The Kidney Stones of Thanksgiving

I spent the Saturday afternoon after Thanksgiving  Day in the waiting room of an urgent care center. The last place I wanted to be during my four-day weekend from working at a nearby hospital. My friend, however, had a confirmed 4mm kidney stone in his bladder. I’ve been calling it “Little Shatner” after William Shatner sold his kidney stone on eBay. Passing a kidney stone is the closest thing that a man will ever get to childbirth. I know because I delivered my own kidney stone on Thanksgiving Day 1995, which forever changed my life as a Christian.

After being kicked out of San Jose State University in Spring 1995 for failing calculus, I took a literature class each semester in the 1995-96 school year at San Jose City College to figure out what to do with my life. I felt a sharp jabbing pain in what I later learned to be my right kidney and started having trouble urinating in mid-November. I went to the nurse’s office on campus to have the doctor looked at me. She suspected that I had urinary track infection, prescribed some antibiotics, and sent me over to Valley Medical Hospital to be poke and prodded by an emergency room doctor to see if I had an erupted appendix.

I went up to Sacramento to visit my parents for Thanksgiving. The antibiotics didn’t seem to work. After we had Thanksgiving dinner and I laid down for a nap, I felt the urgent need to urinate and made a mad dash to the bathroom. As I leaned over the toilet, the pain from waiting to go became agony.

Ever see a snake swallowing a whole egg that moves through its tubular body? I stared in horror as an egg-shaped bulge slowly moved through and distorted the shape of my penis. When the kidney stone finally exited, a river of blood, pus and urine poured out as my bladder emptied for the next ten minutes.  My mother knocked at the door, asking if I was okay. I was shaken but never felt so relieved in my life. My father said I had passed a kidney stone.

The school doctor later conceded that I might have passed  a kidney stone.

I commiserated with my roommate, Bruce, who had also passed a kidney stone a few weeks earlier. We first met eight years earlier at a church workshop on a Saturday morning a week after I was baptized into Christ. Until I moved in his household, we had little contact during those years. He confided to me that he was dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease and wanted me to take care of him until the day he died. Without passing that kidney stone, I doubted I would have said yes. I became one of five brothers who took care of him until he died five years later, watching him become angry with God for losing his ability to live an independent life and peacefully accepting that his life was in God’s hands in the end.

Who Celebrates Columbus Day Anymore?

I was driving into work yesterday when the KGO 810AM traffic report on the radio mentioned that traffic was light throughout the San Francisco Bay Area because of the Columbus Day holiday. That didn’t make any sense. The northbound traffic on the 280 came to a crawl because of an accident in Cupertino. Not surprisingly, the accident was long gone when I drove by and the next traffic report mentioned the slowdown. As for Columbus Day, who celebrates Columbus Day anymore?

The last time I celebrated Columbus Day was in the second grade in the 1970’s, where the boys wore Indian feathers, painted red “war” paint on our bare chest, and ran around with rubber tomahawks to menace the girls in their “settler” sundresses. I didn’t want to be an Indian. I wanted to bring in my cap rifle and guns to shoot the Indians dead (I had grudges against several of my classmates), but there were no cowboys around when Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492.

I inquired with a co-worker if we were supposed to be at work since Columbus Day was a holiday. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that kind of a holiday. This paleface wouldn’t be driving back home to go back to bed. This was Monday, work had to be done and I needed the paycheck. Getting up late in the morning was for the weekends and real holidays.

My co-worker also told me that Columbus Day should be called Indigenous Day of Remembrance—not to be confused with American Indian Heritage Day in November—for all the evil things that Columbus did when he set foot in America: the slavery and small pox epidemics that decimated the native populations. All the stuff I wasn’t taught about in the second grade. No surprise there. I didn’t learn anything about American history until I took courses in college.

The only time Native Americans are discussed in modern day America is whether or not Elizabeth Warren has Cherokee and Delaware ancestry and Senator Scott Brown’s supporters are doing the tomahawk chop in the U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts.

I’m not even sure if Italian-Americans celebrates Columbus Day. At least, not in Silicon Valley. None of my relatives from that side of the family invited me over for spaghetti and meatballs last night. Considering that the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s are reeling in the playoffs, no one was in a celebratory mood. Forget about some dead old white guy. Another “Battle of The Bay” world series may not happen this year.

California July 4th Fireworks Gone Bust

San Diego had a spectacular fireworks display that lasted 30 seconds on July 4th, 2012, when the Big Bay Boom show went up in smoke all at once. A computer glitch and/or virus may have caused the ignition of all the fireworks.



The three major firework shows in Silicon Valley were no different with a low cloud cover obscuring the night sky. Depending on where you were in San Jose, Santa Clara and Mountain View, you heard the huge air cannons go boom, fireworks go shrieking into the clouds, and bright lights flashing inside the clouds. A very muted celebration since the holiday fell on Wednesday this year. Surprisingly, at my apartment complex, no one was shooting bottle rockets off the balconies.

Strange Bedfellows In The Supreme Court Health Care Decision

Some people were surprised that Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts would abandon the conservative wing to uphold the health care decision. It shouldn’t. If you ever studied supreme court history, the chief justice will almost always try to be on the “correct” side of a major court case that has significant implications for the country. Although still young for a chief justice, and this probably won’t be his last big decision, Chief Justice Roberts has an obligation to protect the Supreme Court as an institution even if the other two branches of the government choose to go to political hell.

Did Chief Justice Roberts throw a gift-wrapped bone to conservatives by declaring the individual mandate penalty to be a tax? Maybe, maybe not. With politicians being afraid of raising taxes, everyone is scrambling to figure out where they stand tax-wise to the health care decision. Interestingly, the Mitt Romney campaign is having a harder time with this issue than the Barak Obama campaign: denying that it’s a tax, acknowledging that it’s a tax, and fending off calls from Rupert Murdoch and Jack Welch to shake up campaign staff.

We live in a strange world where a moderate conservative president for the liberal party can introduce a health care proposal that embraces many ideas from the conservative party, have it enacted into law by the liberals on a party line vote, be repudiated everywhere by the conservatives as unholy, and uphold as constitutional by a conservative chief justice on the nation’s highest court. Something to think about on America’s 236th birthday.

The Day The Golden Gate Bridge Got Flatten

This Memorial Day weekend was the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Seems like the celebration was a ho-hum affair as the fog kept away for the fireworks show that was shot off the bridge. If you remember the 50th anniversary from 25 years ago, where 300,000 people walked across the bridge on foot at the same time, the bridge flattened out from the overwhelming weight.

Picture this: Hundreds of thousands of people are crammed shoulder to shoulder on the Golden Gate Bridge when suddenly the bridge’s gentle arch begins to flatten out. A metal groan then echoes across San Francisco Bay as the majestic towers begin tilting toward each other.

As the towers hit their breaking point, the 3-foot-thick main suspension cables slacken and the roadway splits open, dropping waves of pedestrians more than 200 feet to their deaths.

That almost happened 25 years ago today, at least according to urban legend.

On May 24, 1987, 300,000 people were stuck in human gridlock for hours while getting a rare chance to cross the 1.7-mile bridge en masse on foot to celebrate the bridge’s golden anniversary. Officials quickly closed the bridge, so a half-million other people waiting to cross never got the chance. Still, the enormous, unprecedented weight caused the middle of the bridge to sag 7 feet.

Engineers were kicking themselves that day for not anticipating this historic event  and putting sensors on the bridge to measure the flattening out effect. The current generation of engineers have a hard enough time maintaining the bridge throughout the years.

As my father liked to tell me when I was growing up, the Golden Gate Bridge could never be built today. A worker died for every one-million-dollar spent was the norm back in the 1930’s. Although today’s safety and environmental laws could prevent a worker’s death, a barrage of lawsuits that could delay a project indefinitely could come about before the project even gets off the drawing board.  The California high speed rail is a good example of that.

What the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge means today is that America has become a nation of small ideas, where the big ideas like a building a bridge across the treacherous Golden State Strait is a monument to our past.


Artistic Clutter

When I took the week off between Christmas and New Year’s, I expected to use the free time to go on a creative binge of writing, painting, drawing, and perhaps some programming. That didn’t happen.

Christmas shopping—better late than never—took up a whole day. My father spent three days snoring away on my green chair when we weren’t visiting family for Christmas Eve in Gilroy and Christmas Day in Morgan Hill. My six-month-old great-nephew made off like a bandit when he got 40+ Christmas presents that took three hours to unwrap, overwhelming his parents by the generosity of family and friends that they might need to get a bigger house. A somewhat gloomy Christmas as most of my family are out of work and concern about losing their homes because of the subprime mess.

My friend and I saw “Sweeney Todd” and “Alien Vs. Predator Requiem” at the theater, and we went shopping for a new hard drive to install into his system. I went to the DMV to take my driving test to get my driver’s license for the first time, as my father abandoned his old car in my car port as a birthday present this past summer that forced me to take ownership. When most of the week came and went, I had to face the consequences of being a very creative person this past year.

My studio apartment got filled with clutter. Not just ordinary clutter, but artistic clutter.

  • When you’re a writer, you need a place for your manual typewriter, laptop, laser printer, and the creative output of drafts, revisions and rejection slips.
  • When you paint or draw, you need a place for your brushes, paints, pens, and the creative output of canvases, panels, tablets and sheets.
  • When you’re a programmer, you need a place to stack all those door-stoppers—heavy programming books—that you buy on impulse and may someday read.
  • When you take several semesters of ceramics, you bring home lots of small pieces and several big pieces weighing 25 pounds each, bags of leftover clay, and a clay-crusted toolbox.

I spent New Year’s Day going through the clutter scattered throughout my apartment. I got a four-drawer commercial filing cabinet to toss the paperwork into, re-arranged my desk, table and computers into a more functional arrangement, and cleared out space in my closet to store paper and canvases. Straighten out my shelves so I can store the small ceramics with the books, and cleared some floor space for the larger ceramic pieces. All my painting supplies went on the top of the shelves. Everything else that I didn’t need got tossed out into the recycling dumpster. I went from artistic clutter to organized clutter. It’ll probably take me the rest of the year to reduce the organized clutter into something less than clutter.

The Mythical Wii-Beast of Black Friday

This past Black Friday was a Wii-less one. After I went into work to find out that I wasn’t needed for the special shift, my friend and I didn’t start prowling the stores until noon. If any Nintendo Wii consoles were available on this sacred shopping day, they were long gone after 5:00AM.

First stop was to Circuit City for my friend to pick up “From The Earth to The Moon” DVD box set for $15 USD (normally $60 USD). We found no mythical Wii-beast there. We told one guy in line that we were hunting for the Wii-beast; he mentioned that he got his own months ago through a friend at EA. When I was a lead tester at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crisis), I won a Sony Playstation 2 at the company Christmas party in 2003. I sold it to a friend unopened for $200 USD because she wanted one to give to her boyfriend for Christmas, but kept it for herself after the relationship went south. Since I was the Nintendo guru at work, it didn’t make much sense to have a Playstation 2 at home. That’s how video game company connections usually work.

The parking lot at Fry’s Electronics in San Jose was more interesting with three idiots for every open parking spot in front and no one going in back to park. (We did get a parking spot in front.) A sign inside the video game department greeted us with the bad news: “Wii Sold Out!” We didn’t buy anything at Fry’s since the line to the cash register was two hours long.

The sign at Best Buy at Santana Row was no better: “Wii No Longer Available!”

The mythical Wii-beast of Black Friday eluded us among the many boxes of the Sony Playstation 3 and Microsoft XBox 360 that no one wanted. Since I told all my relatives that I was looking for a Wii this holiday season, maybe the mythical Wii-beast will make an appearance for Christmas.

Thanksgiving 2006

I spent Thanksgiving Day with my brother’s family in Morgan Hill. My nephew and his girlfriend are expecting their first child next July. Since my nephew was born on New Year’s Day and his girlfriend was born on Labor Day, they are hoping for the baby to arrive on the Fourth of July. I think the men folk—harden baseball and football fans—was horrified after the dinner to hear that the mother-to-be was planning an elaborate tailgate party in the hospital parking lot.

I spent Black Friday working out at the gym first thing in the morning and cooking an 18-pound turkey in the afternoon. I skipped the entire shopping scene as I had already virtually stampeded Amazon. The Nintendo Wii was gone in the first minute. I tried to get an XBox 360 Core System for $100 USD but it took ten minutes for the web page to load up with the announcement that all 1,000 units were gone. I haven’t had this much fun since the early 1980’s when my mother punched out two other mothers at Toy “R” Us to get a Cabbage Patch Kids doll for my niece.

A Sleepless Fourth of July

I didn’t get much sleep last night with the Fourth of July celebrations going on in the neighborhood. I live two miles away from the fireworks show in downtown San Jose, where the loud air cannons thumped fireworks into the air. After the fireworks show was over at 10:00PM, the neighborhood kids—and some adults who haven’t grown up—got into the act by exploding their own illegal stash of fireworks until midnight. No fireworks celebration would be complete without tossing firecrackers into every dumpster in the apartment complex. I never did like fireworks.