Thursday, June 24, 2010

Another win for violence

"A typical scene played out on Figueroa Street... As police in riot gear approached, the crowd hurled unopened cans of energy drinks at them. Several men stomped on a SUV parked on the street, breaking its windows.

"Police chased the roving groups for about two hours, pushing them further afield until they dispersed and relative calm returned.

"Before it was over, police had fired tear gas and stinging pellets to disperse a scrum of several hundred people who surrounded a city bus filled with passengers and attempted to yank the driver out through a window. A cabbie fled when his taxi was set upon by another mob that kicked in the windshield and set it ablaze. A local YWCA, several restaurants and other storefronts had windows smashed. At least eight people, one of them beaten unconscious, were taken to area hospitals."

No, this article in the Los Angeles Times last week wasn’t about another racial riot in L.A. It wasn’t about another uprising in the Middle East or Africa or another volatile spot. It wasn’t about Iraq or Afghanistan.

No, the article was about what happened in L.A after the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team beat the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the N.B.A Finals for this year’s championship. Thousands of people streamed out of the Staples Center, where the game was played, and mayhem erupted.

A riot after the hometown team wins. I don’t get it.

Maybe I could understand - barely - if there was rioting in Boston. And the rioting this year wasn’t as in previous years. Yes, "the rioting this year" - this has tended to happen every time the Lakers win the championship (at least when the final game is in L.A), and there was much pleading before this game, including from the Lakers, not to riot.

Still, there was rioting, and, as the Times article focused on, merchants in the areas were the real losers, being left with plenty of cleaning and fixing up to do. At least one had prayed that the Lakers wouldn’t win.

I thought people riot when they are angry, when they have a grievance, when they lose. I really don’t get this.

One psychologist quoted in the article says that it is due to emotions and chemicals, especially testosterone, with fans being heavily invested in a team and aroused, with increased aggression, when it wins. I’ve also heard it argued that drinking is the culprit. Remember, many of the revelers had been in bars.

I’m not sure. But I keep thinking of the studies that show that gay bars are more able to use glass (bottles, cups), because it is less likely for violence to occur in these venues, as opposed to straight bars.

What I do know is that this rioting is completely ridiculous and uncalled for and that L.A Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa should have called off the victory parade, which was on Monday. But then there would have been real rioting.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Sweet troubles

I got it!

Last week, a large package came in the mail. This week, two more, smaller boxes arrived. I had been told a few days earlier to expect the deliveries, and they did indeed turn out to be my Vmax - the wonderful, spectacularly high-tech speech device that I’ve been posting about in recent months and looking forward to getting - and the accompanying camera and stand that attaches to my wheelchair.

I should be ecstatic. I should be brimming over with unmitigated joy. After all, I’ve been waiting for this for about a year, and it will supposedly make things easier for me and for others and change my life for the better.

Then why aren’t I?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m very excited. I’m thrilled. But I’m also full of questions and worries. And I’m scared.

For one thing, I’m mystified. In late May, I learned that my doctor had not sent in the prescription for the device to be submitted to Medi-Cal. This means that not only did Medi-Cal approve - which I had serious doubts about - but it approved this extravagant machine, which, I’ve learned, costs $8,000, in two or three weeks. This almost doesn’t make sense, when Medi-Cal won’t cover dental work and I have to wait months for my wheelchair to be repaired. I guess my dad’s theory is correct - the more common a request, the more likely it will get bogged down or be questioned. There aren’t many people asking for a Vmax.

But, more than this and perhaps feeling guilty about it, I am worried - and, yes, scared - about how I’ll do at using it. It may be that, in a sense and despite my griping about it, I was expecting the long Medi-Cal approval process to enable me to put off dealing with these concerns.

I am afraid of breaking the device once it is attached to my chair. Yes, I’ve been assured that it’s quite durable, but the camera which tracks the sticker on my forehead looks pretty delicate. I go over many rough bumps when I’m out, and what if I’m not as careful as I always should be when going through a narrow doorway or by a table?

I am concerned that I won’t be able to operate the device fast enough, especially for those who know me who may be impatient or are expecting too much. I am realizing that I may well be included in this group. Will I find the balance between having the device function slowly enough for me to effectively use and between quick enough for whoever is waiting to hear what I’m saying?

Perhaps most interestingly, I am anxious about how I’ll be speaking spontaneously or "on my feet," so to say. All my life, I have thought out what I will say when I speak - sometimes to a lesser extent when a person is more familiar with my speech - picking words that are simpler and easier to understand. A result is that my mind sometimes goes blank when it’s time for a quick comment - perhaps a sharp, witty interjection - or I need to quickly answer a question requiring more than the simplest of answer. Sometimes, because of this, I just take a pass and don’t speak. How much will all this change with the Vmax? Will people expect me to rattle off spontaneously? Will I become known for having a quick wit? Will it be any easier to chat with a guy, face to face, who I meet through an on-line hook-up ad? Or will it change any of this at all?

There is also the question of when and with whom to use the device or not use it. I still want to speak and have people try to and get to understand my speech. I don’t want to be mute and have people always rely on the Vmax. (This was also an issue for me when I got the LightWriter, the small typewriter/speech device that I used for a while, but I imagine this will be more of an issue with this device, since it is significantly easier to use.)

Another thought that I’ve been having lately is that I wish I had gotten the Vmax years ago when I had more energy to deal with the changes it will bring. Then again, isn’t it supposed to make things easier, especially now that I have less energy?

It occurs to me that all these concerns and worries (and others like how long does the battery last? and what happens when I’m out in the rain?) aren’t really that much more than the usual anxiety when facing a big change, even when it’s for the best. I have no doubt that if I was told I would be able-bodied tomorrow, I would be on Cloud 9 but also totally freaked and scared shitless. And maybe having to be more careful when driving my wheelchair will force me to slow down and take it easier - like I really should and (sometimes) want to.

It also occurs to me that the Vmax came at the right time. I now have, with the support of "my team" at Casa Colina Hospital at least for right now, a great summer project.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Dental gap

I liked her. She got me right away.

I had taken a note - a note explaining that I’m a college graduate and can understand when spoken to in a normal tone of voice, a note explaining that I usually go to the dental surgery center at Loma Linda University because of it now being too difficult for a dentist to work on me when I’m not sedated (because of my sudden involuntary movements) but that Medi-Cal isn’t covering dentistry (except extractions), a note explaining that I had come to this dentist office, recommended by another hospital I’m working with, to make sure my teeth are okay and don’t need work. When the hygienist had read it, she said that she went to school at Loma Linda. I immediately felt she understood my situation and that I was in good hands.

I was already feeling quite comfortable. The office, although it was in a strip mall, was spacious and unusually attractive, and the waiting room felt like a living room (the cookies and lemonade were a nice, homey, if completely illogical, touch). The staff was nice and accommodating, without being overly cheerful or patronizing, and I was allowed to stayed in my wheelchair instead of having to be transferred to a chair. The x-ray technician and hygienist were thorough in their examining but were also patient and understanding of my limitations.

But I felt like I didn’t belong. No, this wasn’t about not wanting to see the dentist. I felt like I was there not by mistake but almost by luck. I felt like I was getting away with something I perhaps shouldn’t be. I felt something like a stowaway.

I was paying cash for this visit - cash provided by my parents, after finding out that going to Loma Linda would cost me $1,200. This was weird enough. What was weirder - and flat-out alarming - was wondering what would happen if my teeth need work. Can my parents keep paying? And will the dentist be able to work on me without putting me to sleep?

Will Medi-Cal ever kick back in? Can I ever go back to Loma Linda? And what about all the other people like me who don’t have parents who can help out, at least a bit?

I was in a quiet panic when the dentist, a kind-looking, white-haired man from India, came in. After looking over the x-rays and in my mouth, he said everything was okay and bid me good day.

A good day, indeed. I had gotten away with it. This time.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Sign-up shame

Should I go, or should I not go?

This past weekend, I went to a semi-annual men’s gathering. This is a group of primarily gay men that I’ve been involved with for nearly 10 years and that I mentioned in a post in late November or early December ("Anything but Jesus"). For several days, I considered attending a workshop there on Sunday morning - was the timing intentional? - that was a discussion for atheists, agnostics and "other non-believers."

Although the workshop description said that "curious believers" were welcome, I was thinking about not going. After all, I go around sporting a picture of Jesus on the bib of my overalls, and I am known to spout off about him when given the chance. (Again, see the previous post and others.) My presence may be seen as inappropriate, intrusive or even hostile.

At the last minute, I thought "what the Hell?" and went. (It helped that I know the facilitator and that he’s cool.) I’m glad I did.

There were about 15 guys, including two or three other "curious believers," and the conversation was stimulating, substantial, heartfelt and utterly civil. There was talk about how the earth began, how the early church made up stories and rules to protect its position and riches and about workers in a government office displaying religious symbols and ending phone conversations with "God bless."

One comment really struck me, though - for an unfortunate reason. A guy said that when he was signing up for the workshop, he was given a bit of a hard time by other guys making defensive comments.

I thought of when, at a similar gathering in March, I facilitated a workshop on - of course - Jesus and how he can be reclaimed from those who has used him to suppress and oppress various people, including those who are gay. One man mentioned that he had been questioned and harassed when he indicated that he was attending this workshop. "Why would you want to go to THAT?"

And I thought of how I almost didn’t go here.

I think this is really sad - even tragic. It is not unlike coming out and how daunting, scary and even dangerous that can be. But if we can’t say who we are and what we are about, how can we have a discourse and hopefully understand and live with each other in peace?