Monday, February 28, 2000

Allison Janney

The actress who plays White House Chief of Staff (and former press secretary) C.J. Cregg on "The West Wing" told me today Martin Sheen is totally taken with pretending to be The President. Janney also played the flower lady in "Big Night," and she explained what it was like to work on a movie which revolved around fantastic food -- it's not the gastronomic thrill it appears to be!

Monday, February 14, 2000

It's Always About Money

He suckered them in again.

Surprise! Donald Trump has announced that he’s not running for President after all. And the media covered it like it was a revelation instead of what it really was all along, a foregone conclusion.

Trump was never going to run in the first place. He had a book to promote and an ego to keep inflated and no desire to take the job, let alone make the effort. All he wanted was the same thing he has always wanted: to have people say his name over and over again.

Yet, the brilliant political pundits spent hour upon hour debating what kind of President he’d be, whether he could garner popular support, whether he’d risk his own personal wealth as Steve Forbes did, whether America would rally in support of a man whose campaign slogan was "Don't shake my hand, I don't want your germs," and whether he’d pull a Ventura-like coup. Nope!

He made them follow him anyway, without spending an extra dime, or ever having anything that approached an actual campaign. Give Trump credit for knowing how to promote himself and how to bring along the press as a willing co-conspirator. We expect Larry King to get sucked into this kind of cheap public relations stunt, but the rest of the political media has lost whatever tidbit of savvy and respect it may have once had.

On the other hand, remember that this is the same batch of political geniuses that seriously debated a Warren Beatty candidacy for a couple of months. With Cybill Shepherd as his running mate.

It’s all part of the same political process in which you have to be good at flipping pancakes or you can’t win. Witness Gary Bauer’s backflip off the stage in the full pike position while trying to handle a spatula and a runaway flapjack in New Hampshire last month. It made for the best political theater since Michael Moore got Alan Keyes to jump into a mosh pit. But what does it have to do with choosing a leader?

I say put’em in the hot seat opposite Regis and let’em show America what they’re really made of. If they get through the 15 questions, they go on to the next primary. If they use a lifeline during those first five gimme questions, give them their spatula back and get’em a job at IHOP.

Speaking of the Millionaire show, I’m tired of all these articles proclaiming how much stupider we are as a nation because of the questions on these game shows. Every one of these stories belittles modern-day contestants because the questions they’re answering are supposedly too easy. They moan about how the questions were so much more difficult during the primetime game show heyday in the fifties.

What they neglect to mention is the simple fact that in the fifties, they gave the contestants the answers! It doesn’t matter how hard the question is when you already know the answer, does it, Einstein?

The nose-in-the-air critics who are whining about this are the same ones who announced -- with no evidence to back up their assertion -- that the internet will make us dumber because people are spending more time online than they are reading books and magazines. Again, they fail to see the obvious. Most of the material people are accessing online is in text form, including magazines, newspapers, and this column! That means we’re actually reading more than ever! And it’s thanks to e-commerce that more people are buying books than they have in a long time. But don’t let those facts get in the way of your snobbery.

Leave these game show contestants alone and don’t begrudge them their winnings. At least they’re willing to go for the money. Unlike Abba.

That's right, I'm bringing up the seventies pop group from Sweden, because they were just offered a billion (yes, a billion!) dollars to reunite for a hundred concerts around the world. Believe it or not, they turned it down. I think comedian Robert Schimmel summed up everyone’s amazement when he said on my show last week, “for a billion dollars, I’d film an instructional sex video with Mike Tyson in front of my parents. And I’d be the girl. Gladly!”

Maybe before Abba started rehearsing “Dancing Queen,” they wanted to be sure they wouldn’t be paid their billion in the new gold dollar coins that were introduced last week in the United States. Even the Swedes can see that these aren't going to fly.

These gold pieces were minted and placed into circulation to replace the old Susan B. Anthony dollars, which failed because they looked and felt too much like a quarter. So the people who make your money thought long and hard and came up with a solution: "What if we put a Native American woman on there and change the color to a pale gold? Americans will have to love it, right?" Wrong!!

I have nothing against Sacagawea, the 14-year-old Indian guide of the Lewis and Clark expedition who is pictured on the gold dollar. But her new coin got off on the wrong foot with me as soon as I heard that, in order to promote them, the Treasury Department is going to spend $40,000,000 on assorted marketing campaigns.

That's not a misprint. Forty mil to make you love a buck.

Here’s my solution, which would thrill a lot more people, and I hereby suggest in return for no fee whatsoever. How about handing out these gold dollars for free to forty million Americans? That way, you get them into circulation a lot faster, which would help word of mouth spread and get people used to using them. Plus, there’s the surprise element -- people won’t believe that the government is actually giving away free money -- AND it doesn’t cost a dime more than the original marketing plan!!

Or, if that doesn’t work, we could try announcing that Sacagawea is now dating Donald Trump. The press ought to go for that.

Sunday, February 06, 2000

There's A Doctor In My Ear

For the last two weeks, I’d been having a problem with my left ear. Something in there was bothering me, but I couldn’t figure out what it was.

You know that water-in-your-ear feeling you get when you’ve been swimming? This felt a little bit like that, or maybe like something new was growing in there. Perhaps my ear canal had decided on its own to grow a new protective membrane.

It certainly wasn’t a case of waxy yellow buildup, but whatever it was, it bothered me whenever I chewed or yawned. All I was sure of was one simple anatomical fact: you can’t inspect the inside of your own ear. I don’t care how many mirrors you use, it’s just impossible. Even contortionists using a system of weights and pulleys can’t do it. So, a visit to the doctor was mandated.

When I called to make the appointment, the receptionist asked what the problem was. I explained, and she told me that my regular doctor couldn’t see me until next week, but another doctor in the practice could take me that afternoon. Fine.

Upon arrival, I was led by a nurse into an examination room, where the first thing she did was ask me what the problem was. I gave her my gripe as she took my blood pressure, pulse, and temperature. Then she left, claiming that the doctor would be right in.

Fifteen minutes later (the medical definition of “be right in,” apparently), the doctor entered. She introduced herself and asked what the problem was. That made three people in the same office on the same day who had asked me what the problem was. Doesn’t anyone here write anything down?

I filled her in on my symptoms, and she got out that little device that only doctors have -- the ear telescope with light attachment -- to take a look. As she was looking, I told her about my new membrane theory, to which her reply was a noncommittal, “Hmmm.” That’s the kind of thing a doctor says right before telling you they’ve discovered the egg of an alien being that’s about to hatch inside your head.

Upon further inspection, she told me that it looked like a little piece of hair in there. Then she told me the good news: “I have no idea how to get it out.”

It was at this precise instant that I realized who this doctor reminded me of: that nitwit character Lucy that Kellie Martin played on “ER” -- the one who always had to get a real doctor to help her because she couldn’t diagnose anything.

“Looks like a broken arm to me, but let me ask Dr. Greene.”
“No, Lucy, it’s not a broken arm. This woman is pregnant!”

Right on cue, my doctor announced that she was going to get her supervisor. Great, another person who can ask me what the problem is!

I sat there reflecting on how ironic it is that the amount of hair on my head is decreasing while the amount of hair in my ear is increasing. Five minutes later, Dr. Supervisor came in and asked me what the problem was. With a sigh, I explained again. He took a peek through the ear-scope and announced that it was in fact a hair in there (way to go, Lucy!).

He explained that they could probably irrigate it out, unless this was a new hair that had just sprouted and was growing in my ear canal -- something that apparently happens to some men in their forties. If that was the case, then they’d have to call in an Ear Nose & Throat specialist (hey, someone else who can ask me what the problem is!), who might have to solve the problem by doing a procedure.

Procedure. That’s a wonderful term out of the medical lexicon, isn’t it? “Doing a procedure” is doctor talk for “cutting you open.” There’s no such thing as a procedure that involves spreading on a salve and then wiping it off. Gotta have a scalpel, or it’s not a procedure. Suddenly, that whole growing-a-new-membrane thing sounded like a nice alternative.

My brother-in-law has had a few procedures done in his time and tells me about his favorite moment of medical bedside manners. As the nurse or doctor is about to insert the IV needle in his arm, they try to distract him by asking, “So, what do you do for a living?” He always answers, “I’ll tell you after you put that in.” Only when they have done it correctly, with full concentration, does he reveal that he is an attorney. When they ask what kind of attorney he is, he replies, “A good one.”

So, the two doctors left and five more minutes passed before yet another nurse arrived and -- shock! -- did not ask me what the problem was. The message had obviously been passed along, because she was carrying two plastic trays and a metal object that looked like she was about to decorate a cake with icing in some industrial kitchen.

I quickly realized that she was going to fill this thing, which looked big enough to rinse out the inside of a cow, and shove it in my ear. How much water does it take to irrigate an ear? Suffice it to say that she covered my shoulder and arm with a towel, and had me hold one of the plastic trays in place, too.

Before I knew it, she inserted this hypodermic-on-steroids about two microns away from my ear drum, and pushed the plunger. The whooshing which followed immediately qualified as The Loudest Noise I’ve Ever Heard -- and I’ve seen The Who in concert. Forget about the sound of the ocean from a sea shell. Imagine putting your ear directly under Niagara Falls. Then multiply by ten.

She did this for a second, then paused, then squirted again. Sensing that she may have missed a dry spot on my spleen, she squirted yet again. Finally, she proclaimed, “There it is!”

I looked in the tray and saw a hair that was maybe three-eighths of an inch long. I don’t know how it got in my ear, but I sure was glad it was out.

She asked, “Better?” I replied, “Huh?” Remember that pool-water-in-the-ear feeling? Now I had it for real, but it popped soon enough and I happily reported that everything seemed back to normal. The nurse brought Dr. Lucy back in, just long enough to give me my bill.

On the page under Description of Care, she had put a check mark next to “Impacted Cerumen Removal.” More medical lingo, used to justify the amount you’ll end up paying. At least I didn’t have to undergo a procedure.

In the space for Diagnosis, she had handwritten these words: “foreign body in ear.” Finally, someone had marked down what my problem was!