Archive for the ‘Marin County’ Category

I posted this everywhere else, but forgot to share it on the blog!

Green post today. I know, it’s not music or movies, but I did this infographic project in Marin while interning for World Centric, a company in Petaluma, so I’m thinking that’s close enough.

Still doing the music, freelancing in game sound design, but I’ve also been pursuing the marketing and web classes because hey, I want to support the creative habit better! Got enough starving musicians working as baristas and salesmen.

Anyway, my former boss at World Centric gave me the chance to lead an infographic project. Reading all this stuff about the Pacific Garbage Patch and the evils of plastic got me depressed. Yeah, I’m not giving up all the benefits plastic has given me, but you start doing a little reading and the depth of the problem grabs you by the boo-boo. But rather than shrug and say “Oh well…” I thought about giving up plastic drinking straws. Yeah, yeah…the planet still has problems even if we eliminate straws, he who simply likes to argue for the sake of arguing.

But cutting back on single-use plastic straws is something anyone can do without the burden of, say, giving up their game consoles. Then I started playing with math based on our straw consumption and realized some CRAZY stuff, which is detailed in the infograph below.

Quick shout-out to Oni Cortez, the awesome designer who brought visuals to my words.

Original link to the infographic.


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Hey, what do you know…this blog ain’t dead after all! Well, yes it is. Hard to find time to write about guitar stuff when I got the school and employment stuff happening. But ain’t no one taking me away from the music, so I got a cool electronic-rock thing with a bit of jazz cooked up…

Bad Mood

I posted this on Soundcloud. I used to hate posting my songs on all those band sites, a holdover from the MP3.com/Garageband days where every site was promising the best following as they cashed in on all the content being sent to them for free. And who has time to monitor all those pages? But if you wanna hit that like/heart button on the bottom of the tune so I can attract some groupies I’d be obliged.*

This song took me 18 months to finish. Pathetic, no? I didn’t actually struggle for for 540-some-odd days. More like I worked up a few minutes of sweetness, gave up on it for a few months, listened again realized I liked it enough to continue…then sat on it for months more…repeat cycle until I realized it’s time to COMMIT!

I love the guitar tone of the main riff, cooked up with Logic’s Space Designer and one of the Rammfire patches in Guitar Rig. Along with my beat up Ibanez Jem = CRUNCH! Probably a bit much–and I don’t know how I’ll pull that tone off live. Whatever…I ain’t gunning for awards here.

Terry Bozzio handled most of the acoustic drums here, aside from the intro and bridge. Yeah, seriously! But jeez, if you’re gonna nitpick that it’s actually his drum sample library and wreck my fantasy. Hey, fun TRUE fact…I actually hired Bozzio’s brother-in-law to play on my OOOG! EP years back. Vince Littleton, great drummer, versatile! I gotta his smoking drums on my “One Thing Leads to Another” back into the Interwebs. Point is, in my twisted universe I have family connections…

*Does my wife read this blog? 🙂

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In moment of Google curiosity I looked up one of the more horrible bullies from my childhood. His skills of aggression were so effective that our single encounter the summer of fourth grade still feels fresh in my mind today, over thirty years later.

Well, not that fresh…more like a can nearing its expiration date. But it’s still in the cupboard.

My friends and I went to a video arcade in a pizza parlor where he and his buddy were losing their tempers over their performances in some of the games. I remember the star bully of this story getting particularly angry with his game of Dig Dug, actually rocking the machine back and forth, pulling the its joystick hard after losing another life.

In retrospect, we should have totally left the arcade, gone home to play more Atari 2600 games. There was no way we were going to walk into that kind of aggressive heat and not get burned. But it was my first time seeing Dig Dug–I wanted to play it! So we carefully pretended these predators didn’t exist.

At one point this bully’s friend threatened my pal when he growled, “Don’t touch me!” as they passed by each other. My friend, legally blind with limited eyesite, hadn’t done anything intentional to provoke him, but details like that don’t matter in such youth interactions. As my friend tried to plead innocence, the asshole got more in his face until I stepped up, demanding he be left alone.

The problem with me doing an action like this at the time is I had the balls to stand up for my friends, but when these two thugs-in-training turned their energies towards ME my balls shrunk into the size of Chia seeds.

I start off trying to talk them out of their bullshit, but they keep shoving me, eager for a reaction. At some point my friends convince me to leave with them and as I walk out the door I make the second mistake of flipping them off. I just realized typing that that I’ve never publicly flipped anyone off in anger ever since that incident, the consequences of actions in your childhood having that great an effect on me. Ya see, my action provoked them to charge outside after me.

My bike was locked to a telephone pole, so I couldn’t just run away. They corner me with a bunch of threats and more shoving. After 30 years it’s a bit of a blur recalling exact details, but I know I was provoked into finally throwing a punch at one and maybe even throwing another to the ground. Anyone who knows me beyond that moment to the present might have trouble believing it happened, as I simply don’t have the fighting personality–but I did for that instant. And my friends…they were too shocked to do anything besides watch. And what were they supposed to do?

The bullies pounced on me, obviously satisfied that I’d given them a reason to retaliate with full justification. I remember specifically getting an epic blow to the side of the head that was almost stunning. An employee from the pizza joint stuck his head out the door and ordered us to break up–and specifically for the thugs to beat it. I think the employee knew these two kids (one of their Dads may have owned the restaurant), as he told THEM to get lost and asked me if I was OK. I was already on my bike, taking off.

Because the other two had already gone to the side of the building to get their own bikes and pursue me.

I pedaled my ass off to my house, which was two minutes away, but it was pointless, as these guys followed me all the way my driveway. At this point I was scared to go for my house key hidden in the back yard because I was afraid I’d be extra screwed if they’d gotten into my house. Kid logic entertains all worst-case scenarios as plausible. So I spent what felt like an hour having one POS ram his bike into me (the one who sucked at Dig Dug) while the other one made all sorts of threats about how he should rob my house, beat me to dust, etc. I may have been struck a few more times, and I recall making some sort of apology for flipping them off, begging to make peace and be friends, all which fueled their superiority. It’s easy to armchair quarterback moments like this years later. Where the hell did my spine go? These fools weren’t marginally bigger than myself. Perhaps if I’d fought relentlessly like a rabid dog they’d have split, thinking I was too crazy to deal with. But no, they eventually left because they’d simply gotten bored harassing a scared kid with tears in his eyes who’d given up fighting back. I ran into the house and threw a paper bag over my head to regain control of my hyperventilated breathing.

Then there’s the incident where this same punk attacked another friend in middle school a few years later because he walked into a door my pal opened, not seeing that he was coming. But I’ll let that friend detail it in his own blog.

You hear the occasional feel-good story or see a movie where the victim stands up to a bully and gets him to back down, the moral being that standing up for yourself always brings about the feelgood Hollywood ending. That might be true if the victim succeeds in putting the bully into the hospital, but the more common reality is that standing up for yourself reinforces the target on your back. Bullies thrive on the energy you give them, be it crying, screaming, pushing back. Standing up for yourself gives them something to look forward to at the next encounter. Who wants to harass someone who laughs them off or goes to the cops? And if by chance you do bruise their egos they only come at you harder, perhaps getting their friends to join them.

So now that I’ve detailed this trauma in a public forum, let’s get back to the Google search. I find an article about Dig Dug Bully in the Marin Independent Journal, dated last year. Turns out he has been the football coach for a highly-regarded team in Marin County. Yeah, go figure, right?

Then the article turns to his battle against cancer. Seems he had a serious battle going on, illness, surgery, a prolonged period of feeling the lowest of low, along with a current clean bill of health for the past few years.

So now I’m thinking…son of a bitch! I’ve wished for that sort of pain and suffering on this guy since our fated meeting in 1983–and he gets it??? What kind of asshole am I to be carrying a grudge through childhood, turning it into my own emotional toxicity well into middle-age? I mean, it’s not like I think about that incident every day, swimming in a pity party. That pool was filled by plenty of other incidents of my own doing! But as I’ve dealt with uncontrollable anxiety in recent years, letting doctors use me as a guinea pig for questionable medications, exploring therapy, acupuncture, journals, the occasional shot of something higher proof so I could get to sleep, I couldn’t help referring to moments like that day with Dig Dug. It was one of those transitional moments in childhood where you learn that not only is the world imperfect; it was actually quite cruel.

There’s no moral here, is there? I’m not taking joy in his suffering, but honestly, I have trouble feeling sympathetic. And I know how much I’ve changed since the day I absorbed all of Dig Dug’s hostility, learning how to function in society, dealing with people. It would be ignorant on my part to assume that football coach is the same vicious bully who rammed the front wheel of his bike into my head 30 years ago.

Can I interpret this as karma? Or does he get to interpret it as one of the greatest lessons of his life?

Somehow I’m still angry, reading his story. I should have gone for the hundredth punch that day, should have gone to the cops, should have broken his neck against his locker door during one of the days we crossed paths in middle school. It annoys me that he’s a revered high school football coach, and it worries me that he’s imparting his thug wisdom upon young minds that don’t know any better.

But now I’m just being hyperbolic.

I seriously doubt the guy has put a single thought into our encounter since that day. Maybe it was merely a youthful act of aggression that was worked out when he got into sports, which ultimately made him a better person. Hell, maybe he’s helping those kids not become the asshole he was when he was their age. Beating cancer is a life-changer, I’m told. He probably has a newly positive outlook few get the chance to experience. That’s the type of person you want in your life when you’re feeling sorry for yourself and your mundane problems.

So I push for a new catharsis by way of this blog post, and get on with the present that is way more important. Truth be told, I actually haven’t thought about this guy in years.

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Five minutes in lab to get chest x-ray – $448

Blue Shield Pays – $116.48

Keith on the hook for $331.52

Oh…Keith is unemployed, though working two UNPAID internships in hopes of getting employment in the future.

Anyone against Single Payer got a few bucks they can loan me?

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I’m in Hawaii a few weeks back, the Big Island. First couple days are great, dining in Kona, a little boogie boarding, getting yelled at by the Safeway clerk for trying to buy a single bottle of Kona beer from one of the six packs*. But then Monday rolls around and I get this freaky-ass pain in the side of my chest, next to my heart, so I spend the rest of the week wondering if I’m on the verge of having a heart attack. But sometimes the pain goes away and I enjoy my vacation for awhile…until it comes back, but by then it’s dinner time and I’m downing a Mai Tai on an empty stomach.

Why didn’t I go to the emergency room or one of the scattered urgent care centers on the island? Because last time I did that (see my kidney stone post in the archives) I was out $4000, guilted into being grateful that it wasn’t the $16,000 billed to my insurance. Despite all the anxiety the chest pain caused (and the resulting symptoms that too much anxiety cause) I knew in my–ahem–heart that my breathing was fine and this was obviously the paranoid part of my brain throwing firecrackers at the rational part. Not to mention the symptoms were never actually getting worse; they were simply coming and going at various intensities no worse than, say, a four on a 1-10 scale. So I drank more alcohol than usual to calm the anxiety (not a recommended lifestyle remedy, but it works on vacation), determined to enjoy my vacation!

I got home, saw my doctor the next morning, so I’d only have to pay $30 office visit. I just saw him two weeks earlier for a checkup on some blood work, as I’ve got some high blood sugar and underactive thyroid needing monitoring. I was prescribed pravastatin for high cholesterol (95%+ vegan…go figure) and an upgraded dosage of levothyroxine for my alleged thyroid problem. The doc puts a stethoscope to my heart, determines my ticker is fine, says it’s probably a muscular/skeletal issue and to relax, so I saved $300-2000 bucks by not having this checked in Hawaii. Yay me.

But my chest is still aching, and the whole time I’ve been avoiding any mention of the…bathroom issue that causes bowel movements to turn into…liquid. I’ve crossed over 40 and I still can’t say diarrhea? WHAT’S GOING ON???

Someone smarter than me in these issues suggests looking up side effects to pravastatin and levothyroxine. And what do you know, chest pains, anxiety, skitters, and a bunch of other symptoms I’ve felt in the three weeks consuming these pills! Would have been nice if my doctor had connected the chest pain to the pills HE’D JUST PRESCRIBED, but hey, I don’t think discomfort counts as malpractice. It’s nice to nail down the answers.

This stuff along with the current REPUBLICAN shutdown** has gotten me doing more thinking about how to really deal with health care costs. Because regardless of Obamacare/AFA most of us know our health care system is still broken glass, a few of the pieces glues back together. I’ve spent years railing against insurance companies jacking up premiums yearly while footing me with huge portions of whatever bill I get. I’ve also put on boxing gloves against hospitals charging retarded (YES, retarded–mentally deficient) prices that cripple finances beyond reason. I get the basics of this madness. Hospitals make up these absurd costs, sucking excess cash from those who “can” pay to cover the costs of those who can’t, the insurance companies basically playing the same game on the surface, each passing the blame back and forth.

But the big question finally being addressed by the mainstream media is WHY health care is so expensive and the revelation that hospitals can charge wildly different fees for the same procedures. I’m making up numbers, but I’ve heard more than one source say something along the lines of one hospital billing $50,000 while another charges $20,000 for the same procedure. When we pitch single payer or universal health care those against it say that’s against capitalism and free market…

But is it really free market when I can’t find out how much a procedure costs before going to the hospital?

I only get to find out afterwards, when the bill has all ready been charged. Where can we go to price compare? I’ve found a few sites that have potential, but still speak in generalities. It would be cool if there were a Wikileaks-type of site where charge masters of various hospitals are posted. Some of that data has come out through some government databases, as this Huffpost article details. But how sweet would it be if there was a popular Wiki site where we could research prices by hospital, by insurance plan, etc.?

Get that kind of information out to the public then we’ll see some real competition in the market place. Might even get that Costco ER I’ve been dreaming about.

*Apparently I’m not allowed to do that in Kona, though my neighbor used to work at a Mill Valley Safeway and he said it’s cool, except they charge you more for the single bottle. But, man, the Kona clerk was PISSED when I did it. She started ranting about how the Japanese were the worst offenders of bottle separating. I guess therapy is more expensive in HI because there are fewer therapists because WHO CAN BE SO FREAKING MISERABLE AND ANGRY IN HAWAII???!

**Hey, the law passed. Why not let it go into effect and kick Democrats to the curb if it fails? Oh, because you’ve already been to our National Parks…

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(Sorry, no music or movies or Marin County in this post. Well, except for living in Marin.)

Sunday morning. Slept in, scored an extra couple hours of sleep.

Probably would have woken up before 9:30, but the cat insisted on breakfast at her usual 6:00am time. We’re trying to play the ignoring game in hopes of encouraging her to let us sleep in later, but after half an hour of steady purring (not nearly as cute at that hour) the wife gets up to feed her.

Anyway, this is one of those cool wake up slowly mornings where you strike bizarre zombie poses, wondering how else you could waste the day*. Decide to cuddle with the wife, who is engaged in her own zombie pose.

I start thinking about my extended past as a single guy. I’d dream about all aspects of dating…yes, the walks on the beach as well as the stuff now well illustrated on those grown up websites–that I had to use my imagination for at the time. Cuddling in bed on a Sunday morning…check!

Check! Checkity-check-check! FINALLY is what the twentysomething might have said.

Here we are, intertwined in this sweet, romantic moment. And my shoulder facing the bed is KILLING me! If I stretch it under her it gets compressed and goes numb. If I stretch it out between us it acts like an amputated third wheel. Maybe I could stretch it out behind me, but then I’m doing one of those bizarre yoga poses that make you question why you’re doing yoga in the first place.

Then there’s my dragon breath!**

How can you possibly get into that “Ah, this is such a romantic Sunday morning.” vibe when you’re worried about forcing your partner to breathe from her mouth? I twist my head so the breath is directed into her pillow which A. Heats up her pillow in the wrong way. B. Bounces off the pillow and strikes her anyway. C. Twists my neck into another yoga pose, the one that makes you think, “Based on my experience level I REALLY shouldn’t be attempting this!”

I don’t get why humans haven’t evolved into cuddling. It’s clear we’ve evolved to reproduce and have all those difference that distinguish men and women. Seems to me that men’s heads should have evolved to, say, the right side of their body, women’s to the left. Then when you’re in this cuddling situation the heads rest comfortably on each others’ shoulders, no?

But then that would only add fuel to the anti-same sex marriage activists arguments. “See? Gays can’t marry because their heads would be on the same side. They can’t cuddle!” 🙂

*Such as writing this blog post.

**And hers, but for the sake of my marriage let’s focus on why MINE is the problem. 😉

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I’ve devoted a notable amount of personal time to picking fights with insurance companies. Mostly because along with hospitals they treat the unemployed like animal poop stuck on the back of your heel.

One of my arguments years back was over a $2 fee Anthem decided to start charging for mailing me my premium statements.

Consider that for a moment. They wanted me to pay $2 a month so they could tell me how much money I owe them for the following month. This was on top of paying about $3600 a year for the privilege of paying the first $5000 of any yearly medical expenses. As the comedians say, you can’t make this stuff up.

On top of arbitrary, unjustified* rate increases made once or twice a year and other bull such as charging me an extra $60 a month because I spent maybe $40 A YEAR on a generic seasonal allergy inhaler they demanded I give them my bank account number so they could debit my account monthly for premium fees. In many cases that might be an easy, convenient thing to do…but they had to threaten the $2 fee if I simply wanted to continue receiving paper bills.

My neurosis said nope, that won’t do at all!

But as usual when dealing with an arrogant “non-profit” able to pay their CEOs millions while driving people into bankruptcy, BC said I wasn’t allowed to keep things the status quo. Give up my account number or start paying $24 a year to cover their (rough guestimating) $3-5.00 a year it might actually cost to mail me my bills normally.

I was a self-employed musician at the time and hate wasting money on things I don’t have to. So I refused to give up my account number for a few more months before leaving them for Blue Shield.

So it was a satisfying surprise to see paperwork for  a class action lawsuit show up in my mailbox last week. As quoted from this link:

“The Anthem Blue Cross settlement resolves a 2011 class action lawsuit (Andrea Kreuzhage et al. v. Blue Cross of California et al.) that challenged certain fees the insurer charged, including a $2 fee charged to those who opted to pay through paper bills rather than other forms of billing, such as automatic withdrawal. Plaintiffs claimed it was illegal for Anthem to charge and collect these $2 paper bill fees.

Anthem denies any wrongdoing but has agreed to establish a class action lawsuit settlement fund that will provide $4.2 million in refunds and another $20 million in savings to eligible policyholders.”

Gotta love that “Anthem denies any wrongdoing” line of bull. I don’t know how these people sleep at night believing such a fee is justified, but it’s satisfying to know a higher force with leverage could at least hold their face to the pile of poop and scold, “NO!”

But the victory rings hollow as I read David Lazarus’ article about another victim of the hospital system and it’s mysterious medical billing. There’s some serious Matrix-level deception coming undone here…

*Well, they always justified it by saying medical care costs simply went up without explaining what that meant…we’re too dumb to understand or something.

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