Thursday, May 25, 2017

Periodontics Revisited

New Moon

Last Saturday I was minding my own business, having my usual afternoon snack of plain yogurt with sliced banana, when a screw fell out of my head. That's right, a screw. Fell out of my head.

This requires some explanation. It was not exactly a screw, more like a tiny bolt, with one flat head screw end. Technically, it is called a "healing cap" in the heady, mouthy world of periodontics, but I sure didn't know that. I figured that the cow bone somewhere up in my sinus region had a hissy fit and kicked out my expensive new implant. Because...yogurt?

So I had to wait in suspense until Monday morning to call my superstar periodontist in Monterey to find out what the heck to do about it. That meant a day and a half with a hole in my head leading straight to my eye socket, I supposed. I figured with each passing moment my odds were greatly improving of contracting a nasty sinus infection or perhaps going blind. It's a good thing I don't give a sh*t or I could have been really stressed out.

The sweet office lady on the phone wanted me to come in right away to forestall any possible brain-eating bacterial infestation. So off I went in Spugly the Pope-Approved Palomino Transporter over the mountains and to the sea. I gambled on taking  the narrow, potholed county roads to avoid chronic construction gridlock on our crowded, potholed state highways.

It all turned out fine, as all things usually do. I got there in an hour, Doc showed me his brightly colored plastic mouth model with gums and perfectly straight teeth and titanium implants and screw-bolts and removable old school bridge structures. He loves that thing, a 3-D teaching tool. I had seen it before but I was sky high on anesthetics then and I had forgotten its significance to my own real, funky mouth.

Turns out the cow bone and titanium implant are solid as a rock, right where they are supposed to be. The temporary healing cap, which is what the screw-bolt thing is called, had simply wiggled its way loose and splashed down in my yogurt. No biggie. He disinfected it, numbed my gums a little, and screwed it back on like he was replacing a spark plug in a rickety old sedan. I was actually laughing as he did it, partly out of relief that it wasn't going to cost me any more money or time and partly because I felt like one of those animated goofball cars in a Pixar movie. The whole deal lasted about five minutes. Superstar.

To make my day even more pleasant, I drove over to Asilomar State Beach in Pacific Grove and walked for an hour or so. It was foggy and sort of cold, like it frequently gets there, but just as beautiful as ever. Healing cap fallout is a sweet excuse to walk on one of my favorite beaches.

Peace, Love, and Torque Wrenches,

Friday, May 19, 2017

La Conquistadora

Waning Crescent Moon

You never know who you are going to meet on your daily walk. Today I met a group of beautiful pilgrims trekking from San Juan Bautista to Carmel to honor Our Lady of Bethlehem. I didn't know anything about this particular version of the Virgin Mother before today. Now I do.

This is what her statue, which resides at the mission in Carmel-by-the-Sea, looks like. What she stands for is either beautiful or terrifying, depending on your world view.

The folks I met were really nice, mostly Boy Scouts, almost all from Sacramento. They were true believers, on their 7th annual pilgrimage. I didn't really engage in anything substantive with them, sensing that we were not much alike, but I treated them with respect like I would do with anybody else who was friendly to me.

Their leader allowed me to take a quick photo of most of their joyful group. I was honestly happy to meet them.

The statue itself has a long history which to me is very spooky if not totally crazy, but to the true believers, it is sacred and worthy of reverence. They believe that Our Lady of Bethlehem was sent with Father Junipero Serra back in the 16th century to prevent Russia from taking over Alta California from the Spaniards. You know, the Spaniards who just showed up, "discovered" it, and said it was theirs in keeping with papal edict - that whole "build the missions and convert the indigenous people to make it look like the place is settled so the Russians will stay out" thing.

The statue earned the name of La Conquistadora for her psychological role in conquering Alta California, repelling the Russians, and supposedly mystifying the "uncivilized" inhabitants.

If you are sufficiently interested, open the link below and read the very one-sided old school Catholic version of the story. Their point of view is violently us-versus-them and as such, it defies my understanding of the teachings of Jesus. 

While I admire the dedication of the amiable pilgrims I met today, their singular lack of awareness and continued blindness to the enslavement and murder of the original Californians in the name of their Lord puzzles and offends me. Our Lady of Bethlehem.

If you are interested in what I think is a pretty convincing counterpoint, read: The doctrine of Discovery, Manifest Destiny, and American Exceptionalism.

I am not against faith and/or religion as long as it does not involve hate and war and hypocrisy. Unfortunately, history has shown that it very often does exactly that.

Peace, Love, and Superstition,

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Self Improvement Continued

Waning Gibbous Moon

Following the Indian Market, I traveled south to Santa Barbara to catch up with my brother and a few other long time friends for a few days. On Tuesday night, I joined my old volleyball buds Craig and Don to attend a lecture at U.C. Santa Barbara's Campbell Hall. The speaker was Chip Kidd, a famous author and graphics designer who specializes in creating state-of-the-art book covers for New York Times bestsellers.

This guy is good. He spoke for over an hour about the process of creating a dynamite cover, presenting it to the author and/or the business side of the publishing house, experiencing both rejection and guidelines for improvement, and then finally succeeding. Kidd was smart, irreverent, funny, informative, and he engaged the audience of about 400 people for the entire lecture. His comments about the use of color and space and finding the right hook to coerce someone browsing in a bookstore to actually stop, pick up the book, and look inside were insightful but surprisingly simple.

My favorite cover that he featured was also the most basic. He was given access to the archives at the Charles Schultz Museum in Santa Rosa to research a book he was writing about the famous Peanuts cartoonist. Schultz read all his fan mail and answered every bit of it using stationery of his own design. He signed each letter "Charlie Brown." At the bottom of the stationery was a drawing that showed Charlie Brown in his iconic tee shirt sitting to the left of Snoopy's doghouse with Snoopy laying face up on top and a trash can on the right with Charlie Brown's kite sticking out of it. Sort of a typical C.B. day, right?

Kidd called his book Only What's Necessary and he wanted to capture the essence of Schultz's art on the cover. Here is what he came up with. I think it's masterful.

Another favorite cover is the one for Haruki Murakami's novel Men Without Women. The silhouette is that of the author. The puzzle piece is an adaptation of the Japanese language character for woman. Men take note: don't try this at home.

For this one, The Mind's Eye by Oliver Sacks, Kidd utilized a standard eye chart like you see at an optometrist's office and blurred it a bit to give it a flavor of the subconscious. Pretty cool.

Although Kidd didn't feature these covers in his lecture, he created them, and I'm including them just because I really liked these novels by Stieg Larsson. Highly recommended. Much better than the movie.

Going to this lecture reminded me how great it is to live in a place where you have access to a major public university. Events like this are stimulating, even if the topic isn't really something you know or isn't of exceptional interest to you.  Listening broadens your mind.

At the end, Kidd fielded questions from members of the audience who approached the stage and used a microphone so everyone could hear what they were asking. Most of the questions were serious and drew appropriately informative responses. 

But in true Santa Barbara Gaucho fashion, one lovely Asian co-ed with long flowing hair that reached the back of her knees, came forward to say: "Hi. Is a hot dog really a sandwich?" 

To which Mr. Kidd replied, "Uh. no." 

And that concludes our program for tonight, ladies and gentlemen.

If you want to experience an e-version of one of Mr. Kidd's lectures, there is one available as a Ted Talk. It is not as engaging as being there in person, but nevertheless, it gives you an idea of the enthusiasm he brings to his craft.

Peace, Love, and Learning,

California Indian Market

Waning Gibbous Moon

The 33rd Annual California Indian Market and Peace Festival was held last weekend, May 5th and 6th, on the school soccer field in San Juan Bautista CA. This festival celebrates native culture and art, including booths with juried (authenticated) jewelry, pottery, and crafts; delicious Navajo tacos; and indigenous dancers from around the continent. The event is orchestrated by local resident Elayne (Laynee) Silva-Reyna, a decorated U.S. Air Force Korean War veteran. Prominent in the Sunday line-up is a presentation of colors honoring the many sacrifices of Native Americans and all veterans to the defense of the United States.

Laynee is also an award-winning artist and author and she happens to live right down the street from me. Her book Wolf Dreamer of the Longest Night Moon "illustrates the exquisite beauty of nature and expands awareness for readers to respect the nobility of wolves." I have read it three times and will most likely do so again to experience the meditative flow of her writing and to enjoy the beauty of her story. Laynee was kind enough to sponsor me for the weekend. In exchange for working her booth, I was allowed to sell copies of my Palomino and the Dream Machine alongside "Wolf Dreamer." Plus, I got to eat some of those scrumptious blue flour Navajo tacos. Yum!

Saturday was cold, overcast, and windy, but Sunday the clouds went away and it was a perfect setting for the ceremonial dances and vendors. Local and Bay Area people came out to support the event and take part in the dances, including a few of my former students: Adrian, Ben, Cody, Monica, and one other whose name I simply could not remember. Old age. It's getting to me, slowly but surely.

The best part of the day to me was the performance by the Aztec dancers. The drumming was powerful and the Aztec plumage and costumes were fascinating. To witness this kind of authentic cultural pride and dedication to their craft is an exercise in expansive self-improvement.

I'm not sure there will be a 34th celebration next year. Laynee is talking about retiring and I don't know if anyone else is capable of pulling this event off. That woman is a force of nature. If there is a festival, you should be there!

Peace, Love, and Respect,

P.S. I am writing a series of short articles in the BenitoLink (local online news) features section called Walking San Benito to promote health and recreation in my home county. They will come out every other Friday for the next several months. So check them out if you are interested :-)

Friday, May 5, 2017

Palomino No Drinko

Waxing Gibbous Moon

I don't know how the term 'teetotaler' originated, but I believe that describes me (to a tee). I don't like the smell, taste, history, or effects of alcohol so I don't imbibe. Socially, that puts me at a disadvantage on days like today, when millions of Americans rush home or to a bar to get smashed in celebration of Cinco de Mayo. I just stay off the roads on days like this, make nachos, and drink limeade.

Oh by the way, I wonder how many people even know what they are punishing them selves for celebrating. Watch this site's video if you forgot or don't know the history. Pretty funny if you are of French descent and you're knocking back tequila shots with your buddies at a bar in Temecula!

I went back to my superstar periodontist yesterday for a checkup on the old hole #3 implant. He pronounced me fit and fine and cleared me to resume eating solid foods. I have been restricted to soft stuff for the past week, which of course led me to abstain from chewing on meat. I stopped drinking coffee, too, while I was at it. Both decisions were good ones and I think I'll just keep on keepin' on. I will still eat eggs and dairy, so don't call me a Commie pinko vegan just yet. So far I have not been tempted to cross the road and graze in the neighbors' green pastures, so the cow thing is under control for now.

JoJo, my superstar dental assistant, told me that in time, the surrounding bone will assimilate the cow bone and replace it with my presumably human bone material. I'm not sure how that works physiologically, but it sounds to me very similar to the way petrified wood forms in the Earth. If you don't know how petrified wood forms or if you forgot, you can read about it here.

While I was in the neighborhood yesterday, I swung by Pacific Grove for a walk on the recreation trail to see some harbor seals and listen to the surf. My old cabin on Central Avenue is now a fancy condo about eight times bigger than the former place. And most likely eight times as expensive. There are lots of vacancies right on Oceanview Boulevard, possibly the most beautiful spot on Monterey Bay. If you would like to lease or buy one and you need somebody to protect your investment while you are inexplicably living somewhere else, you know how to reach me. I miss this place.

Think it over. You could have a dream vacation spot (for a couple million) and a tidy, sober, trustworthy placeholder-guardian-housesitter to boot (for free).

Viva la raza.

Peace, Love, and Designated Drivers,

Monday, May 1, 2017


Waxing Crescent Moon

I am now part cow.

On Thursday morning I was given an anesthetic and was operated on to install a dental implant in tooth position #3, where one of my upper molars had been removed two years ago. The bone in that part of my head had deteriorated a little bit. It was in need of restoration in order to hold the implanted post. So my superstar periodontist first jammed a little cow bone up there to do the trick. Then he screwed in the post and his assistants mopped up the blood and gore (I guess).

The next thing I knew I heard a voice inside my head. It was the doc saying we're all done now, Jim, we're going to raise you back upright now and then boink, I was awake. I didn't feel anything. No pain or discomfort. No disorientation. I was not swollen or discolored. I was simply back from wherever that awesome dope had sent me. I've been a little woozy and sleepy for the past few days, but mostly I'm a-okay.

I do, however, feel a little odd knowing that I am now part cow. You see, for about the past twenty-some years I have harbored negative feelings about cows. So negative that whenever I am walking or bicycling along a country road where cows are grazing, I yell horrible things at them. Things much too horrible to repeat here. I will spare you that indignation. But I will say that it is ironic or karmic or cosmically coincidental (dental!) that cow bone is now in my head.

By way of explanation, here is a little history from my Pacific Crest Trail journal.

Yelling at Cows

I once returned from a day hike near Bird Spring Pass to witness a cow standing on its hind legs with its front hooves planted squarely on the front of my truck, licking something that apparently tasted very good from the center of the truck's hood. Or maybe it was in love, I don't know which. I started yelling at cows that day and I have been yelling at them ever since.

April, 2001

One of my favorite mini-hikes on the PCT is the short northbound walk between Barrel Spring and the town of Warner Springs. Maybe you're relieved that you made it unscathed over the San Felipe Hills or maybe you know you're close to some R&R at the Warner Springs Ranch or maybe it's the presence of surface water in San Isidro Creek, or maybe it's just because the hike is easy and grassy and relaxing. Whatever. I like my experience of it. So instead of grinding the miles out at the end of an exhausting day, I walked part of the way, camped in a pasture, and saved the rest of it for morning. I slept like the proverbial log.

Proverbial log sleep is the best medicine in the world. I awoke famished but refreshed and jazzed for walking to town. I was snacking my way along the creek imagining the menu at the grill and wondering if I could actually eat every single thing on it when I came up behind a huge black cow grazing on tall green grass along a barb wire fence. There were lots of cows and calves on the other side of the fence. It seemed fairly obvious that this one had run way from home.

"You're on the wrong side of the fence, you big dummy!" I yelled. This communique had no effect. As with children, with cows it is sometimes helpful to present a selection of options for them to choose an appropriate action.

"You're right in the middle of the trail! So what are you gonna do? Are you gonna stand there and make me go around you or are you gonna move? What's it gonna be?"

The cow swung its head toward me, revealing a hairy gob of grass protruding from its lips as it chewed on the rest of a recent bite. Then it pooped. Then it urinated on its poop. All the while staring at me and chewing. Infuriating.

"Yaaaah!" I yelled. "No pooping on the PCT!" I think it was the yaaah that did it, not the leave-no-trace pooping restrictions. The yaaah seemed to bungle around through the concentric fat folds in the cow's head until it eventually bumped up against a pecan-sized brain.

It trotted seven steps and stopped. Great. I stepped around the poop.

"Yaaah, you freakin' idiot! Yaaah!" It trotted seven more steps and stopped. Terrific. More yelling ensued.

This annoying process repeated itself for about ten frustrating minutes until suddenly, without warning, the huge black cow made a big decision. It turned around so it was facing toward me and then it stared at the fence for a while, no longer chewing.

I took this as my cue to pass and I jammed around it, cutting through the knee-high grass just off the trail, staying a hiking pole's length away. Just as I returned to the trail, the cow decided to do a little yelling of its own.

"Nuh-ooooo!" it cried. "Nuh-ooooo! Nuh-ooooo! Nuh-ooooo!"

You may not know this, but real cows never say "moo." Real cows reach way back in the back of the backy back back of the seventh sack of their seventh stomach to squeeze out sound and it ain't no measly "moo" that comes out, brothers and sisters. It's a gusty, gut-hard "Nuh-ooooo!"

In an instant, from the other side of the barb wire fence, came a chorus of supportive replies, "Nuh-ooooo! Nuh-ooooo! Nuh-ooooo!" Soon the whole countryside was nuh-oooooing! I halted in my tracks and turned to face the cacophony.

"I've got nuh-ooooos for you, moo-rons! I can nuh-ooooo, too!" And with that, I reached way back in the back of the backy back back of my single-sack, skinny-scrawny hiker trash stomach and pumped out the biggest, baddest "nuh-ooooo!" of them all! It silenced the herd and rumbled through the pasture like the roar of a jet ski engine. All their heads were facing me, staring stares that only cows can stare.

"That's right, cows!" I yelled. "I'm nuh-oooooing at YOU!"

Peace, Love, and a Nuh-ooooo Tooth,