Hosed.

If you are in America, make it to your 50s, and have some combination of insurance, alarm about inevitable personal decline, relevant family history and inability to ignore physician edicts, you will probably have a colonoscopy.

No matter what you read or hear, you will wish you could avoid this procedure; if for no other reason than it seems just plain wrong to pay a stranger to do this.

Afterward, you will become one of the veterans who assure others it is a walk in the park. Armed with two gallons of lemon Gatorade and a stack of reading material, the prep is tolerable. The procedure is easier to navigate than an appointment for a root canal. If you’ve given birth, this will not slow you down at all. You’ve been on the beaches of Normandy; this is a parking ticket.

One nagging question remains unanswered. If they don’t find anything wrong in there, how do you actually know they did anything?

The oxymoronic “conscious sedation” works so well that you don’t remember anything that proves the procedure took place. They wheeled you in and next thing you knew, a nice nurse is offering you some apple juice and handing you your clothes. Other than a mad scramble for a BLT and a large chocolate milkshake, the aftermath is uneventful.

What if–as my mother (of blessed memory) used to insist about NASA’s  space program in the 1960s—they faked the whole thing on a sound stage?

We may all be part of a conspiracy much larger than we can imagine. And what with the slashed budgets at daily newspapers, it might be awhile before anyone gets the goods on this one.

Leo Cullum, pilot, cartoonist and honorary critter.

You may not know the name “Leo Cullum,” but his voluble owls, dogs, anchovies and doctors made you laugh. The prolific New Yorker cartoonist has died, leaving behind a delightful archive.

The obit for Cullum in The New York Times by William Grimes is the rare one for a famous person that lists no sins or weaknesses alongside the accomplishments.

Cullum started cartooning later in life, and quickly developed a style of clever, deadpan humor conveyed in deceptively simple line drawings, often featuring animals. He earned his living previously as a pilot, starting out as a military flier. His quote about his Vietnam War service is a cartoon without a drawing:

“In 1966 he was sent to Vietnam, where he flew 200 missions, most in support of ground-troop operations, but at one point he flew secret bombing runs over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. ‘Who these were secret from I’m still not sure,” Mr. Cullum told Holy Cross magazine in 2006. “The North Vietnamese certainly knew it wasn’t the Swiss bombing them.’ ”

Click here for a slideshow of his work.

“Blind Man’s Alley” is good, semi-trashy read.

You wouldn’t think a thriller about a New York City developer and the lawyers who represent him would be a page turner, but Justin Peacock’s novel, “Blind Man’s Alley” is, in fact, just that.

His characters’ dialogue rings true; the lawyers, real estate robber barons, and the journalists are well cast; New York City is as much of a player in the plot as any human. There’s even some biracial angst and the realistic amount of sex possible for a lawyer who works 80 hours a week. It won’t be long before this one is a movie, I’ll wager.

(If you order the book through the Powell’s link below, I get a small kickback. I don’t get any info about you or your purchase.)

End of life prose.

This is a remarkably good article about dying. Don’t get all squeamish now, just buck up and read it.

It’s hard to believe that with all the talk about advance directives, patient rights, hospice and other related topics, there is anything new to say. Yet, as this New Yorker article by Atul Gawande shows, this is a subject with nuances inside of nuances. It is a rare view inside a doctor’s brain, as honest as anything you’ve read.


Buy these books.

“Edgar Sawtelle” by David Wroblewski - This gratifyingly fat volume is what you always hope to find when you buy a new, writerly, recommended-by-bookstore-staff, nouvelle-cuisine kind of book. Only this one isn’t contrived or over-written and it’s about a boy and dogs without turning into Old Yeller 2.0.

“Up from Orchard Street” by Eleanor Widmer – This is the first novel written in 100 or so years about Jews on the Lower East Side that has an original story line. It’s historically accurate and the characters are much more interesting than anyone you’re going to meet this week, so read it instead of perusing Match.com or going to Happy Hour.

Land of (limited) milk and honey.

We Americans have a hard time deciding if we’re a Land of Opportunity or Opportunism.

We’ve got a thriving “income defense industry,” which New York Times writer Paul Sullivan defines as “accountants, lawyers and financial advisers employed by the wealthy — and the merely affluent — to manage their financial affairs.”  (See the entire article, here.)

Now, there’s nothing wrong with holding on to your hard-earned gains, but much of what these defenders do amounts to standing on the necks of those living way down the food chain. The money-guarders’ machinations mean more tax dollars are growing interest off in distant accounts, not here at home paying for schools and roads.

Yet some of the tax dollars that are collected end up funding programs that do help the little gal. Case in point (and written about in the same issue of the NYT) is the feds’ 203(k) mortgage program. This little-touted method of borrowing allows us to buy ailing properties with small down payments and then renovate them under what seem like some wisely strict regulations. (Lynnley Browning’s article, here.)

Even when we have a good idea that benefits the worker bee in our society, we seem to make sure it doesn’t fully succeed. (For a start, can’t someone give better names to these tax-status things? Let’s branch out to punctuation marks at least: the 203(!) program would look a lot more upbeat, wouldn’t it?)

What we need is a better income defense industry for the regular folks. That used to be the job of elected officials, but, well, they’re busy elsewhere.