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Friday, October 21, 2016

The Emperor Caligula, Gross Indecency, and the Killing of Oscar Wilde

Among the cruelest things the Emperor Caligula did when he ruled the Roman Empire was to have the laws he’d promulgated written at the very top of tall columns where no one could read them.  Caligula then happily called unwitting violators “criminals” and doled out sentences that amused him.

When it comes to punishing homosexuals for things they do in private, statutes were enacted that sometimes prohibited “the crime against nature,” with no explanation of what that meant.  In some jurisdictions there was an expansion: “detestable and abominable (or abominable and detestable, or, sometimes, infamous) crime against nature, committed with mankind or beast” or “the abominable crime against nature which no man may utter.”  Other statutes punished an unexplained conduct called “carnal knowledge.”  When these statutes were attacked in the United States as violating the Fourteen Amendment's requirement of “due process” because they were so vague, the courts typically upheld them under the theory that any exploration of legal history shows that oral and/or anal intercourse was the crime at issue.  Often the offense was labeled simply “sodomy,” but that word had the defect (historically) of being limited to anal penetration of man or beast, thus not including oral sex, nor—happily—lesbian sex at all.

In England, famed poet, playwright, bon vivant Oscar Wilde, made the mistake of wining and dining young men of the lower classes in posh restaurants such as Kettner’s (see photo below), and taking them into its private dining rooms (second photo), and wrote a novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, hinting at scandalous relationships among men.  His open affair with the young and beautiful (and brainless) Lord Alfred Douglas so enraged the lad’s father, the Marquess of Queensbury, that Queensbury published a libel against Wilde accusing him of posing as a “somdomite,” (a misspelling, but of course everyone knew what he meant).  Wilde sued Queensbury for criminal libel, a case he promptly lost because it was easy to prove that Wilde was indeed not only posing as a sodomite, but in fact reveled in being one.  

Kettner's Main Room

Kettner's Private Dining Room

Losing the first trial led to Wilde’s arrest for violating the following statute:

Any male person who, in public or in private, commits or is a party to the commission of, or procures the commission by any male person of any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and, being convicted thereof, shall be liable, at the discretion of the court, to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years with or without hard labour.
When Queen Victoria signed the bill creating this statute in 1885 it was pointed out to her that the statute was limited to male persons, but she pooh-poohed that objection with the dismissive statement that “Women don’t do such things.”

Ah, but what things?  What in the world does “gross indecency” mean?  This is no small matter, because two years’ hard labor frequently killed the prisoner, as discussed below.  Aren’t we back to the Emperor Caligula and his inaccessible columns? 

Until the early part of the nineteenth century, the penalty for sodomy in England had been death, but that statute was repealed when Victoria was a girl, a good thing for Oscar Wilde. 

The Pennsylvania Legislature had noticed a defect (mentioned above) in that its sodomy statute did not punish oral sex, so in 1879 it amended the statue to include all kinds of perverted acts in detail (and both sexes were equally forbidden to enjoy all sorts of intimacy).  In theory this encompassed even married heterosexual couples in their beds.  The Pennsylvania example led England to enact the “gross indecency” law just quoted, under the theory that it captured all kinds of sexual perversions, though it did not contain the lengthy Pennsylvania list. 

But think about the mysterious term “gross indecency” for a moment.  Consider that you’ve just moved to London in 1890 from, say, Denmark. Unless you know all this history, being told that you mustn’t commit any act of “gross indecency” or you’ll be arrested would give you pause.  What would be a “gross indecency”?  Saying the word “fuck” out loud?  The Can-Can?  “Spitting on the sidewalk?”  Notice the statute clearly applies to acts committed in the privacy of one’s bedroom.  If you swear there might you go to prison?

Well, as angry as it makes me, no one in Oscar’s day raised any objection to the cruelty of severe punishment for a vague offense, much less the fairness or wisdom of punishing private sexual conduct. 

Oscar Wilde’s first trial for violating the prohibition against “gross indecency” ended in a hung jury, but in the second he was found guilty.

Wilde and Douglas
It is sometimes argued that Wilde was not so much punished for his sexual behavior as for his radical theories about art.  I think that’s nonsense.  What Wilde did that really pissed off the Victorians was to behave as if homosexuality was normal and flaunt that belief in their faces by publicly carrying on with Lord Alfred Douglas, taking rent-boys into fancy London venues like Kettners or the Savoy Hotel, and writing “The Picture of Dorian Gray” which stopped just this side of saying that sexual love between men was beautiful.  If you read the transcripts of the trials there is almost nothing brought up about his art (other than works having to do with male sex), but gritty details about his love letters and dealings with rent boys—a large number of whom testified, as did maids who had to clean up hotel rooms after Wilde and his guests left.  Listen to what his final judge said as he sentenced him, and ask yourself whether the judge was upset at all by Wilde’s views on art:

Oscar Wilde, the crime of which you have been convicted is so bad that one has to put a firm restraint upon oneself to prevent oneself from describing, in terms I would rather not use, the sentiments which must rise to the breast of every man of honor who has heard the details of these terrible three trials.

It is no use for me to address you. People who can do these things are dead to all sense of shame, and one cannot hope to produce any effect upon them.

This is the worst case I have ever tried. I shall, under such circumstances, be expected to pass the severest sentence allowed by the law. It is in my opinion, totally inadequate for such a case as this.

The sentence of the court is that you be imprisoned and kept to hard labor for two years.

Amazingly, this late in my life, I have finally become a professional actor, being recently cast by CATCO, a professional theater company in Columbus, Ohio, in the Mois├ęs Kaufman play “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde.”  The play itself has no fiction in it; every word is taken from trial transcripts, news reports, or biographies of those involved in this great travesty.  Most of the nine actors play multiple roles, and I get to portray the judge in all three trials plus—get ready for it—Queen Victoria as she reads the “gross indecency” statute out loud.  Given that I am one of the people who founded Stonewall Columbus, our leading gay rights organization in this city, it is ironic that I have homophobic line after homophobic line to say on stage, but I do it with the conviction of a shocked Victorian.  If interested in our production, which also includes my very talented husband David Vargo in one of the larger roles, come see if this depiction of what happened to Oscar Wilde doesn’t make you as mad as it makes me.  Here are some photos from the rehearsal process:

[Click to enlarge]

                                         Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde
                                         Nov.2-20 at Studio Two, Riffe Center

The judge’s sentence mandated that Oscar Wilde be kept at “hard labour” for two years.  What did that entail?  The answer is that hard labor was manufactured cruelty designed by the Victorians to teach the prisoner how much his crime upset society.  

One favorite type of labor was the giant treadmill, a contraption on which the prisoners walked, side by side, divided by vertical separators, for a typical term of eight hours.  The treadmill was originally used as a power source, but eventually had no utilitarian purpose other than to torture the prisoners.  Inevitably as the hours passed in this tedious misery, legs would give out and the prisoners would fall horribly, leading to more punishment for abandoning their task.

Or there was the “crank.”  It consisted of nothing more than a large handle in the prisoner’s cell that had to be laboriously turned (churning the contents of a bucket of sand on the other end).  It could be calibrated by the warder to require greater and greater strength to rotate, with the usual punishments for faltering.

And then there was picking apart old ropes to extract oakum from the tangled innards.  What?  Oakum (a fiber used in shipbuilding) can be made from hemp, but it can also be laboriously separated by hand from huge used ropes, staining the fingers permanently and making them bleed profusely, as well as causing tendonitis, bursitis, and nerve damage.

[Click to enlarge]

All of these tasks had to be performed in silence.  No communication of any kind was allowed between prisoners—not at meals, not during exercise (in which they walked in circles wearing large masks), not after lights went out.  Prisoners were allowed visitors, and during his two years, Oscar Wilde managed to write his famous denunciation of Lord Alfred Douglas and what the British had done to him: De Profundis (“Out of the Depths”).  On exiting from prison he also wrote the Ballad of Reading Gaol, saying things like this:

We banged the tins, and bawled the hymns
  And sweated on the mill,
But in the heart of every man
  Terror was lying still.

With midnight always in one's heart,
  And twilight in one's cell,
We turn the crank, or tear the rope,
  Each in his separate Hell.

Actually, it’s amazing that Oscar Wilde made it through two years of imprisonment at hard labor.  During his trials his advisors informed him that gentlemen of his station normally dropped dead after nine months.  One day Wilde, exhausted by the tortures he was enduring, fell in his cell, injuring his ear. This injury, which was not properly treated, caused his death three years after leaving prison.  When he succumbed, dying in a Paris hotel, he supposedly looked one last time at the wallpaper and muttered, “One of us has to go.”  One of my friends did an Oscar Wilde tour of Europe this past year, and when he visited the hotel where Wilde died he noticed a sign announcing “We have changed the wallpaper.”

When Wilde died he was only 46 years old.  This great man—dead at 46.

I want you to think about what the British attitude to homosexuality did to poor Oscar and, by extension, to the world.  Oscar Wilde was the author of a number of much-admired plays, the most famous of which is “The Importance of Being Earnest,” still listed as one of the top five comedies ever written.  It had just opened in 1895 as the trials began, and was forced to close almost immediately when the scandal started (though the producers tried to distance themselves from the author by taking his name off both the playbill and the banner outside the theater).  How many more plays, novels, poems, children’s stories, might he have written if he’d lived thirty or so more years? Or if he’s been born at a time when science and society understood that sexual orientation is not a chosen trait; it’s fixed by genetics. 

The poet A. E. Houseman understood what was going on.  During the trials he wrote the poem below, but it wasn’t published until after Houseman’s death.

The Colour of His Hair

Oh who is that young sinner with the handcuffs on his wrists?
And what has he been after, that they groan and shake their fists?
And wherefore is he wearing such a conscience-stricken air?
Oh they’re taking him to prison for the colour of his hair.

‘Tis a shame to human nature, such a head of hair as his;
In the good old time ’twas hanging for the colour that it is;
Though hanging isn’t bad enough and flaying would be fair
For the nameless and abominable colour of his hair.

Oh a deal of pains he’s taken and a pretty price he’s paid
To hide his poll or dye it of a mentionable shade;
But they’ve pulled the beggar’s hat off for the world to see and stare,
And they’re haling him to justice for the colour of his hair.

Now ’tis oakum for his fingers and the treadmill for his feet,
And the quarry-gang on Portland in the cold and in the heat,
And between his spells of labour in the time he has to spare
He can curse the God that made him for the colour of his hair.

A. E. Housman (1859 – 1936)

Alan Turing
The “gross indecency” statute used to punish Wilde for being gay also ensnared Alan Turing (the computer genius) in the 1950’s, causing him to commit suicide by eating an apple he’d laced with cyanide.  The statute wasn’t repealed until 1967.  In 2013 Turing was granted a royal pardon (as if the government was being generous when what it should have done was apologize for the nightmare it made of Turing’s life), and on October 19, 2016, the government announced that it would soon enact “Alan Turning’s Law,” pardoning all those who had ever been convicted of gross indecency.  For the New York Times article on point see

So, 121 years after England sent Oscar Wilde to prison for loving another man—leading to Wilde’s death at a young age—it has finally decided to pardon him (and thousands of others) for the offense of being homosexuals. 

One wonders if Oscar would have pardoned his country in return.

Related Posts:

A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013;

“What Should You Know About Gay History?” July 4, 2015;

“Alan Turing: Torturing a Gay Genius to Death,” November 26, 2014;

“Homosexuality: The Iceberg Theory,” April 25, 2010; 

“The History of Gay Rights in Columbus, Ohio,” June 4, 2012;

How To Cure Homophobia,” July 30, 2015;

Friday, September 30, 2016

Crooked Hillary? Crooked Donald?

I keep running into people who tell me that they won’t vote for Hillary because she’s so “crooked” or “dishonest” or “corrupt.”  My handyman told me this, and so did a nurse during a medical procedure I was recently enduring.  To both of them I replied that I’m a Hillary supporter, but I’d never vote for someone who fit any of those descriptions.  What exactly did she do to earn these labels?  Hey, I’m a lawyer—I want facts before I make up my mind.

My questions produced puzzled silence.  “Well, everyone says that” was more or less the reply I always get.  “Do you believe everything you hear without checking?” is mine. 

Hillary has flaws, of course, as any candidate would.  She mishandled her emails badly, but the intensive investigations of this brouhaha concluded that she did nothing criminally wrong and was only guilty of bad judgment.  If you don’t vote for her for that reason, okay.  But if bad judgment on one occasion is enough, then don’t vote for Donald Trump, who is the epitome of bad judgment more or less daily throughout his life (see below). 

What about the Clinton Foundation that Hilary and Bill (and others) use so successfully to raise money?  Didn’t Hillary’s staff, when she was Secretary of State, arrange special favors for some foreign donors?  Well, not really.  Her staff frequently arranged meetings for all sorts of people making these requests if the meetings were also important for the United States government, and some of these people were donors to the Clinton Foundation.  But there’s no evidence of quid pro quo here.  In fact the Clinton Foundation is one of the most successful and highly rated charitable enterprises in the world, and 80 to 90% of the money donated to the charity is in fact used for charitable purposes (not overhead).  The Clintons certainly don’t profit from the charity—they work for free.

Trump and Bondi at Mar-a-Lago
Compare Donald Trump’s charity, which he uses as if it were his personal bank.  He’s dipped into the charity for $20,000 to buy a portrait of himself which now hangs in Trump Tower, and another $12,000 from the charity to buy an autographed football helmet.  He used charity money to make a $25,000 contribution to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s re-election campaign just when her office was considering whether to prosecute Trump University for fraud (as many other AGs were doing across the country), at which point she dropped the investigation; see  It’s illegal to use charity money for non-charitable purposes, but The Donald has played fast and loose with this idea.  Indeed there’s a current outcry for a bribery indictment against Trump in the Bondi case, and the IRS has fined Trump for this misuse of his charity's money.  Trump and Attorney General Bondi are buddies, witness the above photo of them taken last March at Trump’s part-time home, Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, where the Trumps held a fundraiser for Bondi, reportedly writing her another check for $135,000.  She has, of course, endorsed him for president.

The Republican majority in Congress has investigated Hillary over and over, tediously, for years on many topics: Benghazi, emails, Libya, etc., and every time has come up empty-handed.  It must be frustrating for them, but there it is.  Trump, on the other hand, when investigated for things like taking millions from his loyal followers who paid to go to Trump University and lost everything, is in deep trouble over that scam and others.

Trump’s life is filled with ugly incidents.  He is well-known for not paying workers and contractors on his various projects, and when they protest he offers a partial payment and tells them they can sue if they like, but attorney’s fees will make that a losing choice even if they ultimately prevail, so take it or leave it—see, for example,

In a recent book called “The Making of Donald Trump” by an investigative reporter named David Cay Johnston who has tracked him for years, the author details one slimy Trump activity after another, from the many lawsuits brought against him for things like racial discrimination and casino scams, to involvement with the mob, to working hard to make sure his three-year old nephew lost his medical coverage just when he was seriously ill, and, more . . . much more.  The book, a bestseller, is not long, and is a terrifying read when you consider that this venal man might soon become president.  For another similar account, going into great detail, see

John Oliver

HBO’s John Oliver presented a program he labeled “Scandals” in which, over a twenty minute period, he carefully (and with much humor) traces both the Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump scandals and compares them, reaching a hysterical result in which Clinton’s misdeeds are overwhelmed by Trump’s.  See the video at

Donald Trump doesn’t understand basic morality, nor the rules as to what is acceptable conduct and what is not.  A major worry, not much considered by the voting public, is what is going to happen to the running of the humongous Trump Organization if Donald were elected president.  That organization has influence in many a foreign country, where it profits from deals with those countries and with major players who are foreign nationals.  Newsweek published a major article about this; see  If Donald (or his family) is still in charge of the Trump Organization when he’s president, conflicts of interest will occur daily.  Trump has said he would put his holdings into a “blind trust,” but seemed to think it would be okay that his family ran the blind trust.  That is a misunderstanding of what a blind trust is like; for the rules see  Certainly it is impossible to imagine President Donald Trump ignoring his company’s ongoing business dealings—matters he has handled up close and personal all his life—and letting his finances be in the hands of a stranger.  Even if he promises to follow the rules, his past history makes such a promise laughable.  If Trump promised to stop attending to his business interests, one doubts he could do it.  If he were caught looking into things or making business decisions (which sounds very likely to me—how about you?), he’d probably just say “To hell with it,” resigning in frustration and going back to doing what he most likes to do: making deals.  In that case enter President Mike Pence.

President Pence

The comparison of Hillary’s ethical problems and Donald’s, done without bias, is the comparison of minor faults with major ones.  Donald Trump running for office with his over-the-top campaign would be funny if the stakes weren’t so serious.

Faced with the facts concerning Hillary (including her splendid resume), people resort to saying, “Well, I just don’t like her.”  That’s a legitimate reason for not voting for her, and no one can quibble with it.  But can the person who says this really believe that Donald Trump—DONALD TRUMP!!!—is the answer?  Hmm.  Maybe so, but any investigation of him (see above) makes that a suspicious conclusion.  It leads one to suspect that what’s really happening is something more obvious, uglier: we have a black president and many people are uncomfortable with that.  Now they certainly don’t want a woman!  What would be next?  A gay?  An atheist?  A muslim? To many people a bad white male president is a better choice than heading down that road.  For more on this issue see

Related Posts:
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013;

“Comparing Donald Trump to a Badly Infected Big Toe,” August 3, 2016,

“Trump University: A Fraudster for President”? March 10, 2016;]

“Why Hillary Will Stomp Trump In November,” June 30, 2016;

“Trump’s VP Choice:  Introducing Sarah Palin . . . Mike Pence!” July 18, 2016;

Saturday, September 24, 2016

A Married Gay Couple Attends a German Catholic Family Reunion

As I’ve explained before, my father’s side of the family were English/Scottish, and my ancestry-minded sister, Mary Beth Colpitts, has traced the Whaleys back to the Battle of Hastings and before; see “A Whaley at the Battle of Hastings: The Fun of Genealogy,” February 22, 2016;].

My mother’s side of the family, the Kunkels, were pure Germans, coming to this country from Bavaria in the 1840s and settling in the City of Jasper in southern Indiana.  They were devout Catholics, and many of their descendants still are, producing very large families.  Here is a picture of my mother, Lenore Kunkel Whaley, with me and my great grandparents, Philip and Matilda Kunkel.  I vaguely remember them because they had a large parrot who screamed “Pa, Phone!” whenever the telephone rang.

Their son Jerome Kunkel, who, later in life (when he decided to run for mayor of Jasper and won) changed his first name to Roman, was my grandfather, and he married Caroline Hoffman.  Together they had nine children: eight girls and one boy.  Eventually their offspring produced 37 children, giving Mary Beth and me dozens of Kunkel cousins (with none at all on the Whaley side).  My father started dating my mother when they both attended Jasper High School in late 1930’s, and the first time he came over to the Kunkel household filled with all these girls running around, he thought there was a party going on!

The Kunkel Children (the oldest, Maxine is missing), my mother is at the far right

This summer the Kunkel clan decided to have a family reunion in Jasper, and my husband, David Vargo, bravely consented to go with me and meet all these relatives.  The year before he’d met some of them when my cousin Jane turned 70 and she was surprised by a visit to her home in Beaumont, Texas, by David and me, her daughter, and four of her eight siblings.  On Friday, August 5th, David and I hopped in the car for the four hour drive to Jasper.  David was most impressed by how beautiful southern Indiana is.

I was a bit worried how a gay married couple would fit into the very heterosexual and Catholic group that was gathering in Jasper.  When I attended the 1988 Kunkel reunion I’d had some trouble with one of my uncles who I’d always had a great relationship with in the past, but who was suddenly sneering at me and unwilling to talk once he discovered I was gay.  However that generation had passed, and the current crop of Kunkels was very welcoming to both David and me.  The reunion was ably put together by my cousin Marsha Tellstrom and her crew, and they did a terrific job.   In the photo at the top of this post, David (far right) and I are having a great time with my cousins Phil Rohleder (far left) and Brenda Seybold.  Various family members took me aside to mention that there were other gays in the family who were not in attendance, some of whom I knew to be gay, and others not.  There is a large difference between attitudes towards gays in 2016 and 1988, for which hallelujah!

The reunion was timed to coincide with the Jasper Strassenfest, an annual festival celebrating German heritage and culture, and featuring much beer, polkas, and happy crowds in the downtown square.  The Kunkel clan had a dinner gathering Friday night, which was good fun,  and then most of us repaired to the festival, but the big event for our weekend happened the next day when everyone gathered for the Kunkel Reunion Dinner.  Since the older Kunkels were mostly gone, the first photo lineup was the gathering of the 37 first cousins, in order of age, and I was distressingly near the top (seventh in line if all had been there). 

This was followed by the next generation and then the next, all lining up in increasing numbers.  Finally the first cousins posed with their spouses, and, as you can see in the photo below, I (accidentally I assure you—because I’m usually such a shy retiring type) happened to be seated in a bright light, and David (in the orange shirt) proudly took his place behind me.

Earlier that day David and I had ventured into the wilds of southern Indiana to find the tiny little Cox Cemetery where my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents are buried at the top of a hill overlooking a peaceful woods (“Where I can hear the foxhounds run,” my grandfather, John Whaley, a hunter, had predicted).  It was moving to stand next to my parents’ graves and remember these wonderful people (about whom I’ve written so many blog posts).

The picture below was taken in 1922 at the 50th wedding anniversary celebration of my great-grandfather, Irvin Whaley and his wife Nancy Cox.  Irvin is the old man circled in the second row (Nancy is to his right), and my grandfather, John Whaley (a widower in 1922) is circled at the far left of the row (hat in hand).  My father, Robert Whaley, is the cute, curly-headed boy circled in the front row.  John’s wife (my father’s mother) Mary had died earlier that same year (see “My Missing Grandmother,” below).

[Click to enlarge]

On Sunday David and I drove home.  He had met an overwhelming number of my Kunkel relatives, and they all had treated us both with affection and much good humor.  That side trip to the Whaley side of the family in the Cox Cemetery tied both of my family trees together in a way that I will think about in a deep and satisfying way for a long time.

It was a great trip, and I’ll close this post with a picture of my Kunkel grandparents, Carrie and Roman Kunkel, clowning with each other in their youth.  They always knew how to have a good time.

Related Posts:

A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013;

“My Competitive Parents,” January 20, 2010,

“My Mother's Sense of Humor,” April 4, 2010;

“Bob and Kink Get Married,” June 2, 2010;

“Bob Whaley, Boy Lawyer,” March 28, 2010;

“My Missing Grandmother,” December 26 2012;

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Give Me Back My Spleen and Other Adventures from Surgery

I know it sounds like an exaggeration, but I’ve had over 50 surgeries in my life.  By “surgeries” I mean any procedure in which medical cutting was done on my body.  Some of these were small (cataract surgeries in both eyes) or lasik surgery, for example, but others were major (most obviously the heart transplant in 2009).  The first happened when I was in second grade and had my tonsils removed, and the most recent was last week when I had a cyst removed from my pancreas.  I ruptured my appendix in 1978 and this led to my belly being sliced open six times in major surgeries; for the blog post on point see Then, before the heart transplant, there occurred much slicing open of my upper chest to take in and pull out a defibrillator (it kept malfunctioning).  At one point I had major problems with my nose which led to my turbinates being cut away by lasers.  And in 2013 I had a total knee replacement.  A blog clot in my leg required stents being inserted/removed in my body four times, and there have been a number of surgeries related to problems with my heart including one in which a dual electrical system had to be cut out of my new heart!

Heart biopsies have led to most of the surgeries of the 50+ count in the list.  In this interesting medical procedure (it checks for rejection of the heart and takes about 45 minutes), the cardiologist inserts a tube into my neck, threads it down into the heart (which, trust me, does not approve of this invasion) and harvests four tiny snips for analysis, pulling the pieces back up the tube.  Sounds like fun, right?  A couple of months before the transplant I had the first of these procedures. The next one was the day of the transplant itself (Nov. 23, 2009), and periodically thereafter.  In recent years they’ve tapered off and may be over. There have been, I believe, 26 of these biopsies.

Since 2011 I’ve been aware I had a cyst on my pancreas which, ominously “must be watched,” and this year a doctor whose expertise is the pancreas explained that pancreatic cancer is very fatal—even if only one cancerous cell gets in the mix.  That scared me so I agreed with the doctors it was time to take it out. 

My husband David and I went on vacation to Oregon on August 17th, and the very night we arrived home on Sunday, the 20th at midnight, we immediately prepared for surgery at six a.m. that Monday at the Ohio State University Hospitals here in Columbus.  The surgery went off smoothly and my surgeon told me that the cyst contained no cancerous cells and my pancreas, now devoid of an atrophied section, was doing fine. 

Prior to the operation (#53 as I calculate the number) my surgeon had casually mentioned that he would also be removing my spleen.  What!  My SPLEEN!  I was surprised—shocked even. Frankly, I’m not real sure what a spleen does, but the offhand comment that mine would be a casualty in all this was somehow disconcerting.  What had my poor little spleen done to deserve such treatment?  I did a mock protest and learned a lot about the spleen.

The Spleen

It turns out it had a primary function, particularly early in life, of boosting the immune system, and that function gets fainter as we age.  In my case I take major medications to thwart my immune system so that it won’t reject my heart, so removing my spleen from the picture is a good idea.

The portion of the OSU system I recuperated in is the lovely new James Cancer Hospital, which just opened in late 2014, and it is spectacular.  The design of the building, the rooms, the very friendly staff, doctors, nurses, all of it is magnificent.  I have spent a lot of time in hospital rooms at Ohio State in the last forty years, and the James is the best of them all.  I am thankful to everyone for the care I received in so warm and friendly a fashion.

Having said that, the hospital stay there is the same old torture for the patient that it has always been at whatever hospital I’ve stayed in across the country.  If you’re a former patient you doubtless know what I mean: you get no rest.  All day long, all night long the patient is interrupted by person after person coming into the room with his/her own agenda: time to take “vitals,” time to take medicine, time to clean the room, what would you like for your meals today?, here is the meal you ordered, time for your shots, the doctors are making rounds, time to clean the wound, time to try walking, and the list goes on and on.  The longest period of sleep I could maintain without a visit at night was three hours, and this at a time when my aching body begged me for sleep, needed sleep.

The bed itself was like a joke.  It certainly was not designed for comfort for the patient.  The controls are hard to reach and frequently attached to a cord that slips all too easily to the floor.  Whatever the patient does, he/she slides to the bottom of the bed and is scrunched up there until rescued and temporarily pulled back into a position where supine sleep is theoretically possible.  Whoever designed this bed should be forced—by law—to sleep in it for the rest of his/her life.  On top of this, various items in the room beep and buzz, and even ear plugs won’t keep out these irritants.

The James has a new idea on how to prevent bed sores (which occur when the patient fails to move around enough in bed).  It is now routine to attach large balloons around the ankle/thigh area, and these inflate and deflate all during the night, moving the patient’s legs as pressure is applied here and there.  Want to try and sleep through that?

Actually I didn’t mind it at all, but I’m an unusual case.  I sleep with cats, and during the night they frequently cuddle up to my feet for warmth.  When the balloons started inflating, half drugged as I was, I thought it was my cat Mama, who has spent almost every night for the last six years snuggling against my legs, and her mysterious presence made me happy.  How had Mama snuck into the hospital and found my room?  Great cat.

My Cats Mama and Abby on the Bottom of the Bed

However, as the drugs decreased I noticed that the balloon machine emitted an intermittent buzz and some clicks, and those made sleeping difficult.  I finally told the nurse to turn it all off.  She said that most patients really dislike the whole balloon idea, which was no surprise to me.

And in the bathroom the toilet had no solid surface to relax back upon when one was sitting there.  Instead there was an upright fixture for washing the toilet that consisted of a nozzle at the end of a pipe that swiveled down to clean the toilet when the patient was gone.  Since I was wearing the ever-attractive and functional hospital gown that was, of course, open in the back, it was a surprise in the middle of the night to sit on the toilet, lean back into this icy cold fixture, and yelp in protest.  They heard me two rooms away.  Whoever dreamed up this idea should come over to my house and we’ll have a good long talk.  Whoever approved its use and decided to install it in the James can come along too.

I was very pleased when my splendid doctor announced I could go home on Friday, and I am here to tell you now that one of the most sublime pleasures of my life was climbing into my very own bed that Friday afternoon, surrounded by husband, cats, love, and comfort.  As I fell into a long sleep, Mama Cat climbed onto my feet, purring, settling down to sleep herself.  She didn’t seem to care that I was spleenless.

Related Posts:

A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013;

"About That Heart Transplant," January 24, 2010;

“The First Time I Nearly Died,” August 3, 2010;

“Ten Startling Sentences I Can Stop a Conversation With,”  October 1, 2014;  

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Comparing Donald Trump to a Badly Infected Big Toe

“Horrible but fascinating, and hard not to stare at over and over.”   That’s my analogy between Donald Trump running for president and closely inspecting one’s own badly infected big toe.  My blog is usually about things other than politics, as steady readers will certainly know, but in 2016 I keep coming back to The Donald because he’s mesmerizing.  I promise to stop, at least for awhile, and in the future write about other topics, but right now I can’t stop marveling at the impossibility that this madness is really going on.

There is no way anything as outrageous as the Donald Trump campaign could be this close to the presidency of the United States, with the man at its top so outrageously unqualified for the office—that scenario surely is fiction, or a joke, or a skit on Saturday Night Live, or a ridiculous dream.  Like huge numbers of people the world over, I find myself guiltily rubbernecking at this traffic wreck in progress, not quite believing it’s real. 

You keep hearing speculation that Trump has never really meant to actually become president, that one afternoon he’ll simply pull his chips from the table and announce that he’s tired of running and has decided instead to build a golf course on the moon or something else more interesting than the tedium of politics.  But so far, no.  Instead The Donald keeps rambling on, making spontaneous disconnected statements as the moment seizes him, sounding, as one commentator wrote, like someone making a “drunken wedding toast.”

DOONESBURY [click to enlarge]

When things are revealed about Trump’s past that would sink any other candidate immediately, it means nothing to his followers and fans.  Donald Trump is not, as he endlessly proclaims, one of the most astute businessmen on the planet, and no one who looks carefully into his record thinks so.  Major books have been written exposing Trump’s shady business dealings [see Wayne Barrett, “Trump: The Deals and the Downfall,”; Timothy L. O’Brien, “Trump Nation,” (which led to the author being sued by Trump for libel and winning the lawsuit); David Cay Johnston, “Temples of Chance” exploring Trump’s casino days and concluding that in 1990 Trump was in debt to the tune of nearly three hundred million dollars, leading to the first of the (so far) six bankruptcies filed by Trump companies.  His record is replete with major failure after major failure, all of which he escapes from nicely by taking the corporations into bankruptcy while he retains big bucks paid to him as a salary/bonus/commission for heading up the financial disaster. 

One major business tactic, employed in building Trump’s casinos in Atlantic City and at other projects, is to sign contracts with the various companies doing  subcontracting work, let them perform, and then send them checks for half the amount owed them.  When they protest, Trump’s usual excuse is not that their performance was substandard, but that he’s losing money on the project and they’ll just have to take their share of the hit.  When the subcontractor protests Trump’s lawyer frankly explain that, yeah, the contractor might well win if he goes to court, but in the meantime the enormous Trump legal machine will make it so expensive and so long a process that the contractor still won’t make any money from the lawsuit, so he might as well take the partial payment and shut up.  [For a more complete discussion see the AP news release of June 29, 2016 at; and for a very sad interview on point see the video in]  

I previously wrote a long blog post detailing Trump’s fraud in creating, profiting by, and legal problems arising from his promotion of Trump University, which duped thousands of the people who loved him into handing over their savings but giving them nothing in return [see “Trump University: A Fraudster for President”? March 10, 2016;].  If he becomes the next President of the United States, it is highly likely that, while in office, he’ll be found guilty of swindling these poor people and facing massive damages in one or more of the three class actions currently seeking that very relief. What an example of a U.S. President that will be for the world!

A major recent revelation is—shocking but somehow predictable—that Trump did not write the major bestseller “The Art of the Deal” which has made him millions since 1987 when it was first published.  Here is the cover of the book:

Note that the author of the book is described as “Donald Trump with Tony Schwartz.” It turns out this is false.  Recently Mr. Schwartz gave an interview to The New Yorker in which he repents ever meeting Donald Trump and agreeing to write the book that made Trump even more famous and both of them rich [see].  Schwartz says (and Random House, the publisher confirms) that Trump didn’t write a single word of the book.  Schwartz wrote it alone after spending 18 months with Trump, working hard to get him to participate at all.  Here are some Schwartz’s quotes from the interview:

 “I put lipstick on a pig. . . . I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is.”

“He has no attention span . . . like a kindergartner who can’t sit still in a classroom . . . .  If he had to be briefed on a crisis in the Situation Room, it’s impossible to imagine him paying attention over a long period of time.”

“More than anyone else I have ever met, Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true, or at least ought to be true. . . .  He lied strategically. He had a complete lack of conscience about it.”

“I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”

Statements like that of course sent Trump rocketing into the stratosphere.  Immediately after the interview was published in The New Yorker Schwartz received a blistering letter from Trump’s lawyer, who demanded a retraction and threatened a lawsuit for defamation.  That’s in keeping with Trump’s usual tactic: he sues fast, refuses to settle, and drags things out to raise the other side’s attorney’s fees until they give up.  Tony Schwartz’s lawyer immediately replied that Schwartz had no intention of making a retraction, so go ahead and sue.  Schwartz has pledged to give all profits he makes from “The Art of the Deal” from now on to charity, and he’s working hard to defeat Trump’s election as president.  [For more details on this legal battle see].

On August 2nd, President Obama, astounded at Trump’s ineptness, declared on television that Donald Trump is "woefully unprepared" and "unfit to serve as president."  Comparing Trump to Obama’s past election opponents, the president said "Mitt Romney and John McCain were wrong on certain policy issues, but I never thought that they couldn't do the job."  He is very disturbed by the possibility that Trump might be the next occupant of the Oval Office.  We all should be.

Governor John Kasich
There is some evidence that when Donald Trump was trying to persuade former rival John Kasich to become his vice presidential running mate he offered to let Kasich, behind the scenes, actually run the government both on the domestic and international levels, while Trump himself remained Head of State for all ceremonial occasions.  It’s both hard to believe that offer was made, but at the very same time no one would bet big money Trump didn’t actually propose it.  John Kasich not only turned Trump down, he has refused to endorse him for president, and wouldn’t even attend the Republican Convention held in Ohio where Kasich is the current governor.

I finish the post where it started.  The whole Trump campaign is very much like a badly infected big toe: scary yet fascinating, both real and unreal at the same instant.  Everyone should be clear about making sure this bizarre man is not elected president.  I don’t care how much you dislike Hillary Clinton.  Okay, she might either be a very good president or a poor one, but she’s not unqualified for the office, and she’s a sane and thoughtful person with an impressive record of public service.  If you can’t vote for her because you can’t stand the woman or don’t trust her, stay home.  Time Magazine quoted BriAna Golphin, an Ohioan, who summed up the attitude all voters should have about Trump’s candidacy when she said, “It could be Kermit the Frog and Donald Trump, I’d pick Kermit the Frog.”

I'm with BriAna.  Kermit would at least work to make intelligent decisions.

Related Posts:

“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013;

“Trump University: A Fraudster for President”? March 10, 2016;]

“Why Hillary Will Stomp Trump In November,” June 30, 2016;

“Trump’s VP Choice:  Introducing Sarah Palin . . . Mike Pence!” July 18, 2016;