be a refutation of one friend’s medical training (a B- in high school Biology).

When I am in a weakened state, I do not want play Twenty Questions, even it is for my own good. Had there been a change in my diet? Have I been drinking dank water? Moving my bowels regularly? Any foreign travel? Was I getting enough ruffage? Was it viral or bacterial? Was I eating plenty of garlic, had I done the chest rubs, run the humidifier, drunk the 8 glasses of water, kept up on my medications, consumed the soup? Like Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, one friend hovered. Despite his extensive accounting background, I was not improving. My illness was his failure. Trying to suppress a cough in his presence only made it worse. Was I being passive aggressive? I don’t think so, though I will cop to cranky.

When I am ill, my life is a game of Chutes and Ladders. Friends, neighbors, necessary errands, and even fun activities are obstacles taking me away from the goal, which is to be home, where I can wallow in my own germs. When my mind is foggy, everything and everyone seems to be keeping me from being horizontal.

Writing this after recovering, it seems obvious: Why didn’t I just stay in bed until I felt better? But as the days pile up I feel that I should be better by now and I continue to drag myself around, perhaps fearing the unspoken scorn of, “Are you still sick!?”

In Annie Hall Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) opines to Annie (Diane Keaton) that life is divided into two groups, the horrible (those in constant pain and facing terminal illness) and the miserable, which is everyone else. He advises her to be grateful she is only miserable.

Tom H. Cook a formerly local writer is able to take even large gel capsule medications without water!


Podcasting:  A digital recording of a radio broadcast or similar program made available on the Internet for downloading to a personal audio player.         –The New Oxford American Dictionary

The term podcast, like radio, can be the content or the process, a noun or a verb, the medium or the message.  “The New Oxford American Dictionary” labeled podcasting the new word of the year.  What pleases me is that the year was 2005.  Meaning I am not that far behind in at least this tiny portion of the rapid dissemination of information and entertainment.

I still do not have a cell phone to instant message photos to my website/blog/You Tube/My Space page, but I really enjoy listening to quality podcasts.  In other words I am a fogey reaching out to other technologically fearful folks who have grown to accept the computer as a lightning quick encyclopedia/shopping guide/road atlas, but are still intimidated by the interactive facet of the Internet.  I do not make my own podcasts, but the process of downloading quality programs is incredibly easy and free.

Podcasts are programs made available either on your computer or iPod (MP3 player) — all right, now I am showing off.  It is an opportunity to Tivo (so to speak), or time shift and capture shows for later viewing or listening.  I do not have a video feature on my iPod and worry that too many people who are already busy on the phone will also attempt to catch up on re-runs of The Office as they barrel down the highway.

Public radio has jumped into the new medium and most of their programming can be automatically downloaded.  If you are like me and your eyes glaze over when you hear the word gigabytes, find a fourteen year old to get you hooked up.

There are thousands of podcasts with the number growing exponentially.  Here are a few of the fun and quirky shows I look forward to receiving every time I update my iPod:

–The Cheap Seats also known as Bleacher Guy Radio is a weekly conversation between Rob Visconti in Detroit, and Eric McErlain in Washington D.C. about sports from the knowledgeable fans perspective.   They are two thirty-somethings who have real jobs, and do not claim to have inside information.  Their easy banter and clear love of all sports comes through.

–The President’s Weekly Radio Address is a dead-on parody of George W.  While truth is often stranger than fiction in this White House, this two-minute show is topical and humorous, and cuts eerily close to the bone.

–Slate Magazine Daily features excellent thoughtful essays contributed by the staff of the magazine and read by Andy Bowers.  The first class ideas on politics and culture delivered in a straightforward manner tempts me to get the magazine.

–ESPN Baseball Today is worth listening to for commentator Alan Schwarz.  If you download only one baseball show, try Schwarz.  He is knowledgeable, not a shill, and Twins-friendly, despite being based in New York.

–Filmspotting (formerly Cinecast) is a conversation between two young film lovers.  It is how Siskel and Ebert might have begun if they were starting out today.  I am not a film expert, but being thirty years older than these guys, I sometimes grimace at their knowledge gaps. They are smart, enthusiastic, and delightfully lacking in pretense, unlike some older jaded critics.

–Martini Shot (KCRW) is a five-minute weekly rant about the vagaries of Hollywood by insider Rob Long, formerly a writer for Cheers.  Long tells inside stories of how the entertainment industry really works.  He does not gossip about individuals, but tells very funny self-deprecating horror stories.

–Driveway Moments (NPR)  are those exquisite times when the radio program is so captivating you sit in the car and listen, even after reaching your destination.  Now you can listen at you leisure, be on time for dinner, and save the car battery.  Yes, progress can be bittersweet.

–This I Believe (NPR)  is the fruition of an idea I thought I invented.  Individuals from all walks of life speak from the heart about what they have learned, and what is vitally important to them.  The statements are a succinct five minutes or so, but when the fluff and social niceties are eliminated that is plenty of time.  Turns out Edward R. Murrow had such a show on television before my time.

–The Onion Radio News with stern-voiced announcer Doyle Redlands is a satire on news reporting and those who listen to it– in other words, all of us.  Like the newspaper formerly based in Madison, Wisconsin, The Onion reports news such as “Local man finds sweat shirt he’d given up on ever finding!!!”  Sandwiched in these daily one minute reports are short sound bites from either the “official spokesperson,” “hero,” “victim,” “bystander” or “noted authority.”


Tom H. Cook still lacks a “web presence”.  He remains on tsunami alert in southern California.


“Her name was Magill, and she called herself Lil, but everyone knew her as Nancy”
   — “Rocky Raccoon” from The Beatles’ White Album

Irv Lewis Libby is scheduled to go on trial for obstruction of justice and lying under oath to a Grand jury.  It is alleged that he disclosed the name of a CIA operative in order to get back at her husband, a critic of the war in Iraq.  Hopefully this is not the first you are hearing of this and you have sources for news beyond the Hill and Lake Press and this column.  My question is, if this man is being accused of such serious crimes why is every inside the beltway media person referring to him by his nickname?  Do we know another Lewis Libby?  Calling him Scooter creates a false intimacy, and it is a nickname that you almost can’t say without smiling. 

What did that freckle-faced red headed rascal do now, steal an apple pie that Aunt Bea had cooling on the windowsill?  That little miscreant hasn’t been chasing girls again, has he?  Scooter wears a baseball cap that covers his cowlick, and a wide striped T-shirt.  His jeans always have a hole in the knee, and the little scamp would rather be out in the woods with his slingshot than cooped up in school.  Commit a treasonous act that could compromise our intelligence community? Not our Scooter!  If this seems vitriolic I must confess that beneath the partisanship I am jealous not of the man but of the nickname.

Often nicknames are derived from an ascribed status like our family name, heritage or a physical characteristic.  The only nickname I ever had was Cookie, which I objected to because it was too obvious.  Ethnic nicknames– Jimmy The Greek, Dutch, as well as variations off of heritage like The Silent Swede (which may be redundant)– also do not require imagination.  Calling a large person Tiny or a bald one Curly may be paradoxical but it lacks inspiration.

Alas, you cannot really give yourself a nickname.  If you are wealthy enough you can hire a bunch of sycophants to call you Boss Man, Chief or Big Guy, but it is not as sincere as a playground nickname from your childhood.  Nicknames are terms of endearment bestowed either by those close to you or by an insightful outsider in a serendipitous moment.  You can be moving through your life as Harold, Maggie, Clarence, or Jan, and suddenly your love of a certain food, your body type, your hair, or a speech pattern may give you a lifetime handle.  You become Peanuts, Stick, Slick, or Mumbles.  Nicknames are like quicksand: the more you fight them, the more tenacious the hold.

A truly great nickname is a light-hearted yet insightful ironic synthesis, and a peek into the soul of another.  It acknowledges an achieved status.   Dubbing Eric Clapton “Slow Hands” is a loving tribute paid him by his fellow musicians.  It is a way to both gently kid and acknowledge his talent.  As a now middle aged person without a nickname, I fear my biological time clock ticking.  Not being good enough for school sports teams, I missed a real opportunity.  Since then I have left countless hints for my friends as I loudly proclaim my love of ice cream, my fear of rodents, and my interest in reading, but nothing has come of it.   I have met countless people who are less eccentric, quixotic, and colorful than I am who have really cool nicknames like Duke, Stretch, Kikki, Poncho, Slim, Bubba, Sissy, Doc, Buck, Gabby, Candy, Shorty, and Dusty. 

Whether in the workplace, a locker room, or a sewing circle, nickname people are more likely to be remembered.  My parents named me at birth (for my grandfather) and I have been unable to acquire a colorful sobriquet despite decades of trying.  With no nickname, I am outside of the club with my nose pressed against the glass.  Yes I am bitter that this gray flannel middle aged white-guy has a cool nickname.  Lewis “Scooter” Libby is second in command to Vice President Richard “Daddy Warbucks” Cheney, and if convicted, whether he ever serves jail time or is merely sent to his room without dessert, he should be forced to return “Scooter” to its rightful owner, Yankee shortstop Phil Rizzuto. 

“Scooter” Libby has a chance to become the most infamous nicknamed felon since Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme.

Multiple Choice

Now that I am teaching English in a high school, every situation is a potential multiple-choice question.  For example:

  1.  Tom and JoAnne live in a small beach house near the Pacific Ocean.  What would most enhance their appreciation of Southern California living
    a.  two one-speed bubble tire “beach cruiser” bicycle
    b.   a six-person hot tub set in a secluded back yard
    c.   a blue Miata convertible circa 1990
    d.   a backyard chimenea (fireplace) for ocean-cooled evenings
    e.   Teresa, JoAnne’s mother, taking up permanent residence in the guest room

If you answered “e” to Question 1, please proceed to Questions 2-10.

2. Teresa is a sweet 80 year old grandmother whose hobbies include

a.  folding plastic bags
b.  ironing
c.  collecting string
d.  cutting strips of cloth into string
e.  all of the above

3.  Her ideal room temperature is

a.  98.6
b.  the same as curing ham
c.  not calculable in Celsius
d.  warm, for anyone not living directly on the Equator
e.  one that would produce Cumulous clouds and aerographic precipitation

4.  As a child of the Great Depression she is

a.  thrifty
b.  economical
c.  adverse to throwing anything away
d.  able to find multiple uses for old stockings
e.  so tight she squeaks

5.   A hearty lunch consists of

a.  the bruised portion of a pear and one half of a Grape Nuts individual cereal pack
b.  the heel of a loaf of whole wheat bread with every seed carefully removed
c.  the doggie bag from a restaurant meal
d.  the doggie bag leftovers Part II
e.  half a breakfast bar carefully saved from an airplane flight (2002)

6.   If you need a calendar (to keep track of your medication) it is best to

a.  attempt to draw one on scrap paper
b.  have someone drive you from bank to bank to see if anyone is giving them out
c.  use a discarded one from 2003 , figure out the formula and hope it is not Leap Year
d.  wait until they are almost free in April and look for a damaged one the store will deep        discount
e.  work clockwise and find seven flat surfaces.  Put a day’s worth of pills on each.  If this is      the dresser it must be Tuesday

7.  If  I am napping soundly on the couch, Teresa will

a.  tiptoe and hover about so quietly I wake up
b.  wake me to ask if I am comfortable or would I like a firmer pillow
c.  state that I do not look comfortable and would I like my feet tucked in
d.  wake me from a dead sleep to ask if I want the television turned off
e.  wake me to ask if I know I am sleeping as she wouldn’t want me to get in trouble for            missing something.  She does not realize it is Sunday because the cat has knocked her        pills off of the end table and I forgot to bring home a calendar from work.

8.  If you spill a small amount of salt it can be saved in

a.  a square of wax paper
b.  an empty pre-rinsed individual mustard container
c.  a corner of aluminum foil
d.  a tiny Tupperware container
e.  almost anything.  The problem is someone else finding it and not knowing what it is and throwing it away only to be asked the next time you are taking a nap where the little bit of salt that was in the cabinet could be.

9.  Teresa is saving her money for

a.  her old age
b.  my old age
c.  the Chinese Year of The Dog
d.  the Apocalypse
e.  the next George Bush administration

10.  A bowl of ice cream must be eaten until

a.  sparks fly from the eating utensil
b.  much of the glaze in the bowl has been loosened
c.  DNA testing could no longer determine the flavor ice cream
d.  the bowl is cleaner than most dishwashers could get it
e.  the bowl is forcibly wrenched from her hands and filled again with ice cream

Tom H. Cook, a long time Minnesotan, has escaped to sunny California, along with his wife, his mother-in-law and the two boxers Stella and Cowboy.