Monday, August 31, 2015

Tell Your Doctor If You Die

Monrovia, California

August 31, 2015

You've got to love the ads for prescription drugs that run on TV.  After telling you about the wonderful things the medication can do for you, the voice-over then spins out a string of caveats, some of which leave the viewer's mouth agape with wonder that the drug is being sold at all, much less that anyone would buy or use it.  Since you need a doctor's prescription to get them, you have to ask your doctor various things, and hope that he or she is going to know the answers.

One of my favorites is the one that goes something like, "Ask your doctor if you've been to a country where certain fungal infections are common." What I always wonder is how anyone is supposed to know this.  I picture a patient sitting on the examining table with the disposable paper on it and saying, "Doctor, have I been to a country where certain fungal infections are common?" and the doctor replying, "How should I know?  The last time I saw you was six months ago when you were here.  You've been somewhere?  Well, so have I.  I went to the Caribbean for a medical conference  and my trip was paid for by Pfizer.  Now let me write you a prescription for Exculpia for that itching.  Be careful, and good luck."  I mean, do doctors, much less their patients, know what countries have "certain fungal infections"?  I doubt it.  My doctor doesn't even know exactly where Michigan is.  Okay, okay.  I understand that part of the problem with the caution in the ad is semantic, or more precisely, grammatical.  What they obviously mean is, "If you've been traveling recently, tell your doctor where you've been, and then the doctor MIGHT know, if it's some God-forsaken third world country, that some sort of horrific galloping crud is know to exist there, in which case our drug may so seriously impair your immune system that you shouldn't risk taking it and being eaten alive by a disease that could be latent in your system and which a normal healthy person would be able to fight off without even knowing they had it."  But that would take too long and would turn people off to the idea of begging their doctor to prescribe the medication even more than the shorter warning would.

Other warnings seem equally sinister.  For example, "Women and young girls shouldn't even HANDLE this medication, much less take it."  There's a problem there, too, wouldn't you say?  Big red flag.  Or, "Do not take this medication if you are now pregnant or might become pregnant."  Or have ever been pregnant, or if your mother was ever pregnant or if you have been to a country where pregnancy is common.

Then there are the ads where one of the side effects of the medication is Death.  Man, that's got to turn anyone off from using the product.  It's one thing to use something like booze, where maybe you could drive drunk and kill yourself or others, but that wouldn't be your intention.  Or to be busy eating a Whopper and fries in your car and veer into a guardrail while you're dealing with the wrapper, or the sauce.  Again, purely unintentional, and not the recommended (although probably a very common) way to consume the products.  But when the advertisement specifically states that one of the consequences of taking the product is that it might kill you, you have to wonder.  We know this to be the case with cigarettes, and the ads do most certainly warn you of their danger.  And no one pretends any more that cigarettes are in any way safe, or healthful, or beneficial, or that you should ask your doctor if it's okay to smoke.  But to have a DEATH warning as part of the advertising campaign for a doctor-prescribed medication that's supposed to help you is another story entirely.

On a less sinister note, my all-time favorite warnings are in connection with erectile dysfunction medication ads.  Let's just call them Viagra ads for short, even though there are at least three such brands commonly touted on TV.  The promise of these products, of course, is that they will give you a hard on, with the implied promise, created by the women in the ads, the blues music that plays in the background, and the walks along the beach at sunset, that they will turn you into a hootchie cootchie man, a porn star, or Casanova himself, and that you will at last be able to service and satisfy those ravishingly beautiful and sexy women who desire you but just can't get enough of you.  Okay fine.  Advertisements for all kinds of products routinely deal in the creation of moods and in feel-good imagery.  Nothing new here.

But then comes the warning: "Ask your doctor if your heart is healthy enough for sex."  This warning alone is enough to make someone go limp and to make the women in your life run for the exits.  Think about it.  Who wants to have some guy die on top of you while you're both naked?  Suddenly the man toward whom the ads is aimed isn't the good-looking, square-jawed, late-middle-aged stud who plays the parts--the Most Interesting Man In the World--but a wizened old dude with a pacemaker and an oxygen tank sitting in a ratty La-Z-Boy chair smoking Pall Malls and watching football.  A feast for the imagination, whether you're a man or a woman watching the commercials.  And I can again imagine the doctor-patient conversation.  "Doc, is my heart healthy enough for sex?" asks the man.  The physician answers, "Well, Mr. Jones, I think you know the answer to that one.  Right now your heart isn't healthy enough for you to walk across the room, which is why you're in a wheelchair."

On the plus side, however, is the other warning in the Viagra ads, probably the only instance where the possible side effect is designed to sell the drug, rather than to put the purchaser off: "Call your doctor or seek immediate medical help if you have an erection lasting longer than four hours."  Yeah, right.  That's what I'm gonna do if I get a four-hour woodie--call my doctor.  And he's going to say what?  "Mazel tov.  Enjoy yourself and call me in the morning."  Seriously, although I'm sure this could be a painful experience, in the imaginations of most men watching the commercials the idea of getting a marathon boner doesn't seem so much a problem as a blessing from the gods.  Take a number and wait outside the door.  If my heart holds up I'll be with you in a while.

Well, enough of this silliness for now.  Stay thirsty my friends.  But don't drink the water in a country where certain fungal infections are common.  And tell your doctor if you die.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Man In Black

Monrovia, California

August 30, 2015

For some time my readership has been down to a lean mean handful of folks--John C., Cousin S, Billie Bob, and a few more.  I appreciate your continuing interest, even though the blog has long since morphed from a travelogue into sputtering polemics.  With each posting the number of hits diminishes, except for one a few months back that got over 6,000, which I'm pretty sure was because of some Asian or Eastern European automated computer scam.  I don't pretend to understand how it works beyond the fact that I got a gigantic number of spam comments, and I know they weren't from friends of yours truly.  I've talked about the spam comments before--written in Chinese or Cyrillic characters, or in the Western alphabet but in a different language, or in weird or demotic English showing beyond a doubt that the writer's first language wasn't English.  At the end of all these comments, invariably, there is an invitation to visit that person's blog, usually with a mildly pornographic name.

So here we are, guys, just us chickens, as they say.  This will be short and to the point.

Johnny Cash.  This guy, star of television and revered by many, is in my opinion one of the most overrated songwriters and performers of his time and genre.  Never mind that he could barely sing--others have had shitty voices and kept going.  Bob Dylan hasn't been able to carry a tune in a paper bag since the 1970s, but his ability to write brilliant songs continues unabated and puts him at the highest levels of modern music.  Tom Waits sounds like a malfunctioning garbage disposal and has a voice that only a Frenchman could love, but he continues to turn out hauntingly beautiful lyrical ballads (which, I am compelled to say, would be even more beautiful if they were performed by others).  Lesser lights, like the abominably overestimated Leonard Cohen, also couldn't sing worth a damn.  Truth be told, a bunch of popular singers can't sing well, so never mind that aspect of Johnny Cash.  Besides, his deep bass voice did get some people's juices flowing and that made up for his less than one-octave range.  Also, after Joaquin Phoenix played him in the movie, some younger people got interested.

My peeve isn't about his voice but with one of his more prominent songs in particular, Folsom Prison Blues, which pisses me off every time I think about it.  Johnny Cash dined out on that one for years.  But the song makes almost no sense.  You might say that Dylan's songs are rather dense at some levels, filled with impenetrably symbolistic word-weaving, but they're always entertaining, usually pleasing, and operate at a level that doesn't suggest a lack of verisimilitude, only that he's thinking on a plane far above that of ordinary mortals.  And when his songs tell straight out stories, like The Sad Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll or The Hurricane, they stick more or less to the facts.  (The only reason I even bother to mention Bob Dylan in the same paragraph with Johnny Cash is that Bob was enamored of Johnny for a time.)

Back to Folsom Prison Blues.  This is ostensibly a song about a guy who is in prison because he murdered someone.  But there's something wrong with the facts.  He shot a man in Reno, right? So what's he doing in a state prison in California?  I checked, and there's no Reno, California, by the way (although some anecdotal info on the internet suggests that people have indeed tried to find a Reno, California, because of that song).  Surely if the song's protagonist had been caught in California this state would have extradited him back to Nevada, where the crime took place.  And California would be more than happy to extradite him, since the crime was serious and California has more than enough prisoners of its own to deal with.  It's not the same as France taking in Roman Polonski because he's an auteur and they don't see the point of prosecuting a guy for having sex with a young teenager.  And if, by chance, there was interstate flight involved in this shooting in Reno, or something else making it a federal crime (like maybe the guy he shot was a mailman on his route or a soldier or a U.S. Senator), there are any number of wonderful federal prisons in California and Nevada where he could be housed, rather than in Folsom State Penitentiary.

The other thing that bugs me about Folsom Prison Blues is that damned train.  Folsom Prison is located about 20 miles from Sacramento, way up in the north central part of the state.  While it is theoretically possible that a train going through Folsom might be headed "on down to San Antone," it would have to switch in a few different places to get there, first traveling the length of the state down to the southern part and then heading east along the tracks of the old Southern Pacific or the Santa Fe, a rather indirect route.  How an inmate at Folsom might know that a train passing that prison would be heading to southern Texas is beyond me. Perhaps that tells you how dumb prisoners are in general, but I think it tells you more about how dumb Johnny Cash was when he wrote the song.

But the most absurd premise of all, long a part of his mystique and prisoner-friendly disposition, is that Johnny Cash was himself a criminal of some sort.  This was part of the reason he had some credibility with prisoners, and perhaps, in his mind, the reason he wanted to entertain them.  The same imprecision went into the creation of this idea as that which contributed to the odd ideas in Folsom Prison Blues.  Well, give the guy some credit, I suppose, for the fact that he wanted to lighten the dreary lives of convicts.  A real mensch.  But here's the story about Johnny Cash himself: he was indeed arrested a few times, however, the longest he stayed in jail was a weekend or so, and the charges were possession of amphetamines, or disorderly conduct, or peccadillos of that nature.  He never came close to a real prison, except when he sang in them.  He was a criminal in the same way that Ozzie Osbourne or Jim Morrison or Keith Richards were.  In other words, not really.

Okay, thanks for letting me get that off my chest.  More rants to follow, and sorry it's been so long between postings.