fundraiser for charlie and sky

I don't often do this ... in fact, this may be a first. But I'm posting a link to a Gofundme effort for a long-time friend of mine. Here's the write-up:

As many of you know, Charlie Bertsch has been navigating a tremendously challenging home situation. He is now quite ill, and in hospital care. No matter what happens, Charlie and his daughter Sky need our help to raise money for MANY basic expenses in the immediate future. Please consider donating what you can towards this person who has selflessly given so much. All funds will go directly to Charlie and Sky for living, health-care, and educational expenses.

Charlie has been a constant presence on this blog (literally ... there is a photo from a visit to his house I posted on the very first day of the blog). You can visit the fundraiser page here:

Support for Charlie and Sky

Here is an old picture of Charlie and our beloved cat Starbuck:

Charlie starbuck 2

times change (geezer preview)

Times change. We are going to see Black Widow later today as this week's Geezer Cinema movie. Not to show my age, but when I was a kid, there was one movie theater in town (not a multiplex, it had one screen) and one drive-in. When a movie came out, first you waited for it to come to your town, then you could watch it, or you could wait a few years and see it, edited, on TV.
Today, there are five different options for seeing Black Widow. We will go to an AMC theater, where they are showing the movie in standard "Digital", "Real 3D", "Dolby Cinema", and "IMAX with Laser". You can also cough up $30 and watch at home on Disney+. I think of 3D being less popular today, but in fact, that's the one that is sold out at AMC. (We are opting for the IMAX, where, a little less than 3 hours before showtime, only 23 advance tickets have been sold.)
How do we decide which version to watch? Mostly, it's my choice ... my wife doesn't care one way or the other. In this case, the movie seemed big enough to warrant our second trip to a theater since our being vaccinated. My vision is still very blurry from my recent eye surgery to fix a detached retina, which would eliminate 3D, I guess, but that's never my first choice, anyway. IMAX is my first choice, if the movie intended for such. Black Widow features 22 minutes of "expanded aspect ratio" that can only be seen in IMAX, so that made my decision easy.
IMAX Black Widow


Music Friday is taking the week off. Earlier in the week I started seeing Super Floaters in my left eye. Got worse over the next couple of days, saw doctor Thursday morning, he operated Thursday afternoon. All is well, now, but I'm a little behind on blogging.

After the operation:

Operation patch

The next day (today):

Operation patch


Been away for a few days, attending my niece's high-school graduation in Washington. Here is a picture I took through a window in their house (the window explains the random streaks). Some people live closer to nature than I do:


Here's a selfie we took of six grown-ups, from left-to-right: Uncle, Dad, Mom, Aunt, Uncle, Aunt.

At leavenworth

Finally, a picture of the grad and dad that I stole from Mom's Instagram:

Ava and john graduation

bill the blob

Apparently there is a reason I've been stuffy on one side of my nose for the past several years: I have an inverted papilloma buried somewhere behind my left nostril. At the end of February, I had a video chat with my doctor. When I mentioned my sinusitis, as I always do, she seemed interested that it was only on one side, so she set me up for an appointment with the Ear and Nose department. I put this appointment off until mid-April, after my second vaccine had done its work. They stuck something up my nose and said I had some polyps, and told me they needed a CT scan to better identify the problem. (While I was there, they made me an appointment with a allergy doctor for the next day.) On April 23, I had the scan, and a few days later, I heard back from the Ear and Nose folks that there did seem to be polyps, and they wanted to do a biopsy prior to surgery.

A week ago, I got the biopsy, which involved more stuff being stuck up my nose. Yesterday, they called and let me know I have an inverted papilloma. Next on the schedule is an MRI, and then surgery, which will likely involve getting stuff stuck up my nose yet again.

This is all good news, I think. For one thing, when all is done, I might actually be able to breathe properly again (it's been a long time). Also, despite the scary sounding name, an inverted papilloma is benign, although it needs to be addressed. But it's not like I have to go do it tomorrow.

The more I thought about it, the more I felt like I was a character in a David Cronenberg movie. I wanted to personalize the experience, so I decided to name my papilloma. The name I settled on is Bill the Blob. I even imagined a theme song ... maybe get Burt Bacharach to sign on to do the music:

I guess it wouldn't be fair to leave without giving you a peek at Bill:

For more details, check this blog post from 2019.

sundown town

Today I learned ... well, it's nothing I didn't already know, so maybe "learned" is the wrong word, but it helped me combine a few things I knew into something I hadn't considered in quite this way before.

I have written before about growing up in Antioch, California, which until my senior year of high school in 1970 had no black people. This fact has been in my mind recently, with the just-finished NFL draft, where Najee Harris was a first-round pick. Harris, who set records playing college ball at Alabama (one of the prime football colleges in the country), went to Antioch High School. He has a chance to be the greatest football player in Antioch High history (an honor that I'm guessing is currently held by Hall of Fame lineman Gino Marchetti). Najee Harris is black. And in 2021, that isn't noteworthy ... Antioch has come a long way in 50 years. Wikipedia informs us that "the city has grown substantially more diverse since the 1990s, with no ethnic group comprising more than one-third of Antioch's population."

Wikipedia describes the Antioch I grew up in as "an all-white sundown town". And it wasn't just blacks who were discriminated against ... a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle tells the story in its title: "The Bay Area town that drove out its Chinese residents for nearly 100 years."

I knew about sundown towns, and I certainly knew about Antioch's history. But I'd never put those two facts together. If nothing else, it makes my story shorter in the telling: I grew up in Antioch, California, a sundown town.

The city's progress isn't confined to sports. Two of the last three mayors, including current mayor Lamar Thorpe, are black. If I had to guess, I'd say most younger residents of Antioch know little or nothing about its past as a sundown town. I often say I don't recognize Antioch any longer ... it's been 40 years since we last lived there. But I'm mostly thinking about the size of the city. In 1920, around the time my grandparents from Spain moved to Antioch, the population was under 2000. By 1930, when my father was 6 years old, it was up to 3500. And it kept growing ... 11,000 in 1950, three years before I was born, up to 28,000 when I graduated from high school in 1970. The census for that year says that 98.1% of the populace of Antioch was "white" ("white" encompassing lots of groups that have their own categories now, such as Italian-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Portuguese-Americans, and Spanish-Americans). According to that census, there were 42 "Negroes" living in Antioch, and if you asked me at the time, I'd say that overstated the case by around 38 people.

Times change. When we had kids, we moved to Berkeley, partly because we liked the city, but also because we didn't want our kids to grow up in that same racist environment in which we were raised. Our kids were born in 1975 and 1978 ... the 1980 census says there were 615 Black people living in Antioch at the time. I'm glad things have changed in my home town, but I'm even more glad that we got our kids out of there.

my life in a medical report

Over the years, Kaiser (and I assume most health plans) have moved a lot of things online, in a good way. I can see information about myself that wasn't easily accessible in the past (i.e., I had to ask the doctor). When I check my medical record on their website, I can see notes on doctor visits, which is especially useful for someone like me, who doesn't always pay enough attention to what I'm being told.

But there is something ... not exactly ominous, but unsettling, about seeing that information on the "page" (screen) in front of me. It's one thing to know something about yourself ... somehow, seeing it written out makes it more official, more final.

I remember many years ago when I decided I wanted to go on meds for my emotional problems. I visited a doctor, she made a prescription for a couple of drugs, and it turned out I was one of the lucky ones where we hit on the right combination from the start, and I have benefitted from the medicine. When I got to her office, we chatted for a few minutes about this and that ... she was from Spain, I remember. Then I explained my symptoms as I experienced them, she asked a few questions to narrow it down, and then said something to the effect of, I don't like using labels, they are limited and don't tell the whole story. But basically, what I was telling her sounded like what they call bipolar 2. (Hey, I didn't know there was a sequel to the original bipolar.)

Sometime later, I was assigned the first of many personal pharmacists (Kaiser does this for people like me who take a lot of meds, they keep a close, learned eye on what I'm on.) At the first visit, we went over my various medicines while she looked at my record. At some point, I said I noticed that the psych meds didn't seem to be in my official record. She explained that in the name of privacy, psych stuff was kept in a separate place from the regular records, so she couldn't access that information. I thought this was funny ... I noted that she could see what meds I took, and as a pharmacist she knew what those meds were for, so there clearly wasn't any big secret about my use.

Nowadays, as I explained above, I can access my records whenever I want. This has been true for a few years. One day, out of curiosity, I looked, and found the names for things I have (like my stuffy nose is "allergic rhinitis", and yes, I do have a history of MRSA). But what made me stop was this item on the list of my ongoing health conditions: "bipolar".

OK, first, I wanted to know where the "2" went. But I was mostly just taken aback by seeing it on the screen. I knew what my diagnosis had been all those years ago, even if they didn't like labels. But it was seeing that word in my file ... "bipolar" ... something about reading it made me feel like I was really sick. Part of me was like, "hey you guys, I told you I had problems!" But the other part of me realized this was something I live with. And I recalled that first doctor who, when prescribing the medicine, said, "You know you might have to be on this the rest of your life".

Which brings me up to date. I have a few things backed up because I postponed everything I could during the virus, but now that I'm vaccinated, I'm ready to roll. I had a video appointment with my doctor (it was actually kind of cool), and when I explained my lifelong sinus problems by pointing my finger at the spot that gets stuffy, she made me an appointment with the ear/nose/throat department. They looked up my nose ... now I'm scheduled for a CT Scan next week (polyps is the early prediction). I went to the website to see the notes that had been left after my appointment and saw this first sentence: "Steven P Rubio is a 67 Y male who ...".

It's not like I don't know how old I am. But just like when I first saw the word "bipolar" in my record, there was a finality to the number "67".

It's one thing to know how old you are. It's one thing to answer "67" when asked how old I am. But for some reason, it is an entirely different matter when I see the number "67" in my record.

I know this is nonsense ... my birthdate has always been there, my 8-year-old grandson knows enough math to calculate my age if given the year of my birth. But apparently none of that matters. Before I looked at that summary, I was a guy who was older than he used to be. Now, I'm a 67-Y-male.

Damn, I'm old.

goodbye, captain pissgums

I had just finished reading "Transgression: An Elegy" by Laura Kipnis, when word arrived that S. Clay Wilson had died.

Wilson was always my favorite of the "underground/Zap comix" writers. A little more than 12 years ago, he suffered a traumatic brain injury, and suffered for the rest of his life. His wife, Lorraine Chamberlain, has been steadfast at his side all of those years, and her dedication to him has been awe-inspiring. In a time of transgressing, Wilson was pre-eminent.

Kipnis concluded her essay:

We used to know what transgression was, but that’s not plausible anymore. Maybe violating boundaries was a more meaningful enterprise when bourgeois norms reigned, when liberal democracy seemed like something that would always endure. The ethos of transgression presumed a stable moral order, the disruption of which would prove beneficial. But why bother trying to disrupt things when disruption is the new norm, and permanence ever more of a receding illusion?

In my years in the factory, I had one co-worker, good man, a Jehovah's Witness who took his religion seriously. One day I brought in a Zap Comic that featured Wilson. My friend checked it out ... as I recall, it was Captain Pissgums and His Pervert Pirates that made him laugh. ("They came from every crud-crusted corner of the globe, these lice-infested losers. Some were sadists ... some were masochists ... some just licked stinky ol' boots. And the captain settled for having his crew whiz into his mouth while others looked on delighted.") The prose told the story, but it was in the drawings that Wilson's genius was expressed. And transgression? Even now, I hesitate to put a sample of his drawing here. (Check him in Google Images if you'd like, or click on the "Captain Pissgums" link above.)

Anyway, my religious friend thought Pissgums was funny. But then he turned the page to the next story, which featured perhaps Wilson's most famous creation, the Checkered Demon. Wikipedia describes him:

A portly, shirtless being generally seen wearing checkered pants, the Demon emerged from Wilson's experience of watching Federico Fellini's 1965 film Juliet of the Spirits while on LSD. The Checkered Demon's gap-toothed grin was inspired by Mad magazine's mascot Alfred E. Neuman. It is also rumored that Wilson's inspiration for the Checkered Demon was artist and friend Alfredo Arreguin.

The Checkered Demon is frequently called upon to kill the various demented bikers, pirates, and rapists who populate Wilson's universe. The Demon is unbeatable in combat, but prefers to copulate with rapacious women—such as Star-Eyed Stella, Ruby the Dyke, or Lady Coozette—or to sit around drinking Tree Frog beer. He has no concern for human life.

When my friend saw the Demon, he threw the comic in the air and jumped back, shouting. I know this sounds like an exaggeration, but it is not. You see, my friend's religious training took special interest in representations of the devil ... at least that's how it seemed. Whatever, the same person who had laughed at pirates chopping off limbs and fucking and drinking and biting each other's cranks was disgusted, even frightened, at the sight of the Checkered Demon.

Which shows that transgression has many faces.

smith-rubio family xmas update, 19th annual edition

Our lives in 2020 were a lot like everyone else's during this pandemic. On March 11, we went to the movie theater to see Emma. We haven't been to a theater since. We've hardly been anywhere since, just a couple of visits to family in our "pod". We got refunds for the plane and apartment tickets for our planned trip to Spain. Boo hoo ... there are a lot of people suffering far more than we are. But we couldn't have predicted the direction our retirement would take. (That is a definition of the pandemic: no one could have predicted what life would be like.)

Oh, Spot wasn't much affected by the virus:


Count your blessings and all that.

I started using a CPAP machine:

Cpap shadow

Another sign of the times: almost every picture we took in 2020 was of cats, since we didn't have to leave the house to take the photos:

Starbuck robin 2020 edit

Of course, when everything else brought us down, there was Félix:

Robin félix 8th birthday

What does it mean that the musical moment that had the biggest effect on me in 2020 came from the performance of a James Bond theme song for a movie that because of the pandemic has still not been released? When Billie Eilish suddenly dug down and expanded her voice as if she were Shirley Bassey, she gave the lie to everyone who thought she could only whisper. Fool me once, fool me twice, are you death or paradise? Now you'll never see me cry.

wrexham and me

Lots of this stuff I've written about on this blog, but time to put it in one place. Don't want to bury the lead, though, so first:

"'Deadpool' star Ryan Reynolds completes Wrexham takeover with Hollywood's Rob McElhenney"

Wrexham A.F.C. are a Welsh soccer club that plays in the English soccer system. They are not a big club ... they currently play in the fifth level of the English system ... but they are an old club, the third-oldest in the world.

In the buildup to the 1994 World Cup in the USA, I read a book called Twenty Two Foreigners in Funny Shorts by Peter Davies. It was written for the American market, a way to introduce us to the world's game. Davies broke his story into three basic parts: a history of the sport, and two ongoing sagas, one of European soccer at the time, and one of his local club. He wanted the reader to get a sense of the scope of soccer, from the top to the bottom, so he included that local club, which was in the fourth tier, telling the events of the 1992-1993 season, which saw the club winning promotion to the third tier. That club was Wrexham.

In those days, there wasn't much soccer on U.S. TV after the World Cup had ended, and the Internet as we now know it was a much smaller affair. So it was hard to keep up ... our own league, MLS, didn't start until 1996. I did my best on the old CompuServe sports forum, and because they were as available to me as the biggest clubs in Europe, all things considered, I adopted Wrexham, feeling I knew the players after reading Davies' book. I asked around, and a man named Rhys Gwynllyw was kind enough to update me on Wrexham (he later founded The Webbed Robin, and I believe he is now a Math Professor). I started an email list with his help. Here is something Gareth Collins wrote about that list in 2018:

Rhys and Steven were the Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's of their time. I can still remember being totally overjoyed when I first came across The Webbed Robin, I seem to remember Rhys used to type up (or perhaps OCR?) Wrexham news articles from the Evening Leader and Daily Post that I think his Dad used to mail him. This is in the days before either of those publications had a web site. So if you lived say 100 miles from Wrexham at that time you'd get no detailed news and would have to rely on 2 sentences on Teletext. The Webbed Robin was amazing in its day. Tons of detailed match reports and detailed news stories all lovingly curated. The Webbed Robin and the ISFA e-mail list were like going from the stone age to the electric age in one massive leap for fan-kind.

I have followed Wrexham from afar for more than 25 years now. Saw them on TV a couple of times, and these days, even small clubs have an Internet presence, so I can watch highlights and interviews of them. And that game I mentioned last week, Football Manager? Every year, I try my hand at running Wrexham. (Confession: I have always sucked at FM.)

The most famous match in Wrexham history is probably their FA Cup match against Arsenal in 1992. The previous season, Arsenal had won the championship, while Wrexham finished last in the lowest division. The match was sure to be a blowout. In an amazing example of what you can find online in 2020, here is the entire match from 1992:

If you don't have two hours to spare, here are the highlights: