Dear Electric Company

Dear Company Formerly Known as FP&L,
Recently I received a very touching letter signed by your State President. It was especially meaningful to me because I’ve known you since you were just a little tyke, long before you became The Duke. I know we communicate monthly via your heart-felt “Thank you for your payment” emails, but an actual letter, on company letterhead – well it almost moved me to tears.

I know I have been guilty of saying unkind and unappreciative things about you in the past. Particularly when my husband and I received notice about those rate hikes you so desperately needed to re-furbish and build new power plants. Clearly I was being short-sighted and was not considering the Big Picture. You were only trying to do what was right for us, after all.

And then when you requested more money to tear down the ones you had started to fix up? Boy did I get steamed about that! I believe I may have made an unflattering comparison to your policy, likening it to that part in the great novel Catch-22. You remember that book? A classic, eh? There was that section in there that talked about Milo Minderbinder’s father who was paid handsomely to NOT grow wheat. I remember the first time I read it and laughed until tears were rolling down my cheeks. It’s damn funny stuff when you are sixteen and don’t pay your own light bill, let me tell you!

But at any rate, please forgive my cheekiness. Clearly I am old and do not understand the world of energy and high finance. I am sure you have perfectly good reasons for not taking the original rate hike – the one for building things – and not applying it to the current project – the one for tearing down the things you built. I am sure you have perfectly good reasons for this strategy and I should not, as your State President pointed out, just carte blanche, accept the explanation I read in the very biased, Pulitzer Prize winning Tampa Bay Times. The media can be so cruel.

And yes, I did get a bit peeved when I recently had to fork out a second deposit to put the lights on for my grandkids and their mom who needed emergency housing. Yes, I know rules are rules, but in my addle-headed Luddite silliness, I guess I thought our long, very close relationship might entitle us to a discount on the second residence, especially since we’ve never fucked you over on the monthly bills we are paying on the first one. I did not for one second stop and appreciate the fact that you dropped EVERYTHING, just for me, and had the power turned on in that house the very next day! What is $500.00 compared to the peace of mind I get from knowing you are there for me when I need you the most?

But back to your letter. It just could not have come at a better time. Here I am, sitting with my childish resentments, and then the mail comes and I can hardly believe it! It is an apology for the inefficiencies you found in your meter reading routes. You actually said these words, (which literally caused me to weep openly): “We apologize for any hardship this may have caused you and your family.” And this: “We value you as a customer and are working to fix this and make it right.  A credit will be added on either your September or October bill.”

Obviously I have mischaracterized you as just another greedy corporation, and for that please accept my own heartfelt apologies. And with God as my witness, I promise to use that $5.62 wisely. In fact, I am planning to bless my grandchildren today with 1 ½ Happy Meals thanks to your selfless generosity.
Humbly yours,
A faithful customer
(Hugs!)

The Other

Over the past month, I have finished reading four autobiographical accounts written by people who suffer from mental illness. One suffered from schizophrenia, another bi-polar disorder, one from drug and alcohol addiction, and the last was a book written by the father of an addict. Technically, I suppose the last one is in a slightly different category, but the difference is merely one of perspective and in the end, that difference is trivial. The real theme here is suffering, the kind brought on by the alchemic transformation of biochemistry into madness.
Unlike what the world, (the untroubled world, the world of “normal”), defines as suffering, mental illness is a disease of one: one person, one demon, one battle. The individual at the eye of the storm is not living in a place where ebola, starvation, intestinal parasites, and bombs are the primary cause of death. (Here I must provide a rather banal disclaimer: yes, I know other cultures, including impoverished third world countries, have mentally ill populations, but that isn’t what this is about.) They live here. They live next door. They live, perhaps, in your house. They live, perhaps, in your own head.
We think of them as the “Other,” as in “Not Me.” Not Me is a place, as opposed to an actual person. Not Me is a country populated by your friends, family, and co-workers, all of whom are perfectly normal. Other is a place too, but it is populated by people who talk to themselves and smell funny and pick through the trash and have more cats than they do teeth. Other is a place populated by criminals, pimps, whores, drop-outs, the unemployed, and the unemployable. Obviously Uncle Bob doesn’t live in the land of Other – he just has “spells,” or is “sick again.” Obviously your beloved child doesn’t live there either – he is just going through a “phase.” And obviously your ‘til-death-do-us-part-teenage-sweetheart-made-for-T.V. spouse doesn’t live there either. He’s just having a “rough time” and is “under a lot of pressure.” Uncle Bob, your child, your spouse live in Not Me. Obviously.
Except…except when they don’t, but we don’t really talk about that, do we? Why? Well that’s pretty obvious too. Some people deceive themselves, true. Therapists love to talk about denial as if those of us who love someone who is broken have some sort of choice in the matter. We don’t talk about it because it is dangerous, and the danger is real. There is a danger that a person who has worked very hard to recover will lose a hard-won job if the word gets out. There is a danger that we will be kicked out of our home if our landlord finds we are caring for an adult alcoholic child. There is a danger that our neighbors will find out that we have a crazy person in our house and will try to force us to move. And that doesn’t even step into the emotional bullying pile of shit the good folks from Not Me will leave on our front stoop.
Now these books I read were brave and brilliant and raw and true, but the fact is that they were written by people with resources. Yes, I am sure they found more than one flaming pile of shit on their doorstep, but they had two things that most of us who deal with living in Other-world don’t have: access to treatment and environmental security. They had degrees, connections, families with money, someone in their life who could keep a roof over their head when they lost control. They had a physical safety net that your average, run-of-the-mill crazy person doesn’t have.
I do not begrudge them this and it takes nothing away from the immense courage it took to tell their stories. The fact that they had a safety net does not diminish, by a single iota, the suffering they experienced, and still do suffer, because mental illness may sleep, but it still dreams. My beef is not with these incredible authors who stood up and told their stories and in doing so, became advocates for all the inhabitants of Other, including – maybe, especially – those who are flying without a net, those who have been forced into hiding, and those whose symptoms are so conspicuous they cannot hide. No. My beef is not with them.
It is, instead, with a cultural norm propagated through the media, promulgated by politicians, and perpetuated by the inhabitants of Not Me. That cultural norm is unspoken because no one really has to say it. Everyone knows the mantra already. That mantra pretty much goes like this: Fuck ‘em. Fuck ‘em because they are criminals who drive drunk, sell dope, and steal shit so they can drive drunk and buy drugs more often. Fuck ‘em because they lay in bed all day complaining that they are depressed and not contributing to the motherfucking Gross National Product and what’s up with that? Fuck ‘em because they are on disability because they can’t control their weird behavior from 9-5, 5 days a week. Is that so damn hard? Oh yeah, and fuck ‘em times ten because they aren’t…well, you know…normal.
Screw the 5.7 million Americans who suffer from bi-polar disorder. Screw the 2.4 million schizophrenics and the 23.5 million addicts and those 14.8 million people who lay in bed all day whining about how sad they feel. To hell with the anorexics and bulimics and agoraphobics and the 33,000 people who commit suicide every year. Besides, don’t some of these staggering figures just represent the same people? Aren’t we counting the drunk schizophrenics twice? That’s cheating, exaggerating, a gross misrepresentation of the numbers! It’s alarmist propaganda, it’s pandering, it’s…it’s… bad form. And besides, aren’t half those people faking it anyway? If you listen to psychiatrists, everyone has a mental illness.
Thank you very much. I have already heard these arguments and I am, to say the least, nonplussed. The number of people in this country who suffer from a serious mental illness that even a child (not a precocious child who has memorized the entire DSM-IV, but just, you know, a regular kid) could diagnosis is somewhere in the millions. It’s a big number even adjusting by some arbitrary factor to account for dual diagnosis and flagrant malingering. If we had millions of people suffering from plague or leprosy, you’d see people marching in the street, demanding action, storming Capitol Hill. There would be a sense of urgency and something would have to be done about it.
It is an old saw, often used when discussing national priorities, but I’m going to bust out the rusted blade here and start cutting. Based on the response of pharmaceutical companies and lobbyists, I am absolutely certain we must have had an imminent erectile dysfunction crisis on our hands at some point in time, else there would not be such easy access to Viagra, which flows, yea verily, like water from the fountain pens of our health care providers. As a society, we act swiftly when our boners are at stake. Where, then, is a similar response to mental illness?
I leave you with a question that, as of today, has no answer. And as long as we continue to ignore the question, the suffering will continue in deep, immense, and immeasurable silence.

50 Words for Heat

It is said that Native Alaskans have 50 words for snow.  Flurries, blizzards, soft snow, hard snow, snow that dusts and snow that clings, snow that floats and snow that drifts. Likewise Floridians have a rich and diverse linguistic tradition for describing heat. Most of them contain the word “fuck,” leading anthropologists and historians into fierce debates regarding whether early Floridians had, at one time, a more intimate relationship with the sun. But I digress. If you are planning a trip to Florida, it would be wise to familiarize yourself with these terms as they may save your life. Here are some words and phrases that characterize the onset of summer.

From a meteorologist’s point of view, that would be the week or two when temperatures hit 88 degrees. Every. Single. Day. “Had a nice breeze this morning.”  This is a phrase which actually means, “but this afternoon was a bitch.” “Well, I guess summer is around the corner now.” This is an oblique reference to breaking a sweat while retrieving the mail. “Pretty warm today, eh?”  This phrase is usually aimed at sunburned tourists and spring-breakers who mistakenly thought that it is indeed possible to sit on the beach for eight hours with nothing but a case of beer without having your day ruined by vomiting, heat stroke and paramedics.

“Warm,” “almost summer,” “sweaty,” “tourist season,” and “paramedics” are all Native Floridian terms used to describe that pre-summer season when it is still possible to go outdoors during the day. When the mercury crawls above ninety, however, Floridians begin shedding the polite euphemisms. At the ninety degree mark, Floridians begin to use the word “hot.” At ninety-two, “hot” becomes “fucking hot.” At ninety-five, “fucking hot,” becomes, “You’ve got to be shitting me.” At ninety-eight, “you’ve got to be shitting me,” becomes, “Holy fuck. My spleen just melted.” (Melted spleens are a common health hazard in Florida. Know the warning signs.) And somewhere around August, “Holy fuck. My spleen just melted” becomes “If I have to outside, I’m going to shoot a bitch.” It is wise not to visit Florida in August. Floridians are dead serious about their heat-induced, sudden onset crime sprees. Dead serious. Really.

Interestingly enough, while the phrase “dry heat” is a term Floridians are familiar with, they believe it is a myth. That is because in Florida, this never happens. What happens instead is politely called “humidity.” Most Floridians do not use the term “humid” however. When both heat and humidity set in, Floridians begin making references to body parts that are equally as renowned for being dank and steamy.  Suffice it to stay that the armpits are simply a good starting place, but by no means are they the penultimate descriptor.

Now late May is a particularly interesting time in Florida as it has reached the “fucking hot” stage, however while rain may provide relief a bit later in the year, it is by no means a given in late May. Mother Nature is such a tease and so are sadistic bastard meteorologists. In late May, we find weather forecasters throwing out the “twenty percent chance of rain” prediction which typically means that a large thundercloud will form five blocks from your house. You will wait in breathless anticipation for a respite from the heat. The cloud will move in the opposite direction. It will dump six inches of rain in the Gulf of Mexico. The sun will come out along with a ravenous hoard of mosquitos and it will be at least twice as hot as it was before. You will become old and bitter and curse the sun, the bugs, the meteorologists, your ancestors, and every person who has ever forgotten your birthday or cut you off in traffic.

Today we hit “fucking hot” degrees. If you are planning a summer vacation in Florida, you can’t say you weren’t warned.

Suck it up, cupcake – a love letter to the self-righteously smug

Well, I’ve had this rant coming on for – oh, I dunno – fifty-seven years and counting, so I thought it might be therapeutic to get it out there in sort of a non-specific way, because it’s just kind of rude to go ’round putting scarlet “S’s” on people’s chests (however amusing that might be). So here goes.

Dear “Smuggies,”

It’s hard, isn’t it? Being surrounded by incompetent damaged people. That’s so terribly hard. Is it any wonder you cannot contain yourselves when so many people are ever so disappointing. Look at that one over there! Claims to be mentally ill. Ha! We all have problems, don’t we? Why just the other week – and you remember the day in vivid detail because it was just. . .that. . .awful – you pulled a hamstring at the gym, but you aren’t whining about it, for God’s sake. And that old woman over there. She’s carrying on about having spent her last dime trying to save her twenty year old cat. Now she can’t afford to eat. Well boo-fucking-hoo. She should have been more financially responsible and just had the damn thing put down now, shouldn’t she? And that obese woman laying in the hospital in a diabetic coma? Driving our health care costs up, she is. Where is the personal responsibility? All around you are broken people, right? The depressed, the drug addicts, the poor, the criminals, the unhealthy, the unemployed, the…the DEFECTIVES! They are everywhere and it is enough to make you so angry that you have to resort to. . .to. . . (oh you are just spluttering at this point) social media! And water cooler gossip! And nasty emails! You can’t help it. You need those “likes” from your fellow smuggies. It’s the only thing that gets you through the day.

I sympathize. Really I do. The burden of perfection is onerous. Just ask Jesus.

But there’s hope, folks. I’ve stumbled across a revolutionary new therapy called, “Suck it up, cupcake.”

Now trust me, this is going to be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. It involves self-control. It involves temperance. It involves tough fucking love, but someone has to help you poor, suffering bastards. No matter how good your health insurance is, it just won’t cover Smug Therapy.

Here’s what will. It’s a 12-step program which stems from the (believe it or not!) great historical tradition of treating defectives. Kinda ironic, yes?

Step #1. First, of course, you have to admit you are a Smuggie. This is a very, very hard step because it goes against all the things you’ve come to believe about your own invulnerability. It attacks your identity. It calls into question the core beliefs around which you have built your self-mythology. But stand tall in front of that mirror in the morning! Look yourself in the eye and boldly assert, “Hi. My name is _____ and I am a self-righteous prick.” You must admit that you are powerless to control this aspect of your life and that you need help. It’s O.K. All of us have been there at one point or another in our lives. Most of us have struggled with this, (albeit usually in late adolescence, but it’s never too late to start to start on the road to recovery!)

Step #2. Turn your brokenness over to your Higher Power. Now if you think you don’t have one, you might want to repeat Step #1.

Step #3. Sorry. It’s contingent on successful completion of Step #2. Recognize that your Higher Power  has the ability to intervene when you are weak. You may call your Higher Power “God,” or  “the Universe” or “Simple Fucking Human Decency.” It doesn’t matter. Use it. That’s what it is there for. It can prevent you from hitting that enter key before you torch a bridge with your vitriol. Bridges are useful things to have handy. Some day you may need to get to the other side and you’ll be left on the river bank, scratching your head and thinking, “Shit. If that dumb-ass person hadn’t made me hate him/her so much, I might of had some help here.” Repeat step #1. Relapsing is part of the recovery process.

Step #4. Can’t say this one better than A.A. “Make a searching and fearless inventory of yourself.” Just write the shit down. The easiest place to start is with the times you’ve judged someone based on a stereotype or an assumption you have absolutely no way to prove using the scientific method of direction observation, testable conclusions and repeatable results. If you do not know, intimately and in detail, what a person is doing or not doing to help themselves and you judge them anyway, you should probably write that one down, mmmm-kay?

Step #5. Confess. This time you can’t use the bathroom mirror. This time you have to say it to another person. It is probably best to do this with someone who is not a Smuggie, but if you can’t find one, you probably need to start hanging out with a better crowd.

Step #6. I’m actually a little foggy on why this is a separate step, but A.A. says you should prepare to have your Higher Power help you to “remove your character defects.” It’s the “prepare” part that is a little unclear, but being a practical woman, I would suggest generous use of duct tape. Preferably over the mouth. The Higher Power helps those who help themselves.

Step #7. This also seems a bit like an extension of Step #6, but according to the manual, you should now humbly request that your Higher Power excise your shitty attitude. I think that the key word here is “humility.” Look it up.

Step #8. Now you have to make another list. This time you have to list the people to whom you have been a dickhead. This may take awhile so be sure to find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed, set aside a block of time, make sure you have a decent stockpile of paper, writing implements and MREs handy. Bathroom breaks are permissible, but should not be used as an excuse to wander off. If you are afraid you can’t trust yourself, post a request to your friend’s list on facebook. You’ll need an accountability buddy with a cattle prod. You may be amazed at the number of people who are willing to help you stay on task!

Step #9. Ooooo – here’s the good one. Now you have to go to the people you on your list and apologize for being a dickhead. Believe it or not, this is harder for Smuggies than it is for alcoholics and addicts. Why? Because half the people who have been on the receiving end of your bullshit may not even be aware of it. This happens when either a) you condemned them to others but did not have the balls to take them on personally or b) you couched your snide remarks in some passive-aggressive linguistic wizardry that you could later blow off as “just kidding.” Perhaps you’ve even deceived yourself into thinking that you were “just kidding” or “deeply concerned” or “certainly justified.” You weren’t and you aren’t. Get over it and do the right thing.

Step #10. This is just a “rinse and repeat” step. It’s hard to admit that this will be a life-long process for you, but smugness is like any other addiction. There’s no magic bullet to stop it in its tracks. You will be doing this for-fucking-ever, so just suck it up cupcake.

Step #11. Develop a deeper relationship with your Higher Power. Self-consciousness = self-control. Unless, of course, you a congenital asshole in which case you may need professional help. And medication.

Step #12. Carry your message of hope and recovery to the world. You probably have surrounded yourself with people who still believe exactly the same things that you did. They are suffering and need help. Reach out to them, brothers and sisters, and let them know that they, too, can become compassionate, empathetic and grace-filled human beings. Pat them on the back, smile at them lovingly and tell them, “Suck it up, cupcake.”

Rant off /