Friday, August 29, 2014

Hawaiian memories

In 1989 my family was renting a condo in Kaanapali.

The one above us had a group of 4 college-aged women on vacation. We often heard them talking out on the balcony. They didn't bother us, we just noticed who the upstairs neighbors were.

Anyway, one day my Dad and I were sitting outside, and we heard 2 of them upstairs, talking about some postcards they were sending back home. Suddenly, there was a huge gust of wind. The newspaper Dad was reading blew over the edge, and we saw some papers from the girls above get scattered into the air. We both went inside.

A few minutes later I went out (I'd left my Diet Coke on the table) and discovered a postcard had blown onto our balcony. It featured a picture of a large, muscular, young Polynesian guy, wearing nothing but a strategically placed banana leaf. The reverse side had an address on it, but nothing else. Someone (we assume one of the girls) had obviously started writing the card when it blew away.

I went inside, and absently tossed it on the table. I figured I'd run it up to the girls later (hell, maybe I'd get to meet them). Dad picked it up, looked it over, and then told me to go down to the gift shop and buy a postcard stamp.

When I got back he'd already filled it out. He took it to the front desk, asked them to make a photocopy, then put the stamp on and tossed it in the outgoing mailbox.

Here it is.

For those of you who can't read Dad's handwriting, it says

Hi, everyone,

We are having a wonderful time and are glad you're not here. Yesterday we all went swimming at the beach. We had to leave early, though, because "you know who" was killed by a shark. But we won't let a little thing like that ruin our vacation.

This guy on the card came up to us waving his dong. But this is considered hospitality by the locals. After about 2 hours of it we told him to leave, though.

See you soon,

All of us

So, if in 1989 your last name was Gillin, Scott, Alperstein, or Glantz, and you lived at that address, OR if you were their friends who returned home and were shocked that someone had actually filled out and mailed your postcard...

Now you know. It was my Dad.

And I still think that was brilliant.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hawaiian vacation, day 4

Before we start today's adventures, I have an announcement. 

Dr. Fizzy is having a medical humor writing contest. Since this will require judges, she wanted someone witty, intelligent, clever, objective, and talented to assist her. Anyway, that person wasn't available, so she settled for me.

More information is available here. As a judge, I pledge that I will not be swayed by monetary bribery (a case of Diet Coke, however, can't hurt your cause).

And now, back to the vacation.

Today we drove up Haleakala.

For those of you who don't know, this is the center volcanic crater on Maui, dormant for a few hundred years. It involves a stunning drive taking you from sea level to > 10,000 feet over a few hours.

I should mention a thought about height here. Mount Everest, at 29,000 feet, gets all the press as the world's tallest mountain... when measuring height above sea level. BUT if you use the definition of distance from a mountain's base to it's summit... Everest is pissy at 17,100 feet. By that standard the tallest mountains on Earth are in Hawaii. Mauna Kea, for example, dwarfs the Himalayan molehill at 33,500 feet (nearly twice it's size), as do Mauna Loa and Haleakala. For that matter, so does Mount McKinley, in Alaska, and Chimborazo, in Ecuador. The last is actually farther from the Earth's center than any other mountain on Earth due to the planet's equatorial bulge. And, if you want to get real picky, Mount Rheasilvia is the tallest mountain known, at 80,000 feet high. But it's on the asteroid Vesta, 156 million miles away, so don't start packing your climbing gear.

Keep your #2 pencils handy, we'll have a quiz on that later.

Anyway, this is a remarkable place. I've been to Maui many times, but always make the drive to the Haleakala summit. There are plants and animals here seen nowhere else on Earth, and limited to just a few acres at the top. A wingless species of moth. The Rock Pelea plant, known only from a few isolated patches on the slopes. And, my favorite, the Silversword.

This endangered plant is a distant cousin of the daisy and lives only on this mountain. It's silver, which is pretty cool for a plant. It only flowers once every 40-50 years, then dies. But the neat thing is that's why it's silver. At this altitude, it's too cold for its flowers to bloom, so the plant's curved leaves actually act as a parabolic mirror to focus light on the developing buds, to keep them warm. This is not your ordinary daisy.

They used to have bike rides from the top. Tourists would be taken up to the top in the wee hours, watch the sunrise from an incredible viewpoint, then ride downhill back to sea level on mountain bikes. This resulted in the narrow roads being congested with packs of people in rain ponchos and helmets, being followed by a slow-moving equipment truck rolling down steep switchbacks with it's hazard lights blinking and brakes smoking.

Obviously, this wasn't a good combination, but it took until 2010 that enough serious accidents had occurred for the park to realize this should stop. So now they can only start riding down from considerably lower on the mountain, before it gets too narrow. I personally disagree with this. I think anyone who wants to ride a bike from the summit to sea level should be allowed to... provided they were also able to ride the same bike from sea level to the summit on the same day (no, Mr. Armstrong, steroids aren't allowed). Granted, this would likely overwhelm Maui's meager medical facilities.

During the drive up you encounter this sign. It's been there as long as I can remember traveling to Hawaii, and, in my opinion, may be the best road sign in America. Possibly the world.

You see, at this point the road curves around to the right. Just to the left side of the road is a clearly-seen sheer drop of several thousand feet, and no guard rail. This generally dissuades people from, say, driving over it intentionally.

But, to be safe, they put up a "No Left Turns" sign to make the point. Perhaps, at the bottom of the cliff, they have a traffic cop writing tickets for those who just disobeyed and went over.

"Didn't you see the sign up there, sir? Sir?"

When you finally get to the top, the view is truly amazing. On a clear day you can actually see mountains on the other islands. On a cloudy day you can see... well... clouds. Because you're above them, looking down. But they move quickly, so between them you'll still get a pretty spectacular view of the unearthly landscape.

It can be very windy up here. Craig (like any good Boy Scout), was prepared with a brush, comb, and gel.

Pro tip: stop to use the bathroom at the first ranger station you come to, NOT the one at the summit. Why? Because there isn't one. Due to difficulty getting water to the summit, there isn't a public one at the top. And peeing on a silversword is frowned up.

At one ranger station they have a truly remarkable, rare, endangered finding. A species that was once plentiful, but now vanishing rapidly. It will likely be completely extinct in my lifetime, so I took a picture to show my grandkids someday:

"Dad says they used quarters to make it work. He's so FOS."

For all I know, this is the last one left on Earth. Which means that, if you're Clark Kent, you have to get from Metropolis to Haleakala just to change clothes.

Then you get to drive back down, and hope you don't ruin your rental car's brakes or mow down a terrified guy from Milwaukee on an out-of-control bicycle who never wanted to do this but his wife made him.

"I ran him over on Haleakala. It's a local tradition to keep the head."

You'll be hungry, so I recommend the Costco for lunch in nearby Kahului. Then you can stock up on more beer and Diet Coke, since, like me, you need one or (more likely) both to deal with 3 teenagers.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hawaiian vacation, day 3

Due to requests that I re-start my vacation series, I now present my summary of our trip to the islands. For those who haven't read my past vacation archives, they can be found here.

We had a pretty spectacular view of the ocean, overlooking the island of Lanai in the distance:

Nice, huh? I sat out there a lot, drinking beer & mai-tais and reading CME. Doing work-related stuff isn't so bad when ETOH and a great view are in the mix.

Watching birds all over the balcony (they're on the lookout for PBJ crumbs) gives you pause to realize that these are the last of the therapods - the biological line that once included the mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex. Sue must be spinning in her display case to see her descendents trying to steal french fries.

The view is interesting. The town of Lahaina is known primarily for its history as a major whaling center, but forgotten in there is more modern stuff.

The view above, toward the island of Lanai, is over a body of water called Lahaina Roads. This is actually one of the world's best sheltered deep water anchorages, surrounded by 4 islands (Maui, Molokai, Lanai, and Kahoolawe). In the years prior to, and during, World War II, the U.S. navy used it as a back-up base to Pearl Harbor. Ships that needed repairs or supplies went to Pearl, while those that were ready and just awaiting orders anchored in Lahaina Roads.

This was such a common practice that, during the Pearl Harbor attack, Japanese planes and a submarine scouted Lahaina Roads to see if there were any major American ships there, so they could redirect a squadron to attack them, too. There weren't any that morning (purely by chance) which was lucky for the Americans. Lahaina Roads is a few hundred feet deep, and ships sunk there would have been beyond recovery, while at Pearl Harbor most were raised and repaired.

Here's some pics of the same view, 70-80 years ago.

Cruisers, destroyers, and the carriers Wasp, Saratoga, and Lexington

U.S.S. Lexington

Lexington, 3 battleships, and some freighters

Lexington & Saratoga at center, 5 battleships at right, scattered cruisers & destroyers

I look out over it, and imagine the same view in early 1944, when carriers were stopped there on the way from the west coast to the front, and imagine this peaceful sea completely filled with warships being prepared for battle.

Hard to believe.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Hawaiian vacation, day 2

Due to requests that I re-start my vacation series, I now present my summary of our trip to the islands. For those who haven't read my past vacation archives, they can be found here.

So we got to our condo. It was tastefully decorated, with this lovely piece of art being the first thing you see on walking in:

Nothing really says "welcome to Hawaii" like a papier-mâché parrot in a faux-bamboo cage hanging from the ceiling (parrots aren't even native here. But, then again, neither are pineapples*). The kids immediately adopted it as their pet, since Mello and Snowball were back home. Craig, for reasons known only to him, named it Cassandra, and all 3 of them spoke to it frequently for the next 2 weeks. Cassandra, for her part, spent the entire time pining for the fjords.

Our bedroom had a similarly psittacine theme, with the night table lamps being equally tasteful:

"Say goodnight, Polly"

I can only assume the person who decorated our condo is a bird lover (or Jimmy Buffett fan), and not the owner of a pick-up truck we walked past.

Chicken choking, on the other hand, IS a crime. At least in some states.

Driving around the area we passed a nearby ABC store. For those who have never been to Hawaii, this is the universal corner store here, selling typical convenience store stuff, $5 T-shirts, and assorted tourist tchotchke. This one also had a couple gas pumps outside... But what really caught my eye was the large banner in front that said "Prime Rib Special, $11.99 Sunday and Thursday." While convenience stores are ubiquitous across North America, this is the first time I'd ever seen one advertising that.

Later in the afternoon we went to get snorkel gear for the trip, and I texted my Mom to see if she wanted to come with. She wasn't able to, as she was apparently fascinated by all the modern technological marvels found in her condo.

And that's the way it is.

*Really. They aren't. They're originally from the Brazil-Paraguay border region in South America.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Hawaiian vacation, day 1

Due to requests that I re-start my vacation series, I now present my summary of our trip to the islands. For those who haven't read my past vacation archives, they can be found here.

Our trip got off to a wild start with Craig.

Craig HATES flying. In the days leading up to the trip he became increasingly worked-up about going, and convinced himself that we were going to have a horrible time (no, he's never been to Hawaii before).

This reached a comical highlight the night before we left. Mrs. Grumpy sent me to get some extra socks for the kids, and so I went to his room. He was on the phone with a teen-crisis hotline, hysterical about going on the family vacation.

One can only imagine the thoughts going through the mind of the crisis volunteer on the other end. I imagine all the issues she'd heard that day:

"My stepfather is sexually abusing me."

"Mom won't stop drinking, and my Dad left us."

"My parents are taking me to Hawaii."

By nature of this job I'm pretty good at keeping a straight face. But I likely would have had to mute the line if I were the one dealing with Craig's call.

Of course, once we got to the airport he was fine, worried only about his hair.

Mrs. Grumpy and my mom took the kids to the overpriced McD's for breakfast, and I sat down at the gate to get some work done. I try to ignore others at airports and on planes. Don't talk to me, I won't talk to you, and we'll be fine.

Unfortunately, many disagree with this view. No sooner had I sat down and started work on some CME than a lady plopped down next to me, tapped me on the shoulder, and screamed "Can you believe this is all the hummus they give you for $8?"

I looked at the styrofoam container she was waving around, and tried to discourage her by saying "mmmph" and turning back to my reading.  That only led her to believe I was deaf, mute, or both. So she stuck the thing under my nose and said "SERIOUSLY!!! THIS WAS $8! ISN'T THAT AN OUTRAGE?"

Failing to get my attention, she moved to a guy in a business suit, who pretended to be on a phone call. Then she went over to bug some family, who told her to go complain at the food place. She then left the gate area, making me wonder if the whole thing was a TSA test of some sort.

A few minutes elapsed. Then a guy in a business suit sat down on my other side, whipped out a phone, and immediately began talking loudly into it with phrases like "Did you talk to the senator?", "I have meetings with senators all week. This is a MAJOR national issue," and "You need to realize how much money is involved at this level. It's very serious." He kept this up until he realized no one around was staring at him, so he left the gate, too. Hopefully someone catches him and re-starts his medication.

Mercifully, Mrs. Grumpy and the kids returned, scaring off other attention-seekers with some I'm more familiar with.

Our flight was delayed because an overhead bin had a faulty lock, and wouldn't stay closed. We watched as 2-3 different techs got on the plane, tried to fix it, got out a greasy maintenance book, argued about which screw was the problem, and then finally left to find a different type of screwdriver. While they were off the plane some guy in a "Binford Tools" t-shirt got out of his seat, slammed it closed, and punched the lock with his bare hand. When the tech guys came back it was working fine, and we got to take off.

At one point during the flight Craig got up to go brush his hair in the bathroom, so I went to to get something out of my carry-on. I noticed this suitcase in the bin. I'm not sure if the suitcase is inoperable, or the medical equipment, or both. And if the medical equipment is inoperable, why is it being flown around? Or even left on the plane, for that matter?

While I didn't bother with the in-flight entertainment, I did look up at one point to see an excerpt from a television show with 3 guys pairing beers with different varieties of Rocky Mountain Oysters. I guess it beats combining them into 1 beverage.

The best part about the Maui airport is that even the restroom signs are on vacation:

Because, if there's anything more relaxing than a laid-back bathroom stick-figure, I don't know what it is.

Kahului airport here is conveniently located next to a Costco. This, I suspect, is probably the busiest Costco in the world, as it's constantly packed with people who just got off planes and are there to stock up on Diet Coke, bagels, beer, and other essential vitamins & minerals. And, of course, to have lunch after your flight. Because the lady bitching about hummus at the airport has nothing on the people who just shelled out $9.50 for a bag of nuts during the flight.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Thursday afternoon

"I have headaches all the time. Even when I don't have a headache, I know I'm secretly having one."

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Skool Nerse time

This is Mrs. Grumpy.

School is starting soon, and, as your school nurse, I'd like to offer some tips to help make this a better year for all of us.

1. I'm happy to handle your child's medications. That's part of what I do. Please be sure to bring them in with useful instructions. DO NOT drop them off outside my office door after I've left, or hang them in a grocery bag on the school's front gate overnight. Have you people seen the kind of neighborhood Douglas C. Kenney Elementary school is in? Billy's bottle of Adderall is worth a lot of money here, and likely made some junkie very happy. Can't imagine how you explained that to your pediatrician.

2. Where it says "Allergies" on the form, writing "yes," "sometimes," or "depends" doesn't give me much useful information. Please be sure to include details, like what Sara is allergic to (unless she really is allergic to Depends).

3. Writing movies you don't want your kids seeing is not what the forms are for. Talk to the teacher. I understand, as I'm sick of the music from "Frozen," too, but I'm not the person who deals with this.

4. Some of your kids know my kids. Fine. As a result, they know my kid's cell phone numbers. That's fine, too. BUT my kids are NOT a reliable way to pass messages to me in my capacity as the school nurse. Hell, they aren't a reliable way to pass messages AT ALL. Having your kid text my kid something like "Lacey has a fever of 104 and rash, can she still come to school?" or "Please have Phil in your office at 8:15 so I can take him to the dentist" should not be relayed through my kids. Stop it. I have a direct line and emails. They're on the school's website.

5. Calling the above number is not going to get you an appointment with my husband. Depending on how badly you piss me off when trying, the opposite might occur.

6. Although I said this before, I need to emphasize it. DO NOT claim to be part of Jenny McCarthy's Army just because you're too damn lazy to get me your kids vaccination records. If as many of you were anti-vaccine as claim to be, you wouldn't be alive.

7. On the form where it asks who's allowed to pick up your kids "anyone I send" is not an acceptable answer.

8. Writing "Do not allow wasps or bees to sting Evan" will not prevent them from doing so. Please address such requests to the Apocritae. I will only show it around the office, and we will laugh at you.

9. I keep "emergency" clothes up here for accidents. This is not the charity shopping mall. Do not send your kids in to "see if there's anything good."

10. No matter what you put on the form, there is absolutely no medical reason for a 7 year old to be carrying a cigarette lighter to school. Don't argue with me.

Thank you! Everyone have a great year!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


Dr. Grumpy: "So, how are you doing with the new medication?"

Mr. Noventa: "It's awful! It isn't helping my symptoms, and hurts my stomach. It also makes me sleepy all the time, I can't concentrate, and I think it's thinning my hair."

Dr. Grumpy: "Okay, then why don't you stop it, and we'll try switching you to..."

Mr. Noventa: "I'd rather continue it, because I just bought a 90 day supply."

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Mary: "Dr. Grumpy's office, this is Mary."

Mr. Cheech: "Hi, I need to make an appointment with Dr. Grumpy."

Mary: "Okay, we can see you on..."

Mr. Cheech: "I don't have insurance. Does he accept other forms of payment?"

Mary: "Well, we take MasterCard, Visa, AMEX..."

Mr. Cheech: "No, I mean, like, in trade? I grow pot in my shed, and can give you some buds."

Mary: "No, we don't accept payment of that sort."

Mr. Cheech: "It's really high quality, organic. I don't use pesticides or any of that shit."

Monday, August 18, 2014


Dear Mrs. Patient,

I'm glad you're feeling better. It was nice of you to send me a thank you card. I actually treasure notes like yours, and keep them in (as my friend Amanda Brown calls it) the "I don't suck box." On really bad days I read stuff from it for solace, and to reassure myself that I really am doing my best, and some people appreciate that.

BUT I must admit, none of the notes I've previously received, in 15 years of doing this, came on a card with a picture quite like yours:

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Run, Run, Away

All right, gang. With only a few weeks left before the kids head back to school, it's time for the annual Grumpy family Summer vacation. So we're loading up the minivan and adding pontoons for a 5000 mile drive.

I may post infrequently over the next 2 weeks, as time allows, but will return to my regular schedule in 2 weeks.

Friday, August 1, 2014


Dr. Grumpy: "Any other major health issues?"

Mr. Durante: "I sneeze once a day, sometimes twice."
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