Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Slam-Dunkin’ Donuts

As you may have heard by now, a doctor in North Carolina has figured out how to add caffeine to baked goods without any discernable taste. Already Dunkin’ Donuts and Krispy Kreme and other major retailers are lining up to ensure that they can get these products into their stores.

I imagine that a buzzed bagel or dazed donut would be a boon for some. The cop who gets a sudden call or a trucker on the move wouldn’t have to deal with juggling a hot beverage and a donut. The student running late and jonesing for a Starbucks fix wouldn’t have to make two stops to also get a bagel. The harried commuter wouldn’t spill hot java in his or her lap, ending all those frivolous lawsuits. I myself have driven to work with a coffee in one hand and biscotti in another, and for the grace of living in the sticks, I stayed on the road and the only damage I caused was a few crumbs in my lap.

But does the world really need another caffeine delivery system? Caffeinated candies and gums have been around for decades, but now we have caffeinated water and those electrified Red Bulls not to mention a Starbucks on every corner, and now, it can be mixed into anything you can stick in an oven. What’s next? Toothpaste? Breakfast cereals? Why not just make a hypodermic you can jab into your arm before you even get out of bed?

Oh, but you would kind of lose the appeal of the chocolate syrup and whipped cream in a hypodermic solution, wouldn’t you?

I, for one, miss regular coffee. (back when I could drink coffee, that is) Just a plain old well-roasted, well-brewed cup of joe, black please, no sugar. No Sweet N’ Low, no NutraSweet, no honey, no raw sugar, no nothin’. No pumpkin spice, vanilla chai, gingersnap, peppermint. (Although hazelnut is not too bad, and of course I like that touch of Amaretto at Christmastime)

But why do people have to go screwing with everything? Donuts and bagels sell pretty well already. Coffee is a perfect companion, and the baked good makes it so that you have something to put in your stomach to absorb all that caffeine.

Now we’ll have people zooming around on all eight and then some. I smell a conspiracy here. It’s a well-known fact that caffeine makes you work faster. (this is why at my former job we’d often joke about the president front-loading the water coolers with caffeine) Someone in the government looked at flagging production figures and slipped the word out calling for more ways to get caffeine into Americans’ lives.

Hell, we’re already doing it to China. You’ve got a country of billions of people suddenly finding themselves in the throes of an industrial revolution, with demand so great their infrastructure can’t keep up. So they’ve got tea. But that’s not good enough to pump out all those underpriced goods! Send in Starbucks, planning on opening 2500 stores in the Sleeping Tiger, and get them hooked on double espressos! That’ll get those factories and transportation systems built!

Imagine if we’d had Starbucks and caffeinated baked goods during our own Industrial Revolution. (I mean, after those darned unions put the kibosh on women and kids working twelve-hour days and stuff) We would have dispensed with fossil-fuel burning cars by the Truman administration. General Eisenhower would have had a cell phone and a BlackBerry in the field. We could have peppered Germany with smart bombs and had that war over with faster than you could say “Luftwaffe.”

Just go pour yourself a cup of your baked good of choice and enjoy the fact that living in America gives you choices you can’t get in the rest of the world…like…like the right to privacy and the right to a government that represents the will of the people and…oh, never mind. If only they could infuse the donuts with some sort of agent that would induce amnesia.

Don’t think someone in some secret undisclosed location isn’t working on it. And he’s jazzed on Boston Cremes.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Attention Must Be Paid?

I was having one of those days. A cold spell grinding down, been in the house too long, ready to claw at the drywall just to get out. So I got in my car with a vague destination, to take care of a few things that had been nattering around in the back of my head.

One was to price a new mattress for my “exercise” bed (actually Husband’s old trundle bed which, in the furniture roulette, had finally been move downstairs into the living room when we got a new bed for our room a couple years back). I figured that 30-some years was about as long as you can expect a mattress to hold out before it either disintegrated or became a hammock, but finding a replacement was not as easy a task as one would think. The mattress had to be narrow enough to fit inside the old-fashioned metal frame (the standard “twin” width is 38”, or so I learned, and the trundle bed mattresses can be 33” or 36”), firm enough to allow me to do my exercises, on those days when I don’t want to do them on the floor, yet not so rock-hard that I can’t take a nap on it on those days when I need a nap (or a place to ice my back, do deep breathing exercises, etc.).

So I stopped into one of our local bedding stores. Now, these places are like heaven to me. Some people hang their heads out the window like dogs whenever they pass an auto dealership. Some (OK, me included) are magnetically drawn into bookstores. But if I had to imagine heaven, it would be acres and acres of soft, plushy mattresses - surrounded by books, of course.

My dream didn’t include the salesman.

He was an older gentleman – from the distance of the front door to the middle of the showroom I pegged him in his early 60s but as I walked closer his drawn face looked not just older – eyes sunken and pouched – but like he either was or had been seriously ill.

And it turned out to be both. After he pointed me toward the options in trundle bed mattresses (not many) he continued his sales pitch by telling me he was dead tired and taking too much aspirin. He was getting over a cold. He’d taken a round of chemo recently for colon cancer and had some other aches and pains from some other surgeries and had only slept two hours the night before.

Ironic, in a store full of beds, he couldn’t get any sleep.

He told me that he was going to demand they cut him back to four days, because six was just too many. He was 62 and could retire now if he wanted, but he was holding out to 65 so he could get more money. He said he’d been out on disability for a while and I told him (what I could get in edgewise) about my own experiences with the program. Then his saga really began. (you know those people, the ones who say, “Well, you think THAT’s bad…let me tell you about my Aunt Matilda and her hemorrhoids…”) He told me about his brother, who’d been a colorist at a hair salon. A marathon runner, fit as a fiddle. He’d been the main source of income in his family for years, since his wife, who worked for IBM, had a nervous breakdown and couldn’t work any more. And one day he simply collapsed at the salon. He’d developed some sort of poisoning from exposure to the chemicals, and it resulted in a rare disease that was a lot like multiple sclerosis, plus extreme multiple chemical sensitivities. It was so bad he had to have a HEPA filter in every room. Within two years, the steroids had ruined his body. Eventually he and his wife had to move out of our lovely Hudson Valley, because he couldn’t handle the stagnant air and the allergens here, so his options were either by an ocean or in the mountains. He opted for a place in Florida. Essentially, he became a boy in a bubble. Visitors to his scrupulously clean house had to first shower and then change into special clothing before entering.

I really didn’t want to hear another story where someone else has it worse so I should be grateful, but the writer in me found him so fascinating that it was tough to leave. But eventually my own aches and pains from standing in one place for so long got to me so I made the classic moves to leave – putting on the gloves, getting out the keys – but he kept on talking. Even though I said I had to leave and it was nice meeting him, he kept talking. As I moved closer and closer to the door, he kept talking.

And finally when I was at the door did it dawn on him that I was actually leaving, this (probably) one bit of human contact he’d had for hours, maybe all day (for who shops for mattresses on a Friday?).

And out came the first personal question he’d asked me since I, a potential customer, walked into his life.

“What’s your name?” he said.

I told him.

“Nice to meet you,” he said.

And with my hand on the door I wanted to suggest that after I left, he might want to lock up for an hour or so and take a nap.

But I was afraid that this would start him on another round of telling me even more of his troubles and I already knew more about the state of his colon than anyone, even his doctor, had a right to.

And driving home, I didn’t feel better about myself knowing that someone else had it worse. I just felt bad for him and his brother, and worse for me. The only thing I felt good about was getting away from him so I wouldn’t have to look into his near-death eyes and hear any more of his heart-wrenching story and get sucked into someone else’s tragedy when I couldn’t even handle my own.

And doubtful I’m going back there to buy a mattress from him, either.

Right now I just can’t afford it.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

An Object Lesson In Procrastination

Sometimes, to amuse myself, I get one or two of those weekly womens’ magazines. You know, the ones that have a week’s worth of recipes you can make for five bucks (after using all of your cents-off coupons and rebates), how to look like Lindsay Lohan or Tyra Banks without the bucks or the rehab, how to get your kid from crying on airplanes. Stuff like that. And at the back of the magazines are a variety of puzzles. One of the magazines features a bizarre photo – usually something involving pets or babies – and asks the reader to provide the caption. The winner gets a hundred dollars. (It’s sort of a stripped-down version of the caption contest in the New Yorker, where they put up a captionless and typically perplexing cartoon that I guess you have to either live in Manhattan or be in therapy to understand.)

Anyway, this was one of those typical photos:



And immediately I thought it should have been “Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?”

Husband didn’t agree. Thought something else would be funnier. But I stuck to my guns. I wrote in my caption, got it ready to mail (you can either e-mail it or snail mail it), then it promptly got lost in a pile of miscellaneous crap in my writing area and I only found it a few days ago, long past the deadline.

Then I get one of those magazines again (I always forget the name of the one that has the photos). I’m flipping through it and this is what I see at the back:



And that’s what I get for procrastination. And disorganization. (and oddly, the winner lives about an hour from our house)

So I still send in the captions, when the magazine I pick up happens to be the one with the photo. But this time I mail them right away.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

State of Disunion

A little history lesson for you kiddies out there:

Article II, Sec. 3, of the U.S. Constitution requires that, "The President shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient."

And even though George Washington gave his State of the Union as a speech to both houses of Congress, there was no law that it must be an oral address. Thomas Jefferson, being a rather shy man and thinking the idea of a speech to the entire young government a bit too “kingly,” opted to deliver his message in writing. His successors found this such a great idea that it was 112 years until a president spoke the State of the Union Address again. President Wilson revived the concept of a speech, and until Calvin Coolidge in 1923, the speech was only shared with the public through newspapers.

Even though there was no law that the information must be shared with the public at large. And definitely there was no law that it must be, as it’s become since the advent of television and absolutely since the advent of media spin and rebuttals and focus groups, a national spectacle.

It used to be a medium by which a President would deliver vital information. James Monroe used it to outline the Monroe Doctrine. Lincoln used his in 1862 to announce that he wanted to abolish slavery. FDR spoke of the “four freedoms” in 1941.

But especially in the last ten years, the SOTU has become a joke. The audience is preloaded with “heroes” like Tom Brady and 9/11 emergency workers and others who will underscore the need for such-and-such or how great the president is at whatever national problem is at hand. The opposing party gives the president a token three of four claps while looking like they’d been sucking on lemons? Who doesn’t recall (among those of us who are old enough to remember) the 1997 Clinton State of the Union Address that most media chose to show split-screen with the low-speed chase of OJ Simpson’s white van? Or the booing from the left side of the aisle when W gave his last SOTU? Since when, no matter how low his approval rating, has it become acceptable for Congress to boo a sitting president during a speech?

Martin Van Buren would never have stood for that. Not to mention Abigail Van Buren.

Another SOTU tidbit that you might not know: In Bush’s addresses, the average number of the times he uses the pronoun “I” is 37. The average number of first person references in one of Clinton’s speeches is well over a hundred. Which said something about why Bush is the President he is and why Bill Clinton is the President he was and why it took Clinton such an agonizingly long time to get on that plane out of Washington when his second term was over.

I hardly bother to watch these “speeches” anymore. They’re simply laundry lists of things that would be great to have but mostly will never be. They’re a grand opportunity for scads of free media space so a president can test out his best lines, deflect from the real problems he’s been having and set the political pundits and administration representatives spinning like tops.

And now that so many of the speeches are previewed by media outlets in the days proceeding, (anyone who hasn’t been in a cave for the last week knows that W is going to talk about health care, education and the war in Iraq) why bother giving the damned thing at all? It would save us all a whole lot of time and give us what we really want, which is more time to sit in front of the TV and eat trans-fat laden snacks.

So a request to whomever is elected next: I, and probably a lot of other people, would just as soon you return to delivering the speech in writing. Just get your staff of spinmeisters going, use the time you’ve saved on actually doing something for the country, and post the speech on the web. And I’ll read it at my leisure. Or when none of my favorite shows are on.

Thanks.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Face It

A few years ago, I happened to meet a former coworker while taking the train to NYC. Robin is a part-time actress in her late forties. She said she was bemoaning the “little lines” in her face to her acting teacher, and speculating about getting some of those new injections. The teacher said (and I’m paraphrasing), “Don’t you dare. There’s money in your wrinkles. You know how many older actresses are being cast in commercials?” Robin mentioned the type of commercials: arthritis remedies, vitamins and supplements, and skin creams, to name a few. And now I can’t help but shake my head at the irony. Older faces being used to sell products to an aging market. Yet older faces are being sold products to make them look younger. This is just too bizarre. It reminds me of that classic type of spread in women’s’ magazines: an article about how to get a bikini body opposite articles like “Three Delicious Cheesecake Recipes!”

Anyway, thanks to good genes and healthy living (mostly) and not giving a damn in general, I don’t worry much about wrinkles. But this past week on the Today show, I heard a statistic that sent me straight to my mirror: $600 million is expected to be spent this year on what is called “fillers and relaxers” (such as Botox and related “injectable” cosmetics that Robin talked about.) And another product, Reloxin, which is currently being used in Europe, is awaiting FDA approval to hit the US market. The story debated the pros and cons of each product and their effectiveness at getting rid of (or at least reducing the appearances of) lines, crows’ feet, etc. And, most pointedly, if the introduction of Reloxin and other new “products” would drive down the price of $200 Botox hits or $1500-a-shot Restylane injections. They also showed two women going through the “procedure,” both of them around my age.

The segment was teased by saying that “60 is the new 40,” with various female celebrities as examples. Of course, nothing was said about whether or not these women would really look like this if not for a little shot now and again. And nothing was said about WHY women feel like they have to do this to themselves. No pros and cons about “aging gracefully” (which is the new way of saying “I’m getting the Hillary Clinton, not the Joan Rivers”) versus letting the ravages of time fall where they may.

Are we simply burned out on this debate? Or has it already been decided for us by the number of women walking into their dermatologist’s offices wanting these procedures, so that all that’s left to do is compare and contrast the substances available? Is this all we’re left with, plus the continual debate about who in Hollywood is using and who isn’t? (I did notice that the unveiling of Rebecca Romijn in Ugly Betty had her looking a little…well…plumper in some places than she used to be.)

I’m sorry. I’m still stuck in the twentieth century, apparently, debating why we need to do this at all. Yes, it’s an individual decision. Yes, it’s made a lot of women feel better about themselves. And that’s fine for them. But aside from the cost of these new “injectables,” what is the long term price? We’ve seen the horrors of drugs and other substances that were pushed too fast onto the market – Thalidomide, Cyclamates, Vioxx, to name just a few. How do we know the long term effects of all this stuff that women are injecting into their faces in desperate attempts to stave off the hands of time?


And what’s so damned wrong with “looking your age,” anyway? I don’t want to look like I’m 25. I’ve earned this age. I’ve learned hard lessons, done brave things, paid my dues. Yes, I have a little fun with my hair color, but for me, that falls into a different category. It’s like putting on jewelry, or dressing up. But my face?

I plan on leaving that alone.

After all, I’m worth it.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

How To Prepare For Your Mammogram

I got this once by e-mail and always wished I'd kept it. Thanks to a friend for sending it to me again:

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Many women are afraid of their first mammogram, but there's no
need to worry. By taking a few minutes each day for a week preceding
the exam, and doing the following practice exercises, you will be
totally prepared. And you can do this right in your own home!

Exercise 1:

Open your refrigerator door and insert one breast between the
door and the main box. Have one of your strongest friends slam the
door shut and lean on the door for good measure. Hold that position
for five seconds (while you hold your breath). Repeat again, in
case the first time wasn't effective enough.

Exercise 2:

Visit your garage at 3 am when the temperature of the cement
floor is just perfect. Take off your clothes and lie comfortably on
the floor with one breast wedged under the rear tire of the car.
Ask a friend to slowly back the car up until your breast is
sufficiently flattened and chilled. Turn over and repeat for the
other breast.

Exercise 3:

Freeze two metal bookends overnight. Strip to the waist. Invite
a stranger into the room. Press the bookends against one of your
breasts. Smash the bookends together as hard as you can. Set an
appointment with the stranger to meet next week and do it again!!

CONGRATULATIONS!

Now you have nothing at all to worry about when you go for your
Mammogram!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

“Who Wants to be the President,” brought to you by Coca-Cola, Ford and Nextel

The Nielson Company estimates that thirty-seven million people watched the two-hour premiere of American Idol on Tuesday night.

Thirty-seven million. Million. Thirty-seven. Thirty…

I’m sorry, but the number still makes my head spin.

And thirty-five million tuned in for the season premiere of 24.

What boggles me more is that either of these figures are easily thirty percent of the number of people who voted in the last presidential election. Granted, many of the viewers are below voting age (Nielson did not release any estimates parsed into demographics). But if simply a few good marketing gimmicks and a bunch of commercials showing stuff getting blown up or AI hopefuls singing so badly they could make paint curl are enough to ensure that all those eyeballs do nothing more than sit on their couches and press a particular button on their remotes (I don’t know if this included the number of people who either TiVo’ed or videotaped or downloaded the shows), then think of how many more could be gotten if only a modicum of extra effort were required.

I’m not talking about a lot of extra effort. This has the effect of diminishing returns. Because obviously from the current turnout rates at the polls, it’s too hard to parse out all those confusing political commercials or stay awake during the debates. Then you have to make a decision. If you even decide to vote at all, you have to get in the car and drive somewhere, or figure out which bus or subway to take. You have to fight your way through either Democratic or Republican dirty tricks (depending on your orientation) and then you have to (sometimes) wait in line, help the volunteer find your name on the rolls, then pull that really heavy lever to close and re-open your booth curtain (or, if you live in Florida, figuring out how to vote at all).

Perhaps I’m not the first to propose this idea, but if I am, let me add my voice to the chorus: let’s simply dispense with the whole electoral mess and select our presidents like they do the next pop star on American Idol?

First, have the producers of AI send Howard Dean, Karl Rove and a third-party judge to be named later out on the road to hold auditions in a number of cities. Slap a number on each candidate’s chest, videotape some pre-competition comments, and if they do well enough in the initial audition (which includes a short speech about why they want to be President, then display some kind of talent, like singing a Christina Aguliera song or juggling flaming torches, give them a pass to move on to Iowa.

Then, each week, the candidates will show other facets of their abilities (divided into categories, like “Feeling Your Pain,” “Being Tough on Terrorism,” and “Working the Media”) and each week, one candidate will be voted out from each party based on who received the fewest number of calls from registered voters. No outside promotion will be allowed by any of the candidates. The President is the last one standing. The Vice President is the one with the highest number of calls in the President’s political party.

Not only is the system free of the usual election complaints of negative campaigning, exit polling, racism, party influence, and the like, but it gives faster and more definitive returns so that embarrassing moments such as respected television anchors calling the wrong winner would be avoided.

Yes, the system has its pitfalls. There will be complaints that not all registered voters can afford cell phones, and that this reeks of racism, sexism, capitalism, ageism and any other kind of ism you can dream up. But the problem can be easily remedied. With the money saved by not producing and airing political commercials, the government will be able to give either give tax credits or free coupons (depending on your household income) for the purchase of a TracPhone designed just for this purpose, which will include detailed instructions on its use (not written by the election board of Florida or anyone who works for the government). There will be complaints of election fraud similar to the ones American Idol received that “your vote doesn’t REALLY count.” We’re still looking into the problem, but if you can come up with anything better, please submit your suggestions to the network.

Good luck to all the candidates. May they choose the right spiel for their range, strike the right chords with the American public, and may the best one receive the most votes.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Ice World

Welcome to Ice World, day three. For the third day I wake to a frozen landscape, with the fog hanging low over the mountain and icicle beads fringing our eaves and patio railings. The trees look sad from bearing the weight of their iced leaves, many of which have not dropped since winter came so late and they felt no need to shed them.

It is easy to imagine the ice fog never lifting, the world forever enveloped in a blanket of mist – cold in the winter and oppressively hot in the summer. It is easy to imagine this world of global warming we’ve been promised: the chilly Southern California winters and the balmier, yet foggy ones in the Northeast.

We have become Seattle.

For years, though, I’d been trained that my environment evolves in predictable patterns. In the winter, it snows, with a brief warm spell in the middle of January. By the end of March the winds die down and the air fills with the smell of warming earth. The first blast of real summer heat doesn’t hit until Memorial Day weekend, then returns in July. Muggy buggy snuffly August ends with a cool snap in the air. September begins with cloudless, endlessly blue skies and ends with the first taste of autumn. After the first frost comes glorious Indian Summer, which for most of my life had come around the third week in October, and during college, timed most cruelly to correspond with midterms. The first snow often comes during Thanksgiving weekend, and most certainly by Christmas. And we start the wheel again.

But if you live in the Northeast, you probably know all this.

Yet everything is being tilted on its ear.

Yes, August was as obnoxious as ever, and September was a dome of blue stretching on forever, but I don’t think we even had Indian Summer this year. Just a string of days hovering in the same 20 degree temperature range – maybe a day when it hit 60, but never a span of them long enough to actually call it a season. And winter? A couple days of freezing rain in the middle of January? Don’t make me laugh (of course, this taunt will bring down all sorts of bad karma and mark my words, we’ll be buried in snow come next week).

This kind of vacillation is troubling. Mild weather one year, extreme the next…now, I’m not a scientist nor even someone who has done much reading on the subject or even seen Al Gore’s movie, but even to the casual observer, this just doesn’t seem right. Yes, this atmosphere’s weather patterns naturally cycle. Husband tells me that there was a kind of Ice Age in North America in the late 1700s into the early 1800s, with hideous winters that seemed to last forever. The Hudson River froze so solid you could walk across it. (Of course, this might have more to do with the northern progression of the salt line than any other factor…although we do live in a giant terrarium of sorts, and one event effects another) And we’ve all heard about El Ninos and La Ninas causing havoc with the jet stream and the severity of hurricanes.

But even without the contributions of our greenhouse gases (yes, I do believe that we are contributing, please don’t get on my ass about being “one of those people” who drank the Kool-Aid and don’t believe in global warming), our planet’s weather is constantly on the move.

And I don’t think I like the direction in which it’s going.

My writerly imagination can see a world where the fog never lifts – icy chilled in winter, oppressively humid in summer. Spring and fall will be nothing more than a few mere days of transition. When the earth warms, ravenous predators will emerge and eat every frog and snake in site, leaving the insect population to reproduce unchecked.

Bugs and ragweed will rule the planet. Ticks and mosquitoes will spread diseases that will defy all of our attempts to treat with ever-resistant antibiotics. Grasshoppers will mutate to mammoth proportions and might actually be able to crush a car if they had enough momentum in their leap (now, remember that I’m not a scientist and barely passed physics in high school and have no idea of the length and trajectory of a ridiculously large grasshopper’s hop) Birds, the few species that don’t die out, will evolve (or devolve?) back into pterodactyl proportions and nobody will leave their pets outside overnight. Camping as recreation might also disappear, because who wants to be peacefully wheezing away under the smothering fog and be stomped to death by a giant grasshopper? All those annoying outdoor stores will disappear, except for a few which will specialize in Kevlar suits, helmets and exoskeleton-piercing bullets.

Of course, maybe I exaggerate.

It’s just something to think about when you buy your next tank of gas.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Dr. Mario

Last week I was listening to WAMC (my local NPR affiliate) and a show called “The Media Project.” It’s a panel of local media professionals (usually an editor, a publisher and a reporter), and they spend a half-hour each week first making inside jokes about each other, then disassembling the latest news and how it was covered. I believe it was modeled after a similar show on CNN. Except without the inside jokes.

Anyhow, someone on the panel brought up the recent redesign of the Wall Street Journal to add color and make it more readable. They debated the pros and cons of color in newspapers, a trend started by USA Today. The publisher on the panel said that the redesign was done by, and I quote, the “peripatetic Mario Garcia.” (He’d also recently redesigned the San Francisco Examiner among many other papers)

And somewhere from the rusty archives of my memory a bell rang.

Mario Garcia was my Graphic Design 101 professor at Syracuse University.

He wasn’t just any random professor. Dr. Garcia was the reason I became a graphic designer.

On paper, my major was advertising and psychology. In Syracuse’s Newhouse School of Communications, you have to take a few semesters of survey courses in other types of communications before you get to focus on your major. I took journalism (I enjoyed this; could picture myself as Lois Lane, and while later in life I called upon these rudimentary skills to make few bucks, back then I didn’t have the passion to make it my life’s calling), something called Comm 101 (which was a pretty dull overview of every type of communication from the moment some Cro-Magnon scratched fleas out of another’s hide to the present, which around that time was this “fad” (as the professor proclaimed it) called cable) and few more course that have disintegrated into the cobwebs of time.

But Graphics 101 was one of the course that didn’t. I was riveted. To Dr. Garcia’s stories about Cuba, his past, and his design career (at that time he’d just completed his first redesign of the Miami Herald), to the samples he put up on the screen for us to praise or tear apart, to the very fact that there was a profession called graphic design that combined just about every skill in my brand-new toolbox and everything I enjoyed doing.

Talk about eyes opening, horizons widening, mental doors being ripped off their hinges! I never missed one class. I was never late. I enthusiastically did each assignment, including putting together my sample book, an assignment he asked us to complete not just for this course, but for the rest of our professional careers. It was a notebook of blank pages upon which we'd paste examples of print design and typography that we particularly liked, and why we liked them. I still have that original bright-red notebook – somewhere – which I’m glad was bright red because JUST as I was putting the finishing touches on it at my dorm room desk on deadline day, I spilled a glass of tomato juice across the cover.

I even used this sample book as an example for my continuing ed students when I taught graphic design at Northeastern. (After I'd cleaned off the rest of the tomato juice stains, of course)

And even though I eventually changed careers, for a long time I collected tidbits of things – a font, an ad from a magazine – until I just had too many little things floating around and had to pare them down to my very favorite little things. And then I collected things in my head. Anyone who accompanied me to a movie groaned when I told him or her the names of the fonts used in the credits.

They still do.

Here’s to Dr. Mario – may he ever be peripatetic, for as long as newsprint keep rolling.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Fiction Wednesday

I proclaim this Fiction Wednesday while I think of other things to write about. I apologize if you'd heard this short already.

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The Ring

Diana hadn’t wanted to wear her gloves tonight. They fit too tightly over the already too-tight ring. But even though the snug leather fingers are embedding its odd bulk deeper into her flesh, even though her parents would certainly recognize the outsized bulge on her left hand and probably not be happy, she promises Ted that she won’t remove them until he can find a parking space and meet her at her parent’s townhouse.

She’s barely out of Ted’s car with the chocolate torte they’d picked up for dessert when she sees her mother at the door, pinch-lipped and overdressed, ushering her in out of the cold.

A football game blares from the wall of television across the room. Diana’s father doesn’t budge from his lounge chair. “Hey, Angelcake. Cop a squat, we’re down by two.”

“Jack, please.” With a tight smile, Iris Montgomery takes the box from Diana’s hands. “We have guests.”

“Guests, what guests?” Jack says. “It’s just Diana and what’s his name.”

Diana’s stomach sinks. “His name is Ted, Daddy.”

Iris shakes her head apologetically at Diana—who has managed to remove her coat and hat but is still wearing her scarf and gloves—then gives her husband an exasperated huff. “At least turn down the volume. For God’s sake—”

“All right, all right!” Jack Montgomery shifts his bulk dyspeptically and reaches for the remote control. Scowling, he stabs it at the television. The picture dissolves into a pinpoint of blue light. “There. Happy?”

Iris Montgomery, queen of the dismissive gesture, is just about to perform what Diana’s father calls the Indignant Pivot - a nostril flare with a half-turn toward the kitchen on one expensive but practical shoe - when there’s a rap at the front door.

And in the threshold stands Diana’s brand-new fiancĂ©, handsome, pink-cheeked and shiny-eyed from the cold. Apparently, it has started to snow. Several large flakes are melting into his blow-dried blond hair.

My fiancé.

The words sound foreign and exciting. Like something Diana has dreamed up, a girlish scrawl in a notebook margin. Mrs. Blisko. Mrs. Theodore Blisko, Junior. Diana Montgomery Blisko. She hadn’t done that with Alex. Or maybe she had. Their engagement wasn’t that long ago, but it had all turned so bleak so fast that she’d tried to put the whole thing out of her mind.

“Nice weather.” Ted brushes snowflakes from his faux cashmere scarf. “Hello, Iris.” He leans over to kiss her upturned cheek. “Jack. Thought you’d be watching the game.”

Her father merely grunts from his chair.

“You know where to put your things, Ted,” Iris says. “Dinner’s going to be a while. Maybe we’d all like some tea?”

Ted warms up his salesman’s smile. “Let me give you a hand with that.”

Diana’s mother blinks, prettily flustered. Manicured fingers reach for the strand of pearls falling into the collar of her blouse.

“Oh...but you only just got here. You work so hard during the week, all that travelling...”

“No.” Ted thrusts his coat and scarf in Diana’s direction. “I insist.”

Diana watches them go, the grace note of her mother’s laughter disappearing into the kitchen. Feeling once again like the little fat girl left standing in the middle of the gymnasium floor after everyone else had chosen up sides. The little fat girl left waiting at the altar. Then she sighs, and hangs Ted’s coat in the closet, smoothing it straight, tucking in his scarf and draping her own over the top of it so it won’t snag on the other hangers.

Her father picks up a magazine. “You cold?”

Diana’s gaze drifts to her still-gloved hands. Ted has come and gone. Now what? Wait for the appropriate moment, she supposes.

“I’ll warm up in a few minutes.”

She perches on the edge of the couch, beside her father’s chair. He continues reading. Her hands, resting on her thighs, feel ungainly as canoe paddles, manatee flippers, pterodactyl wings. So the ring is a bit...over the top, as her mother might say. So it’s unusual. Unique. But that’s not what really matters, is it? What matters is the intention. She could do worse than Ted. So he isn’t the most intellectual man in the world. So his family doesn’t have any money, and his father...well, they don’t have to talk about his father, not yet. But unlike Alex, Ted has a job, ambition, and her parents seem to be getting along with him well enough. And he’d worked hard, hard enough to buy a house. It’s small, but it’s his very own house, with matching dishes and everything, and how many young, single men can she say that about? She would have said yes to Ted if he put a cigar band around her finger.

So what is she waiting for? She’d only promised to keep her gloves on until Ted arrived. Casually, she works them off. The right one first, finger by finger, like an old-fashioned striptease artist, and then the left. But something has happened to the ring. Oh, it’s still there, all right. So tight that she fears she might never be able to remove it. But it doesn’t look as shiny and magical as it had when Ted slipped it (no, wedged it) on her finger earlier that afternoon. Somehow, without Ted to turn the oddness of the setting into a positive, without Ted to say that there’s nothing else like it in the world, it has changed from “unusual” and “unique” to “what the hell had he been thinking.”

Aside from being far too small (an honest mistake, she tells herself, what do men know about women’s ring sizes?), it’s black. A giant black onyx stone with a round diamond embedded in its center. And on each side, tiny diamonds forming the shape of interlocking horseshoes.

“For good luck,” Ted had told her, forcing a hopeful smile.

She’d said that the tears were because she was so happy. And she is. She truly is. But this ring...

“Daddy...” Ted would forgive her. She can’t tell her mother, not yet. Imagining the apprehension on her face at having to prepare for yet another wedding with another groom who might find that there’s someplace more important he needs to be on the day of the ceremony makes Diana’s stomach clench. But she can do no wrong by her father. Her heart pounds. She feels the pulse throbbing beneath the too-tight ring. “Ted and I...there’s something I need to tell you...we’re...we’re...well, we wanted to wait and tell you both together, but...”

Jack Montgomery turns. Gives his only daughter a level gaze, his thin lips tightening, air leaking through them like an old balloon. “I may be retired, Angelcake, but I haven’t lost it yet. I know what it means when my daughter shows up with another diamond ring on her left hand.” He peers over his glasses for a closer look. “Wouldn’t be my first choice for a setting, but I’m a traditional kind of guy.”

Diana slips her right hand over her left.

“It’s been, what, not even a year, since...?”

“A year and a half,” Diana says.

“And you’ve been with this one...?”

“Three months.”

“Look, honey, you know I can’t tell you what to do—“

“But you think this is a mistake.”

He sucks in a breath. “I’m just saying...what’s the rush?”

Diana bites the inside of her lip to hold back the tears. “I’m not getting any younger, Daddy, and in case you haven’t noticed, men aren’t exactly knocking down my door.”

“Stop that,” he says under his breath. “You just stop feeling sorry for yourself right now. You’re a beautiful girl. You lost that baby fat, what? Years ago. You just have to...I don’t know, get out more. Talk to people. You don’t have to settle for the first guy who—“

“But I thought you liked Ted!”

“Yeah, all right, he seems OK, doesn’t have his head up his ass like that other one. I just want you to make sure you’re doing this for the right reasons. If he really loves you, he’ll wait more than three goddamned months.”

Diana tries to worry the now ridiculous ring around her finger, but it won’t budge. “Why waste time waiting,” Ted had told her, when he slipped it - no, jammed it on, “when you already know what you want?”

This is what she wants. A practical man. A man with matching dishes. A man who wants her. And no matter what her father says, there will always be a little fat girl inside her who is convinced that if she passes one up, there might never be another.

“Diana?” Ted calls from the kitchen. “Milk or lemon?”

“Neither, thanks.” She avoids her father’s knowing gaze. How can he possibly expect that Ted would know everything about her immediately? That’s what the rest of their lives are for, right?

“Here we are!” Iris sings out as she comes in with an assortment of goodies on a silver tray, Ted on her heels with the tea. “We have fresh melon, we have Brie, we have some of that very nice pate—”

As she’s setting down the tray, her gaze catches Diana’s left hand and lingers. Her smile falls, for only a moment, as if someone next to her had broken wind. “—that very nice pate that Richard and Gwendolyn brought on Wednesday, and Ted, is that what I think that is on Diana’s finger?”

Ted stops, his hands tightening around the handles of the tea tray. He narrows his eyes at Diana. Who was supposed to have waited for him. She’ll have to answer to him later, but she feels a stronger need in this moment to address her mother. “It is...we...we...”

She’s cut off by the sound of Ted clearing his throat, mentally shuffling the index cards for the speech she suspects he’d been stewing over all afternoon. “Jack. Iris.” He puts the tray on the table and swallows, his eyes travelling from one worried face to the other, skipping Diana’s. “Let me reassure you. Yeah, maybe I wasn’t lucky enough to have all the advantages you were able to give your daughter. My father, well, he...” Ted’s cheeks redden. “He had his problems. But I think I came out pretty good in spite of it. And I promised myself that when I had my own family, I was going to do whatever it took to give them the things that he couldn’t. Trust me.” He pats his chest. “I’m going to be the model husband. Just you wait and see how good she’s going to have it.”

Silence falls over the living room.

Alex had made promises, too.

Alex had also said, “trust me.”

The confidence melts from Ted’s face. His eyes darken. Diana’s gut fills with dread.

“Daddy?” Her voice comes out thin and girlish. “Aren’t you...aren’t you going to say anything?”

The look over the top of the magazine suggests that he’s already said everything he intends to. But he opens his mouth, regardless. “Congratulations. May you be as happy as I’ve been with your mother.”

“Oh, Jack, really, you can be such a pill. Your only daughter is getting married and you...you’ll have to forgive my husband,” Iris says to Ted. She forces a smile. “I, for one, think this calls for champagne.”

-----------

After dessert, Jack falls asleep in his chair. Ted leaves to get the car. Diana fishes her coat from the closet. She can feel her mother watching every movement of that damned ring.

“At least it’s...different,” Iris sighs.

“Which means you hate it.”

“I don’t hate it, dear. It’s just...well.” She lowers her voice. “I didn’t want to say anything in front of Ted, but does he know that it’s a man’s ring? Like the kind you see on those shady characters in the casinos. Where did he get the idea to give that as an engagement ring? Black onyx? Diamond horseshoes? Really. It’s simply too much! If you are such a person who holds stock in signs, which I most certainly am not, then you might be thinking that you could start a marriage on a better foot than by wearing...a gambler’s ring. It’s almost like he won it in some poker game!”

“Ted said the horseshoes are supposed to be for good luck,” she says, pouting. But the words sound false to her ears. And her mother is giving her that expression, the one that means, “and you’re going to need it.” Diana stares at her left hand. Maybe her mother is right. Maybe she’s wearing someone else’s ring. Maybe Ted got a deal from one of his customers. It would explain why he hadn’t held out a box, the little velvet box she’d seen in the movies when men kneel on one knee to propose. He’d merely produced the ring, and slipped it...no, forced it...onto her finger.

“I just don’t understand why you’re rushing into this.”

Diana stiffens. First Daddy and now her. But one mistake does not entitle them to monitor every decision she makes for the rest of her life. “Because I’m ready.”

“And what did he mean about his father? Having his...problems?”

“I hardly see how that matters now. Ted’s a self-made man. He’s worked really hard to distance himself from his father, he hasn’t seen Ted Senior in years, not since he was paroled the last time—”

“Paroled?” Iris’s fingers drift to her mouth, her brows to her hairline. “He was in jail...?”

Diana looks at her shoes. Ted would be furious. She wasn’t supposed to have said anything, not yet. “It wasn’t...as bad as...well, his father sort of embezzled some money from where he worked. And the second time...selling stolen goods...but someone set him up...”

Iris does not look mollified. “At least that would explain the ring.”

Ted’s car purrs up to the house and waits. Her last chance. A man who wants her too badly to wait another day.

Diana yanks on her gloves. “Ted’s a good person and I’m getting married. And I love the ring. It’s unique. He thinks it’s one-of-a-kind. Like me.”

As she storms out into the cold, she crushes her fingers into fists in her pockets, savoring the pain of the too-tight band. She doesn’t care where Ted got it. Doesn’t care if it’s the ugliest ring she’s ever seen. She’s going to wear it forever.

And first thing in the morning, she’s taking it to a jeweler to have it resized. If she can only manage to get the darned thing off her finger.

Monday, January 08, 2007

What’s That Smell?

On Monday morning, reports poured in from all over Manhattan and Northern New Jersey of a strong odor of gas. 911 was flooded with calls, and people evacuated their office buildings in droves, causing bottlenecks in lobbies and pockets of panic. While Mayor Bloomberg claimed that the leaking gas was not harmful, there were reports of people hospitalized with breathing problems. PATH trains were suspended from New Jersey to Manhattan. Some commuters chose not to come into the city at all.

While Con Edison was investigating a possible ruptured gas line at 10th and Bleeker in Greenwich Village, possibly caused by a private construction company, I would like to postulate a few of my own theories:

1. As the smell had earlier been reported to be especially strong in and around the Fox News building, it is possible that Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh came to work early to begin to rehearse their daily bloviation about Nancy Pelosi and pals regaining power.

2. Both the New York Jets and Giants were gunning for wild card spots in the playoffs yesterday. The large amount of, shall we say, personal natural gas, from massive consumption of bean dip, chili and other similar foods served at playoff parties, combined with a shifting weather system, caused these ill winds to be directed from New Jersey to Manhattan.

3. A corollary to theory #2: the Jets and Giants put on such a pathetic show on the field yesterday that they literally stunk up the place. Reporters missed several hundred incidents of pet birds passing out in a ten-mile radius of the Meadowlands last night.

4. Ann Coulter is writing a new book.

5. The Joker has set in motion a plot to gas into unconsciousness the good citizens of New York so he and his band of thugs can rob all the gems from the Diamond District and the society ladies of Manhattan so he can win the heart of Marsha, Queen of Diamonds. Somebody light the Bat Signal!!

6. Donald Trump is back in town.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Point At Which Two Circles Intersect

My world is quieter than it used to be, the circle around me smaller.

But even when I was healthier, I never thought of myself as a very social person. Yes, busyness swirled about me, like at my job where for eight years I sat in my little fishbowl while 125 people bustled by with papers or machine parts, but not more than a handful of those people needed my services. And not more than a few handfuls were a regular part of my life.

This week I saw an example of just how deeply my roots go into this piece of the planet and the diversity and circularity of the people who have weaved themselves into my path.

I went to physical therapy on Tuesday, and while I was doing my stretches another patient came in and got on the treadmill. He was about forty, a burly, rough-looking guy – stubble, tattoos, black t-shirt, black sweats, black sneakers. The iPod he was attached to leaked Guns-n-Roses. He’d been in several times before, and from his conversations with my PT, I overheard (I am an excellent eavesdropper) that he was a prison guard, did something to his shoulder, and was on disability until he could become fit and whole enough to take on 300-pound prisoners. And, play a little golf.

Because I’d been seeing less and less of my PT (which is a good thing), and because his patients come and go a little faster than I had, I hadn’t been seeing as much of the “regulars” as I used to. Or, let’s say, the regulars changed. But this guy, I remembered. Each time he came in I thought about one of my husband’s friends, who is also a prison guard. When we were much, much younger, the bunch of us used to go out for beers every weekend and find some way to coagulate on all the major holidays that involve drinking. But as each single man gained a spouse, had some kids, moved away, all those life events that cause “that old gang of mine” to disintegrate, we saw each other less and less. Maybe for weddings. Or christenings. Or our parents’ funerals. And then it was “remember when…” and then we would wind up on someone’s porch, of their own house, drinking cocktails and eventually devolving into our twenty-something selves until some of us remembered we were grownups with mortgages and babysitters waiting at home.

And I was thinking of this friend now. When I got up from the table to do some other exercises, and he was grunting out a few bicep curls, I caught him between sets.

“So where do you work?” I asked.

He told me the name of the prison. Which is the same one where our friend worked.

“Do you know Rob Scott?” I said.

He broke into a wide grin. “Rob Scott? Are you kidding? He’s my best friend!” And then he looked at me, a little puzzled. Probably wondering how this little mousy-looking thing with glasses and curls would ever meet a tattooed prison guard. “How do you know him?” he asked.

And I told him the story of the beers and the New Years’ Eve parties. And how I was there when he was putting baby oil on his first tattoo. And how my job at every get-together was to make at least one off-color remark rude enough to make him blow beer out his nose.

The guy looked at me with a little more respect. “I think I remember you,” he said. “Were you at the wedding?”

I told him yes. He was talking about Rob’s wedding, where he’d wed a fellow prison guard, a single mother with a five year old girl, and in a move that had all of the women crying, got on one knee at the altar and slipped a tiny ring on this little girl’s hand.

I also remembered that the marriage had ended disastrously and he filled me on the dismal details. I caught him up on the whereabouts of the other members of our band.

Then the PT flew by and caught the two of us chatting. He stopped. And stared. “How do you know this guy?” he asked me.

“Mutual friends,” I said.

That was one circle.

Yesterday, on my pain doctor’s recommendation, I met with a woman in Woodstock who teaches Qigong, for a private session to learn more about it and for her to learn more about me. If you’re not familiar with Qigong (pronounced chi goong), it’s a Chinese energy-movement exercise that is supposed to realign and relax the body and improve and prevent many health problems. Including chronic pain and stiffness. And fibro. I’d gotten a recommendation to see her before, but I resisted. I’d felt overwhelmed at the time, too many other new things to learn and new medications to absorb. There was also another reason I resisted.

I knew her. She’d been very good friends with one of my ex-bosses, a woman who went on to become a rabbi and now lives in Seattle. Do you have people in your lives that even without a single effort of your own, you wind up bumping into over and over? This couple, the rabbi and her husband, are two people that Husband and I are destined to cross paths with over and over. Even after I left the job (actually the job left me…their home-based business had evolved into other, singular pursuits and they no longer could pay for a office manager/personal assistant.), I saw them. My new boss met a man who was in the rabbi’s husband’s men’s group. When my boss threw her new beau a birthday party, we were invited, and the rabbi and her husband were there. When they got married, we were invited, and the rabbi performed the service. When they had a baby boy, and had a bris, we were invited, and the rabbi performed the service. And even though they moved to Seattle, Husband swears we will see them again.

Anyhow. Theirs was a world that…well, I had mixed feelings about. They were part of that Woodstocky-New Age-Nouveau Jew thing (and everyone used to live in Manhattan, but acted like they were the ones who “discovered” Woodstock) that I was fascinated with but didn’t quite respect. I mocked them with great glee in one of my novels. While previously I’d enjoyed going to Woodstock for an afternoon, after that job I didn’t quite enjoy it as much. I knew that the marionettes had strings, I knew all the tricks, I knew that it was all a show. The barefoot hippies on the green had trust funds, for Chrissakes. The Volvos with environmental stickers on the back spewed many cubic yards of greenhouse gases out their failing exhaust systems.

So I was afraid that going to Cassia would bring all that cynicism out in me again. That even though this was a discipline that even mainstream physicians recommended for me, that I wouldn’t take it seriously because…well…because…one of THOSE people was teaching it.

But the moment I met her all of that fell away. She seemed so relaxed and so genuine – even though the trappings of Woodstock were all around her – the clothes, the house, the books – that I just went with it and put my past impressions behind me. It was a good session and afterward we talked about the rabbi and her husband and I’m going to start Qigong classes tomorrow and see where it takes me.

And, ironically, Cassia told me, one of the tenets of Qigong is that energy moves in circles.

Like all of us.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Beauty and the Geek

All right, maybe this will drop your esteem of me a few points, but I found myself watching the second-season premiere of “Beauty and the Geek” the other night.

Worse than that, I also watched the first season, but up until now, I’d been too embarrassed to admit it.

The concept fascinates me. From strictly a sociological standpoint, of course. Ashton Kutcher, probably in an homage to his own geekdom, produces the show. In it, a bunch of geeky guys and a bunch of gorgeous, apparently airheaded girls are paired up in a house and over a number of weeks through a series of tasks, the girls are supposed to teach the guys to be less geeky and the guys are supposed to teach the girls…well…anything. Each week the couple who wins the task gets to choose the two couples who will duke it out to save themselves from elimination.

It had been a while since the first season, so I’d forgotten the techniques they use to establish the couples. It’s a choose-em-up sort of situation, where the guys and girls are paraded past each other and then put in are in different rooms with their backs to the entrance. One at a time, they alternate introducing themselves to the other group. Then, if it’s a guy who’d made the presentation, he leaves, and waits in this Aaron Spelling-ish lobby with a sweeping marble staircase (I think Kutcher grew up with Aaron Spelling dreams) for one of the girls to “claim” him. It’s really kind of cruel, because according to the guys, they can hear the girls talking and saying things like, “eww, I don’t want him.” But eventually one brave or compassionate soul will come out and take him on like a puppy from the pound. And the guys, while dazzled by the girls’ looks, make snide comments about their stupidity but one by one, gather up their courage and go out and claim their babe.

That part reminds me of dodge ball, high school dances and singles bars, all wrapped up into one horrible humiliating nightmare.

For the first task (this was probably designed not as an elimination but to show everyone what their partners are made of), they gather in the library of this over-the-top Trump-like mansion, and the girls chose three cards drawn from the card catalog (remember those?) and had to find the three books using the Dewey Decimal System. And bless these poor girl’s hearts (beating somewhere under a mountain of silicone), some of them could barely do that. But once the girls found the books, the guys were sent out on their own task: get someone to rub sunscreen on their backs, get a girl’s phone number, and borrow someone’s cell phone to make a call. Now that was amusing. Especially watching some of the guys who’d barely approached a stranger in their lives just quivering at the thought of asking someone to touch his back.

The guys get the bum raps in this show. Yeah, the girls aren’t very smart, but everyone knows what matters in this culture and it would be a pretty safe bet that when the post-show job offers come rolling in, it’s going to be the Hooters waitress and not the nuclear physicist from MIT who gets the calls. Which is a shame, because some of the guys seem pretty amazing. They’re stupendously smart, funny and genuine. Eventually some of the brighter girls figure this out, oh, say about halfway down the line.

Usually it takes me a few episodes to settle on the couple (or couples) I’m going to root for. The girls haven’t distinguished themselves to me yet. But so far my favorite guy is Mario, a writer who has a Master’s in theology, is into politics, has a wicked sense of humor and his “claim to fame” is owning 25,000 comic books (I know, H, you’re saying “big deal”). He also has a tattoo of a Nintendo control on his arm.

The fun for me is in watching how these guys get coaxed out of their shells and learn that they really can function socially in the world. And sometimes, I feel vindicated when one of the girls tearily admits that until now she’s slid by on her looks and is totally flummoxed when she can’t depend on them to get something done.

All in all it’s much more interesting than watching Congressional hearings. Or people eating Madagascar hissing cockroaches for money.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Timothy's Law: Will it actually hurt those it's designed to help?

George Pataki, in one of his last official acts as Governor of New York, signed into reality a bill called “Timothy’s Law,” which will require private insurance companies to offer mental health coverage on par with coverage for other health services.

Timothy’s Law was named for Timothy O’Clair, a seriously troubled child who committed suicide after years in psychiatric care and in and out of mental health institutions. In his family’s opinion, if not for the limited coverage for mental illness that their insurance policy provided, they would have been able to get Timothy – and other family members – the services that they needed. Instead, the O’Clair’s only alternative, when their in- and outpatient visits ran out and they could no longer afford to pay out-of-pocket, was to have Timothy placed in foster care. This would allow him to become eligible for New York’s Medicaid program, giving Timothy access to the mental health services that his family’s private insurance would no longer cover. Separated from his family unit, Timothy’s condition only worsened and three weeks shy of his thirteenth birthday, he hanged himself in his bedroom closet.

It took ten years for the O’Clair family to get this bill through a skeptical state assembly, because of the potential costs involved: increases in state allocated funds, or increases in private insurance premiums, already prohibitively high for so many individuals and families.

But with a small compromise (the bill originally asked for parity coverage for mental illnesses, substance abuse and eating disorders, but the final version eliminated coverage for substance abuse), Pataki signed the bill on December 22, leaving the financing yet to be determined.

The bill is much welcome news for individuals and families living with mental illness. Currently, many private insurance companies, such as MVP and CDPHP in New York, only offer a limited number of outpatient and inpatient visits per calendar year per family. After just a few of these visits, the copays increase, and when the family has used up their allotment, they are responsible for 100% of the cost. This can be ruinous if more than one family member needs mental health services, which is often the case because mental illness affects the entire family. Timothy’s Law would force insurance companies to provide at least 20 outpatient visits and 30 inpatient visits per calendar year.

Many small businesses and some larger ones have enthusiastically backed this bill on its trip through the state legislature. A representative from one small business said that it would cost their company less to pay for the increase in insurance premiums (1.26 per employee per month according to the sponsors of the bill) than it would cost them in absenteeism and decreased productivity when an employee either has a mental illness or has to take time off to take care of a family member who does. But small businesses need not worry about any increase in premiums. For businesses with less than 50 employees, the state will subsidize the increase.

Larger companies will be on their own. And most large companies, as you know if you work for one, pass the bulk of any increase in insurance premiums on to their employees, if not the entire amount.

Which poses a conundrum: will this bill, written and urged all the way up to the Governor’s pen with such good intentions, actually hurt those it’s designed to help? Yes, the bill requires that the costs for small businesses will be subsidized (somehow) by the state. But cash-strapped New York is now in the hands of Eliot Spitzer, who has already vowed to cut spending wherever possible. And as for large companies, the increase in insurance premiums (on top of an already hefty increase announced last October for many New York private insurance companies) might cause some employers to look for less expensive, less comprehensive alternatives, such as companies with high deductibles, or programs like Pataki’s “Healthy New York,” which does not provide mental health coverage at all. Or they could simply, once again, pass the increase on to their employees, leaving them with less disposable income when the curtain comes down on their covered mental health visits.

The O’Clairs (and many, many other families) have already suffered enough.