Who knew? National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Month! Combine this with National Poetry Month and voila, we have…

Soft curdled interior now at its eutectic
Holds a bifurcated square of gluten
Equally carbonized together
In an orgy of ill-advised but sensual nutrition

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A few years ago I idly googled the number of wine grape varieties and got a list over 200 hundred long. Even though I was in the wine business in the 1990’s for a few disastrous years, and had read extensively and often boringly on the subject, I was stunned. It took me back to the winter of 1973-74 when I was a wine waiter in Union City, N.J. and was absorbing much about wine at the same time I was absorbing much wine. More of that in another post. But I was reminded of the awful snobbery that often attached itself to even the most ill educated drinkers. It called for a poem, and here it is:-

Pinot This and Pinot That

Pinot this and pinot that
This young Grenache is a trifle flat
Better to try and get along
With a slightly older Sauvignon

I sometimes get a trifle low
When dabbling in a cheap Merlot
And so to scare the blues away
Will sip a spendy Chardonnay

But to avoid real ennui
Drink super Oregon Pinot Gris
And let’s be quite awfully frank
That’s much better than Chenin Blanc

But while you sort out your Pinot
Give a break to Grignolino
It’s good, but not the same as
A bold and cheeky Oz Shiraz

And if you want to go very far
Don’t ignore local Pinot Noir
It always sells well on the block
And I wonder who likes Marechal Foch

As I was supping a cute Barbera
At a certain State affaira
Things got quickly very highbrow
When someone mentioned Muller Thurgau

It is no lack of vinous respect
That makes us scorn the best Malbec
And can you find me a single fan
Of that very odd vine, Carignan?

If one must go to a grapey hell
There’s good company in Zinfandel
But if we really must go
Could we have some Nebbiolo?

In the end we all agree
Any wine is better free
But if not free we’ll surely call
Any wine beats none at all!

I hope this explains something…

Plymouth Satellite

April 10, 2011

Even as a cynical twenty seven year old I was not
quite prepared for the difference between American and British cars. Before I
immigrated to the US I already knew that the Yankee motor was a huge bloated
testosterone fantasy, and that the British auto was an experiment in oxidation
technology.

My only set of British wheels had been a dark green

Oxidation Research in Action

Ford Cortina of roughly 1966 vintage. It was rusting so fiercely that there was
atmospheric oxygen depletion for six inches around its surface. Its record of
starting on the first throw of the switch was about one in ten. I was a jump
start specialist. I remember the name of the joker who sold it to me, and I
hope it is on his conscience. It cost me £220 pounds in the winter of 1971. When it was
hauled off to the scrap yard in August of 1973 I got a fiver for it, and danced
with happiness to see the end of my humiliation.

I landed in New York in late August and in another
post we can deal with all of that. It took me another year to get a
“professional” job. One that my future father and mother in law could admit to
their friends and family. But in the fall of 1974 I was hired as the
High Pressure Liquid Chromatography Applications Chemist for the Eastern Sales
Region of Varian Analytical Instruments. Yes! Such titles exist. In yet another
post we can talk about how that happened.

This job came with the amazing salary of $12,500
per annum, health and dental insurance, life insurance, and all the office
coffee I could drink. I had an expense account for sales calls and travel, and
most importantly of all, I had wheels! And when I say wheels I am not just
talking about a car, a mere means of transport, I refer to an ocean liner of
the highway, an icon of rolled steel, that plausible boat anchor, the 1972
Plymouth Satellite Station Wagon.

Correct Wheels for an HPLC Applications Specialist

Its interior was as large as my first apartment. Its
engine could have powered a bulldozer. It scared me. I was handed the keys to
this behemoth on the same day that the National Sales Manager made one of his
terrifying periodic visits to put the fear of the sales gods into the district
and regional managers. His name was Jim Brake. Six foot two in his socks, ex
marine sergeant from Texas. An unwavering gaze focused by powerful spectacles
and an impressive economy of words were his trademarks. On the outside a hard man.
On the inside, softer, but tough enough to ride herd over five regions of
around forty salesmen and their local managers, ranging from freshly minted
young men garlanded with clouds of Old Spice and enthusiasm, to cynical, washed
up wrecks eking out the last days of a sales life on the road, before retiring
to hunting cabins in the woods where they could curse and shoot things on a daily
basis.

Jim chose this day to confirm that Ed Gelb, the
manager who hired me was either nuts to have hired me or there was a chance
that we could both keep our jobs. His technique? His long shadow fell across my
desk at lunchtime as he drawled “Let’s have lunch, Bob.” Until that moment my
US driving experience had been my fiancés Chevy II, and a paper mill fork
lift.

We stepped out into the parking lot. I did not
have at this time in my life the moxie to tell my boss’s boss that I had not
yet tried out my new company wheels. We got in. We put on the new-fangled seat
belts. I adjusted the mirror. I turned the key. From some way off in front of
me the huge engine burst into polluting action. I had my foot hard on the
brake, but even as I gingerly pulled the long selector lever down to reverse I
felt the thing trying to escape.

We backed out of my parking slot at less than
thirty mph. Just. No reaction from Big Jim. Lever down to the big D for Drive.
Foot still on the brake we inched over to the edge of the parking lot where it
blended with NJ Route 22. You may have seen bumper stickers that read as
follows, “I Drive Route 22, Pray For ME!” As I came to know the road to my
office and especially Route 22, this appeal seemed understated and reasonable. Route
22 was everything that a road should have been in 1920 but in 1974. Traffic was
flowing by eastward on its way to Newark and beyond in a solid stream of metal,
rubber and exhaust and blasphemy.

Seeing a truck pull out two hundred yards to the
west gave me the break in traffic I needed. I pulled out into the eastbound
lanes. When I say pulled out I mean I gave the accelerator what I thought was
the appropriate amount of encouragement. A firm deliberate pressure. The kind
of pressure that would have caused a British Ford Cortina with its straight
four single aspirated 1.2 liter engine to amble off whining in first gear to
about fifteen mph. To the Plymouth Satellite this was a signal to leave a
thirty yard tire slick and smoke plume of the same length. Jim calmly looked
over and suggested I take the next U-Turn to the westbound lanes. This meant
braking out of the fishtail maneuver I was currently executing at Mach 0.7. The
Plymouth Satellite did not have brakes or suspension to match its engine and so
we careened into the turn with the front left wheel in the air. But luckily we
were already in the fast lane and no-one blinked an eye.

In the westbound lanes heading to our restaurant
we slowed down and started to talk. And so did my career in the analytical instrument
business.

I drove the Plymouth for another six months before
its lease ran out and I was assigned my next company wheels. Equally dangerous
for completely different reasons. Even less braking power, loose steering, and
blind spots, a bright yellow AMC Matador. It was like driving one’s own coffin but
not knowing when exactly the nails will be hammered home. I just knew that I  was lot closer to death than was surely expected of the High Pressure Liquid
Chromatography Applications Chemist for the Eastern Sales Region of Varian
Analytical Instruments in the execution of his duty.

Not Really Correct Wheels for an HPLC Applications Specialist

And I came to love those hideous cars. Not because
they were good examples of automotive design, economy or even ergonomics. They
were everything a car should not be except that they started every time I
turned the damn key, and anytime I wanted to I could leave a tire slick the
length of a cricket pitch.

This is a story of healthcare. After being employed by large or medium size corporations
for most of my professional life I was not prepared for the fact that instead
of paying anywhere from nothing to less than $100 per month for healthcare plus
dental coverage for me and my family, I was now expected to choke up around
$1,400 for the same. The stupidity of linking healthcare to full time
employment had not dawned on me until then. I could wax on about this injustice
for hours but it is not why I am writing.

Suffice it to say that I and my business partner are now ‘enjoying’ the coverage for our
health and dental needs supplied by a very large health insurance company. We
pay nearly $1000 per month as a corporation for the honor and privilege. Not to
mention the copay and prescription charges which bring our total financial commitment
to health to around $14,000 per year.  I am sure you can forgive or at least
understand any satirical tone you may detect.

Back in the fall of last year I decided to take full advantage of the dental coverage and
have a checkup. This procedure revealed that I would need some heavy duty work
on several teeth. In fact two adjacent teeth needed crowns, and there may be
other teeth needing attention. Two visits were required to accomplish the immediate
treatment. Just note that despite paying around $100 per month for the dental
part of the coverage my part of the bill still ended up at $1200. The first
part of the work involved attacking the old teeth with a small jackhammer until
they were worn down to stumps and gluing on temporary pieces. This went well
except for the excruciating muscle pain that later developed in my neck and
shoulder from straining in the chair for 90 minutes. More cash for my massage
therapist who got that discomfort to subside after two hour long sessions.

Apart from the weirdness of having alien lumps of ill-fitting plastic in my mouth all was
well. I returned some weeks later to have the permanent custom made crown glued
on. It went well. But over the next week I developed a painful sensitivity to
anything hot or cold around those teeth. It just got worse and worse.

I called my dentist. She was not available to see me anytime soon and but she arranged an
appointment with another of the team of dental surgeons who work at the clinic.
He took a look at the situation and said that a tooth next to the recently
crowned molars likely needed a root canal and with my permission he would begin
this procedure right away. How could I not agree? This also would take two
visits. Once again I was straining in the chair for some time as he drilled
into the tooth in question to remove the nerve and top it with another
temporary filling prior to the second visit when a permanent one would be
applied. The office would call me when an opening occurred. It was after the
Novocain wore off that the intense sensitivity to pressure in that tooth or in
the area around it began. The hot and cold sensitivity had gone only to be
replaced by this new problem.

I called the dentist who had done the work, left a message, and left the
same message with my original dentist. He was not available but my
original dentist called and surmised; and this is a careful choice of words;
that I perhaps had an infection in that tooth that was causing the pain.

She prescribed a course of Amoxicillin. She asked me if I had taken Amoxicillin
before and I said I was not sure but thought perhaps I had. At my age it is likely that I have taken
quite a few antibiotics. It was a Thursday when I picked up the antibiotic at
my local pharmacist and started to take the dose; 500mg three times a day for
seven days. It was Friday morning that I noticed a curious redness between the
fingers of my right hand. Suspecting a connection I stopped taking the drug,
and hoped that his would be the right thing to do. Over the weekend the redness
developed into a full and livid rash covering nearly half of my body. It began
to feel as if I had severe sunburn in random areas of flesh. On Monday I called
the dentist to ask for advice. She was not in that day. I left a message.

I did a little research on the internet and found that an allergic reaction to
Amoxicillin is not a trivial thing and can be very serious for some. With my
fingers swollen, blisters covering the back of my hands and red spots advancing
to new areas by the hour I was prepared to believe this. As my partner jokingly
remarked, “Why are you hiding two lobsters in your sleeves?”

Worrying that perhaps a dentist might not be the right person to address this
potentially dangerous allergic reaction I then called my regular MD. Or should
I say I started to call the system that prevents me from easily talking to my
doctor. Please remember that my dentist and doctor work for the same megalithic
organization in tow buildings perhaps four miles from each other. After a few
calls I got to speak with an advice nurse who expressed surprise that there was
no record of my Amoxicillin prescription in my file. Having experienced the
vagaries and disconnections of large corporate databases before I was not
surprised. I was advised to take Loratidine (an OTC antihistamine), use
Cortisone cream on the affected parts and call back the following day.

And upon the Tuesday morning it was obvious that a large part of my skin was covered with
red points and in some areas the points joined and had become inflamed patches.
My hands continued to imitate crustaceans. I renewed my telephonic dialogue with
the megalith. Three times I was told that an advice nurse would call me. By lunchtime
on Tuesday this had not happened. I called once more in a slightly feistier
mood. And somehow the person dealing with me this time; I got different people
every time I called; suggested that I could actually walk in to my regular
clinic and ask to be seen! I did not know this! Why?

Of course I leapt into my car and sped off to the clinic. And lo, I walked in and without
the usual copay; mirabile dictu; was directed to go to Gate #5
(the waiting areas remind me of the airport) and await a nurse.
As I was sitting there I decided to turn off my cell phone. As I
began I noticed that I had a message. It was from the advice nurse, finally,
who had called to inform me that my doctor has recommended something but I
would have to call the following number, choose option #1 and ask for team #2,
to get this message. I was about to do this when the doctor in question
actually appeared through the door of gate #5. She looked at me with some vague
recognition; we had met once before; but then turned toward the only other
person in the area and asked him if he was not in the wrong waiting area. She
then walked off sipping on a drink she was carrying.

I was almost laughing out loud when a nurse came out to summon me into the recesses of gate
#5. She took my vital signs and said that another nurse would come and discuss
my problem with me. Fine. And indeed an obviously competent nurse came into the
examination room, looked at the skin on my hands, ankles and chest, poked my
arm, and said, yes, you have an allergic reaction rash, but she would have to
speak to the same doctor who had just left via gate #5 to get an approval to
prescribe a steroid that would help me. This took more than a few minutes. But
lo, a prescription was made and I picked it up at the clinic pharmacy within
ten minutes.

It was as I got in the car that my cellphone told me I had a new message. Of course it was
from my original dentist expressing regret that I was going through this and
adding that she had prescribed a new antibiotic to fight the infection that she
surmised was still active. It might be but it certainly is not as painful as it
was at first.

In a message I left on her voice mail I declined to accept this course feeling that it might
be better to clear up one thing at a time and not risk complications. I might
have thought differently if the pain had not declined to slight and tolerable
discomfort.

It occurred to me as I am sure it will to you, dear reader, that it might be a swell idea
for the dentist and the doctor to share all my medical records so that either
of them would have a whole picture of me and not inadvertently prescribe
something deleterious to my health. Surely it cannot be beyond the resources of
the megalith to achieve such an obvious thing. Of course there will be issues
to overcome, but I do believe it to an obvious step. Building upon this they
might actually be able to discuss my health care holistically as if I was one
person and not two.

Believe me I have respect for all of the professionals involved in these events. What I
don’t have is faith in the system under which they labor and towards whose
profit margin, and quite possibly obscene executive salaries, I sadly choke up
nearly a thousand dollars per month.

Fortunately my rash will subside and I will be left with an interesting story, much like
the time when I was allowed to board the wrong plane, about which I will surely
relate another time. But it could have turned out badly for someone else with a
higher sensitivity to antibiotics.

Lastly, I did a little research on the steroid prescribed for me and noted with some
irony that it had several alarming side effects, not the least of which were
allergic reactions….Stay tuned.