Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Zuckerberg doesn't tip in Rome. Good for him!

    It is apparently international news that Facebook multi-billionaire and his new bride ate at two low-end Rome restaurants while on his honeymoon and didn't leave a tip.
    Billionaire cheapskate! Zuckerberg's $0 meal tip in Rome screamed the New York Post headline.
    Zuckerberg apparently made the mistake of eating at a restaurant called Nonna Betta. After he ate there the most private details of his visit, including exactly what he ate and the fact that he didn't tip the waiter, were shared with the press. Oddly enough, nobody thought it important to share the fact that you aren't supposed to tip in Rome.
    Oh, you can. And Zuckerberg's waiter apparently expected a tip because lots of Americans throw their money around. But it doesn't make us popular over there. The waiters are well paid and don't need the tips. On our honeymoon I left a 10 percent tip at a restaurant in Florence and it clearly agitated the Italian couple at the next table, who saw us as Americans throwing our money around. (Jinny doesn't speak Italian, but she speaks French and Spanish and that was enough to figure out what they were saying).
    Mark Zuckerberg acted exactly as he was supposed to act and the staff and owner of Nonna Betta went out of their way to humiliate him. Needless to say I would never want to do business with such folks.
    In fact, the news stories seem to criticize Zuckerberg for not ordering wine with his meal and for eating at fairly cheap restaurants. He even got take-out from a McDonalds, clucked the press.
    Perhaps now that he's married he'll move into a nicer home, but for the past five years or so Zuckerberg has lived in a modest home. He's had a modest lifestyle. I have far more admiration for a billionaire who eats at cheap restaurants and doesn't tip when he isn't supposed to than one who feels the need to eat expensive meals, drink $10,000 bottles of wine and overtip the waiters.
    If we're going to have billionaires, Zuckerberg's the kind we need.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Charters, vouchers work by offering way for good students to get away from the bad ones

    Mitt Romney came out swinging recently in support of school vouchers for children in the Washington, D.C. school district and for more school choice for all schoolchildren. President Obama wants to end the Washington voucher program and force all of the city's poor children to attend the district's lousy schools. It's a shame our state legislators in Mississippi couldn't come to some sort of agreement to give us more choice in this year's session, thus siding with Barack Obama.
    I support charter schools because I support choice and because I think most schools are unwilling to make the politically difficult decisions necessary to improve. I’d like to see virtual charter schools, too, but only with one or more of our state’s universities in charge.
    One issue we keep hearing is whether charter schools should be allowed to open anywhere, or only in those school districts which are defined as “failing” by the state. To me, the best school in the world is "failing" if it fails to meet a individual family's needs. I think a school district that doesn't offer foreign language instruction in the elementary grades is "failing" and in need of a charter. Of course, when most people say “failing” they almost always are referring to schools with poor test scores. These are the schools that come in for finger-pointing as we blame the “bad” teachers for failing schools.
    I suppose there are some bad teachers and poor administrators out there, but in most cases schools are failing because they are full of unmotivated students with little native ability from families with few financial resources. In short, the students don’t care, so naturally the test scores are going to be low.
    The problem isn’t the teachers. It’s not the administrators. The school isn’t to blame. The blame, if it is to be called such, lies with the fact that the school is full of students who can’t or won’t do the work. In Mississippi, teacher testing weeded out most of the completely incompetent teachers years ago. Despite a few bad apples, most do a good job given what they have to work with. The schools aren’t failing, the students are.
    The only way to ensure everyone a quality education is aggressive achievement grouping. Even so-called failing school districts have in their area students who are able and willing to do outstanding work. These students should be grouped with other students of like achievement level and encouraged to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible, while being isolated and protected from the disrupters and the dullards. Differentiated instruction should be banned, with students grouped so that teachers will be able to teach their lessons only once instead of trying to teach five to 10 different grade levels in one classroom, as many teachers are forced to do now, always poorly.
    All students are not equal. All students have differing ability levels. If a school is full of students with a low ability level, what might be considered a low test score to some of us might in fact be an outstanding test score, reflecting outstanding work on the part of teachers and administrators. We need to quit measuring schools with the same measuring stick, because the schools don't have the same students!
    The New York Times recently ran a story on New York’s ultra-selective Stuveysant High School, a public school where entry is competitive exam – with no affirmative action. I’m guessing the minimum IQ for admission is between 120 and 130, although the test is weighted towards those who blow the top out of one of the subtests. The Times article dealt with increasing Asian and declining black enrollment, but it caused me to do some additional research (as usual, all attention in the article was paid to decreasing black enrollment, even though white gentile enrollment has also been dropping dramatically). In doing so, I found students who described their time at Stuveysant said that many of their teachers were mediocre. What caused them to learn was the highly dynamic and competitive environment that was created when they were placed in a group of other high-IQ teens. In other words, it wasn’t their great teachers that caused them to learn, it was that they were in a setting where they were equally yoked.
    Now, based on what these students had to say, what do you think would happen if you were to replace them with the students from three or four of Mississippi’s “worst” high schools? Do you think the wonderful teachers at Stuveysant would turn these students around? Or do you think it wouldn’t be long until Stuveysant was listed as a “failing” school?
    The solution to our education problem is simple, even if it requires us to face certain truths we would rather avoid. Students learn best when grouped by achievement and ability. And when we group by achievement, each school or classroom isn’t going to “look like America.” Stuveysant, which used to be overwhelmingly Jewish, is now 72 percent Asian. Hispanics and blacks make up 2.4 percent and 1.2 percent. Whites, the article says, make up 24 percent, but we aren’t told what share of that number is Jewish. My guess is that white Anglos make up eight percent or less of Stuveysant students.
    In Mississippi we don't have many Jews or Asians, so really its an issue of the ratio of blacks to whites. It doesn't bother anyone in society if Jews and Asians are dramatically over-represented in relation to whites. Will whites be treated the same way if a selective achievement grouping system causes them to be over-represented in relation to blacks? Or will we see yet another case of whites suffering double discrimination?
    Charter and voucher schools will by their nature tend to be rigorous. And with a rigorous program is in place, they will throw a life-ring to students needing a group of motivated, high-ability peers to work with.
    Of course, the public schools that we have now could start aggressively achievement grouping, a practice that has been proven highly effective but nevertheless tends to be out of favor with the California-educator-types. If they did so you would find a lot less noise about charter schools, because every community in Mississippi would have the same dynamic that works at Stuveysant working for our own students, admittedly on a more limited basis.
    To repeat myself in one paragraph: First, when you see a so-called failing school, don’t rush to blame the teachers, because the problem is likely that the school is filled with unmotivated, low-ability students. Second, much of the push for charter schools is really an effort to allow better students to isolate themselves from bad ones, which is necessary for learning. If the public schools would just group kids by achievement and ability from kindergarten up everyone would learn more and we would hear a lot less about the need for charter schools and vouchers
    Since I don’t think our public schools want to improve, bring on the charters, the vouchers, the virtual schools. Anything but the failing formula we have now.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sunday, May 13, 2012

You're not California dreamin', you're in Mississippi!

    The state of California has been trying to cut the budget (but not the high-speed rail!), and it looks like the $9.2 billion budget shortfall is going to be a $16 billion budget shortfall instead. I'm sure they can make it to $22 billion before the smoke clears.
    Of course, the state is looking to fix this mess and for ways to increase revenue. Gov. Jerry Brown is pushing a quarter-cent sales tax increase, and of course -- drum roll please -- higher taxes on the wealthy! There was plenty of advance warning about this, but why should Democrats tend to business when they can stick it to the wealthy?
    The idea that we ought to pay for everything through highly progressive income taxes is a poor one, and California, with its highly progressive income tax, is Exhibit No. 1 for that proposition. When times are flush the rich make lots of money and pay lots in taxes and governments spend like sailors on leave. When times are tough the rich hunker down and there simply is no revenue whatsoever to fund anything.
    Funding government with taxes that are broadly based creates not only a more reliable revenue stream but a more responsible government. When the middle class is footing the bill the middle class demands accountability.
    California's impending problems have been plain for all to see for years now. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger managed to rein in spending a bit, but then the unions managed to clip his wings by rallying the people to defeat propositions that would have allowed for real fiscal restraint. Republican Meg Whitman ran in 2010 on a platform of immediately tackling the state's problems, but state voters instead voted for Jerry Brown, who promised to pretend the state didn't have any problems for a few years.
    Here's the news about California. Unless the federal government puts the state on a permanent bailout status, the state is finished. And I don't think the nation is willing to just start writing these people checks.
    For years the people of California have thumbed their noses at the rest of the nation by ignoring our immigration laws, with municipalities declaring themselves "sanctuary cites," and by putting hordes of illegal immigrants on local welfare. And while illegal immigrants don't qualify for federal benefits, their American-born children do, and California has a reputation of being very generous. The bill has simply been passed on to the taxpayer and the effect on and horrendous cost to the public schools has been ignored.
    Meanwhile the state has pushed ahead with ultra-expensive space-age projects, such as high-speed rail lines that few are likely to ride.
    Well, the game is finally up. California lacks the will to expel or do anything about its illegal aliens, so they will continue to pull its economy into Third World status. In fact, California lacks the will to do anything about anything except try to heap more taxes on the so-called wealthy and working people, who are already leaving that state in droves. The state certainly isn't going to cut wages to its overpaid civil servants, nor tamper with their bloated pensions.
    California schools used to be the best in the nation. A combination of the introduction of hordes of low-IQ immigrants and fad-a-year educational policies has made them among the worst. This is not hyperbole. When the 2011 NAEP math and reading scores were released, California beat out only one state: Mississippi, plus the District of Columbia. (As we say in Mississippi, "Thank God for the District of Columbia!")
    I'm willing to bet that California is full of people who are convinced that there is a "magic bullet" that will improve that state's test scores. Increase funding? It can help, but not much. Move to whole reading instruction, as the state did a few years ago? A disaster -- reading scores plummeted. Start teaching every student algebra in the eighth grade, as the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation convinced them to do? Stupid idea! Bill Gates has an IQ of more than 150. Slow students shouldn't take algebra until 10th or 11th grade, when they might get it. Why not teach these students to weld or something useful?
    Those of us who live in Mississippi know that there are no magic wands or magic bullets to solving our state's problems, educationally or otherwise. Improvement comes a spoonful at a time. In my lifetime we know we can't hope to beat Iowa or Massachusetts educationally, but maybe we can beat Alabama or Georgia. But I'm realistic; our chances against these states in the classroom are about the same as our chances on the football field. They are trying hard, too. We can do it, but it will take both hard work and a bit of luck.
    California could get itself off the bottom by expelling all of its illegal immigrants. Of course, it's too late for those who got here 20 or more years ago and had children, but there are plenty of illegal aliens drawing welfare and ruining life for ordinary Californians who could be expelled. The elected officials of California just need to decide who they serve, Californians or Central Americans. I think we all know the answer to that question.
    And so California will remain on the bottom educationally in a state of constant economic crisis, with the only economy to make Greece look like Switzerland. California does have tremendous wealth and resources, and with draconian resolve and determination it could turn itself around. But we know this wealth can't last. They will eventually chase it off or eat it up.
    Welcome to Mississippi, Dudes!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Anybody got a spare clown suit I can borrow?

    Three or four months ago I bought a Dahon folding bike for about $70 on eBay. That's considered a good price.
    The bike was in Atlanta, and my niece picked it up for me. And now she's brought it to Mississippi and is bringing it to Oxford tomorrow.
    Does anyone have a clown suit I can borrow?

    (For what it's worth, the seat does raise up).

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Leave gay marriage to the states and out of national politics

    Why must we have all this talk of gay marriage and whether or not Barrack Obama supports it? The issue of who marries whom has always been a matter of state regulation and it should remain so. As the president of a federal republic, Obama's views are of no consequence.
    In Mississippi it's against the law for first cousins to marry, no matter how much they may be in love. Call it hate, call it bigotry or just call it the law. But in Texas, first cousins are welcome to marry. Does this make Texans more or less enlightened? I don't know.
    In Arkansas it's against the law for a man to marry his adopted daughter's adopted daughter. In Kentucky, go right ahead (U.S. v. Dedman). I don't know which state is right and I don't care. It's their business and not a matter of national concern.
    There has been in the last 20 years an absolute sea change in public opinion about gays. Comedians used to make "gay" jokes routinely. Now they are rare. In 1988 interview, former president Jimmy Carter said the elder George Bush gave "a kind of effeminate impression." I disagree, but can you imagine someone saying this today?
    In 1973, when the Supreme Court issued the Roe v. Wade abortion decision, abortion had in 10 years gone from being illegal in every state to legal in about 15 states, which is remarkable. I think it's fair to say had the Supreme Court not interfered it would have expanded to many more states. But by forcing this on people the Court created a conflict that can never be resolved.
    I'm personally opposed to gay marriage. It doesn't mean I hate gays and it doesn't mean I'm opposed forever. It means I want time to think and time to observe. I think there are a lot of other people who feel exactly the same way.
    There are those who want to interject this issue into the presidential campaign. It's a terrible mistake that will create nothing but backlash. The trend has been towards more tolerance and a more open society, but people need to be allowed to find their own way on this, or as a nation we're going to be looking at a repeat of Roe v. Wade that will benefit no one.
    There will soon be some more states which allow for gay marriage, and I think that's fine. But it is a state issue, not a national one, and has no place in national politics. In national politics, we need to avoid this issue like the plague.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Marriott has great summer free room offer

    Marriott has a good summer bonus this year. It runs from June 1 to August 31 and registration is required.
    While these bonuses vary by customer, most casual customers will be offered a Stay-2-Get-1-Free offer, with the opportunity to earn up to three free-night certificates. This is better than last year, when only two certificates could be earned.
    The Marriott family includes the obvious named choices, plus Courtyards, Fairfield Inns, Springhill Suites, Residence Inns, plus a few more choices you can find on their website.
    The certificates are only good for Catagory 1-4 hotels, so in most cities they won't be good for the top-line Marriott, but will likely work for the Courtyard or Springhill Suites a mile or two away.
    Jinny recently had some certificates that were about to expire, so we took a family trip to New Orleans for a few days, including New Year's Eve. Our certificates wouldn't work for the French Quarter, but we got a nice room at the Springhill Suites in the Warehouse district, about a 15 minute walk away. It was just fine and it was free.
    Jinny's primary hotel chain is Hilton, simply because every town has a Hampton Inn. She has plenty of points and is treated well. But Marriott has a good offer here, and Priority Club is also worth watching as well.
    I'll be posting later about some great hotel deals that Jinny won't be going after but that I will. You might call them hotel deals for the masses. Stay tuned.

Fight obesity by taxing high fructose corn syrup

    A new study says by the year 2030 42 percent of Americans will be obese. Needless to say, the experts are calling for more regulations, so of which will be highly intrusive into people's private lives.
    Yet nobody is calling for the one regulation that might actually help: a ban on high fructose corn syrup. Perhaps it was coincidence, but America's obesity epidemic began with the mass introduction of high fructose corn syrup into our diets and this product has been linked to obesity by numerous studies. Other studies don't find the link, but I am firmly convinced HFCS is the cause of much of our nation's obesity and other health problems.
    Despite its name, high fructose corn syrup is a highly artificial product which has to be manufactured. Food processors like it for one reason: it's cheaper than sugar. They care not one whit about our health.
    Why hasn't this dangerous product been banned? It's sort of like the case with cigarettes. It's virtually impossible to do double-blind experiments on humans, so even though there are correlations that can be seen there is not the type of absolute scientific proof that is needed to prove the product is dangerous.
    Because the product is so dangerous manufactures have gotten permission to relabel it as "corn syrup" or "corn sugar" when it is included in a product in order to fool consumers. The government has been willing to go along with this because it promotes corn production. Of course it also promotes obesity, diabetes and a host of other diseases, but nobody cares about that.
    We can work at the state level to solve this problem by asking our state legislators to tax products containing high fructose corn syrup in order to generate revenue. For example, don't tax all soda, just those with HFCS. If it discourages the use of this deadly product, all the better!

Friday, May 4, 2012

A young Ron Shapiro talks about art films, porn, bands, and the Hoka

    Inside one of my boxes of treasures I found a newsprint student "magazine" from 1981 called "The Ole Miss Magazine." It featured a number of depth articles by Ole Miss journalism students. It also had a long essay by a Ron Shapiro, addressing everything from art films to porn at his Hoka Theater.
    Ron was relatively new in town at the time, having been in Oxford for only four years. And as you can see from the photo, he was a young guy.
    I lived within an easy walk of the Hoka for most of the time I was in Law School. I saw a few bands there and a few other movies. I remember seeing Panther Burns. There were only about 10 of us there and I don't think they were too happy. They spent most of their time tuning their instruments. I really don't remember watching any dirty movies, but maybe I did. I sure did love the Love at First Bite turkey sandwich as well as the cheesecake. Sometimes late at night I would walk over with a bottle of Irish Whiskey hidden under my trenchcoat and treat myself to an Irish Coffee and cheesecake. Many nights Willie Morris would join me and my Irish Coffee would turn into two or three Irish Coffees.
    Holly Springs and Yazoo City are somewhat similar, and Willie loved to talk about Civil War history, more recent history and the insoluble problems of the South. I sure miss Willie and I sure miss the Hoka.
    As always, if you click on the photo it should blow it up to a larger size so you can read the list of Bart's favorite and least favorite films and see Ron and Bart's photo.

Life at The Hoka Theater

It's the ease of the wave – that’s it. You never catch anyone off-guard in Mississippi when it comes to friendliness. I've always been amazed that someone you've never seen before will call you by your first name or introduce himself with no fear of giving you a social edge. It never ceases to amaze me, Yankee that I am. Other places I've lived and visited you almost make yourself vulnerable to being friendly, but not here in Mississippi.

This tremendous friendliness! The most beautiful girls I've ever known and the beauty of the hills in this northeast Mississippi college town are here for me. Every fall and spring Nature throws the most spectacular costume party you've ever seen. This is what keeps me here in Oxford attempting to run an art movie theater. Showing critically-acclaimed and no commercial films is not the shrewdest financial scheme a reasonably enlightened soul could come up with. But here I am.

Six years ago I moved here from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where I skied a lot and became involved in the movie business so my days could be free. It was so easy and lucrative in the cool, dry Northwest. At one point I had theaters in Jackson Hole, Missoula, Montana, and Moscow, Idaho. In the clear air and litter-free North, young people would stand in line, sit on the floor, and if necessary wrap themselves in sleeping bags to awe at Chaplin, Fellini, Bertilucci, Coppola, and Ashby. In Oxford, Mississippi, I'm afraid Johnny Wadd Holmes, Linda Lovelace, and Annette Havens (one of the screen's most striking foxes) have all the awe's, and definitely the ooh's.

There are many reasons why the great "art" movies don't do that well here. Limited personal exposure has much to do with this, but the principal reason is parties, jobs, schools, and lovers. Lifestyles here are arranged around parties. If I'm showing Barry Lyndon and there is a five-keg party somewhere down University Avenue or in one of the sprawling apartment complexes, forget it, Kubrick. If Hollywood ever came out with a movie in smellarama with the essence of beer, I'd be rich.

Here is the only place I've ever lived where sleeping late is the true status. People just sit around, drink beer, and go over stories. As additional people arrive, new twists are added. It's why I believe so many good writers are from the South. People are good storytellers and listeners, and the imagination comes alive at four in the morning as the keg goes spurting and the coal-fire simmers.

I never drank until I moved to Mississippi, for it's so a part of the daily routine. I do now and I'm glad. My friends don't drink to escape, but for the taste, the buzz, the exhilaration,, and the ease of laughter. Tom Waits, the songwriter, sings it well: "The only time I have a drinking problem is when I can't find a drink." The Hoka, named for the Cherokee Princess who was given to Oxford from the federal government, is in its fifth year – a present-day miracle. The showing of late-night adult films has kept my doors open. The frat crowd will drop off their dates, sneak in a few beers, and damn if they don't have a blast yelling at the screen, teasing their brothers, and at the same time learning a secret or two to try on Sorority Sally, if they ever get alone with her, which is doubtful. You see, here everything runs in groups. You don't just date a girl, you date a sorority, a dorm. There are always at least fifteen other people around.

My business is finally becoming a success. At 8 p.m. we show a wonderful film, generally one I want to see myself. Tonight is Altered States; last week it was Kurosawa's Kagemusha. At 10:30 p.m. I show maybe a rock concert film, or more likely a porno show, and usually repeat the adult show at midnight. Sure, I'd rather show Clockwork Orange or Dinner at Eight, but, hell, I even catch myself looking at the adult films, just to check out the product, you understand.

About these X's. They've improved so much in just the past two years. It used to be the only thing left to the imagination was the plot. Now they have plots, and for the most part they're technically passable, many with exotic locations – I'm talking about countries, beaches, mountains (please get your head out of the gutter) – and they're surprisingly romantic and tender. Lots of kissing, hugging, and a real touch of kindness. I believe Emmanuelle being so classy and everyone being so beautiful and freespirited changed the genre of the adult movie.

Mississippi has the great stigma for being so backwards, yet the laws governing X-rated films are singularly progressive and sensible. Adults are allowed to do what they want, so long as they don't bother anyone – plain and simple, Mississippi isn't backwards; it just hasn't been exposed to other ideas because it has the feeling of such a closed and familial society.

On a recent week we took in $500 on Breaker Morant and $2,400 on Johnny Holmes and China Cat. I'll bet the six acres of marijuana Ole Miss grows six blocks from my house that more students know Johnny Holmes than Bogart. We do well with To Have and To Have Not because local boy William Faulkner wrote the screenplay for that Bogart-Bacall sizzler. We do well with Casablanca, too, for reasons having to do with the human soul.

Last summer we showed Bertilucci's 1800. What a beauty1 So many of the European films that make it to our land are so sensitive and romantic. There's a scene in IDOO where two young boys are comparing the size of their private parts. This is handled so tastefully that the most strict Southern Baptist would not be offended. It's so important to see life in other terrains of the Lord's world to comprehend how other people live. This is part of being of a university town.

This is what a university is. If a person never left Oxford, but came and watched our movies, I believe he'd become more worldly and wiser, and, yes, probably more horny. But at least that is still feeling. And what is life without feeling?

Last year we put in a small cafe in our lobby, serving homemade quiche, sandwiches, freshly-baked desserts, smoothies, and other foods. We stay open ti1 two or three in the morning, and business is great. We have a fairly consistent dinner business, then from 8 ti1 11 p.m. we're like a European coffee house, and after midnight (yes, the bars close at midnight; hell, we've only had them for seven years) all the drunks and night workers come by. And not to brag, the Moonlight Cafe is a real rocker.

I've started having bands in place of movies on a few occasions – authentic blues, jazz, even a band from Jamaica. The tremendous night music around, even in this Dixie town of only 10,000, would make W. C. Handy proud. Elvis Presley started bopping around just 55 miles from here. And Beale Street in Memphis is just 73 miles, 84 minutes, and two-and-a-half six packs from us. The ride to Mem his up the back winding road, along the h&u hills, reminds one of that wild and memorable ride in the Model-T Ford at the turn of the century from Bill Faulkner's The Reviers.

The Hoka, of course, is located just one block off the Square in an old cotton warehouse. I do all my daily business – post office, bank, advertising – by way of foot. And all the bars I frequent are within walking, on occasion crawling, distance. We walk each day to Billy Ross Brown's old ice house, wait for a bag to be filled from the delicious clear spring water, and carry the 25 pounds back the 92 paces to the theater.
They don't do that in the Bronx.

Mississippi is the lowest state on the scale of economics. That's because most of the people don't care how much they make. A tremendous number of the people I know just want to get by. There haphens to be more emphasis on sitting around and visiting. People here always have time. You know what I mean. They'll always stop and visit. I'll try what I can to keep that feeling on the top of my priorities.

I'd love all the country boys and stuck-up Ole Miss sorority girls who think all of Creation revolves around them to experience Linda Wertmuller's Battle of the Sexes and the strange political ideologies in Swept Away and the quiet, underspoken beauty of the great and classic films from Europe. I believe what I'm doing is important. I love exposing people to other types of ideas, and be damned if it ain't working. But who in Mississippi is in a hurry anyway?

Ron Shapiro 38, is owner and manager of The Hoka Restaurant and Theater. He spends his time “showing movies, making cheesecake, and watching girls.” Shapiro attended Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Colorado. Barton Segal is a 32-year-old graduate of Christian Brothers College in Memphis. He is assistant manager of The Hoka and The Rebel Drive-In Theater.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tripping on Levaquin

    I had a visit to the Lafayette County Hospital this past weekend.
    I woke up last Thursday with minor chest pains and a general tightness in my chest. My stomach hurt. I was short of breath. I recognized the symptoms as those of a possible heart attack. But then again it might not be. I ate three aspirin. I would have eaten four, but I dropped one and felt too bad to pick it up.
    I laid in the bed an hour thinking about things, which seemed to be getting worse, not better. Finally I decided that the hospital was the place to be and I didn't even worry about a shower. I debated just quietly driving myself, but instead yelled upstairs for Jinny and soon we were on our way.
    The enzyme tests showed that I had not had a heart attack. But I still had minor (and a few sharp) chest pains and terrible shortness of breath. So I ended up getting a heart-cath to check for blockages. Despite having high cholesterol, the heart doctor described my arteries as "pristine."
    While recovering from the heart-cath my fever suddenly shot up to almost 104 (I was more-or-less out of it during all of this). Then the problem was found. I had pneumonia that apparently didn't show up very well on my initial x-ray. I was immediately put on heavy doses of intravenous Levaquin, a very powerful antibiotic with a rather notorious side-effect profile.
    The Levaquin made my stomach hurt. It made my joints hurt. It made my stomach blow up like a bowling ball. Oh, and it gave me a special insight into the vision world. There weren't bats flying out of the ceiling or anything, but the dreams were vivid and their was this kind of daydreaming hallucination that I really wan't used to.
    I was finally discharged, with instructions to take the Levaquin for four more days. The first night my stomach hurt and I didn't have the nurse bringing me a pain pill or two Ambien at bedtime. I slept poorly.
    I do remember dreaming that I was in some Hunger Games type situation where I was wearing a gold vest that I had to protect. Of course I was being chased with the object that I be killed. I finally met up with several friends/teammates, and we all had made shirts that were imprinted with our life stories which we shared with each other. The shirts were button-downs with a slightly neonish appearance, and they were all packaged up just like they were for sale at the department store. Shirts imprinted with our life stories. That's a weird dream. That's Levaquin.
    I went to see Dr. John Laurenzo, who I've seen off and on for years, and he replaced the Levaquin with another antibiotic. He also encouraged me to take acid reflux medicine on a regular basis. Long story, but I do have a problem, and he suggested that an untreated acid problem may cause the upper esophagus to narrow, which makes it more likely for food to go down the wrong pipe, which can then cause infection and pneumonia. Laurenzo is a strong believer in reflux medicine and promotes it with the zeal of a revival tent preacher. I tend to think these medicines are over-prescribed, but have concluded in my case that I need to take them all the time.
    If anyone knows anyone who specializes in making shirts imprinted with life stories, let me know. In the meantime, I'm saving the Levaquin, figuring that if in the future I can't afford to take a vacation I'll still be able to take a trip.