Not much to say tonight, but that has never really stopped me from saying anything before.

Jennifer and I went out yesterday and picked up the Christmas gift that we’d decided to give to each other: a Playstation 2 game system. We’d been having so much fun plugging zombies in House of the Dead on our Dreamcast that we figured we really ought to try playing Resident Evil. Unfortuantely, that game doesn’t come for Dreamcast, so we had to buy the Playstation. It was required. It’s a function of our geek heritage. Our bloodline. It’s an ancient tradition passed down from the Old Country.

And in addition to the game system, we bought three games: Resident Evil: Code Veronica X; Half Life; and Heroes of Might and Magic. We’ve been having fun wandering through Resident Evil, me guiding the gun while Jennifer maps and helps me figure out clues, shooting plenty of zombies in the wake. We tried Half Life yesterday, but Jennifer got frustrated with the controller and we were really in a zombie-shooting mood, so we quit that game quickly. We haven’t tried Heroes of Might and Magic yet.

We spent something like five hours on Resident Evil today. FIve hours. I have never played a game that long before; usually my short attention span won’t let me. I’ll be in the middle of killing a zombie and then notice that there’s a bird outside the window and get distracted by that for awhile, then pet a cat, then read a book, then play on my computer, then realize, “Oh! That zombie was about to eat me, wasn’t it?” Most of the time, these days, I don’t even bother getting started with the games.

Christmas is almost here. I tease Jennifer because she’s like a little kid. “Can we open our presents now? Please? Pretty please? Just one? Then how about just our stocking stuffers?” I’m just as bad, but I know that it’s best to wait. Otherwise, there won’t be any presents to open on Christmas morning, and I’ll be all glum and depressed because everyone else has presents but me. I’ve been there before. It’s not a pretty site.

And in other news, I finally got around to updating my Library page. There’sa place there where I can be really pretentious and pretend I know what I’m talking about when I review books. You should check it out.

Thanks for your attention, folks. Have a good night.


Anyway, so there I was, upside down in the dentist’s office.

Okay, well, not really all that upside down. The dentist had tilted the chair back quite a bit to the point where my head really was lower than my feet — the better to work on my upper molar, which, he had discovered during my last appointment, had a large cavity. Large enough to verge on the point of almost needing a root canal. Almost, but not quite.

It’s December 18, and I’ve been waiting for this day for over a year. After all, today’s the day when The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers comes out in the theaters. It’s the day that fanboys like me (and fangirls like my wife) have been eagerly awaiting since the ending credits rolled across the screen for Fellowship of the Ring. The entire epic trilogy of The Lord of the Rings is filled with caves and volcanoes: the cave that Gollum hides in under the Misty Mountains; the Dwarven kingdom in the Mines of Moria; and, of course, the Pit of Doom that Frodo must throw the One Ring into in order to destroy it and save Middle Earth from destruction at the hands of the evil lord Sauron.

Much like my cavity, of course.

I haven’t had to have a cavity filled in years. I think I was in elementary school. And I think that the last time I had a cavity filled, I was young enough so that the dentist had decided to use gas instead of novacaine. This time, of course, I got the novacaine shot; as the dentist was inserting the needle, a bit of the novacaine dripped on to my tongue, which instantly went numb. I let the dentist know, mostly because I was amused and thought he might be too.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “Now swallow it. That’ll feel really weird!”

I haven’t met a single dentist who isn’t chatty in some regard. They’re like the villains in a James Bond film: “Now before I subject you to intense pain, Mr. Bond, I’m going to clean out the bacteria in your cavity with this powerful miniature drill! Bwah ha ha haaaaaa!”

Yeah. My dentist is exactly like that.

I actually feel more comfortable, though, when I have such a dentist; at least I know what they’re doing to me.

“Okay,” he says, “this is going to hurt a little.” And here comes the drill. And since this cavity is so big, there some tissue and nerves and blood vessels perilously close to the opening. And so yes, it hurts. Two shots of novacaine and I’m still whimpering like a baby. Well, okay, I was braver than that.

And through all this I was thinking about The Two Towers. When I was a kid going to the dentist, I would get to pick a toy out of the treasure chest in the lobby for being brave. So when I was a kid, the thoughts of that toy — would it be a dinosaur? a truck? a spaceship? — would keep me going throughout the session. And this time, it was thoughts of the movie that kept my spirits high.

Yesterday we watched Fellowship of the Ring for the first time since the theaters. I am, as a nerd, a pretty weepy one; not only do I wince easily at pain in the dentist’s chair, I also come close to tears every time I see Gandalf’s death scene in that film. He’s led the Fellowship so far, through so many dangers, and you can see the anguish on Elijah Wood’s face when Gandalf utters his last words and lets go of the bridge to finish his battle with the Balrog. I find myself sharing in that anguish, and have to rub my face a bit and tell Jennifer that there’s something in my eye.

“Are you going to see the new Lord of the Rings movie?” the dentist asks me as he picks bits of decayed bone out of my cavity with a sharp needle.

I nod graciously and drool a bit.

‘Yeah, me too,” he says, adroitly sucking up the drool with a little suction tube. “I can’t wait. Oh, and have you seen the new trailer for Terminator 3?”

I didn’t know that there was a new trailer for T3. So I shake my head, and the hygeinist wipes the drool off her apron without a word. “Is it good?” I ask — “Ihh ihhh goooooh?” it comes out.

“Nah,” the dentist replies. “Looks pretty dumb. Like Rocky VI.”

I nod. It’s best not to dispute film with a man who’s putting a high-powered drill into your mouth so close to a nerve.

It’s over quickly, fortunately. I spit and rinse and feel around the tooth with my tongue. Doesn’t feel any different. My lips are numb and so is my tongue. Surprisingly, though, I can talk normally.

I meet Jennifer in the waiting room. She’d had an appointment this morning as well but didn’t have to go through the same torture; all she got was a bleaching kit. We spoke with the dentist and his hygeinist and the receptionist a bit more, and then we were off.

When all was said and done, the experience at the dentist’s office was not bad at all. The pain was bearable, after all; I just kept thinking about brave Frodo and how he perserveres through the evils of Middle Earth and the minions of Sauron to complete his quest and reach the pits of Mount Doom and toss the Ring in.

Pits of Mount Doom… the cavity in Richard’s mouth.

I knew that there was a connection. I just knew it.

The epilogue to my story is that the filling might have to come out in a couple of weeks. Ugh. Because it was so close to the nerve, there’s probably still some bacteria deep down inside that he wasn’t able to clean out without major pain. So part of the filling includes some sort of medication that will hopefully kill the bacteria and encourage the tooth to build up some new enamel so that it will remain intact. If it doesn’t work, I’ll need a root canal.

“How will I know if it doesn’t work?”

“Believe me,” the dentist told me, “you’ll know.”

So. Perhaps we will meet again.

And meanwhile, The Two Towers was a outstanding film, just as good (if not better) than the first. See it. See it now. It’s three hours long, but you’ll lose all track of time, just as I did. Though, of course, after my time in the dentist’s chair, it might have been mostly a matter of perception.

December Night

The wind crashes outside, slamming up against the south end of our house like a mad thing throwing itself against walls, trying to escape its prison. I look outside, and the brances and leaves of the trees next door writhe; drops of rain hammer incessantly against the window, as if trying to break it down by sheer force of numbers. Through the trees and the rain, the light of the streetlamp a house or two down the street is unsteady, flickering like a distant beacon.

The storm has made me restless. I shift in bed, trying to make myself comfortable. Jennifer shifts in response. “Are you okay?” she asks me sleepily, softly as though she were dreaming. “I’m fine,” I tell her. “Go back to sleep.” She rolls over and her breathing deepens again while I wrap my arms around the pillow anew, and try to sleep.

I’m a natural worrier, of course. I hear the wind and the rain, stronger than any storm I think I’ve seen in my fifteen years in this part of the valley, and I can’t help but wonder if that wind will find some hidden weakness in our windows, some flaw undiscovered since the house’s manufacture, and come roaring in through broken glass and ruined floor.

My imagnation works in overtime. It always has. I’ve never been able to help it.

* * * * *

The day before Thanksgiving, I went to see the new pulmonologist. The old one had retired over the summer, which kind of took me (not to mention his staff and the rest of his patients) by surprise. He’d been the one treating my asthma for something like seven years, after nearly ten years of letting my asthma go unchecked while I was in college and for years after college while I flitted in jobs without health insurance.

The new pulmonologist reads over the results of my spirometry test and reviews my medication regime. “Why are you taking Unidur?” he asks me.

“Um,” I reply medically, “I’ve been taking it since high school. I think. Probably longer. It’s theophylline, kind of the basic drug for me.”

“Hm,” he replies. Then a moment later he asks me, “What about the Atrovent?”

I shrug. “That’s another one I’ve been taking for a long time.”

“Ah,” he says. This pulmonologist is a lot younger than his predecessor; hell, he might be about the same age as I am (I remember this as a warning from someone a few years ago: “Just wait until your doctors are younger than you, then you’ll feel inadequate!”). Reading over my chart again and listening to my lungs with his stethoscope, he comes to a decision.

“Let’s cut out some of these drugs,” he says.

“I’m game,” I say. “Which ones?”

“Let’s try the Unidur and the Atrovent. The Singulair’s a reasonable drug for you to keep taking, and the Advair’s really your first line of defense against the asthma. I don’t think the Unidur’s really doing you any good, and the Atrovent’s probably doing nothing for you but complicating your life.”

I chuckle. “Yeah, it’s just one more inhaler to track.”

“Exactly. And how often do you go through your Albuterol inhalers?”

“About one a month. That’s about right, isn’t it?”

He shakes his head. “They should be lasting you about four months. From now on, whenever you feel like you need to use your inhaler, take a peak flow measurement to see if you really do need it. And if you do need it, take another measurement after you’re done, to see how much good it’s doing.”

I nod and agree to this change. I’ve been thinking over the past few months that maybe I’m using the Albuterol far too often when I really don’t need it; maybe it’s become more a psychological thing for me than a real medical need. I tell that to the doctor, and he says, “Yep, we’ve found that that’s pretty common among long-term asthmatics. And you’ve had your asthma all your life, haven’t you?”

I nod. We talk a bit more about my medications and my lifestyle and the fact that my body has probably added GERD to its repertoire of conditions that shouldn’t hit me for another fifteen years or so but which were probably brought on earlier because of my asthma drugs.

After my appointment with the doctor, I chat with the nurse as he takes my blood pressure and prepares me for my allergy shot.

“So I see he’s got you dropping the Unidur and Atrovent,” he says.

“Yep,” I say. “It’s going to be a big pscyhological adjustment for me. I’ve been taking theophylline all my life.”

“Well, it’s probably not doing you any good anyway since you’re taking the Advair. Hell, you’re probably old enough to remember Marax, aren’t you?”

I blink for a moment; Marax was the front-lnie drug for asthma way back when I was a kid. I think I stopped taking it when my age was still measured in single digits.

I laugh. “Sign of the times, I guess, isn’t it?”

“It sure is, Rich.” He gives me my shot and then we start talking about computers and fishing, just like we always do when I come by the office, even though I know more about the first than he does, and he know way more about the second than I probably ever will.

* * * * *

Earlier this week, I got word from San Jose State University that I’ve been accepted into their Master of Library and Information Sciences program. It was kind of funy, actually. On Monday morning I decided that six weeks was long enough to wait to hear, so I had sent an e-mail to the program director, asking when I mihgt hear on the status of my application. I should have just waited an hour or so; my acceptance letter was waiting for me in our mailbox.

And so now I’m a graduate student, well on my way toward becoming a rich and powerful librarian. Jennifer says she’s just as excited, and she can’t wait until she can get away without having to pay any more overdue library fines. Me, I’m really excited. I’m taking my first class beginning in January; just one this coming semester so that I can ease my way back in to the whole study routne. I tell people I can’t wait to begin the process of juggling classes with this full-time job that’s got me on the road so much. Thank God for on-line learning.

Of course, I feel kind of strange in a way, too. Is it right to study to be a rich and powerful librarian when I’ve got a ton of late books sitting on my shelf?

* * * * *

Sitting here and writing this while listening to Celtic music on my computer hasn’t done much to curb my restlessness. While Jennifer was at practice blasting through her oboe, I was at Borders, dosing up on caffeine. It used to be that caffeine, even late at night, wouldn’t do much to keep me awake so late, but that seems to have changed. I told Jennifer that I think that cutting out the theophylline from my medications might have sometime to do with it; theophylline is very similar, molecularly, to caffeine. Perhaps I’d built up a tolerance over the years which has now vanished since I’m no longer consuming 1200 mg worth of it each day in addition to the coffee? If that’s true, it will be useful when I begin taking classes in earnest and need to stay up late to study.

In our computer room, you can barely hear the storm at all. I’ve stepped back briefly into the bedroom to see if it has died down a bit, and it has. I think that I’ll head back to bed now, stay awake for a bit longer reading, and then finally try to get to sleep.

On The Beach

This week, my job has me in Santa Barbara. Jennifer’s a bit further north, in the same county as I am, but in the city of Santa Maria. It’s been pretty hectic this week, what with me zipping from Santa Maria to Lompoc and down to Santa Barbara. But, on the whole, it’s been pretty good, despite the long hours in the car. The drive from Lompoc (pronounced “LOM-poke”, I found out — not “LOM-pock”, as I’ve always pronounced it) to Santa Barbara on Highway 1 is absolutely beautiful, with all kinds of neat mountains and trees and twists and turns. I love driving on mountain roads. The regional manager who was behind me, following along the way, does not. When we drove from Santa Cruz to Santa Clara a couple of weeks ago, with her following me, she complained about how I have a tendency to accelerate on those curves, the same curves where she’s applying her brakes.

Well, okay. No more manic driving when a regional manager is trying to follow me to a training site. Important lesson, that.

Benthic Creatures has conducted this same sort of training of mollusc handlers and the molluscs in several other states throughout the country. Molluscs everywhere have been using the same shell polishers for years, and California’s one of the last to implement the same new technique. And within the company, there’s a common saying: “California’s just different.” Most states implement these changes on a statewide level, but California — being California — does it on a county-by-county basis. Each county in California is like a different state. It really is, especially when it comes to implementing policies and procedures for shell polishing.

Santa Barbara certainly feels like a different state than Solano County, where I’m from. My hotel room is decorated with neo-Spanish style decor, including a miniature palm tree — bonsai, southern California style — sitting on the table next to my laptop. And, of course, since it’s Santa Barbara, my room has a ceiling fan, and a standing fan hidden away in the closet. But, oddly, no air conditioner. Which means, I suppose, that this hotel generally caters to those with a preference for broiling temperatures in the summer time. It’s December now, of course, so it’s tolerably cool here. I like it.

I have become oddly jaded with regards to business travel. I admit that I get annoyed with all of the time on the road for this job, and I’d much prefer to stay at home. But I find odd things to complain about. “My room doesn’t get a decent internet connection,” I whine. It’s only 20kpbs, not the 50+ that I’m used to. And this hotel doesn’t even offer a broadband connection, like so many of the other hotels I’ve stayed at. And there’s no customer parking at this hotel; only valet parking, for which I shell out another $7.00 per night. And… and so on.

The place where I’m working is kind of odd as well. Example: the elevator has buttons for three floors. Inside, the floor indicator goes up to three. Yet, the building only has two floors. Perhaps this is a metaphor for Santa Barbara in general: something about reach extending grasp, I suppose.

My hotel, though, is right on the beach. I can look out my window and see… well, I can see the parking lot of the hotel next door. I can hear the ocean, though, and I know that when I go out the front door of the hotel, it’s just a hundred yards or so to the shore. I’ve walked down there a couple of times in the evening, just to hear the ocean and the gulls and smell the air.

And this evening, after I was finished doing the training at the Social Services office, I decided to wander through downtown Santa Barbara. I’ve never been here. Well, actually, that’s not quite true; three years ago, I was at UC Santa Barbara for a UC conference on information technology. But back then I never got to go downtown. There are dozens of fascinating little stores in downtown Santa Barbara, with names like Masks of Venice, and Gentlemen Antquarians. There are big chain stores, of course, like Borders and Starbuck’s (huzzah!) and Banana Republic; but enough independent stores to redeem the overwhelming presence of the chain stores. I even bought an odd little gift for Jennifer in one of the small shops; it’s kind of a strange gift but I think she’ll like it.

And that is the plus side of business travel. Going to new places; exploring new downtowns to discover new treats. Assuming, of course, that you’re in a town with some sort of character to it.

And the training itself has gone great. The people here in Santa Barbara are so very nice, if a bit dizzy at times. I’ve gotten great evaluations, and the handlers that I’ve trained are all very friendly and receptive to what I have to train. I’ve really enjoyed working here. And I got a wee surprise yesterday when I discovered that the classes I was to teach on Friday were canceled, so I get to drive back up to meet Jennifer a day early; perhaps I’ll sit in on the classes she’ll be teaching then.

Or, perhaps, I’ll just sleep in.

That is part of the southern California lifestyle, isn’t it?