Archive for December, 2008

December 29, 2008

A Happy Healthy New Year; or, Cowboy Diplomacy in the Doctor's Office

by cowboylands

Medical tools from the Civil War

There is something to be said for a high-deductible health care plan: This year, thanks to a likely financial crunch in my chosen field, I will certainly be reviewing my health expenditures carefully. No more mammograms willy-nilly–squishing boobs for fun has gone the way of tinkering with stocks. No longer will I drop in on my dermatologist to have a chat, and then casually disrobe so he can check for moles and spots. That funny feeling in my stomach that comes and goes with the seasons? Not as important as sonograms for tracking cysts. I will have some choices to make this coming year, and as I am pro-choice, it kind of fits. 

Having a health insurance is a luxury, I am aware, and so I won’t bitch too much about having to cough up an unholy amount of money for the privilege of seeing doctors I respect and who know my internal organs. I’m one of the fortunate ones. The National Coalition on Health Care estimates that nearly 46 million Americans, or 18 percent of the population under the age of 65, were without health insurance in 2007. Lest anyone pull out the boogeyman of illegal aliens, note that according to the NCHC, 80 percent of the uninsured are natural or naturalized citizens. Also note (before someone trots out the laziness of Americans) that the increase in the number of uninsured in 2006 was focused among working age adults. 

So even being a hard worker can’t necessarily save one from facing crippling medical costs, as employment-based health insurance is going the way of the dinosaurs and the beluga whale. Both small businesses and part-timers can’t stretch their dollars enough to cover premiums, and thus we have a situation in which the best plan for many (those privileged with health insurance) is to pump up their deductible and crank down their expenditures. In the words of a once-upon-a-time candidate for the highest office of the land:

John McCain Believes The Key To Health Care Reform Is To Restore Control To The Patients Themselves. We want a system of health care in which everyone can afford and acquire the treatment and preventative care they need. Health care should be available to all and not limited by where you work or how much you make. Families should be in charge of their health care dollars and have more control over care. 

That would be me. And what has this to do with cowboys? I will be taking a page from our nearly invisible cowboy president in making sure that the quality and quantity of health care I receive is the best it can be. I plan on cowboying up every time I walk into the doctor’s office. 

I will:

♣ wear cowboy boots. As in Cowboy Fact #40–Even when you feel like shit, cowboy boots make you a little taller. 

♣ dress for success. That may not include a belt buckle the size of Texas, but it will include the kind of put-together look that comes with getting your way. The boots will help. But I will not, for example, be wearing this:

♣ speak softly and carry a big stick. I take that cue from Teddy Roosevelt and the Virginian. My stick won’t be a Colt Peacemaker but knowledge that will allow me to ask the right questions to the right doctors at the right time. In addition, a relative’s medical billing background will help crack codes; Internet searches will arm me with info (and hopefully not make me freak out); and a virtual and real-world support system of people (the interdependence that is the true Western ideal) will bring me community. And when the receptionist tells me I don’t have paperwork or the right attitude, I’ll reply, “If you want to call me that, smile.”

♣ get back on if I fall off. When I am confused about medication, procedures, a doctor’s advice, symptoms, prognosis, the bill, facility vs. non-facility, “medically necessary,” co-pays, co-insurance, premiums, excluded conditions, inpatient, outpatient, impatient, PPO, and EOB, I will have to remember that if I fall off this bucking bronco of health benefits I have to get right back on again. 


 Click here for more great pics from this photographer

Like a cowboy, I plan on being tough-minded and honest, polite yet fast on the draw. Unlike a cowboy, I hope not to get saddle sores and broken bones. I’ll have to wire together the truck and buddy up with a rodeo pal. Taking the cue from the cowboy, I will arm myself with self-assurance and confidence, elements of the cowboy can-do attitude. Lemme just call my relative in medical billing to crow about my plan….

Rats. Not to be a bummer but she said it’s tough to take control over your care when doctors have fifteen minutes average with each patient, a nonsensical arrangement that only makes sense when you consider that they often have to pay the staff and rent and insurance out of their fees. In her words, in that space of time, how can doctors possibly explain the diagnosis, possible procedures and tests, compare costs, and plan for the next step in enough detail for you to make a considered decision? 

Ride ’em, cowboy, ride. 

December 18, 2008

I'm Dreaming of a Clint Christmas

by cowboylands

I asked him what his favorite western pulp novel was. (Brave, I admit–Clint Eastwood does not have a lot of time to make nice with visitors to his California ranch.)

In reply he did that squinty Clint thing (my heart simultaneously leaped and quailed–giving me heartburn later on in the day).


You know, I persisted, like Luke Short or Ernest Haycox? Hard Money? Action by Night? Night Marshal? Ramrod

The rest of the group was moving ahead, and before he could go to the more important head of the party, I (doing my best not to latch on to his arm) I managed to tell Clint Eastwood that I thought he would enjoy Luke Short’s stories, because Short’s spare words pack a punch. (Thank gawd I didn’t say something simpering as in, “like your movies.”)

He nodded, appearing to take the time to think about what I said and then excused himself graciously.

OK! I had probably alienated one of my cowboy heroes, who, in a post-post-modern sort of way, would command his cowboy-bodyguards to toss me through a saloon’s plate-glass window rather than do it himself.  But at least I had spoken to him and not blathered like an idiot. 

It was later in the tour that he swung by again, asking me what I thought about… I can’t even remember, honestly. All I can recall is I got a mushy, warm feeling inside that spread through my solar plexus and zeroed in on my G-spot. I opened my mouth to reply–and woke up.


Only a dream! I can usually spot my dreams, but this one didn’t have space aliens or super heroes, or some sort of apocalyptic vision. It was so normal. A tour of Eastwood’s ranch, a casual word, the culmination of a fantasy. And yes, that’s all it would be. The man is an icon, but an aged one, after all. We would talk. We would become compadres. Pards. We would shoot e-mails back and forth between his red-carpet walks and my deadlines. I would fill him in on the mysteries of 1940s and 1950s pulps; Clint would tell me about, well, being Clint. 

For that’s what he is. Clint. For common mortals like me, he is and will always be Man With No Name. Dirty Harry. Josie Wales. Who else of today’s filmic world has that glory, or that burden?

The inciting action for this dream was an excerpt from a review of Gran Torino, by Manohla Dargis, in  the New York Times of December 12: 

…Mr. Eastwood is also an adept director of his own performances and, perhaps more important, a canny manipulator of his own iconographic presence. He knows that when we’re looking at him, we’re also seeing Dirty Harry and the Man With No Name and all his other outlaws and avenging angels who have roamed across the screen for the last half-century. All these are embedded in his every furrow and gesture.


Dream aside, as I type about my chaste love affair, all I think about is that I don’t want Clint for his directorial efforts or his jazz playing, or his ranch, or his forearms (they featured prominently in a dream of a writer friend of mine), or his many good works. I want him for the Cowboy in him, and so apparently, does everyone else (such as movie critics). 

And now I have the question that will haunt my sleep for nights to come: If you sell your soul to the Cowboy, do you ever get it back?

(Apparently not if you are one of the film/music icons who gets a fake-faded brown images of themselves sold at fake Route 66 shops in suburban malls, like Elvis, James Dean, and Marilyn Monroe. And Clint is, unfortunately, part of that crowd.)

Ennio Morricone also lives on in a brilliant rendition of the theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly by the awesome Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain.

And Sergio Leone lives on in Legos: 

A Kaptain Kobold kreation. The photo here doesn’t do it service; the original photo on flickr has notes from lego-cowboy fans. See it here


December 9, 2008

Riding into the Sunset; or, for Mark Ferguson, 1959-2008

by cowboylands

There is something about the cowboy-riding-into-the-sunset image that is alluring. Countless movies end with the viewer/camera watching the swaying back of the horseback cowboy heading off into the glow of the setting sun, and a google image search will reveal kitsch and parody–it’s so cliché people don’t know what to do with a cowboy and a sunset anymore except put the two together and get misty-eyed. I have to admit, I got caught up, too: while trying to deal with the death of a good friend from liver cancer, I planned to use that image for a blog epitaph. But as I simultaneously grappled with his absence and rejoiced in the presence of his wonderful family, I found that the more I pursued that trail, the faster it petered out or took wrong turns. 

The key to the code of the riding-into-the-sunset thing is the lone figure on the horse. The cowboy/gunfighter of pop culture fame drifts into town like a tumbleweed, and unlike a real tumbleweed, which gets caught up under a car’s undercarriage and has to be disentangled from the axle with many fervent curses, the cowboy/gunfighter drifts out again. Alone, maybe touching a few lives, but remaining separate from the common herd. 

 Anyone who knew Mark would recognize the disparity right away. Raconteur, teacher, friend, family man, political ranter, steam room connoisseur, advisor–always fully engaged, and not a drifter at all. While he was sick and after his passing, where we have gathered, I’ve felt him present at the party. Mark’s service, in a cold but beautiful cemetery in Sleepy Hollow (home to a more demonic horseman), was a testament to the fact that he would not be a lonely rider moving toward the western horizon. In fact, he has a host of people, a veritable town, seeing him off.  

Like the more complex western heroes that came to life through the able lenses of John Ford, Anthony Mann, and especially Budd Boetticher, Mark had many facets that came to life with repeated viewing/conversation. Like any western hero, he went on his final journey on this plane with courage.  Words can’t express. And thankfully, the cowboy riding into the sunset doesn’t either. 

Mark © Damaso Reyes 2008