Friday, September 30, 2005

Grocery Atrocity of the Week

Grocery item of the week: Yellow squash
Price in NYC: $3.99/lb.
Store: Food Emporium, 50th and 8th
Price online in NYC: $1.49/lb.

That’s almost a 300% markup! Holy cow. So much for making a squash casserole this weekend.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Surgery – Part I: The Day Before

Ok, I promised you I’d tell you about my recent surgery. Prior to having total disc replacement surgery (TDR), back patients must endure a “discogram,” a diagnostic procedure for validating the degenerative disc disease diagnosis.

I had my discogram done the morning before surgery, on 8/26, after flying across country and arriving in Seattle late the night before. I hadn’t slept that night, and I’d slept very little in the previous three weeks – mainly due to “annual performance review” job stress. I'd actually rather have another discogram than another unfair performance review at work. But that's another story altogether.

For the discogram, I had to lie on my side on a table. I had been forewarned that it would be painful. (See An x-ray or CT machine of some sort is positioned above the table, with a monitor off to my left so that I can watch the needles going in. Robin, the discographer assistant, sat in a chair at the other end of the machine, facing me.

Patients have to be awake for the discogram in order to report pain levels to the doctor as he injects a radioactive dye into the disc. That’s the fun part.

I gripped the edge of the table like a steering wheel in NY traffic during several very uncomfortable injections of lidocaine. I tried to distract myself by smiling and chatting with Robin – another wonderful member of my doctor’s staff.

Dr. Schwaegler genuinely felt sorry whenever I winced in pain. He truly is the world’s most compassionate doctor. I must say that his empathy and Robin’s smile went a long way toward making the procedure bearable.

Dr. S threaded a long needle into my L4-L5 disc. Then he did the same in my L3-L4 disc, which participated as a control in the procedure.

As my doc injected the dye into L4-L5, he was successful at recreating some of the pain I’ve experienced for nearly two decades. But the pain wasn’t an exact reproduction. It didn’t seem powerful enough. We were at the end of the procedure when Dr. S said he could take it one step further - with a larger injection - if I was up to it. I still wasn’t 100% sure we’d fully recreated the pain, and I was already lying there in pain. . . so I said, "Go for it!" What the heck.

And that he did. The final injection is what did it. I screamed, "That’s IT! That’s the pain I know so well!" We had a wiener. Perhaps I was a tad gleeful despite feeling like I’d just herniated a disc in a big way.

The doc showed me on the monitor my pancake-flat L4-L5 disc. It was completely black with dye. The healthier L3-L4 disc, on the other hand, only had a tiny oval-shaped puddle of dye right in the middle of it. It was obvious that L4-L5 was practically 100% degenerated. So the surgery was a go.

They slowly helped me off the table after I carefully turned onto my back, the familiar pain shooting out my hip and down my right leg. As they helped me walk out the room, I joked, "Dr. Schwaegler, I didn’t fly all the way out here for you to make me worse! You’re supposed to fix me!"

After that I headed back to my teenie room at the Providence Inn. I took a cab shortly after that to Mercer Island for an MRI before returning to my room. I proceeded to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening drinking fleet phosphosoda to clean out my colon (fourth time this year), sitting on the toilet, taking antibiotics on an empty stomach, and throwing them all up. This went on til about 11:00pm. All I wanted to do was sleep. . . a wish that would not be granted for some time yet.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Grey's Anatomy Interns Posted by Picasa

The Truth About "Grey's Anatomy" on abc

Last year when Grey’s Anatomy hit the TV air waves, I started watching it because (1) It is a medical show, and (2) It's set in my former home city. And, not unlike Desperate Housewives, I don’t think I missed a single episode. That’s what VHS recorders are for, after all, so you can record your favorite shows and skip the commercials!

I was all excited about the new Sunday night lineup on abc. So tonight I watched the season premier of Grey’s Anatomy. But watching the show only reminded me of what’s wrong with it. It’s not the clich├ęd story lines (doctor sleeps with intern; intern finds out doctor is married and dumps doctor; married man’s wife is suddenly employed at the same hospital where doctor works – reminiscent of a recent episode of "House" on Fox - intern finds out that Doctor McDreamy’s ex-wife cheated on him, not vice-versa; we discover that the man the wife slept with was the doc’s best friend; intern dumps Dr. McDreamy for second time in one
episode. . .which makes sense because we need a plot for next week).

And it's not the fact that the big surgery on this week's show was a carbon copy of last week's surgery event on House - where a patient is cooled down, essentially "killed" by the doctors in order to remove a blood clot in the brain, undergoes the risky surgery, and then is brought back to life in front of our very eyes. There's nothing like one network stealing plots from another and airing the plagiarized story line five days later, now is there?

No, that's not what bothers me at all. What is annoying is the amazing series of Seattle faux pas presented in the show. There is no way that the show's producer or director ever spent time in Seattle before, during, or after filming. Because if that was the case, they’d know these Seattle truths:

· It doesn’t rain in Seattle all day every day. In Grey's Anatomy, it's raining in practically every scene in that includes a window, a door, or the outdoors itself. The truth is, Seattle gets less rain than Oak Ridge, Tennessee. It’s gray a lot in Seattle, people. That's all.

· When it does rain in Seattle, it rarely pours like it does in every single rainy scene on the TV program. It drizzles a lot. Picture a typical day in London. It's drizzling, is it not? Well, I'm telling you, I don't recall it pouring every time it rained in Seattle.

· More importantly, there is almost never any thunder or lightening in Seattle. The weather is not warm enough in Puget Sound for regular thunderstorms. This isn't Florida, Mr. Director or Producer (or whoever you are). In fact, in the seven years I lived in Seattle, I counted maybe seven thunderstorms. And yet, on the TV show, when it rains it thunders. Aaaaagh!

· There is no hospital across the street from Pike Place market. (Ok I forgive the producer/director person or whoever is responsible for screwing up the whole rain thing. In my book, the transposition of buildings falls under literary license since the hospital itself doesn't exist in the real Seattle.)

Did you also notice that while Meredith Grey was standing out in the pouring Seattle rain, propped up against her Jeep, not one drop of water hit her hair or her clothing? And then when she got in the Jeep to drive away (after dumping Dr. McDreamy for the second time in one episode), huge raindrops pelted her vehicle.

Is it just me, or should the definition of a good producer/director include properly emulating the world-class city where the show is supposed to be taking place? You can't base an entire weather pattern on a stereotype, for Pete's sake. Well, maybe in Hollywood you can. But it just makes you look like an idiot.

Other than that, I love the show. (I'm such a hypocrite.) I admit, I'm a hospital-show and cop-show and legal-show junkie. And in Grey's Anatomy George the intern, clearly the last kid to be chosen for the team in P.E. class, is my favorite character. I think he’s hysterical. . . and cute, to boot. I have such a crush on him -- even when he contracted Syphillis last season.

And when you’ve got cute – who cares about the thundering, pelting, constant rainfall error? (Errrgh....I shall try not to!)

Speaking of cute, here's Martin in his new penthouse suite, which measures 11" in diameter. I put the whole kitty condo thing together this week and was curious as to whether Martin would be able to curl his sixteen pounds up into the penthouse. . . .

Friday, September 23, 2005

Just One Thin Kitty Treat.... Posted by Picasa

Thank you for the kitty penthouse, mom. See, I can *almost* fit my whole body in it! Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

More Cookies!

I got a care package from my sister Lisa and her two kids this week. She makes the best Ginger Snap cookies in the world, so I’m stocked up in the cookie department again. She also included a bar of soap that has a built-in loofa. I must be in the habit of mentioning the small size of my living accommodations here in the City more often than I realize. When I called Lisa to thank her for the get-well package, she said, “I hope the soap fits in your bathroom.”

Fortunately, the soap fits.

I do have to take it easy on the cookie-eating. I’m doing PT three times a week, but I’m only up to 9/10 of a mile on the treadmill. I’m not burning nearly as many calories as I’d like to, but there is only so much one can do after surgery.

Martin, on the other hand, has lost two pounds! When I got home after two weeks in Seattle, the first thing I thought when I laid eyes on him was that he’d shrunk. But I assumed that was an illusion because I’d just spent 10 days living with a 20+-pound cat. Turns out it’s true. My boy is a lean, mean, “studly” machine these days. And he knows it.

It’s still hot here in NY. A few days ago when I had friends drop in from Seattle – (here for the Matisse exhibit at the Metropolitan) – the humidity was a sticky 84%. Gad. After that, we had a very dry, breezy 80-degree day, and I thought the torture was over. Fall was in the air. If I could’ve skipped down the sidewalk that day, I would have. But alas, the humidity returned with a vengeance the very next day. Ergh.

I want fall to arrive so I can go outdoors and not sweat. And so I can turn off the A/C in my apartment, which pretty much runs non-stop. It’s one of those wall/floor units you see in motel rooms. I hate it because when I turn on the A/C, it freezes me out in just a matter of minutes. I have to get up and adjust the dial an eighth of an inch. Then I sit down, and two minutes later I’m too hot, so I get up and adjust the dial an eighth of an inch in the other direction. There is no happy medium with these units, I’m telling you. Up, down, up, down, up, down. You can’t sit still in your own home. I miss having a real thermostat.

However, it is a beautiful blue-sky day out there today, so enough blogging. Time to shower and get ready to walk to my PT appointment over on 7th Avenue and 54th Street. According to, it's 79 degrees with 36% humidity - my kind of weather! See ya.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Celebrity Sighting #3

Today’s celebrity sighting was a double-whammie. Not only did I see actress Anne Hathaway from a distance of about 30 feet, but I got to see a film shooting! I was walking home from dropping off some paperwork at the office when I noticed 50th Street lined with huge white trucks, all parked end-to-end. I decided to walk home on 49th instead, in case I wanted to stop in at Strawberry and look at clothes.

A crowd was gathered across the street from the McGraw-Hill Publishers building. I was on the opposite side, close to the building. I saw a huge white screen on the sidewalk at the far end of the building and lots of young guys wearing microphones and doing crowd-control. All the extras were standing still in front of the building in their perfect makeup and hair and winter business clothes. Some of the women were wearing fur coats on this beautiful 82-degree day in New York. Every last one of the extras was well-dressed and attractive.

One of the microphone-wearing guys told me the name of the film is “The Devil Wears Prada” and it stars Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep. I walked along the street past the extras and microphone guys into Strawberry, bought a couple workout tops, came back outside and doubled back. They were spraying down the sidewalks from a big water tanker truck, so I guess it’s supposed to be a cold and rainy day in New York for the shoot.

I took a few pictures then walked across the street to join the crowd of onlookers. At the time I wasn’t sure of Anne Hathaway’s claim to fame, but a teenage girl was able to tell me she’s the lead in “The Princess Diaries.” I was hoping to see Meryl Streep – one of my all-time favorite actresses - but the scene being shot only had Anne and the beautiful extras in it.

“Rolling!” the director announced. I watched as they shot three different takes of Anne walking up the sidewalk and into the building’s revolving doors. I guess I was a bit too hasty because every single shot I took of Anne is blurry.

But it was pretty neat being there. Can’t wait to see the movie. One of the onlookers told me she’d read the book, which is something along the lines of “Sex and the City."

After the third or fourth “Cut!” I continued home.

According to, the plot goes like this: A young woman (Hathaway) scores a job working for one of New York City's biggest magazine editors, Miranda Priestly (Streep).

Pretty neat!

Anne (right) Walking Toward the Revolving Doors During the Shoot Posted by Picasa

See Strawberry Store (background) where I shopped during filming, and Anne Hathaway (far left), pausing apprehensively before entering the building Posted by Picasa

Wetting Down Sidewalk Between Shoots Posted by Picasa

Film Crew Posted by Picasa

Guy w/microphone and Extras Posted by Picasa

McGraw-Hill Building Posted by Picasa

Camera Equipment on 49th Posted by Picasa

Celebrity Car w/Florida Tags? Posted by Picasa

Costume Truck on 49th Street Posted by Picasa

Washer and Dryer in Costume Truck Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Home of Many Firsts

It’s no wonder that New York City, called New Am-sterdam until 1664, is sometimes referred to as the crossroads of the world. This city is rich with history. New Yorkers can claim a whole slew of firsts to fame – not just firsts for Americans, but many firsts for mankind as well.

For example, I probably mentioned in January that Lombardi’s on Spring Street in Soho is the country’s first pizzeria (opened in 1895). Here are a few more NYC firsts and other interesting facts dating to the early 1900’s when the Yankees won their first World Series. (These facts are taken from A Short and Remarkable History of New York City by Jane Mushabac and Angela Wigan) . . .

1638: Tuition for New York’s first unofficial school, created by the Dutch Reformed Church, is two beaver pelts per year.

1673: The first postal service in America begins. A rider carries letters by land between New York and Boston on a monthly basis.

1700: Population of New York: 4,500.

1714: Governor Robert Hunter writes the first play to be printed in English in the colonies, Androboros.

1760: The colonies’ first recognized black poet is a New Yorker by the name of Jupiter Hammon.

1766: St. Paul’s Chapel, still standing across the street from the former World Trade Center towers, is completed. It is the oldest standing church in Manhattan today.

1776: The first American woman to fight in the Revolution is Margaret Corbin when she takes over her wounded husband’s cannon post on upper Broadway.

1785: New York is named the first capital of the United States.

1789: First Presidential inauguration is held in New York for George Washington.

1792: The Buttonwood Agreement is signed by 22 stockbrokers and merchants under the buttonwood tree on Wall Street, establishing the forerunner to the New York Stock Exchange.

1807: The world’s first steam-powered vessel, the steamboat Clermont, is built in a Manhattan shipyard.

1809: The term “knickerbockers,” a nickname for New Yorker, is coined by author Washington Irving’s when he uses the pseudonym “Diedrich Knickerbocker” for A History of New York. In it, he uses “Gotham” as the satirical name for New York.

1820: Population 123,706. New York is the nation’s largest city.

1822: The first treadmill is built in this country. Custom-built for a City prison, it is used to grind 45 bushels of corn a day.

1825: America’s first grand opera, The Barber of Seville, is performed at the Park Theatre.

1830: The first American-made steam locomotive for railroad service is built in Manhattan.

1836: Inflation drives up the cost of living 66%. From 1833 to 1835, the cost of property in Greenwich Village quadruples.

1837: Tiffany & Co. opens as a “Stationery and Fancy Goods Store.” The first week’s profit is thirty-three cents.

1840: Population 312,710.

1842: The New York Philharmonic gives its first concert.

1843: P.T. Barnum puts 5-year-old Charles Stratton on display – a 15-pound child dwarf he presents as General Tom Thumb.

1845: Edgar Allen Poe writes “Raven” at his home in lower Manhattan.

1845: The Knickerbocker Base Ball Club is started and the rules are written down, replacing cricket as the national sport within 20 years.

1849: Walter Penn patents the safety pin but sells the rights for $100. He later becomes the first American inventor of the sewing machine.

1849: Elizabeth Blackwell is the first woman in the U.S. to receive a medical degree.

1850: New York City population exceeds half a million people.

1851: The New York Times puts out its first issue.

1853: Steinweg and sons open a piano factory. Later their Steinway grand becomes world-famous.

1853: The first American World’s Fair is held in Bryant Park.

1855: Walt Whitman of Brooklyn self-publishes Leaves of Grass.

1857: The first landscaped park in the nation, Central Park, is underway. It takes 20 years to complete its 843 acres, and1,600 people are displaced. Most of the city’s downtown poor cannot afford the fare to get there.

1857: Currier & Ives lithographs sell for five cents to a dollar.

1857: U.S. cities like New York have the highest death rate in the world due to poverty and overcrowding, with tuberculosis accounting for most deaths in the City.

1858: R.H. Macy, a whaler from Nantucket, comes to New York and opens a small store on 14th Street. Today Macy’s takes up an entire block on 34th Street.

1859: Thanks to new illustrations in Washington Irving’s Knickerbocker History of New York, “knickers” becomes the new name for knee-length pants.

1863: New four-wheeled roller skates can be seen on City sidewalks.

1866: The first Broadway musical, Faustian Black Crook, opens and tours for forty years.

1867: The first curve ball is thrown by Brooklyn pitcher William Arthur Cummings.

1868: The nation’s first rapid transit system, elevated trains, is built.

1870: An underground pneumatic subway car is tested on 100 yards of track under Broadway by 400,000 riders. The tunnel is built in secret to hide it from Boss Tweed, who gets a kickback from horse-drawn street cars.

1870: The first transcontinental freight rail connection is made from the west coast to New York.

1871: “The Greatest Show on Earth,” P.T. Barnum’s circus, arrives in Brooklyn.

1871: The donkey and elephant symbols for the Democratic and Republican parties are created by Thomas Nast.

1875: Street-level Park Avenue train tracks are sunk into a trench for safety and quiet.

1877: The world’s first typing course is given to women at the YMCA.

1877: Bell telephone starts offering its phones to the City. The public is soon outraged by the excessive poles and mass of wires above ground.

1879: Milk is delivered in glass bottles in Brooklyn.

1880: The English muffin is introduced by Samuel Bath Thomas in Manhattan.

1880: The Metropolitan Art Museum opens on Fifth Avenue.

1880: The New York Daily Graphic prints the first newspaper photograph, a picture of a local shantytown.

1883: After 14 years of construction and at least 26 deaths, the Brooklyn Bridge opens, connecting the first and third largest cities in the nation – Manhattan and Brooklyn. It is one of the wonders of the world.

1883: The Met opera house opens with Faust.

1884: The Dakota apartment house is completed at Central Park West and 72nd Street. Musician John Lennon is shot and killed there by a crazed fan 96 years later.

1886: The Statue of Liberty is dedicated.

1888: Pastrami on rye is served for the first time in a New York deli.

1889: The Wall Street Journal sells for two cents a copy.

1890: Opening night of Stanford White’s Madison Square Garden draws 17,000.

1891: Carnegie Hall opens with a performance conducted by Tchaikovsky.

1894: The New York subway system is voted in.

1895: Theodore Roosevelt is the new Police Board president.

1896: Tootsie Rolls are sold for a penny and are named for the nickname that inventor Leo Hirschfield calls his daughter Clara.

1898: The five boroughs – Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and the Bronx - are joined to become Greater New York: population 3.4 million, second only to London.

1900: The first U.S. National Automobile Show opens at Madison Square Garden.

1901: Street cars are converted to electricity, becoming fast and dangerous.

1902: The teddy bear is born in Brooklyn. President Theodore Roosevelt okays the use of his nickname.

1904: The IRT runs its first subway train from City Hall to 145th Street. The ride takes 26 minutes and costs five cents. The IRT is the first underground system with both express and local tracks.

1904: The Pulitzer Prize is established by millionaire Joseph Pulitzer at Columbia University.

1904: Longacre Square is renamed Times Square when The New York Times moves to 42nd Street at 7th Avenue and Broadway.

1904: Typhoid Mary causes 1,300 cases of typhoid working in a New York kitchen. She uses false names until 1915 when she is hospitalized for the rest of her life.

1904: The song “Give My Regards to Broadway” by George M. Cohan is first heard on Broadway.

1904: The first paper teabags appear when a merchant packs sample teas in muslin bags to send to customers.

1907: The era of the taxicab arrives.

1907: The Plaza hotel opens on Fifth Avenue and Central Park South.

1908: “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” is written by two New Yorkers.

1908: The Metropolitan Life Tower on Madison Avenue is the tallest building in the world (700 feet) until 1913 when the Woolworth Building tops it by 92 feet.

1909: The Melting Pot is a play that coins the phrase in the very place that epitomizes it.

1909: Wilbur Wright flies the first plane over New York Harbor.

1910: Pennsylvania Station excavation is complete and trains run through it for the first time.

1912: The Titanic strikes an iceberg on its way to New York; more than 1,500 people are lost, including New York millionaires Guggenheim, Astor, and Straus.

1913: The world’s first movie palace, the Regent Theater, opens. It seats 1,800.

1913: Grand Central Terminal replaces the old depot. It can handle 70,000 rail passengers per hour.

1913: Ebbets Field Park opens in Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Dodgers are named for the Brooklynites known for their skill at dodging trolleys.

1913: The first American crossword puzzle appears in New York World.

1916: Nathan’s famous frankfurter comes to Coney Island. Nathan and his wife Ida use a secret recipe to make the five-cent hot dog, working 18 hours a day to undersell competitors.

1918: The first regular air mail route in the country carries mail daily between New York and Washington, D.C.

1919: The cost of living in New York has increased 79% in five years.

1920: The Yankees purchase 24-year-old Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox for $125,000. He hits 54 home runs his first season as a Yankee.

1923: Time magazine is launched. The first issue is 15 cents.

1923: Yankee Stadium opens in the Bronx and the Yankees win their first World Series.

Monday, September 12, 2005

If I’d Known There Would be Cookies….

. . . I would have had back surgery sooner. Tonight I received a surprise delivery containing a big basket of big cookies. I love cookies, so I'm in heaven. Yum-yum. Thanks Dave and Judy!

Well, the truth is that if the FDA had approved total disc replacement (TDR) surgery sooner, I would have had it long ago.

I’ve suffered chronic lower lumbar pain since 1988. I’ve seen dozens of doctors over the years, and all had the same diagnosis: degenerative disc disease (DDD). The severe degeneration of my L4-L5 disc might have been a result of getting hit by a truck while delivering a pizza on September 22, 1985, but no one knows for sure.

When you combine the DDD with degenerative joint disease (DJD) in my hips and spine, it doesn’t take much for me to become immobilized with pain. Over the years I’ve had to give up many activities I used to enjoy – running, racquetball, and kayaking, to name a few. The more active I am, the more pain I experience.

You’d think it would be the other way around – that keeping strong would help prevent pain. Not so. The more I work out, the more debilitating the pain. I love weight-lifting, walking, and swimming. About 6 months ago, in anticipation of my surgery this summer, I took up all three of these activities again on a regular basis. Consequently, a couple months ago the usual pain started in again and getting out of bed every morning became, once again, a painful activity.

Anyway, after years of avoiding fusion surgery – which really limits mobility in the back and puts too much strain and wear on the supporting discs – I finally traded in my old disc about 18 days ago. Looking at the replacement device on the post-op X-ray is pretty neat. I feel like the Bionic Woman! To see a picture of my new part and read about the procedure used to insert it, go to

My recuperation will take at least eight weeks. For the first six weeks, I am unable to bend, stoop, or twist. I’m forbidden from carrying anything that weighs more than five pounds, and I have to take it easy and begin attending physical therapy several times a week to get that disc moving.

The surgery required I make special arrangements (and purchases) to allow me to continue caring for my kitty. My boy Martin now eats up high on a table in my apartment. As of tonight, his litter pan is up on a table too - his new throne. He loves his new carpeted kitty stairs. I’m hoping it’ll help him get more exercise and lose some weight.

Stay tuned and I’ll fill you in on how the surgery went. This is a major life event for me that I hope will change my life for the better, so I’m excited to talk about it. For now, I’m back home in NYC and taking it easy. I can sit for only 30 minutes at a time, so my blogs should be more compact than usual. :)

Always Remember

Engine 54 - Battalion 9 Posted by Picasa

9/11 Memorial on 8th Ave. at 49th Posted by Picasa