Category Archives: humor

THE WHISPERING ROOM Review

(My wife, Mary Hathaway, was given a free e advanced reader copy of THE WHISPERING ROOM, by Dean Koontz, but due to health and other issues, she could not finish the novel until now.  This is written from her point of view and shared on Amazon as well. The links go to Amazon, but we are NOT getting any money for it.  You can find the books elsewhere and even some are free for download.  They just enrich the meaning if you have read them.)

Many read Dean Koontz for his horror and suspense. I read him because he makes me laugh, brings me hope in our very fallen world, and his plot twists and character development serve as an amazing examination of conscience, one that usually leaves me squirming and landing on my knees in repentance. The higher, anagogical meaning is what I look for and am never disappointed.

In her essay “The Nature and Aim of Fiction,” found in the collection, Mystery and Manners, Flannery O’Connor writes, “I think the way to read a book is always to see what happens, but in a good novel, more always happens than we are able to take in at once, more happens than meets the eye. The mind is led on by what it sees into the greater depths that the book’s symbols naturally suggest. This is what is meant when critics say that a novel operates on several levels. The truer the symbol, the deeper it leads you, the more meaning it opens up.”

O’Connor could have been predicting the work of one of her biggest fans, Dean Koontz, in this essay. He may be known as the “Master of Suspense,” and aptly so, but it’s his use of symbols and their anagogical meaning that has me pondering his works long after I finish them and brings me back to them again. The “suspense” of what happens after earthly life is what he wants his readers to consider and I do, with every novel of his I have read.

THE WHISPERING ROOM, the second novel in what is promised to be a 7-book series features the intrepid and determined Jane Hawk, a rogue FBI agent on the run, investigating a series of deaths while attempting to guard herself and those she loves against the unseen enemies. Having been startled, enthralled and moved to tears by the end of THE SILENT CORNER, the first book in the series, I was anxious to see where Mrs. Hawk would land next in her quest to bring justice for her husband and safety for her son and others imperiled by “them.”

While THE SILENT CORNER is meticulously crafted to introduce the Jane Hawk universe, THE WHISPERING ROOM immediately draws the reader into an intimate scene of the slowly unveiling iniquitous underground. The pace is fast and the mood sinister. Jane’s quest for justice introduces her to some of the most foul and disgusting people one can imagine, as well as some of the bravest and kind. One’s conscience is pricked and left mourning for evil and its web in which we are all entangled. Its end left me puzzling and wondering where Jane was headed next in the quest for justice, an answer that is coming in May 2018, in THE CROOKED STAIRCASE. If you have not read The Silent Corner: A Novel of Suspense yet, I strongly recommend reading it first and then reading the sequel, THE WHISPERING ROOM.

I also suggest reading T.S. Eliot’s Collected Poems, 1909-1962 or read this excellent analysis of “The Hollow Men,”  as well as reading Flannery O’Connor’s The Complete Stories (FSG Classics). A look at CS Lewis and his book The Four Loves will also provide more insight into the deeper meaning of the fantastic Jane Hawk series and the other works of Dean Koontz.

In closing, I would strongly recommend reading a novel by his apprentice of sorts, Frank RedmanELIJAH: A Suspense Novel and reading Redman’s publisher web site for his Koontz story.   Redman’s influence on Koontz’s writing and his life cannot be exaggerated, as once again, Redman’s integrity, bravery, faith, and health battle are featured in the Jane Hawk series, hidden in the characters’ names, words and actions, just as he served as the inspiration for ASHLEY BELL.

Like most adults, my spare time is limited, so I can cover all my reading needs in one of Koontz’s amazing novels– a spiritual work, a fantastic suspense, a deep romance, a political critique, a futuristic sci-fi thriller, and an examination of conscience, all in one incredible work of art.

quote from THE FOUR LOVES

“Humankind cannot bear very much reality” Frank Redman’s ELIJAH

I don’t know exactly where to begin this review, which angle to take. I’m reeling. My wife and teenager have been commending Frank Redman‘s  ELIJAH: A SUSPENSE NOVEL to me for weeks now, and I finally read it. In short, I can say it was amazing, entertaining, chilling, and a punch in the gut in ways for which I was not prepared.  Apparently, I am not alone in this regard.  My wife remarked to me that with the internet’s instant access to so much information, when one writes about a book, a review is not sufficient.  Rather, an encounter would better describe it, where one meets the author, reads the background and influences, and embraces the story and its characters.  It certainly is true for our experience with Frank Redman and ELIJAH.

Frank Redman is a brand new author, whose own journey in the writing profession sounds like something out of a movie.  It’s his debut book, so I was thinking it might be something like early C.S. Lewis with a few twists in the manner of Dean Koontz, but it’s that and more.

By the time I got to the end of ELIJAH, I’d say it’s better than the early C.S. Lewis. This story has the mystique, chilling suspense, and humor of a Christian “Twin Peaks” or a more tightly written THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH.   It takes you into levels of evil that many of us would rather not know at all, but far too many people actually live through. Many writers depict such evil and either glorify it or give it a worldly punishment, but few provide a sense of hope that there is something better, that victims can still find happiness and holiness. Frank Redman is one of those few writers, and ELIJAH  is a book with a message that needs to be read.

St. Augustine says a work of perfect logic may be true but if it’s boring to read, it won’t do any good, and people are more willing to read and believe something that’s eloquent. The same is true of literature and movies: it doesn’t matter how true it is or how artistically “well crafted” it is. If it doesn’t draw people in, nobody will read it. HAMLET may have psychological and moral depth, but it’s basically a story about murder, ghosts and revenge.   ELIJAH has it all.  It immediately drew me in with the supernatural and suspense, has great depth in the character’s dealings with his horrid past, as well as fantastically funny insights with well-crafted characters who open your eyes to the devastating horrors that are hidden in daily life.   The reality of evil is tangible, but it’s tempered with hope and perseverance.


At times, the story of an author can sometimes be as compelling as the book the author wrote. This can be an advantage in attracting readers, as it is what led us to Frank Redman and ELIJAH. My wife and I both became Dean Koontz fans a little over a year ago. She noticed that Koontz has referred a few times to his friend Frank Redman (he dedicated SAINT ODD to him and said Frank’s struggle with brain cancer inspired ASHLEY BELL).

This book is dedicated to Frank Redman, who has more than once reminded me of Odd Thomas

Through a series of events that I’ll leave Frank Redman to tell, he began a mentorship with Dean Koontz.  Koontz had read some of his writing, saw potential, and agreed to mentor Frank. Then, on the same day that I had my descending aorta surgery, Frank was diagnosed with an extremely rare and extremely lethal brain cancer–most people diagnosed with it are only diagnosed with it posthumously, and if they are diagnosed while alive, they die in days or weeks. Frank is still alive nearly 4 years later.  So, with a sense of urgency, I set aside the few dozen “in progress” books I’ve been working on reading for years to read ELIJAH, reading late into the night, and enjoying it more and more with each swipe of the screen.


People don’t want to acknowledge the reality or enormity of Evil in the world.  It’s often hidden, and when it’s revealed, it can be nauseating, horrifying, and seemingly unfathomable.  The desire to stick one’s head in the sand is understandable, but unadvised.  Even less do people want to acknowledge the reality and enormity of God’s grace.  Redman’s ELIJAH addresses both supernatural phenomenon and their implications in our reality, in an engaging, fast-paced, thriller that will leave you reeling and pondering for weeks.

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TF movie voice actors mashup

I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time.  I often imagine the characters being dubbed by lines from their other famous roles, or else see the Transformers talking when I hear them in other shows or movies, between  live action stars (e.g., Robert Stack of Unsolved Mysteries, Lionel Stander of Hart to Hart, Judd Nelson of Breakfast Club, Orson Wells of Citizen Kane, Leonard Nimoy of Star Trek) or the prolific and easily recognized voice actors like Frank Welker (always Fred on Scooby-Doo  and Scooby himself since the death of Don Messick), Peter Cullen (Eeyore and many other Disney roles, not to mention TF’s direct competitors Gobots and Voltron), Scatman Crothers (Hong Kong Phooey), Casey Kasem (Shaggy), Susan Blu (the caller on Magic School Bus and many other roles) etc.  If I had the time to waste, I’d redub the movie, but here instead are some clips with quotes or paraphrases as captions).

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[On seeing Unicron] Cliffjumper: “Zoinks!” Jazz: “Let me check my _Hong Kong Book of Kung Fu!_”

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“Thanks for rememberin’ me!”

 

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“I have an idea, gang.  Let’s split up and look for clues!”

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“Scooby Dooby Dooo!”

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“COBRAAA!”

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“Perhaps *you* can help stop a Decepticon!”

 

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“Hello? Is this the Magic School Bus?  I  don’t think this episode is very accurate.”

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“From days of long ago, from uncharted regions of the universe, comes a legend: the legend of Voltron, Defender of the Universe!”

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“Does Barry Manilow know you raid his wardrobe?”

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“I have been, and always shall be, your enemy!  Live long and prosper, not!”


 

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Kup: “This is my Boss, Rodimus Prime: Self-Made Autobot Leader.  He’s quite a guy!”

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“Rosebud?”

 

I just don’t know what “I believe in” anymore

Growing up, it was tough enough keeping straight the Nicene Creed (1971 translation):

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,
begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven:
[bow during the next two lines:]
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered, died, and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

and Apostles Creed:

I believe in God,
the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into hell [or “the dead”];
on the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
{from there [thence?]} he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting. Amen.

Then I tried to learn the Nicene Creed in Latin:

Credo in unum Deum,
Patrem omnipoténtem,
Factórem cæli et terræ,
Visibílium ómnium et invisibílium.
Et in unum Dóminum Iesum Christum,
Fílium Dei Unigénitum,
Et ex Patre natum ante ómnia sæcula.
Deum de Deo, lumen de lúmine, Deum verum de Deo vero,
Génitum, non factum, consubstantiálem Patri:
Per quem ómnia facta sunt.
Qui propter nos hómines et propter nostram salútem
Descéndit de cælis.
Et incarnátus est de Spíritu Sancto
Ex María Vírgine, et homo factus est.
Crucifíxus étiam pro nobis sub Póntio Piláto;
Passus, et sepúltus est,
Et resurréxit tértia die, secúndum Scriptúras,
Et ascéndit in cælum, sedet ad déxteram Patris.
Et íterum ventúrus est cum glória,
Iudicáre vivos et mórtuos,
Cuius regni non erit finis.
Et in Spíritum Sanctum, Dóminum et vivificántem:
Qui ex Patre Filióque procédit.
Qui cum Patre et Fílio simul adorátur et conglorificátur:
Qui locútus est per prophétas.
Et unam, sanctam, cathólicam et apostólicam Ecclésiam.
Confíteor unum baptísma in remissiónem peccatorum.
Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum,
Et vitam ventúri sæculi. Amen.

I was still getting that memorized when the translation of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal (aka the “new” translation) came out:

I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets. I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.

 
Then, more recently, we’ve been periodically attending an Anglican Use Mass, which has this translation:

I believe in one God,
the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
and of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only-begotten Son of God,
begotten of his Father before all worlds,
God of God, Light of Light,
very God of very God,
begotten, not made,
being of one substance with the Father;
by whom all things were made;
who for us men and for our salvation
came down from heaven,
Genuflect
and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary,
and was made man;
Stand
and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried;
and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures,
and ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;
and he shall come again, with glory,
to judge both the quick and the dead;
whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost the Lord, and Giver of Life,
who proceedeth from the Father and the Son;
who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped
and glorified;
who spake by the Prophets.
And I believe one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church;
I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins;
and I look for the resurrection of the dead,
 and the life of the world to come. Amen.

However, we’re now regularly attending the Melkite Divine Liturgy:

I believe in one God, Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven
and earth and of all things visible and invisible. And in
one Lord Jesus Christ, the OnlyVBegotten Son of God,
begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of Light, true
God of true God, begotten, not made, of one essence with
the Father, by whom all things were made. Who, for us
men and for our salvation, came down from Heaven, and
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and
became man. He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate,
suffered, and was buried. He rose again on the third day in
accordance with the Scriptures, ascended into Heaven, and
is enthroned at the right hand of the Father. He will come
again with glory to judge the living and the dead and of
His Kingdom there shall be no end.
And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who
proceeds from the Father, who together with the Father
and the Son is worshipped and glorified, who spoke
through the prophets. And in one, holy, catholic, and
apostolic Church. I profess one baptism for the remission
of sins. I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and
the life of the world to come. Amen.

Then, every now and then in personal devotion I pray the Creed of Paul VI or the Athanasian Creed.
But the moral of the story is that, while standardization of words (and language) is a strong symbol of the unity of the Faith and of the One Liturgy, it also helps sometimes to not take words for granted because we have them memorized.

On Cameras, Selfies, and my Grandpa

There is a growing “meme” (in the original sense of the neologism) that the ubiquity of cameras in the past decade or so has, like every other complaint about recent technology, “ruined us.”

All this technology is making us antisocial: we read tablets instead of newspapers.

“You just sit there staring at that book all the time.”

Then there’s this  one:

If the world were ending, people would probably take pictures with their camera phones

Except that should be Jesus, not a meteor.

Just as the original “selfie” was taken in 1839, people taking photographs “instead of intervening” in various crises long predates smart phones.  Indeed, it’s the basis of photojournalism.  The main difference between “now” and “then” is that Peter Parker and Jimmy Olsen’s careers are now fairly obsolete, as more news agencies get their “on the scene” photos and videos from average people.

My Grandpa Hathaway had a bad hip.  He walked, when he did, with a cane for as long as I knew him, and most of the time he sat.  He was already about 70 when I was born, and my understanding was that he was disabled long before that.  I still remember listening on the extension when Grandma called in February 1988 and said, to my dad, “Your father has a touch of cancer.”

Devastated by the diagnosis, Grandpa stopped even making the journey from his first floor bedroom to his basement rec room.  However much was health and however much was depression, he stayed in bed and occasionally went out to the living room.  We had moved to South Carolina the year before, and my grandparents spent 2 months at our house while we finished up the school year in Pennsylvania.  They enjoyed their time, and when we came up to visit for spring break, my parents invited them to come spend a few more months.

We all drove down in two cars, my aunt Barbara accompanying us for the trip.

When we arrived in Sumter, Grandpa’s “routine” stayed about the same, only now he got up in the morning and sat on the lounge chair in the screened patio.

Until, after a few days, my Mom was cleaning the pool and tripped.  Suddenly, the invalid came to life.  He started laughing, “Ho! Ho!  Nancy fell in the pool!  I need to get my camera!”  He jumped up out of the lounge chair, ran into the house, through the living room and into his room and got the camera.  Mom said it was worth it to get him out of bed.

Times really haven’t changed all that much.

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On a lighter side

The other day, the Facebook Page “Dallas Fanzine” posted the following photo of the casts of the four Lorimar TV series in production 1978-1979.  From stage right, they are: Dallas (minus Jim Davis, for some reason), Eight is EnoughThe Waltons and a short-lived series called Married: the First Year.Someone made the comment that, somewhere, in a parallel universe, Dallas  was an unsuccessful 1978 miniseries, and people are watching Married: the 35th Year on TNT.

“Why so Serious?” (or Sarcastic)?

People online, often myself included, can be rather uptight. I discovered tonight that it’s been months since I checked my GMail, and after deleting a bunch of mailing lists I never read, I went through old Disqus notifications, and found a response to a question I asked. Someone had made what was apparently a wise-crack, which I (I’ll admit) took seriously but asked a perfectly innocent question to clarify a term. “I lean towards Montanism,” and I asked what he meant by “Montanism,” since people confuse “Montanism” with “Ultra-Montanism,” and he replied the former, but that he was being facetious,” which would have been a sufficient reply, but then he went on. It’s like people always assume the worst intent with a comment.

Sometimes a question is just a question, and sometimes a joke is just a joke. Things don’t always have to have deeper meanings and ulterior motives.

Would you be my martyr?

Seasonal things you can expect in the Catholic online world:
1) “Real meaning of Christmas”
2) “Real meaning of Easter”
3) “Real meaning of Halloween”
4) “Real meaning St. Nicholas,” etc.
Including
The cool thing about Catholicism is that this is not the paradox it first seems.
There are many reasons given for the connection between St. Valentine and love.  One is supposedly the letters he wrote from prison (then why not Ignatios of Antioch or another of the Fathers?)  Another is that supposedly he wrote specifically about marriage (again).  Then there is the issue of *which* “St. Valentine” we’re talking about.  Supposedly, the first historical reference associating St. Valentine’s Day with “romance” is in Chaucer.
Regardless of the seemingly arbitrary association, we celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection by eating candy, so why not a Saint’s?  “The pain now is part of the happiness then,” as Joy Davidman says in _Shadowlands_ (forget if she actually said said that in real life).  To borrow from _VeggieTales_, the “hope of Easter” allows us to see the joy and humor in death. 
[54] And when this mortal hath put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. [55] O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” (1 Cor 15:54-55, Douay).
If you can’t joke about something as silly and trivial as death, what *can* you joke about?
The paradox was best phrased by a cartoon I saw today that said, “Will you be my Christian martyr? Now you see why I find this holiday confusing.”
Actually, it shouldn’t be.  Christian love is supposed to be about martyrdom.

Love is supposed to be about self-sacrifice.  Gifts we give in love are symbolic of the greater sacrifices we are supposed to make for others.

Tips for serving at the altar

We were talking with the kids over dinner about the question of serving at the altar.  I recounted my top lessons/anecdotes from my brief time as an altar boy:

1. Put the cruets on the table:
The very first time I served, with little training, Father whispered, after I brought him the cruets, “You can put them down now, John.”
I did.
On the floor.

2. Try not to set the church on fire.
I’m pretty sure the first time I was asked to put the candles out, I nearly knocked them over with the little snuffer things.
I definitely recall the first time I was asked to *light* the candles and explained that I didn’t know how to light a match.

3. Remember to breathe.
Father said, “When we get back to the vestibule, stand there and don’t move until I say so.”
So I did.
I stood there as perfectly still as I could. After about 20 minutes, Father said to my dad, “I think John’s catatonic!”

Part 2: Reflections on The Memorial of St. Wenceslas

I realized that yesterday was the feast of St. Wenceslaus. When my Dad played for daily Mass, the last three days in September were an opportunity to break out some Christmas music: “Good King Wenceslaus,” and then the angel songs for Michaelmas and the Guardian Angels. It’s become a tradition for one of us to call the other on September 28 and for us to sing it together. In 2011 and 2012, I didn’t quite have the energy to sing the duet, but we tried. This year, it didn’t happen. So, here it is:

Good King Wenceslas; click for a Youtube of the Irish Rovers rendition (happened to be my first hit on YouTube, and since my Dad likes them, it fit)

The hardest part of this last 6 months for me (Thursday having been the sixth mensiversary of my surgery–another day that went by in a blur) has been my inability to sing. Not only can I not carry a tune, but I can barely sustain a sentence speaking. I’ve already explained in my previous post why I opted not to get surgery, and even if I got it, I wouldn’t be able to sing.

I cry almost daily about it. I first mentioned it the day I “got my voice back” after my “temporary injection.” I was watching the 2004 _Phantom_ movie with the kids and couldn’t help but burst out with “Angel of Music,” only to croak like Carlotta in “Poor Fool He Makes Me Laugh.” I keep dreaming that suddenly I try and, even though I still can’t talk, I can sing like I did before.

Once in Fifth Grade, my friend’s father followed me to the car leaned down when my Mom rolled down the window, touched me on the shoulder, and said, “I know what happiness is! Teach this kid a new song!”

The late Laurie Beechman (1953-1998), Broadway’s longest-running Grizabella. Click here for an amateur recording of one of her performances. Everything comes to a halt when the audience applauds.

When I was in high school, and my great ambition was to return to St. Jude (now closed) as a teacher or principal, another friend, Jeff, my future best man, would joke that “twenty years from now” (which is now), I’d still be walking down the hall singing Andrew Lloyd Webber shows (all parts, all the way through), come into teacher’s lounge, and Mr. Z would still be sitting there, saying, “John, shut up!” Or the time his dad was preparing a sample interim for a demonstration of how to write them in the “new” gradebook software, and wrote, “John Hathaway is a terrible student. He’s in my Trig/Pre-Calc class. He sings in the halls, falls asleep in class, tells jokes, and has a 110 average.”

Side story: the latest I ever went into the pool was in mid-October (I think the 15th), when their family came over for dinner, and Jeff convinced me to go swimming. The next day, at lunch, a girl who graduated the year before sat at our table. We were talking about swimming the night before, and she said, “You were at his house?” (Our parents were friends through church and Cursillo). “Yeah, his mom and my mom are friends,” he said. “And my dad and his dad,” I replied. “And my dad and him,” Jeff retorted, referring to the amount of time his dad I and would spend talking about computers. A few years later, during my parents’ annual Christmas party, which had a particularly big guest list that year, Jeff went to get a regular cup from the cabinet instead of a disposable. His sister scolded him and said that was impolite: “That’s for family.” “But I’m like family, aren’t I, John?” he replied, and I validated. When Mary met Jeff, he asked her, “Do you like Barry Manilow?” She said, “I don’t know yet.” He said, “Well, you’re going to have to.”

Here Comes the Night (no link)

_Evita_ got me through the Clinton years, and Eva’s poignant prayer at the end of “Waltz for Eva and Che” has always been a catharsis for me: “Oh, what I’d give for a hundred years, but the physical interferes–every day more, O my creator! What is the good of the strongest heart in a body that’s falling apart? . . .”

Back in VA, when I’d see a sign for Dumfries, or Mary would talk about her friend who used to live in Carlisle, PA, or just being on the VRE or Metro, would evoke “Skimbleshanks.”

“They were sleeping all the while I was busy at Carlisle Where I met the stationmaster with elation! They might see me at Dumfries if I summoned the police If there was anything they ought to know about.”

Allie (who, after her most recent growth spurt and personality growth, is starting more to fit her full name, Alexandra) has always preferred Provolone. One time, I bought her some when we had gone to Wal-Mart for one specific reason, and she said, in the car, “Well, are you gonna sing it?” Whenever we’d pick some up at the grocery store, or go to Subway, I’d sing the verse from the Italian mouse in “There Are No Cats in America” from _An American Tail_:

“The Times were harrd in Sic-cily; we hada no provolonay! The Don, he wa-as a tabby wi-ith a taste for my brother Tony! When Mama went to pleada for him, the Don said he would see her. We found her Rosary on the ground. Poor Mama Mia! BUT–“

During our first two years here, when I was doing my gardening, I would see my sunflowers, think of “Like a sunflower, I yearn to turn my face to the dawn,” and start singing “Memory,” or just doing labor which always leads to “Look Down” or “It’s a Hard Knock Life,” and thus everything that follows. I’d sing “Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer” when I was in a joking mood about Josef & Clara’s mischief and bickering.

In the ICU and rehab, I kept playing songs in my head, like Peter Cetera’s “Glory of Love” or the Four Seasons’ “Working My Way Back to You.”

Now, I just keep thinking of the best song from _Love Never Dies_: “Till I Hear You Sing”

Love Never Dies

“Aunt Ma-ay! Phineas and Ferb are making a crossover!”

Disney Channel is mostly banned in our house, other than watching _Phineas and Ferb_ and the Marvel shows and a couple others On Demand, where the kids can fast forward through commercials, after the debacle about the _Good deLuck, Charlie_ episode featuring a lesbian “married” couple with a child, and depicting the father as a buffoon for apparently a) not realizing what lesbians are and b) not approving. It’s sad because I have really enjoyed that show, and I found it to be at least a relatively decent show compared to the other Disney “live action” comedies that promote bad behavior of various sorts: it’s always been more in the vein of an 80s or 90s family sitcom.
However, we watched the _Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel_ as it aired last night, and, other than the commercials, it didn’t disappoint. Hilarious from the beginning, in which Spider Man comes down over the title and whines, “Aunt May! Phineas and Ferb are making a crossover!” It features the voice actors from the current set of animated series (_Ultimate Spider-Man_, _Avengers Assemble_, and _Hulke and the Agents of SMASH_), though it’s set in the “world” of Phineas and Ferb (I assumed it was going to be some kind of parallel universe thing).

At the beginning, the title characters and their friends have already (by 10:30, it’s noted at one point, as the special follows the series’ running joke about doing everything in “one day”) built a space station and are surfing on asteroids (I guess tidal waves are passe). “Agent P” is also already in the process of thwarting Dr. Doofenshmirtz, who has developed a “Power Drain-inator” to take away his hated brother’s “special mayoral powers”:

I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but my brother, Roger, is the mayor. (Perry just gives him a look indicating that he was, in fact, aware of it.) Alright, I may have touched upon the subject from time to time, but, y’know, I figured why not mention it again just for clarity? Anyway, that job gives him all these cool mayoral powers. So I created the Power-Drain-inator to drain all his powers into this canister, and then I, Heinz Doofenshmirtz, get to wield them! Just think, I will have the power to raise taxes, pass legislation and even cut the ceremonial ribbon at openings

Meanwhile, in New York City, Spider-Man joins Hulk, Iron Man, and Thor as they battle Red Skull, MODOK, Whiplash and Venom. The ray from the exploded “Power-Drain-Inator” fires into space, hits the kids’ Space Station, and deflects to NYC, where it drains the superheroes’ powers. Back at SHIELD, Nick Fury has traced the beam back to Phineas and Ferb’s space station, and the space station (which looks like Phineas’s head) to them. As Spider-Man puts it, “Man, that kid’s got a weird-shaped head!”

Doofenshmirtz: Y’know, Norm, the Power-Drain-inator did get one shot off before it died. I wonder if it hit anything.
Gordon Gutsofanemu: (on television) Dateline: New York City. A mysterious ray has drained the power from four of our beloved superheroes. We now return you to Horse in a Bookcase, already in prog–
Doofenshmirtz: That was me! Th-Th-That was me! I drained the power from those superheroes! Winning! Ooh, ooh, I should update my evil blog on the L.O.V.E.M.U.F.F.I.N. site! (sits down at the computer and types) OMG!! I drained all the powers from a group of superheroes in New York , and those powers belong to me now! Happy Emoticon (Typed out as >:D >:D >:D) And send! Norm, let’s get the powers out of the canister so I can start wielding them! I-I can’t wait to fly and run fast and carry a big hammer around for no reason!
Norm: Uh, sir, I hate to be the bearer of empty canisters, but this canister is empty.
Doofenshmirtz: What?! So I don’t have the powers?
Norm: Time to blog a retraction, I guess.
Doofenshmirtz: Uh, y’know, I’m not gonna change it. Everyone exaggerates on the Internet.

Back in New York, Red Skull & co. try to trace the beam as well.
MODOK: I, MODOK, the perfect combination of human intellect and machine, have interfaced with all of the digital information stored on the vast network, the World Wide Web!
Whiplash: I can do the same thing with my phone. Plus I got free roaming!
Venom: Nice!
MODOK: As I was saying, I have found some puny inferior human known as Doofenshmirtz claiming that he has drained the heroes of all their superpowers.
Red Skull: Hmm, Doofenshmirtz. Zat sounds Drusselshteinian. I have a cousin who married a Drusselshteinian. She is dead to me!! So, who is zis Doofenshmirtz?
MODOK: I’m projecting his image now.
(Doof’s image appears.)
Red Skull: He is beautifully grotesque.
Whiplash: All hideous and deformed.
Venom: He must have some backstory.
Red Skull: Vere can we find zis sideshow freak?
MODOK: (showing an image of D.E.I.) He’s in the Tri-State Area, Danville to be precise!
Red Skull: Danville, eh? Gentlemen, it looks like we’re going on an evil road trip.
MODOK: Ooh, shotgun!
Red Skull: YOU DO NOT FIT IN ZE SHOTGUN POSITION!!!!

They arrive, and Red SKull introduces himself and the others to Doofenshmirtz. After a joke about Red Skull’s accent, in which he tries to say, “Show us your devices,” and no one understands him, Doof replies:

Oh, you want to see my inators! Man…Man, you’ve got quite an accent there! Alright, (walks up to an inator) here’s what I’m workin’ on now. Behold, the Slothinator! It will give me the powers of a sloth…which are super-slowness and super-leaf-eating.
Red Skull: (to MODOK) Are you sure zis is ze right guy?
MODOK: MODOK is infallible!
Red Skull: Then he must be toying with us. Playing us for fools! He is even more diabolical than we thought!

That brings us to the SHIELD/OWCA match-up:

Major Monogram: Have a seat, Agent P. (cut to reveal Monogram on an old black and white TV set) Due to the gravity of your mission today, the gentleman on the big screen will be addressing you (Wide shot to reveal Fury on the big screen) while I use this old TV monitor Carl found in the basement.
Carl: (offscreen) Sorry, sir, I couldn’t get the split-screen to work.
Major Monogram: Anyway, this is director Nick Fury of S-H-I-E-L-D.
Nick Fury: That’s S.H.I.E.L.D.! It’s an acronym.
Major Monogram: Oh, like “OWCA”.
Nick Fury: Yes, except it’s cool. Now, where is your agent, Major?
Major Monogram: He’s sitting right there.
Nick Fury: You mean behind the platypus?
Major Monogram: No, that’s Secret Agent Perry the Platypus.
Nick Fury: Is he some kind of super-platypus with super-platypus powers?
Major Monogram: (suddenly wearing an eyepatch) Uh…no.
Nick Fury: Does he have some kind of robotic platypus exoskeleton?
Major Monogram: He, uh, he has a fedora.
Nick Fury: Hey, wait a minute, were you wearing that eyepatch when we started?!
Major Monogram: Oh, this? Uh, yeah. It’s, uh, doctor’s orders. I have a stye.
Carl: (offscreen) He thinks it makes him look cool.
Major Monogram: No I don’t.
Nick Fury: I’m going to proceed as if this were going really well. Agent P, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Spider-Man have lost their superpowers to a mysterious power-siphoning ray, which we believe originated somewhere in the Danville area. We fear a group of supervillains are closing in. We need you to monitor the situation and report back. (Monogram is now wearing eyepatches on both eyes.) Francis, I’m gonna need you to—Now what are you doing?
Carl: (offscreen) He thinks two eyepatches make him look twice as cool.
Major Monogram: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
(Fury groans.)

(Cut to D.E.I.)
Doofenshmirtz: Welcome to my Hall of Inators. Ah, here’s a good one. This is my Oatmeal-to-Porridge-inator. I know. It’s a fine distinction. Don’t get me started. And here’s my Multi-Helio-Tactical-Baboon-Glom-inator. I-I-I think that one is self-explanatory. Oh, and, uh, here’s my Waffle-inator, and the Junk-Mail-inator…
Red Skull: I do not understand. Zees machines are useless. What is wrong wis zis man?
Whiplash: Maybe he is a misunderstood genius.
Red Skull: Or maybe he is a perfectly understood idiot.
Doofenshmirtz: And, finally, my Disintegrator-inator. Pretty impressive, huh?
Red Skull: Vere is ze machine zat took away the powers of the heroes?
Doofenshmirtz: Oh, my Power-Drain-inator! Ooh, that was a cool one! And it was…destroyed by my nemesis, Perry the Platypus. You just missed him.
Red Skull: Perry ze Platypus? Is he a super-soldier platypus?
Doofenshmirtz: No.
Venom: Was he bitten by a radioactive platypus?
Doofenshmirtz: No, he’s, uh, just a regular crime-fighting platypus.

As the villains team up, the Flynn-Fletcher kids and their friends escort the Avengers to SHED (Secret Hideout for Emergency Defects.”

Iron Man: I think we’re gonna need something a little…bigger.
Phineas: Oh, the rustic exterior’s a facade. Wait’ll you see the inside!
(They go inside S.H.E.D. to reveal it is much larger on the inside.)
Iron Man: Oh, man! You guys are good!
Ferb: Just a little British sci-fi technology.
Thor: Iron Man, looks like someone raided your armory.
Phineas: Oh, you like that, huh? This is The Beak Suit Mark 2. We’re still working on the waterproofing so we can’t take it out in the rain.
Iron Man: You know, Stark Industries offers summer internships.
Phineas: Thanks, but this summer’s pretty packed.
Iron Man: Apparently.

They learn where the villains are when an emergency news broadcast announces “Chaos at the Googolplex Mall! An evil entourage of three supervillains and what appears to be a pharmacist and a giant chicken egg with a face are bustin’ up the place somethin’ fierce!”

The episode continues with similar in-jokes to both franchises.
When Perry the Platypus appears in a costume he got from SHIELD, they try to figure out what or who this “masked beaver duck?” is.

Phineas: You know, he seemed vaguely familiar.
Spider-Man: Ya think that was Howard the Duck?
Iron Man: Time is of the essence. We’ve gotta—No, it wasn’t Howard the Duck!

Later, Candace accidentally sabotages an attempt to restore the heroes’ powers and turns Baljeet into a Hulk. Phineas kicks her out, and she walks out sadly to a tune parodying “The Lonely Man” from _The Incredible Hulk_ TV series.

Buford: I’ve always told her: Don’t ever make Phineas angry. You wouldn’t like it when he’s angry.

Buford later shows up as “Bear Boy,” an apparent parody of “Squirrel Girl.”
At another point, Nick Fury tells Agent P that: “the supervillains are holed up in downtown Danville in an oddly-shaped building with its own jingle.”
So, in the climactic scene, when they confront the villains again, Red Skull says the heroes are helpless against them, and Iron Man replies with a parody of Tony Stark’s famous trailer scene from _The Avengers_:

Iron Man: We have a Baljeet.
Hulkjeet: Hulkjeet.
Iron Man: Oh, my bad. Apparently he prefers to be known as “Hulkjeet”. (The Beak arrives.) And this thing.
The Beak: Bacaw!
Iron Man: If it’s a bird, it’s with us, too. (Agent P flies in) The flying duck with a beaver tail. We got him! (Waffles fall from the sky) But I gotta level with ya, I have no idea who’s shooting waffles.
(Cut to D.E.I. to reveal Doof firing waffles from his Waffle-inator.)

“I am the very model of a modern Major General . . . “

Here is “The PowerPoint rant that got a colonel fired”, which says, in part, that what Gilbert and Sullivan parodied in 1879 holds true today.
It is quite good, and Col. Lawrence Sellin ought to have a great career in writing and/or comedy. What he says of the Army is true of most organizations: endless meetings with no clear purpose other than to give jobs to managers and “consultants.”
It makes me think of so many quotations, like Krusty the Clown’s “aren’t ‘paradigm’ and ‘proactive’ just words that stupid people use to make themselves sound smart?” As Sellin puts it:

For headquarters staff, war consists largely of the endless tinkering with PowerPoint slides to conform with the idiosyncrasies of cognitively challenged generals in order to spoon-feed them information. Even one tiny flaw in a slide can halt a general’s thought processes as abruptly as a computer system’s blue screen of death.

The ability to brief well is, therefore, a critical skill. It is important to note that skill in briefing resides in how you say it. It doesn’t matter so much what you say or even if you are speaking Klingon.

I was once waiting in line at a fast food place and saw some management poster on the wall, to remember the five principles outlined in the acronym (I forget what it was, so we’ll just call it ACRON). The poster then had an acrostic of the acronym: each letter was the beginning of another acronym! So it really wasn’t “five simple principles”: it was more like 25, and they made about as much sense as Barney Fife’s “There are only two rules. Rule Number One: Obey all rules. Rule Number Two: see Rule Number One.” However, that at least made more sense than most of the “motivational” posters and PowerPoints I’ve seen. Usually, they’re too nonsensical to even remember.
PowerPoint is a powerful tool but is too often abused. To truly convey information, it must be detailed in a manner that makes it difficult to read or to add special effects to. Usually, when I’ve attended meetings that had what I found to be an effective PowerPoint, the information was also provided in hand-outs, and the PowerPoint was a guide, not the center of attention. When speakers focus on making fancy PowerPoints, they create the kind of unintelligible flow charts and acronyms I’ve already referred to. It’s like, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate, and hate leads to the Dark Side.” “But, Master Yoda, in your first appearance, one of your most famous lines was when Luke said, ‘I’m not afraid,’ and you said, ‘You will be.'”
A typical PowerPoint is something like: Charity -> Stewardship -> Compassion -> Love -> Sacrifice -> Charity.
Or, better yet, the “Greatest Presentation I have ever heard” scene from 30 Rock

(With apologies to all who, like me, are literally dumb or partially so),

Club or Cartel? Friends or Fiends? You Decide

Back in the 1980s, a popular culture phenomenon showed the dark underbelly of capitalism. Undernearth a shallow facade of big hair and shoulder pads, and amidst distractions about love affairs, family strife and divorce, it told the story of a ruthless cartel bent on crushing any and all competition, even amidst the members’ own internal rivalries.

The members of this cartel may have been all charm and sweetness in public, but they were secretly going around breaking legs and blackmailing to crush their enemies, and it’s far time someone exposed their nefarious schemes.

No, I’m not talking about these people

I’m talking about these people:

Babysitters’ Club?! HA! More like Babysitters’ Cartel!

In Les Miserables, Victor Hugo takes some time out from the drama to describe the Cistercian Sisters of Martin Verga’s observance (the order into whose Convent Providence leads Jean Valjean, though in the movie of the musical, the nuns are Vincentians). He notes that the nuns’

teeth are yellow. No tooth-brush ever entered that convent. Brushing one’s teeth is at the top of a ladder at whose bottom is the loss of one’s soul. (Hugo, Victor. Les Misérables [English language], p. 330. Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.)

A few hours after reading this quotation this afternoon, I took a bath. During and after that bath, I paid a little more attention to grooming myself than I normally would, especially considering I wasn’t going anywhere. I did so, in part, because I was trying to pray and hoping to extend my time of solitude with the Lord by taking a bit longer to my toilette. The overall chapters had inspired the extra effort at prayer, but I paused to consider whether it was ironic after reading that that I, who have made it one of my life’s principles to shun vanity as much as is humanly possible, should take this particular moment to pay attention to it.

Then, I had a second thought: perhaps I was just saving the undertakers some work.

And if that’s not gallows humor, I don’t know what is.

Everything most people *think* they need to know about Catholic sexual morality

they learned from watching “Monty Python”.

I finally found one of my all-time favorite quotes (and where it’s from)

One of my all time favorite quotes comes from issue #93 of the Marvel GI Joe: A Real American Hero. I paraphrase it from time to time, but can never remember the exact quotation, nor where it came from.

[Side note: moments like this made Larry Hama’s work on the top selling comic book of the 1980’s classic; I was dismayed in my adulthood to find out that he was a typical liberal comic book writer, since his tone was often so conservative].

Trying to find the quotation this evening, I hit upon a summary in the GI Joe Comic Book Archive.

Here’s the set-up. The Joes are in the middle of pursuing the Dreadnoks (a biker gang that work for Cobra) somewhere in New York state, and people start getting out of their cars and complaining that the Joes are blocking traffic. Some yuppie starts whining about the military, and insulting the Joes, and there’s a bit of an altercation, which leads another yuppie to start screaming “Brutality! Kent State! Tianamen Square!”

Roadblock fires his heavy machine gun into the air and yells,

That’s it! I’ve about had it! I want all you pathetic self-centered materialistic yahoos to crawl back into your expensive cars that were built by former Axis Powers to the detriment of American auto workers and start twiddling your useless thumbs… BEFORE I LOSE MY TEMPER!

The reason I thought of it this evening is that apparently Barack Obama responded to criticism of rising gas prices by saying everyone should trade in their cars. I told my wife this, and she asked, “For what?” I said, “Expensive cars made by former Axis powers.”

Stunning Revelation in Biblical Exegesis!

Upon reflection of the convergence of April 1 and Holy Thursday in 2010, I had a thought that began nearly a year of research.

I hereby announce my conversion to the Baptist Church.

You see, I have spent the last year researching this question, and have found out that there are two words that appear in the earliest versions of Matthew 26:26-29 and related passages in Mark, Luke and 1 Corinthians which do not appear in the modern translations.

Further, I have determined that, in fact, the first Holy Thursday would have occurred on April 1 in 27 AD (accounting for the fact that we know Christ had to be born before 6 BC because Herod the Great died in 4 BC, so the most likely year for the death of Christ according to otherwise traditional rendering would be 27 AD).

Here is how the Matthew 26:26 passage reads in the RSV:

26 “Now, as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and broke it, and gave it to his disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.

However, if these newly discovered manuscripts are any indication, there should be two words between verses 28 and 29; scholars are arguing that they should be declared verse 28.5:

“APRIL FOOL!”

Thus, I am becoming a Protestant, because they’ve been saying all along that the Last Supper is nothing more than an April Fool’s joke, and it appears they are right.

How many “Spirit of Vatican II” Catholics does it take to change a light bulb?

Someone on FB asked, “How many Trads does it take to change a light bulb?”
Punchline was, “Change?!”
I responded with the following:

Over at the FSSP parish, when a lightbulb needs changed, the pastor says, “change it,” and it gets done. Over at St. Kumbaya Catholic Faith Community, the parish council has to meet to deliberate about whether to change the lightbulb, spending 2 monthly meetings arguing about making sure the process of changing the lightbulb isn’t offensive to women, minorities or non-Catholics and debating about whether it’s appropriate to employ migrant workers to change said lightbulb. Then they debate about whether the money should come from a special collection or the parish bazaar.  After two or three monthly meetings, they draft a 3-page position paper about the paradigms and hermeneutics of lightbulb changing, then decide they should leave it up to the finance council. The finance council says it’s up to the liturgy committee, since the lightbulb is in the choir loft. The liturgy committee meets and says the parish council should make the decision. Meanwhile the business-suit wearing nun who functions as “pastoral associate” takes it upon herself to replace the choir loft lightbulb with a disco ball. When parishioners express outrage at this to the pastor, he claims it was a decision by the parish council, who in turn blame the finance committee, who in turn blame the liturgy committee, who in turn blame the parish council.

A Marfan American Spiritual

The leaky tricuspid’s connected to the right ventricle
The right ventricle’s connected  to the leaky pulmonary valve
The leaky pulmonary valve’s connected to the pulmonary artery

So hear the words of the Lord!

The pulmonary artery’s connected to the lu-ungs
The lungs get the asthma and pneumonia.
The lungs are connected to the pulmonary veins

So hear the words of the Lord!

Them bones them bones are gonna dislocate!
Them bones them bones are gonna dislocate!
Them bones them bones are gonna dislocate!
So hear the words of the Lord!

The pulmonary vein’s connected to the left atrium!
The atrium’s connected to the mitral valve!
The prolapsin mitral valve’s connected to the enlarged left ventricle

So hear the words of the Lord!

Left ventricle’s connected to the St. Jude valve
The St. Jude’s connected to the dacron tube
The dacron tube’s connected to the aortic arch

So hear the words of the Lord!

Them bones them bones they gonna dislocate!
Them bones them bones they gonna dislocate!
Them bones them bones they gonna dislocate!

So hear the words of the Lord!

The aortic arch connected to the tortuous carotid
The carotid’s connected to the left cranial artery
The cranial artery’s got an aneurysm.

So hear the words of the Lord!

The cranial artery’s connected peri-something vein
The perisomething vein is streching too; it’s insane
The artery and vein are pressing on my brain

So hear the words of the Lord!

Them swollen blood vessels gonna pinch a nerve
Them swollen blood vessels gonna pinch a nerve
Them swollen blood vessels gonna pinch a nerve

And that’s called a pin stroke

One more time!

That aortic arch connected to the thoracic aorta
Thoracic aorta’s got an aneurysm
Thoracic aneurysm’s pressing on my spine

So hear the words of the Lord:

Them bulging blood vessels gonna burst one day
Them bulging blood vessels gonna burst one day
Them bulging blood vessels gonna burst one day

You’d better obey the Word of the Lord!

Stupid Medical Professional Comments – January 2011

Last month, I took a trip to the ER with a really severe TIA that I was worried might be an outright stroke. Called an ambulance, even.

Well, the woman in the ambulance asked if I was on illegal narcotics because my pupils were constricted. I said, “I am on prescription narcotics, but I haven’t taken anything in a day or two, and the last couple times I went to the ophthalmologist, they had a hard time dilating my pupils. I used to have to dilate every day, so I guess that screwed up the irises.”

OK, asking once made sense, but she kept bringing it up, all the way to the hospital. (One thing emergency workers have a hard time with is patients who are in severe pain but “with it”–it’s a common issue with Marfans.) Apparently this lady thought I was just an addict seeking a fix because I was so “with it.”

Anyway, I was doing some reading the other night, and it turns out that constricted pupils are a sign of stroke.

Thankfully, an annoying EMT was the worst I had to deal with, and the actual treatment I got at the hospital was fantastic.

I just find it kind of ironic.