Category Archives: My Olive Pit

Halcyon Days

Baseball’s always been my sport. I played it and its cousin, softball, obsessively back when I was a kid in Chicago. We played in alleys, mostly, meaning we all had to learn how to hit the ball straight up the middle. It was like playing football on a bowling lane or basketball in a hallway.

I played until I was about 38 years old when one Sunday while I was playing third base in a softball league game in suburban Lincolnwood, the batter hit a scorching bounder at me. The ball took a funny hop and, superannuated as I was, I was unable to react quickly enough and the ball smashed into my eye, shattering my glasses. It turned out the blow caused what the eye surgeon called a traumatic cataract, which had to be sliced out of me. The worst part of that procedure was when the nurse injected some drug or another directly into my eyeball, the memory of which to this day turns my legs into jelly.

Anyway, the start of baseball’s spring training and Opening Day (always capitalized) six weeks later have been landmarks in my yearly countdown to spring. I detest winter about as much as the cancerous tumors that popped up around my larynx in 2015, the same year my beloved Cubs began their long awaited renaissance, culminating in their first World Series championship since 19 goddamned 08.

The Heights.

That was in 2016, the same year chemoradiation therapy zapped the bejesus out of my tumors (I’d nicknamed them My Olive Pits), so it should have been an annum of bliss, Except five days later, the voters of this holy land decided to elect a lunkheaded clown to the presidency, killing my buzz and making me fret for the future.

The Pits.

Here it is, the first week of March and the Cubs and the 29 other Major League Baseball teams should have begun spring training games already. Only the MLB owners have decided to lock the players out because the Collective Bargaining Agreement between them and the Major League Baseball Players Association had expired last December. The owners are loath to share any more of the billions their sport rakes in with the guys who actually play the game than they have to. Sure, some ballplayers make ten, twenty, even thirty million dollars a year playing a game that I played every day, seemingly every hour of every day, back when I was 11. Of course, my skill level was a bit lower than theirs. If by bit, we mean several light years.

Spring training generally starts around Valentine’s Day and I take that date as the Beginning of the End of Winter. But, as I say, spring training hasn’t started yet. And the owners and the players, who been negotiating a new CBA, just gave each other the finger and have broken off talks. The first week of regular season games have already been cancelled. It’s doubtful there’ll even be any games come April. And if worse comes to worse, a couple of months or more of the 2022 season will be wiped out.

The idiots.

The owners, that is. Not only have I long been a staunch union guy (I’ve been a member of the Municipal Laborers Union, the National Writers Union, and the Newspaper Guild) but, even if I weren’t, I’d still side with the players because, for pity’s sake, I watch the games to see the players in action not to slobber over the owners counting their billions. As long as the game generates so much cash, the lion’s share of it ought to go to the people doing the hitting, pitching, and running around.

Not only that, but the majority of Major League players do not earn the aforementioned astronomical salaries. Under the expired CBA, incoming players earned $590,000 a year, a hefty payday to be sure but when you consider the fact that tens of millions of kids play baseball but only 750 or so grow up to play in the Bigs each year, that dough seems about right. Hell, maybe those lucky rookies ought to earn even more. The sport is awash in money. TV networks and regional sports programming operations are waving multi-billion-dollar checks at the owners, and a lot of those same owners call taxpayer-funded stadia home. Still, those owners want to break the players union because…, well, because that’s what the uber-rich do — fuck over as many people as they can, just for the sport of it.

Aw, I didn’t mean to get all that bitter here. My original intent was to post a little audio essay I call Halcyon Days. Click on the media bar up top and enjoy.

Hot Air: Melange, Olio, Medley, Miscellany…

And The Answer Is

In the wake* of the death of host Alex Trebek, I’ve learned the correct Jeopardy! answer is, “What is robbing the cradle?”

Jean Currivan (L) and Her Husband, Alex Trebek.

[ * You’ll pardon the pun.]

Customer Service

When I worked as a bartender for Club Lago, a delightful Italian family restaurant in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, one of the owners, Guido Nardini, said to me one night, “There’s a reward beyond money in serving people.”

Now, a cynic might respond that’s a boss’s way of saying “You should learn to be happy with the peanuts I’m paying you,” but, no, I earned a nice chunk of change pouring drinks at Lago. No complaints there; from the sheer volume of customers to the fact that a lot of people used to love to throw c-notes around as tips, I was able to stash big piles o’cash in my home safe.

Guido meant what he said because he and his co-owner bro., Giancarlo, loved to serve customers well. And, yes, it did please me to please my customers. I treated everybody with great respect and care regardless of what I thought their largesse capacities were.

At the Book Corner ( ✯ more on that later) I continue to take great pride in going out of my way to satisfy customers and nobody (except for one guy — I’m looking at you, J.D.) tips me. I like to call myself “the book detective,” often standing on my head to find something rare or out of print or unheard of for customers. When they tell me they appreciate my efforts and I see the looks on their faces, that’s a reward in and of itself.

So, I’m particularly attuned to people’s customer service skills. The following are some encounters I’ve had recently. I’m not complaining or indicting, simply observing.

“COME HERE OFTEN?”

I saw my oncologist last week. As an aside, I’m right at the time when I should be declared cancer-free. It’s been five years since my bout with squamous cell cancer leading to malignant lymph nodes. You may recall my long series herein called My Olive Pits™. For five years I’ve existed in a limbo the docs call remission. Once my latest PET scan results are in, it is to be dearly hoped, I’ll get my parole. Anyway, there’s an impromptu check-in desk positioned down the hall from the oncologist’s lair where a masked receptionist takes patients’ temperatures and grills them about possible COVID symptoms. I wheeled up (Aside #2: Yes, I use one of these⬇︎ now because my hip arthritis has reached crippling dimensions)…

…and presented myself to the woman at the desk. The first thing she said was, “Do you come here often?”

Well, jeez, that’s a straight line if I’ve ever heard one. Besides, I’m always nervous as hell when I visit either my oncologist or my ENT doctor so I look for any excuse to lighten the mood. I responded, “Ha! Is that a pickup line?”

The woman stared at me.

Being met with a stony face is the ultimate negative feedback when delivering a joke. And, sure, the joke was lame and predictable. I wasn’t looking for reassurance that I’m the liveliest wit in South Central Indiana, just an acknowledgement, a sign of bonhomie, I guess. So I doubled down.

“That was a joke,” I said.

The woman continued to stare at me.

Rather than retreat then and there, I pushed further into the realm of red-faced-ness.

“Which you didn’t get,” I said, nearly sotto voce but not quite.

Her stared bored a hole through me.

Somehow we got on to the business at hand. My temperature was normal and I swore I had no coronavirus symptoms, so she passed me through.

In her defense, I’ll admit it’s a little more difficult these days to tell if a person is smiling or grimacing under the mask. But a smile is as readable in the eyes as it is by bared teeth. The woman’s eyes were not smiling.

Someone might say, “Well, maybe she thought it inappropriate that you were coming on to her.” Which is utter nonsense. I’m a crippled old goat with hernias galore, a bald head, barnacles on my scalp, and an implanted defibrillator in my chest. Only the most neurotically sensitive 20-something could interpret the joke as a come-on from the likes of me. Here’s a bit from Curb Your Enthusiasm, where Larry tells an attractive receptionist he’s talking to her because human-to-human contact is the goal, not because he’s hitting on her. (Go to the 1:30 mark of the clip for the exchange.)

Have I ever mentioned I believe Larry David is a dybbuk that resides in me and that my growth as a human depends on expelling said dybbuk?

On to the next encounter.

GO WHEREVER YOU WANT

Last week was an orgy of doctors for me. I’ve finally been okayed to go into surgery for my right hip total replacement. I’d originally been scheduled for surgery on June 8th, only a cancer-related CT scan the week before revealed I was suffering from pulmonary emboli. These obstructions in lung arteries usually are caused by clot particles that travel up from the legs. They are life threatening and usually cause breathing distress and syncope. Sometimes the first symptom is the sufferer simply drops dead. Serious stuff. Mine apparently were caused by my inability to walk much anymore so clots formed in my legs. That’s all cleared up now, thanks to a daily regimen of an anticoagulant that has turned my blood into something more akin to a fine mist. At this point I begin to bleed simply by thinking about blowing my nose.

So, I visited my orthopedic surgeon last week to get the ball rolling again. He turned me into a pretzel to see where things hurt the most (answer: everywhere) and then brought out a model of the hip joint as well as the prosthetic ball and socket joint he’d be hammering into me. His nurse then came in and gave me a new date for surgery (December 21st) and told me about all the things I’d have to do before and after. Included is a month or two of intensive physical therapy with my new hip in place.

“You can do your physical therapy here,” she said. The IU Health Orthopedics and Sports Medicine complex just off Sare Rd. on the south side has a big gym/PT center. The she added that if this particularly facility was too far away from my home I could do my PT elsewhere.

“Well,” I asked, “what are my alternatives.”

“You can go anywhere,” she said.

I resisted the urge to quip, “So, can I do it at the library?” I’d already struck out once with mild humor in a medical setting. Still, I pressed on.

“Where are other facilities?”

“They’re everywhere.”

“Okay, I live off SR 446. Which one would be closest to that?”

“Oh, they’re all around. Go wherever you want”

We were getting no place fast. “Fine, I’ll do it here,” I said, and she duly marked that down in her notes.

All the way home, I fixated on the exchange. Why wouldn’t she tell me where another gym/PT center was?

I chewed over this for a few days until it occurred to me that all these different IU Health facilities are run as discreet little revenue centers. Individual doctors, or groups of them, have ownership stakes in their facilities. In the interest of fairness and convenience for the patient, the nurse felt compelled to tell me I could get my physical therapy anywhere but she really, really, really wanted me to do it at her place because that’s where the insurance payments would be sent.

Okay, fair enough. But it wouldn’t have hurt for her to say, “Y’know, we like to keep everything in-house. It’s easier for insurance and for record-keeping.” She might even have admitted her facility had an interest in getting the insurance payments. I’m an adult; I know how business works, even if that business calls itself nonprofit.

Instead, I was left wondering why she couldn’t tell me where other gym/PT centers are. Like Larry David, I obsessed over that question for far too long. I told you he’s a dybbuk inside me.

✯ Farewell, Book Corner–For Now

I’m taking a leave of absence from the Book Corner because 1) the pain in my hip has become unbearable and 2) I don’t want to catch COVID and have to reschedule surgery again — or die.

Both The Loved One  and Patty, the manager, have told me time and again I’m deranged for going in to work three times a week with this hip. TLO has shared horror stories about people suffering from the coronavirus with me in an effort to scare me off going in. At last I’m listening to them.

You won’t see me at the store until February at the earliest. I’ll miss the hell out of the books and the people. I’ll also miss the rush and madness of Christmas there. A big family comes in every Christmas Eve. Each member, from grandma and grandpa to the littlest arrival, gets to pick out a number of books as their Christmas present for the year. It’s become a tradition. And grandma always brings in a huge stash of holiday sweets and treats that I do my best to take an unfair share of home with me. I’ll miss the hell out of them, too.

But, truth is, I won’t cry too many tears over it all because by the 24th, I’ll be sitting on a brand new hip and I won’t be a crippled old goat anymore.

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