Category Archives: The stories I tell

Random stories I like to tell.

My “Arrested Development” story

Jason Bateman on the red carpet at the 39th An...

As people keep sending me “news” about a possible movie based on this show, I feel the need to share this.

One of the best television shows ever has to be Arrested Development.  Maybe it’s because I think I may have been born with a crush on Jason Bateman that I loved it so much.  Well, I came for the Jason Bateman and stayed because it was too funny to leave.

In 2004, I was in Los Angeles doing a trip for the Kerry campaign.  The hotel where we were staying was hosting the TV critics something or other where the networks trot out their stuff for the journalists.  My first thought upon hearing about this was I wonder if I will meet the cast of “Arrested Development.”  

After I checked in, a friend and I went up to our room.  Tony Hale (Buster) was in the elevator. I was pretty sure it was him but not entirely so I didn’t say anything until we got off the elevator where I told my friend I think that was Buster …  she had no idea who I was talking about.  When we left, he was still in that same elevator — I kid you not.  I was all — that IS Buster…  to which my very not impressed and now slightly annoyed friend reminded me that she had no idea who he was.

The next morning was chaotic for me.  I had been off of coffee for at least six months but there was Starbucks in the room so I went for it.  I also got a call that a bunch of details that I figured I would have to do but was told I would not would have to be done by me.  It wasn’t a huge deal, it was just going to be a squeeze.  I mention all of this because I think it is important to get my state of mind at the time to set the scene.

So, I am waiting in front of the hotel for a colleague to pick me up (and they’re late, argh!) and my caffeine infused, stressed out brain is all over the place.  Then I look around and I am surrounded by the Arrested Development cast.  I might have noticed it sooner, had I been paying attention to something other than my growing to-do list.

They were all there.  That included Jason Bateman. Truthfully, I was concerned that I was too frenzied

to talk to him but how many chances do you get to meet someone you have had a crush on your whole life so I went for it.  I started by telling him that I had this crush for so long and that when I saw he was back on TV I was really happy and I loved the show.  He was SUPER nice.  We chatted for a decent amount of time during which he asked me about my thoughts on the show.  He was really concerned that the family as a whole and the individuals were not relatable.  I said I could relate to them.  He also told me about the then only British TV show The Office, which I started watching and loving immediately.  (Side note: if you like either of these shows, you really need to see The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd MargaretDavid Cross and Wil Arnett, painful at times but glorious.)

I left that encounter with two goals for my year: to get John Kerry elected and to keep Arrested

Actor Jason Bateman

Actor Jason Bateman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Development on the air.  And I think history will back me up when I say I could not have failed more miserably at both (no, I do not think my impact on either was so great as to make a difference but it cracks me up that I was so determined and ended up just swimming against the current on both.)

Rumors keep floating about that they are making a movie and for a long time I woud get my hopes up only to have them crushed soon after.  Therefore I am not even going to entertain the idea that such a movie will be made until I see a preview for it.

#HCR and you

President Barack Obama's signature on the heal...

President Barack Obama's signature on the health insurance reform bill at the White House, March 23, 2010. The President signed the bill with 22 different pens. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the second anniversary of  the Affordable Care Act, I am reminded of a conversation I had with a reporter from The Daily Caller who likened the legislation to something from Nazi Germany (seriously).  He went on to say that no insurance company had ever dropped anyone for becoming ill.  He challenged me to find someone this happened to.

As luck would have it, I didn’t have to look very far because it happened to me.

In 2003, I left my job to go back to school.  For some reason I didn’t think I could get Georgetown University’s student plan for the summer session so I bought my own personal plan.  In the fall, I had planned to cancel the personal plan and just go with the student insurance but I forgot to cancel it and had both.  The effective enrollment date of this plan was June 1, 2003.  (It was a good thing that I kept both because a decent chunk of my care was received when I was not eligible for the student insurance.)

Prior to 2003, I had been pretty healthy.  I have always been a bit anemic but I used to donate blood and platelets on a regular basis.  My only real complaint was my knees, which suck and both have been operated on.

In November 2003, I started feeling really crappy.  I was taking organic chemistry and physics.  I was terrified of physics and orgo is just hellish (though it is the best class, in retrospect, that I have ever taken, it really improved the way I process information and every college student should have to take it).  My symptoms were stomach pain and nausea, things I could easily dismiss as being related to the course material and all the coffee I was drinking.  I am very good at ignoring things I do not want to deal with.

By mid-December, I could not ignore it anymore because I started throwing up blood.  A lot of it.  When I was seen at the GTown ER, they put in a naso-gastric (NG) tube to flush out my stomach to determine if there was any active bleeding but were pretty sure there would not be.  They were wrong. They found a bleeding ulcer which kept me there for the next week.

Over the next few months, the ulcer did not respond to treatment.  At least not in a good way.   It was growing and by late winter it was one of the biggest they had ever seen at Georgetown Hospital  (Go big or go home as I always say).  They recommended surgery to remove it.  So I had laproscopic surgery to remove just the ulcer.

A few days after I got home from that operation, I became really sick.  Had a high fever and was back in the ER.  An infection had developed and I needed a drain inserted.  (Side note: my insurance did not want to pay for the anesthesia used to insert said drain until I described, in as much gruesome detail as I could come up with, the procedure and then they did pay.)  Spent another week in the hospital.

Several weeks after that, a blockage formed and I couldn’t eat anything so back to the hospital I went.  My only option was an open partial gastrectomy.  This was much more invasive and serious a surgery than the first.  They removed the bottom (distal) third of my stomach.  This is called a Billroth II.

The next phase of my medical drama is at least partially my fault.  If you ever have major surgery, give yourself more than two weeks (once you are home) to go work on a national, political campaign.  You’ll thank me later.  I ended up in the cardiac care units of two different hospitals that summer.  That was because my healing stomach was still bleeding.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my personal health insurance had stopped paying.  By this time, the tab for my care for 2004 hovered around $450,000.  They were claiming this was a pre-existing condition and refusing to pay for any claims that had been submitted and any that were coming in.  My coverage had been pretty much suspended and I advised against going to the doctor until this was resolved.  In this area, I was lucky because I didn’t need to for a few months but things could have easily gone the other way.  It took several months but they finally agreed that this was not “pre-existing.”

Note:  It may be worthwhile to treat medical records like a credit score of sorts.  I had trouble getting Georgetown Hospital to send my records to the insurance company — there were hundreds, if not thousands, of pages of them.  When I went through them I found an injury I never had (one of the few!).  On on ER visit, subsequent to all of this, the nurse who triaged me asked me if a certain physician was my doctor.  When I told her I had no idea who that was, she replied “He delivered your twins.”  She really thought I was out of my mind until I told her I didn’t have any children.

In a sense, that reporter was right.  Insurance companies don’t come out and say, “We’re dropping you because you are sick.”  They do, decide to call something pre-existing, and it doesn’t have to be for them to call it that and get away with it — at least until now.

I wrote this detailed account of my medical problems to show how rapidly things can go very wrong.  As I stated, I was healthy when I purchased the private insurance.   I was working out at least five times a week.

The United States stands alone in a number of areas.  Our approach to health care incentivizes costs, not care.  Moreover, while we pride ourselves of having the best system in the world, if we prevent access to it, what good is it?   Dr. Atul Gawande wrote an excellent piece for the New Yorker on the current status of our health care system.  You can read that here.  We are also exceptional in terms of how bankruptcies caused by medical bills.  That isn’t a problem in other countries but is huge here.  In economic times like these, far too many of us are one emergency away from bankruptcy.  That is unacceptable.

Personally, I think we need to do more with health care reform.  We need a single payer system.  I do not, however, think “Obamacare” is a vast overreach by the federal government.  I think it is a good start.

Go directly to the ER. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. (updated)

Original cast of the show (1994–1995)

Original cast of the show (1994–1995) (Photo credit: Wikipedia). I have spent way more time in ERs over the past eight years than I would like and I have never seen any of these people there. Bastards!

My new least favorite sentence in the English language is “You need to get to the emergency room as soon as possible.”

It had been, “If you leave here, you will die.”  That one is what a hematologist told me one time during a “get to know you” appointment before she had even talked to me but saw what my vitals were and concluded I had orthostatic hypotension, caused by decreased blood volume.  I ended up getting multiple units of blood and iron infusions and clearly survived.

Of course, while I am thinking of things medical professionals should not say, “Wow, that’s fucked up.” makes the list, too.  A doctor looked at my palms and saw they look like Rand McNally.  In his defense, when I was doing the Georgetown pre-med program, I was treated differently than other times.  I have noticed three levels of treatment since my medical odyssey began in 2004.  As a pre-med student, I was a potential future colleague.  Doctors would actually listen — the same physician spent nearly 45 minutes convincing me WHY I needed a certain procedure — to me. When I worked on the Kerry/Edwards campaign, I was a VIP.  When I am just me, well, that sucks.

In any case, today’s dreaded phrase changed because I started having really bad chest pain yesterday.  That was troublesome so I called my doctor and his office told me to go to the ER.  I didn’t like that answer so I called another one.  Shampoo, rinse, repeat.  I hate the ER so I then tried to convince myself to go by thinking about what some of my friends would do in this situation.  When I didn’t like what I thought they would tell me, I went where most people go for real, reliable medical advice: the Twitterverse.  Is there really a better place to go for a real evaluation of health issues than random strangers on Twitter?  Of course not!  I should have started there.

What actually got me to come is that in 2006-07, I had two near death experiences due to the aforementioned anemia.  My blood level got so low that my heart stopped and I had to be resuscitated with the paddles.  Something that really hurts afterwards.  The first time, I was walking home from dinner and woke up at the George Washington University Hospital where I asked, What did you do to me?  To which they responded, We saved your life.  Ok, then.

So, as we are on the eve of the baseball season and I got to thinking this afternoon that the third time might actually be my third strike and I have too many cool things going on right now to go and die and miss them.  That’s a cool development for me because in the past self-preservation has not always come so naturally to me.  Like the time when I was mugged and I chased the guy down and caught him. How stupid is that?  Incredibly stupid.  The guy hit me, I think with my own fucking bag, and knocked me unconscious. I woke up in the middle of the street.  There was no thought process there, it was instinct.  And my instincts clearly suck ass.  So having any self-preservation instinct kick in, ever, is a very good thing.  A very, very, very good thing.  Yay, me!

The second piece of good news came at the hospital where my EKG was totally normal.  The only bad news is that I have to CT and they need a much bigger IV in me than will be possible unless they go with a central line or something and they suck.

While Sibley Hospital still won’t give me frequent flyer points, the staff here are great and this is the best ER in Washington, DC.

Hopefully, I will go home tonight.  Thanks for listening.

Updated (as of 24 March 2012):  They did release me last night and I am ok enough to be back at work so all is good.

“Game Change” — the 3D experience

Could there be a more DC photo than two political pundits on a stage checking their smartphones? No, didn't think so.

Ok, I have not read the blockbuster book Game Change, written by perennial Morning Joe guests John Heilemann and potty-mouth Mark Halpern (I kid because I thought it was hilarious when he called President Obama a bad name and was subsequently booted off of MSNBC for a time,  I found the former funny and the latter sad).  I also never saw the movie Recount.  There’s a good reason for this.  I worked on the Gore campaign for what seemed to be an eternity and felt I had experienced it enough.  I didn’t read the book because, same deal, I worked for Senator Edwards’ campaigns in 2003, 2004 and 2007 (Can we all say “hook, line and sinker”?  Good.).  I then spent time working on the Hillary campaign and, for good measure, also did some work for now-President Obama.  I didn’t feel any great need to relive that.

None of that meant that when Politico did an event “Game Change: A look inside the book and the movie” that I didn’t JUMP at the chance to go.  Oh, I jumped.  And I went.  It. Was. Awesome.  And not awesome in a “we just got tickets to Lady Gaga” way or “the Mets won a game” or “we have plans that involve sex with Vinny from the Jersey Shore.”  I mean in a “I have to leave the apartment before seven to be on time for a dorky politically driven event that might be covered by C-Span” way.  Absolutely, positively, in no way was this a cool in a “someone from Buffy the Vampire Slayer cast will be there” kind of way. BUT IT WAS SO THAT LAST PART.

I guess I knew intellectually that the same person who wrote the screenplay for Recount also wrote the

You cannot really tell from this photo is of Danny Strong aka Jonathan from Buffy. Seriously. Just take my word for it. I might lie about other things but not Buffy. Or Fresca.

Game Change screenplay.  I might even have known that this person, Danny Strong, played Jonathan on Buffy.  I might have known those things but I really didn’t. Really.  No fucking clue.  So, at 8:00 am a few weeks ago when I had zero coffee in my system and was more than sightly annoyed with myself for being a huge dork, I became an even bigger one in the elevator of the Newseum.  That’s when I looked to my left and there was Jonathan from Buffy.  OMFG.

While my obsession with all things Jersey Shore may be well known, as are my obsessions with politics, MSNBC, Willie Geist, the Mets, velociraptors, serial killers, Tom Welling, cheese, Fight Club, comedy, 5-hour energy and other things might be well known, I am not sure my old Buffy obsession is.  I started watching after it was over but that doesn’t mean I was any less committed.  I have two seasons at home on DVD.  If Strong had been wearing a “hello, ask me about my work as Jonathan from Buffy” sign around his neck it would not have been more clear who he was.  My poor, little, caffeine-deprived brain had a hard time with this development.  I didn’t do anything strange, I was just weirded out.

The event itself was a panel consisting of Mike Allen and Maggie Haberman from Politico, Mark Halperin, John Heilemann, Jay Roach (directed the movie), Steve Schmidt (McCain campaign chair, I know you know who that is but I wanted to make sure you knew that’s the one I meant) and Danny Strong.  They talked about the challenges of taking the book and making the movie.  Why, for instance, does the movie focus only on the Sarah Palin storyline when there were the others in the book?  Because, it’s a two hour movie, not a five day mini-series.

Truthfully, most of my life has been spent working in politics on some level.  I walked in as 50/50 on working on this cycle as I possibly can be (which to most people would be 90/10 in favor).  I walked out thinking that I just don’t have another cycle in me.  I asked Mark Halperin about this.  I admitted I had not read his book and told him why, would reading the book or watching the movie make me more or less interested in working on another presidential campaign?  He had what I think we call a Meet the Press answer (I call it that).  He told me to find a candidate that inspires me.  I didn’t have the heart to say that as Met fan, nothing inspires me anymore.  Well, I didn’t have the heart and I didn’t think of saying that until later.

The person I should have asked that was Steve Schmidt — something that occurred to me at the end of the Q&A portion of the event.  Would he be more or less likely to do another campaign after watching the movie?  I dunno what he would have said but I know that I did watch the movie and despite what I had heard about him looking so great, he seemed like a giant asshole.  My presidential experience does not include being a candidate for either spot but I have been pretty up close and personal with the people who were and it’s a pretty fucking hard thing to do.  Say what you want about Sarah Palin — and her lack of basic knowledge of, well, general information, disqualified her immediately to me but she had no idea what she was getting into.  Mr. Schmidt did little to change that.  And that’s from the account that makes him look good?  Seriously, how much of a dick was he in real life?  A big one.

To pluck an obscure governor from Alaska and throw her to the wolves that way is mean in ways that I never considered until I saw this movie.  And here I thought I knew what I was talking about.

Buffy

Buffy (Photo credit: agcstoat) There is no reason for this cat to be here but s/he is.

Dear Palin family:  All you accomplished by not cooperating with this was, well, you accomplished nothing.  Good for you.  Well done.

How Stephen King changed my life

Stephen King signature.

Stephen King signature. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are only a handful of people who have really influenced my life in lasting ways.  My grandmother, Judy Chadwick Clarke, tops the list.  After family, there’s President Bill Clinton (you cannot work for someone as long as I worked for him and not be impacted — for the much better).  Probably Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca) — my first job out of college was working for her, as I have said before.  Many of the people who have made an impression did so during adulthood so their contribution was limited in some respects.

The same cannot be said of Stephen King.  His contribution changed the entire trajectory of my life and  made my current career possible.  Thank you, Mr. King.

My family is made up of a lot of readers.  Percentage wise, I think there are more librarians than any other profession but that could be a skewed view based on Judy (I always called my grandmother by her first name), who was one.  Even the non-librarians read and as things are, I am the least educated member of my family (BA in French from Stony Brook University, pre-med certificate from Georgetown) — unless you consider my cousin Abbie’s child Knut and he is a baby.  I am pretty sure he has at least a maters in something by now.  Probably particle physics or economics.

If you are thinking, wow, you sure are lazy compared to them.  Yeah, I am.  That goes way back.  When I was in elementary school I hated to do any schoolwork and dreaded reading.  Not because I didn’t like to read but the drivel they gave me bored me to tears and if you’ve read my posts about the wonderful adventure that was my childhood, you understand that I had enough to cry about without letting shitty books do it.  So, I never read anything they gave me.  This, in turn, made the school think I couldn’t read and it was not an idea I was in any hurry to disuade them from.  They put me in the reading class basically for kids who should have been drooling in the corner.  I don’t think I did any homework for at least a year, maybe two.

In retrospect, I am not sure how the educators at my school were so oblivious– and the Three Village School District where I went is considered a really good one.  Look it up.  While you’re at it, look up the Wikipedia entry for Stony Brook the town.  You’ll see a familiar name under “famous people from here.”  Kevin James went to my high school (graduated before me).  But the name I am talking about, of course, is mine.  My parents were divorcing and that just wasn’t done back then.  Plus there was the whole fake kidnapping issue that my father kept harping about (the time my mom took me to Iceland for the summer and he said I had been kidnapped) and maybe they just didn’t want to deal with me.  It was easier to just let me do my think, whatever the hell that was, than actually pay some attention.  I sound bitter – and I am about a lot of things but this isn’t one of them.  I didn’t bother them (much) and they didn’t bother me (much).

Meanwhile, I went on reading and learning in my own way.  I liked to read quite a bit.  On one visit

Stephen King, American author best known for h...

Stephen King, American author best known for his enormously popular horror novels. King was the 2003 recipient of The National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Taken at the 2007 New York Comicon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

with my mother I begged her to buy me a Stephen King book — The Shining.  She did, after making me promise to read Agatha Christie, which I never did and never have.  Those books bore me, too.  And if you are an Agatha Christie fan, save your hate tweets and emails (or don’t, I love getting hate mail), just not gonna get into it now.

Anyway, I was all about Stephen King.  As soon as I would finish one book, my mom would send another (side note, if you really want to get the full horror effect of ‘Salem’s Lot, read it by candle light under the skylight in your attic bedroom after a hurricane has knocked out the power to your town.  Seriously.  I hung garlic and crosses around my room for months.  Damn vampires aren’t getting to me that easy.  Fuckers.).

This Stephen King obsession began when I was in the fifth grade.  I think it was that first book, The Shining, that I brought to school.  My terrified teacher, and I wish I could remember her name because she was the first I ever had who took an actual interest in my work and me, asked What are you doing with that book?!?!  I like to think I answered something smart-assy like, Well, I am not burning it, if that’s what you’re asking.  I am not sure that’s what I said or not but it sounds like me, so what the hell?  That’s what I said.  And unless you were there, bite me.

In any case, that caused quite the stir as the school realized that I wasn’t as dumb as a box of rocks (that would come later, like now).  They moved me into the second highest reading level, which pissed me off at the time because there was actual work in  that class.   The class also introduced me to creative writing, which is a passion I have pursued ever since.  I have not left home without a pen and notebook since I was 11.  If you ever see me on the street, you can ask if I have one.  I do.  Don’t take my word for it.  By the time I got to high school, I was a pretty decent fiction writer — a persona I am desperately trying to recapture — and my teachers did wonders to nurture that in me.  I remain grateful to them as well.

The writing bug was not the only things Stephen King gave me.  His books did more to help me survive certain really bad years of my life than anything else.  Therapy (individual and family) didn’t do it.  While I have the honest hat on, I think part of the appeal of his books was I was able to confront demons in his fiction that I couldn’t in my real life.  Violence wasn’t an abstract concept for me back then, it was never more than a heart beat away.  Reading books like It let me fight back and win, every time.

Much of my professional career has included a lot of writing; press releases/statements, talking points,  briefing materials, blog posts, op-eds, newsletters, whatever press materials need to be produced — I have produced them.  In addition, I have maintained this brilliant blog for at least five years (I think, I could be wrong, I have been hit on the head a lot and am too lazy to look that up).  In 2011, I started getting paid to write political satire for the site www.pardonthepundit.com — the first time I have ever been paid for comic writing of any kind.  I also write and perform stand-up comedy throughout Washington, DC and New York City.  The only other thing that I can do in such a public manner that I like almost as much is karaoke, which is one of the most awesome things.  I may break into Don’t stop believing right now.  I am at work so I won’t but you get the idea.

The only productive things I did as a kid really were read, write and work on campaigns.  None of that prevented me from spending the latter part of my teens doing way more drugs and alcohol that I should have (and I am still surprised that I am still alive, I have to be on life 8.5 by now) but when I left the abusive situation, all of that stopped and the positives in my life took the place of the negatives.  I can only imagine where I would have ended up had I never brought that book to school.  I would probably have stayed in that class for idiots and then when I discovered drugs and alcohol, that’s all I would have had and I would probably still be on Long Island.  My mind cannot even grasp how awesome that life would have been.

Thank you, Stephen King.  You really changed my life and I will never get to thank you enough.

PS.  The second best book on writing, after The Elements of Style, of course, is Stephen King’s On Writing.  I would also like to add that even as a kid, I LOVED his introductions.  They rock.