Thursday, March 08, 2012

Existing in New York City: Soon to Not Even Have a Pot to Throw Up In

Foto by tgw, "Manhattan Under Fog," New York City, March 2012
Say Goodbye to: Peter Bergman--
one of the members of the wonderful Firesign Theater team I first heard on WBAI-FM (they broadcast out of Pacifica's KPFK in Los Angeles) when I came to NYC in the late 60s and early 70s--Bergman along with David Ossman, Phil Proctor, and Phil Austin were absolutely comedic geniuses in their use of tape, sound effects, sound bites, scripting, and programming to form the Firesign Theater, still to this day some of the funniest stuff ever made in this country of boring comedians. Peter Bergman, 72, American comedian (The Firesign Theater), leukemia. Give a listen to one of the more famous Firesign Theater episodes--with Phil Bergman playing Det. Bradshaw in a Nick Danger adventure:
Pay or Die
I woke up yesterday morning feeling wonderful. I was grasped from the proverbial jaws of death by a truly wonderful bunch of my fellow New Yorkers 3 weeks ago...but yesterday morning, that was all shot down. It lies in my soul now a burning wreckage while my heart valiantly tries to follow orders and heal itself. Last night I was encouraged when I read a report from Swedish cellular biologists who said they have discovered that cardiomyocytes (heart cells) can regenerate themselves over a matter of time. I had an appointment with a cardiologist at my hospital yesterday and I was looking forward to discussing this with him or her. Instead, what happened was I was driven out of the Garden of Eden and into a desert. Into a desert where now I'm on my own. "Heal thyself." That's the edict I've been handed.

All who know me know that I have lived outside the real most of my life. Even my real name is not real. I have been successful under different names at several different professions. I've been a published poet. I've had two commercially successful books published. I've been a successful editor and rose in that field to become a Director of Editorial Services for a large financial firm. I've become a successful medical editor in the pharmaceutical advertising game. I've been the lead singer of a downtown Manhattan cult band. I've played numerous club dates with my own groups and several friends's bands around New York City, New Jersey, Connecticut, and on Long Island. I've had a recording made and issued by a professional record label. I at one time was a successful copywriter. I've even been a writing consultant. So being me is a boatload of variety full of many spices of life.

I have had affairs and marriages with some of the most beautiful and intelligent women on earth.

In a left-wing libertarian sense I've taken care of myself in many grand manners. I've lived on cash for as long as I could. I've kept an independent mind about all aspects of my life, one aspect being I've been blessed with perfect health all of my life...that is until three Sundays ago when after a wonderful woman tricked me via generous care and while I slept called EMS when during that process I discovered I was having a heart attack.

I sit here at my computer tonight remembering reading A. (for Al) Alvarez's very impressive book The Savage God, a beautifully and poetically written book about suicide. I think back now over how many of my literary heroes committed suicide: Ernest Hemingway, Hart Crane, John Berryman, Virginia Woolf, Stefan Zweig, and Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. Alvarez's book moved me; yet, even though these great writers committed suicide, I never thought of myself ever doing it. I just couldn't do that to myself, I thought. I followed rather writers who loved living, like Henry Miller. Especially Henry Miller. A man who though totally impoverished most of his life; a man who didn't publish his first book until he was nearing 50; a man who lived totally as a writer, as a writer is supposed to live, wide open, full throttle ahead, never looking down, always alive and always spinning off into another writing dimension. Writing book after book about life as being even in times of utter chaos merry and bright, even in times of desperate love, even in times of being jilted by love, still writing down long rows of words that pulled him out of despair and always into cosmic hope. But since this heart attack and since the reality that hit me full face today, now I'm no longer so sure there might not come a point in what life I have left that like Papa and Dr. Hunter S. Thompson I might have the guts to get a fancy Belgium hunting rifle or a 9mm Glock and just point one of them into the roof of my mouth and blow my brains to kingdom come.

Here is Alvarez writing about Sylvia Plath's suicide in The Savage God:

Why, then, did she kill herself? In part, I suppose, it was "a cry for help" which fatally misfired. But it was also a last desperate attempt to exorcise the death she had summed up in her poems.

I have already suggested that perhaps she had begun to write obsessively about death for two reasons. First, when she and her husband separated, however mutual the arrangement, she again went through the same piercing grief and bereavement she had felt as a child when her father, by his death, seemed to abandon her. Second, I believe she thought her car crash the previous summer had set her free; she had paid her dues, qualified as a survivor and could now write about it.

But as I have written elsewhere, for the artist himself art is not necessarily therapeutic; he is not automatically relieved of his fantasies by expressing them. Instead, by some perverse logic of creation, the act of formal expression may simply make the dredged-up material more readily available to him. The result of handling it in his work may well be that he finds himself living it out. For the artist, in short, nature often imitates art. Or, to change the clichè, when an artist holds up a mirror to nature he finds out who and what he is; but the knowledge may change him irredeemably so that he becomes that image.

I think Sylvia, in one way or another, sensed this. In an introductory note she wrote to "Daddy" for the B.B.C., she said of the poem's narrator, "She has to act out the awful little allegory once over before she is free of it." The allegory in question was, as she saw it, the struggle in her between a fantasy Nazi father and a Jewish mother. But perhaps it was also a fantasy of containing in herself her own dead father, like a woman possessed by a demon (in the poem she actually calls him a vampire). In order for her to be free from him, he had to be released like a genie from a bottle. And this is precisely what the poems did; they bodied forth the death within her. But they also did so in an intensely living and creative way. The more she wrote about death, the stronger and more fertile her imaginative world became. And this gave her everything to live for.

I suspect that in the end she wanted to have done with the theme once and for all. But the only way she could find was "to act out the awful little allegory once over." She had always been a bit of a gambler, used to taking risks. The authority of her poetry was in part due to her brave persistence in following the thread of her inspiration right down to the Minotaur's lair. And this psychic courage had its parallel in her physical arrogance and carelessness. Risks didn't fright her; on the contrary, she found them stimulating. Freud has written: "Life loses in interest when the highest stake in the games of living, life itself, may not be risked." Finally, Sylvia took that risk. She gambled for the last time, having worked out that the odds were in her favor, but perhaps, in her depression, not much caring whether she won or lost. Her calculations went wrong and she lost.

It was a mistake, then, and out of it a whole myth has grown. I don't think she would have found it much to her taste, since it is a myth of the poet as a sacrificial victim, offering herself up for the sake of her art, having been dragged by the Muses of that final altar through every kind of distress. In these terms, her suicide becomes the whole point of the story, the act which validates her poems, given them their interest and proves her seriousness.

When I worked in the juvenile detention world, I was just out of college, I had to deal with kids constantly threatening to commit suicide, especially those just brought in and scared to death of being incarcerated. I remember one night a beautiful tall Black girl was brought in by the cops. I still to this day have a clear picture of this young lady. She had been picked up after her mother reported her incorrigible, a typical mother's charge when it came to calling the cops on her children. "Mister Wolfe, I just can't control this child anymore. You take her; she might learn a good lesson from being locked up she'll never forget."

After this girl was put in a cell, locked up, I monitored the cell via the cell's intercom, a normal process for new incarcerations, and soon heard her quietly praying. Not to a familiar god, but a god in her head. "Give me the strength to do it...give me the strength to do it, " she kept repeating over and over again. Then she started screaming, "I want to commit suicide! I want to commit suicide!"

As a young man, I had no idea how to handle this type of person. So I went to the senior social worker on the floor and consulted with him.

"Girls threatening suicide are looking for attention," he instructed me. "Here's how I would handle this girl. Go to her cell with the woman night worker and take some double-edge razor blades with you. Have the night worker open the cell and hand the girl one of these razor blades and then show her how to cut her wrists. Leave, and I guarantee you, she'll not think of suicide any more."

Wow. That spun my head around. "Isn't that risky?" I asked. "What if she slices her wrists?"

"Then you're there to administer first aid to her."

Cold. Jesus, I thought, this guy's a Sadist.

I went and found the girls's area night worker, an older woman social worker, and told her she'd better keep an eye on this Black girl in cell 1 that she was threatening suicide.

"Ah, she's a phony. All these girls have no idea what suicide is, they just babble that in order to get our attention. I'll talk to her. Did old Stone give you his razor-blade therapy?"

"Yeah, and I thought that was damn cold of him."

"It works most of the time, though. You didn't know that?"

I never knew what happened. The tall black girl was still alive the next day when I came to work. In fact she became one of the easiest girls to deal with we had in lock up at that time. The boys on the other hand never threatened suicide no matter the seriousness of their charges. In fact, the Black boys always asked for razor blades as that was the way they cut their hair in those days.

That was my first experience with suicidal threats. In my family, we had had a suicide. A distant cousin, a poet, jumped off the highest building, a 16-story hotel, in my hometown. Years before I was born. But as a kid I heard his story usually told in enduring pity by my mother's mother, my grandmother the poet/librarian.

I was taught that suicide was something a human being just didn't do. According to the Christian religion, suicides hadn't a chance in hell of getting into heaven.

The next suicide I recall happened after I left Dallas and had moved to New Orleans. In Dallas, one of the workers I worked with at the juvenile home was a strange little cat, an ex-semi-successful boxer who had gone to college and gotten a degree in Sociology and then had worked on his MSW, his Master's of Social Work. Like I say, he was in spite of his work with juvenile delinquents a strange cat, so strange a cat, he portrayed himself as a bitter mean guy most of the time. Everyone who knew him, even the kids he worked with, knew he was one tough cookie and he'd use his boxing knowledge to lay you out should you cross him with threats of violence. This mean response later got him fired from the juvie after he punched a kid on his watch so hard it knocked several of the kid's teeth out.

My roommate at the time, another juvenile home worker, was this cat's best friend. As a result, this cat visited our apartment a lot. It was this dude who introduced me to smoking marijuana, a dangerous pacification in Texas in those years because if you were caught with a roach or even seeds on you or in your car, you could face life in the Texas State Prison in Huntsville.

The first time I got high with these cats the elevation for me was truly ethereal. Soon I was uncontrollably laughing my ass off and feeling like my feet weren't touching the ground. Though in my sense of euphoria, I noticed the boxer wasn't euphoric at all but rather more deeply serious than I'd ever seen him. While we were high, we all piled into my Cadillac and went down to a bar 3 blocks away. Once in the bar, I again got involved with a laughing fit, as did my roommate. The boxer on the other hand got terribly paranoid and started warning us that several of the other people in the bar looked to him like FBI agents. "You guys have to stop laughing. Those FBI dudes are going to figure us out." He stayed in this mode the rest of the night.

I knew the boxer had been married. And to a very nice respectable Dallas girl, too. I knew this because he had dated my girlfriend before me and she had told me all about his marriage and how brutal and mean it was, both of them so incompatible they were in constant combat; yet when she filed divorce papers on him, he had lost control and whimpered like a baby for her to reconsider and take him back and save the marriage. At about this same time, I met my future wife and broke up with this girlfriend, though, even after I was married and moved to New Orleans I kept in contact with her in order to get Dallas information about all the people I had worked with at the juvenile home.

In July of 1964, my parents were killed in an automobile accident and in order to clear up their estate and to get what they had left my brother and me in their will, I had to return to my hometown, 200 miles west of Dallas. After receiving my portion of the estate--it left me independently momentarily fairly well off--my wife and I returned to Dallas and gave a big party for my old juvenile home friends and compadres. My ex-girlfriend showed up at the party. Later in the evening, and I have no idea what brought him up, I just happened to say I had always wondered what had happened to the boxer. My ex-girlfriend looked at me with tears in her eyes. "Didn't W.M. get a hold of you?" she asked. "No," I replied, "I haven't heard from him since just before I moved to New Orleans." "Well, we're all shook up...those of us who intimately knew him." "What happened?" I asked. "He and his wife...," she was shook up; I knew she had fallen for the guy when they dated. "Yeah, what, they got back together...." "Yeah, they got back together if you believe tying yourselves together and sticking your heads together in an oven and gassing yourselves to death is getting back together."

I couldn't imagine what kind of situation would have driven my wife and I to do that. My God, I couldn't imagine sticking my head in an oven...I mean, it was unthinkable to me.

From then on, my life took a turn toward the celestial and I thus started my various journeys under my various names through life. I moved to New York City and got involved in the wonderful swirls of life possible in this great city back in the 1970s.

All throughout the 70s and 80s, I lived high on the hog in the Big Apple, a wonderful time to live in this town--with its wonderful plays, and its jazz, and its club and bar scene, and the opening up of Artist in Residence lofts in the old manufacturing lofts of SOHO and NOHO and BLOHO. And I lived in the heart of that scene, hanging downtown at the Ear Inn with celebrities and nobodies alike, with Phil Glass, with Cameron Brown, with my own musician friends, with even Christo (that fakir), with even Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi (I've awakened outside John Belushi's old bar/home in my neighborhood one morning drunk on my ass right next to John drunk on his ass), with many eccentric performance artists, including Wendy O. Williams--an eventual suicide--with my writer friends, with Werner Herzog, with Henry Miller's first publisher in this country Bern Porter reading out of seed catalogs, and Rhys Chatham doing his thing, Ned Sublette doing his thing, and Laurie Anderson doing her thing, and some of the US's first futurists doing their thing. And then I got divorced and I started meeting such talented women and having wonderful affairs of all night partying and then making love in every possible way the rest of the night and into the next days--and life was good and we had creative balls and I never had a health problem. In fact, one doctor after checking me out said I was as healthy as the proverbial horse, a verdict I took to mean I might even live forever. Suicide was as far a cry from my thoughts as could be--even when it was determined that the rock critic Lester Bangs, who I knew, had killed himself drinking cough syrup, didn't hit me as suicide; I never knew Lester to hate living--it was just ferocious living, which we all were doing, that did him in.

In fact, up until three weeks ago, I prided myself on my excellent health. I bragged about it. Several of my best friends began to die, my best friend with cancer, my second best friend from a heart attack, my oldest friend in life (from junior high on) from cancer, my ex-wife from cancer, my brother from cancer, my primitive artist nephew while being operated on in an L.A. hospital. And then, one day, out of nowhere, suicide reared its ugly head directly in my face. One of my nephews went into a California State Park and in a very dramatic way blew his brains out with a shotgun. Still that didn't phase me. My nephew was crazy and he'd been loopy all his life--so his method of death didn't surprise me...but then it gnawed at me in the sense I wondered just what in the hell got so depressing that he found it necessary to die that way. I thought back to my years in the juvenile home and that senior social worker telling me suicides were phonies simply looking for attention. And I recalled A. Alvarez's The Savage God and his explaining Sylvia Plath's suicide in that accidental sense. And then Hunter Thompson did it.

I sit now facing either salvation through medical help or the end of my world should I now find myself involved in the pay-or-die healthcare system in this country. Now I seethe with anger as I go to Bellevue Hospital and see the hoards of down-and-outers suffering all kinds of illnesses, some worse than mine, like a lady getting cancer therapy there who spent an hour one day telling us all how she was thinking of moving to Canada where she could get cheaper meds, the cost of her meds killing her more loudly than the cancer she was so-far successfully battling.

Finally, yesterday, the demon of hospitals for profit reared its ugly head in my life. I was told by Bellevue finance that from now on my visit to the coumadin clinic (coumadin is warfaren a blood thinner that I was told is saving my life) would cost me $220 a visit--and I've got a coumadin clinic visit tomorrow because they're concerned about my blood now getting too thin and putting me at a risk for serious external and internal bleeding that must be controlled--and instead of being happy about it, I'm depressed--because I'm going to need to go to these coumadin clinics maybe twice every week--which means $440 a week until they get my bleeding under control and my blood able to clot again. And I'm sitting here reading this Swedish cellular biologists report saying cardiomyocytes (heart cells) can regenerate over time and I'm thinking, yeah, but how do I get my income to regenerate at the same time? And then the evil little thought hits me. What if these Capitalist sons of bitches ruin me? What if this hospital presents me with an outrageous a $20,000 bill, which would pretty much wipe me out and leave me dangling helplessly over debtors's hell? Would I be able to end my life given such a hopeless situation?

Tune in tomorrow for the next chapter in this continuing saga of my battle with life and inevitable death. Treat it like a mystery story.
Hospitals for Profit
The fact that our country hasn't got a National Single-Payer Healthcare Program is to me criminally ludicrous. The fact that when Obama started touting his Obamacare he firmly stated when he gathered his healthcare experts, all criminals from the healthcare insurance industry, the hospitals-for-profits industry, and the big pharmaceuticals, that single-payer healthcare would not be on the table. To make sure this wouldn't happen he chose a criminal senator from the low-life backward state of Montana (a playground for the filthy rich), Max Baucus, a criminal whose main political donations came from these criminal institutions who rob with impunity the sick and dying in this country who have no insurance due to their losing their jobs and their homes and their pensions and their savings, over 50 million people and probably many more than that--or even people who have healthcare insurance and yet due to the outrageous deductibles and high-end co-payments are still reduced to pay-or-die situations should a major disease event happen in their lives, like a battle with cancer, or perhaps the sudden invasion into their lives of an unexpected heart attack. How will they react when a hospital has the nerve to tell them, "You either come up with all the money in the world or we will withhold your treatment!" WOW. That to me is criminal. Inhumane. And add onto that that We the People of the USA pay the highest prices for drugs in the world, drugs that cost these pharmaceutical company pennies to manufacture; yet yield them billions upon billions in profits, profits enough that their criminal executives dance around the Maypole every year with huge bonuses and huge salaries, driving fleets of BMWs, jetting around the world in their own fleet of jets, setting up golf outings and doctor drinkathons and convention parties and tons of whores and party girls available--and you don't think that's true? These are companies whose toxic drugs kill hundreds of thousands of patients every year and yet they are never held accountable for any of these deaths.

I blame Obama for promoting this inhumane and insane pay-or-die healthcare in this country and trusting the very criminals who are benefiting from this type of inhumane insurance to come up with these bogus national healthcare plans, Obamacare actually going to force Americans to buy into one of these plans whether they can afford it or not or else suffer a tax penalty.

And our doctors and nurses! Why aren't they protesting this? I know for sure the nurses at Bellevue Hospital are under strains shoved down on them by their millionaire administration people who force them to work long hours, two or three days at a time before getting a couple of days off--going off and recruiting nurses from the Philippines, from the Caribbean, and doctors from India or Pakistan. Amazing. Amazing.

Like why couldn't we have free clinics around a city as large as New York City? Free clinics where one could get free exams, free tests, free blood work, free meds.

I'm astonished that our politicians are so dead set against a single-payer health insurance system. These millionaire politicians and their many bureaucratic lackeys and goons have the finest healthcare in the world thanks to We the People, this Congress of millionaires who hate poor people, who hate sick people, who hate people who can't afford this pay-or-die insurance. Like that asshole Ron Paul said, and please don't be fooled by his phony stances, he would let his best friend die rather than give him free healthcare; yet, this bastard still takes the best healthcare in the world from these worthless poor folk--those living on individually less than $20,000-a-year.

I'm ranting so hard my heart is pounding a little too fast for my mental comfort. I'm one tick away from dying; and I soon may be several thousands of dollars away from being saved.

I leave you with some healthcare statistics:

Health Insurance

  • The United States is the only wealthy, industrialized nation that does not have a universal health care system. Source: Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences
  • In 2006, the percentage of Americans without health insurance was 15.8%, or approximately 47 million uninsured people. Source: US Census Bureau
  • Among the 84.2% with health insurance in 2006, coverage was provided through an employer 59.7%, purchased individually 9.1%, and 27.0% was government funded (Medicare, Medicaid, Military). (There is some overlap in coverage figures.) Source: US Census Bureau
  • The primary reason given for lack of health insurance coverage in 2005 was cost (more than 50%), lost job or a change in employment (24%), Medicaid benefits stopped (10%), ineligibility for family insurance coverage due to age or leaving school (8%). Source: National Center for Health Statistics
  • Health Care
  • More than 40 million adults stated that they needed but did not receive one or more of these health services (medical care, prescription medicines, mental health care, dental care, or eyeglasses) in 2005 because they could not afford it. Source: National Center for Health Statistics
  • Medicaid, which accounted for 12.9% of health care coverage in 2006, is a health insurance program jointly funded by the federal and state governments to provide health care for qualifying low-income individuals. Source: US Census Bureau
  • Medicare, a federally funded health insurance program that covers the health care of most individuals 65 years of age and over and disabled persons, accounted for 13.6% of health care coverage in 2006. Source: US Census Bureau
  • Medicare operates with 3% overhead, non-profit insurance 16% overhead, and private (for-profit) insurance 26% overhead. Source: Journal of American Medicine 2007

for The Nonprofit Daily Growler


Marybeth said...

Hang in there. I went through a big ordeal myself recently and I'm still here-- and believe me it was an ordeal. I had a blocked kidney for 25 days and the health care situation was infuriating. I made it through, I'm still alive. Stay positive.

Anonymous said...

Possible alternatives to illness-induced bankruptcy:

Canadian prescription drugs?
Medical tourism?
Vegan raw food diet?

How about increased income via writing articles/rants for money, for example to Slate or HuffPost?
Your writing is much too good to be relegated to a personal blog.