Saturday, June 6, 2015

Paging Dr. Feelbad PT. 2 (What's Behind the Green, Kapoor?)

"I think there is a sort of box-ticking mentality. Not just in the teaching profession. You hear about it in medicine and nursing. It's a lawyer-driven insistence on meeting prescribed standards rather than just being a good doctor."
- Richard Dawkins

Greetings, Blogiteers!

What a beautiful day this is- I have a box of chilled Ding Dongs, a pitcher of ice-cold skim milk, and Big Hero 6 lined up in the ol' DVD player. Can it possibly get any better? Hells to the yes, says I.

In fact, it's been a stellar couple of weeks overall- my new doctor is kicking serious ass, the overdue re-organization and selective culling of my reference library went off without a hitch, and while cleaning my studio space top to bottom [so that's where that egg salad sandwich went...] I even managed to find an assumed lost to the ages relic from the bad old days when I used to date nothing but strippers.

I'm sorry... did I use the term "strippers"? What I meant to say was that I used to court independent contractors of adult entertainment as a means of relaxation and fostering personal growth. My bad.

[Granted, it's not the prettiest of shirts, but trust me... I earned that sucker, and it's super comfy.]

Photo Credit: Wayne Michael Reich
Model Credit: Aemelia McMorbid /

 On the art/professional side of my life, it's also been pretty darn swell too- I had a great time hanging out with graffiti legend Such Styles [ ] and his equally talented son CHAMP [ ] at the Mon Orchid Gallery Street Art show a while back,

and scratched a huge "to-do" off my artistic bucket list by finally meeting one of my creative idols, the one and only Derek Hess.[]


And as an aside, he was also nice enough to name-drop me on his website a few days later, much to my squealing eternal fan-boy delight. They always say you never want to meet your idols, because their feet may be made of clay, but in regards to Derek, that dude is speed-walking around in some seriously hardcore admantium* boots.

*[Google it. You'll be happy that you did.]

Factor in that my gig writing a monthly AOM column for PHOENIX Magazine has been a blast so far, and you can see why I'm all shades of hyper-mellow these days. Let me tell ya- in regards to my writing and it's particular POV, nothing fuels my feelings of vindication better than being paid.

Granted, it would be awesome if I could get compensated for this particular body of work, but ya gotta take the bitter with the sweet, I guess. I don't know... maybe if I created a line of Artbitch related merchandise, I could see a return on my labor of snark. Just imagine the possibilities...

T-shirts. Mousepads. Inspirational posters. Coffee mugs. Pens. Refrigerator magnets. Dinner plates. Drink coasters. Underwear with Artbitch quotes instead of the days of the week. Bobble-heads. Pajamas. Ding-Dong scented car fresheners. Fannypacks. Novelty hats. Water wings. Body glitter. Phone cases. Kazoos. Yo-yos. Board games. Construction helmets. Bike helmets. All helmets in general. Watches. Soda cozies. Whatever the name is of that weird abomination blanket with sleeves whose infomercial you watch at 2 A.M.

Wait a minute, I've got it- the ultimate product: Life size inflatable replicas of me that you could punch in the face! Seriously, how awesome would one of those be?

My detractors for one, could finally be able to do in the privacy of their mom's garage what they've been claiming would happen to me if I they ever caught me alone in a dark alley- something I find to be truly laughable, as most of these internet bad-asses strike as the type that would hang out in the woods behind a child's playground, rather than in a well-lit urban center.

And I, literally could talk to myself in those rare moments whenever I needed confirmation that my opinion was right. It'll be a huge win-win all around. But my viral marketing will have to linger on the back burner, for a tale awaits, and that right quick.

When we were last gathered around the metaphorical campfire, I was trapped in an ugly beige room at my doctor's office, putting my mad Jenga skills to the test by constructing Parisian landmarks from tongue depressors and cotton balls. Good times for sure, but it wasn't how I wanted to spend my day off, by any means.

Keeping in mind that at this point, I had already experienced a terrifying "low", was still in some truly horrendous pain, and was invested to the amount of $251.00 for office visits without having seen any positive outcome, it shouldn't come as any surprise that my nose was a wee bit out of joint in regards to my then current situation.

So to recap... pain on a molecular level. Financially strapped. Feeling extorted into taking expensive tests before ANY of my necessary meds will be released. Disinterested doctor. Bottle- blond nurse who apparently drinks the dye rather than apply it to her hair.

And there was this: during my not-worth $151.00 consultation with Dr. Kapoor, she mentioned once or twice that I should take Cymbalta, a drug used to primarily treat depression, and occasionally fibromyalgia. To be fair, I was experiencing some epic melancholy, but when you haven't slept good in months and your skin is so sensitive that even wearing a t-shirt hurts, it's not too shocking that you'd be down in the dumps about it.

However, when I'm not in soul-shredding pain, I tend to be a rather darkly upbeat if somewhat cynical kind of guy, so taking an anti-depressive medication is complete overkill, to say the very least. In other words, help me get rid of the pain, and I'll be singing as if I were competing on American Idol.

[It'd be epic... mainly because I don't think anyone's ever covered the Motorhead catalogue in the fashion it truly deserves.]

But here's the rub- Cymbalta is not only expensive, but it also has some seriously unpleasant side effects: nausea, dry mouth, constipation, diarrhea, [seems contradictory] fatigue, insomnia, and loss of appetite. Given the knowledge of what could possibly happen as a result of taking this drug, I say "screw that"- I'd rather be depressed, thank you very much.

Ding Dongs may not necessarily be the best way to treat a deep blue funk, but at least they don't back you up like rush hour in Detroit. The question I have is this- why would she suggest an additional drug [that's she's never mentioned before] when I already have one that's been working almost flawlessly for the better half of a decade?

Granted, my dosage obviously needed a tweak of sorts, but why mess with a regimen that's already proven, when the perceptible priority was to reduce my pain? You've got something that already works, stick with it, and just increase the dosage already. Keep in mind, she had a 150 mg additional "tweak zone" to work with, so it wasn't like I was maxxed out in regards to this particular drug.

And this got me thinking as to why that was. I'm not going to go as far as saying somebody's palms are getting greased by a sales rep, but it does seem odd. Just a random thought.

Now, when last we were together, I had just called Nurse Shaun's direct line and left a detailed message reminding her not to forget to fax the financial paperwork along with each filled out application, of which there were three. Overall, a directive that even a mentally-handicapped baboon should've been able to follow, am I right?

Well, let me just make a mental note that next time I need this done, to go and find said baboon, because there's no way they could have screwed it up as badly as this blonde stereotype did.

Not only did she did forget to do this for two of the most crucial medications, she then claims that she never got my message, because she's: "new here and my phone inbox is screwed up".

Believe it or not, I'm actually a realist, albeit a cynical one.

People and sometimes things, make mistakes. I DO get that, really I do. But the fun part is a comin', and it's a doozy. After this snafu of epic proportions, during which I had to redo the application process, I make a decision not to do the tests, due to the fact I couldn't afford them- a problem that Dr. Kapoor never even attempts to help me resolve.

On a related note, my new doctor was able to steer me to a program whose testing costs were 90% less than Labcorp's- a program that St. Joe's has apparently either never heard of, or can't divulge due to having a contract with Labcorp. Either way, non-insured patients like myself get screwed in the end.

Yep- that's some serious Hippocratic dedication to your client base right there, isn't it?
And don't kid yourself- we're cash cows first, patients second.

Naturally, I call Dr. Kapoor's office to tell her this, and they direct me once again to Shaun's inbox, where I leave yet another detailed message regarding my decision. Roughly twenty minutes later, Shaun returns my call and asks if the message I had just left was the previous one telling her to send the financial info, to which I say no, it wasn't.

I then ask her if she had listened to my most recent message, and she says:
"No, because I still can't get into my inbox".

No pun intended, but hold the phone. Does anyone else besides me see the truly glaring problem here? She's claiming that she can't get into her inbox, yet she knew that I, and I alone, had left her a message. This, despite the fact that I called from a "restricted" number- IE: that number doesn't show up even on lines equipped with Caller ID.

As one might expect, being the curiously playful child of the stars that I am, I just had to ask that if she was unable to access her voicemail, how in the Great and Terrible OZ was she able to ascertain that: (A) It was me calling, and... (B) that she had a message in the first place?

Grant me this small tangent- since it's initial discovery, scientists have stated time and time again that Hydrogen, due to its copious abundance, is the basic building block of the known Universe. I would strongly disagree. Stupidity is seemingly in much greater profusion than Hydrogen, and that, on the face of it, is what the Universe is apparently comprised of when studied in greater detail.

And there I was, phone in hand, speaking with it's chosen representative. Fortunately for that moments entertainment, after a somewhat lengthy, if not awkward, pause, her response to being caught red-handed in a blatant (and no longer convincing) lie was simplicity itself:

"Um... I'm new here." Seriously. That was her entire explanation, and it was sheer genius.

That phrase, "Um... I'm new here" could and should, replace the standard: "you can't blame me, I was drunk" excuse for the entire Millennial generation. No details to remember. No witnesses. And best of all, no defendable way someone could get mad at you for not knowing the ropes- after all, you're new there, right?

What kind of jerk would be mean to you just because of that? Donald Trump, for sure, but everybody else? They would just get with the program and chillax, trust me on this. The perfect alibi.

Granted, I don't think it would totally work if your wife walked in on you having a marshmallow and chocolate syrup three-way with Angeline Jolie and Milla Jovovich, but she wouldn't be able to later claim at her trial for killing you that it wasn't an original excuse, now could she?

Of course not. That would be ridiculous. Let's see... I'm almost 300 bucks in, still suffering, have no pain medication, my paperwork is screwed up beyond belief, and I'm currently dealing with a woman who by comparison, makes Sarah Palin look like Nikoli Tesla. Yep. I'm officially done with this- it's time to get out the big guns and talk to a boss/supevisor.

My initial contact in the beginning of this process, was Nicole- who while professional and bubbly, couldn't get past her script. No offense to her, as she was very nice, but I like my women to be more akin to the Groundlings and less like the Royal Shakespearean Academy. In other words, able to actually communicate without a physical libretto.

So, after some adorable back and forth, I find out that the office manager in charge of my doctor and her denser than depleted uranium nurse, is one Veena Dhillon, so I start touching base with her, bringing forth my grievances, assuming that things will soon get back on track and rolling forward.

Oh, eternally wretched optimism, when will you ever learn? Sometimes it's like watching a kitten chase a laser pointer- you really want it to capture that insolent red dot, but you know in the end, it's just wasting it's energy trying to do so, and all will end in tears. Let me give you some context.

I've often been told that I have a tendency to be fairly (and uncomfortably) direct when I'm in the midst of addressing a complaint, as I don't believe in skirting around the issue at hand, nor do I think that the application of treacle is an effective way of settling a problem either. Now, where I'm from (NYC) this is a fairly standard way of communicating- we all do it, and we do it rather well.

However, west of Texas and the closer you get to California, this method is considered somewhat intense, if not downright threatening, despite there not being one iota of threat or malice implied.

The acronym for this form of horribly misconstrued perception is BATCA, which in layman's shorthand, translates as "being a thin-skinned candy-ass". Sufferers with BATCA have feelings of persecution, inability to think outside of their scripted box, and show an almost pathological capacity for rejecting common sense in the face of obvious facts and/or evidence.

In essence, I found Ms. Dhillon to be BATCA-crazy. When she and I get to discussing my concerns, she's immediately dismissive, stating that she doesn't "appreciate" my complaining about her employees, and despite my catching Shaun in an obvious lie, doesn't "really see the need" to continue our conversation unless I adopt a "nicer" tone.

Oh for the love of Ding Dongs, was she serious?

For the record, I wasn't yelling. I wasn't using foul/vulgar language. And at no point did I suggest even remotely that her mother serviced longshoremen in between sets at the local strip club. I was firm, I was slightly sarcastic to be sure, but considering the amount of horrendous pain I was in [which had been thoroughly described at this point] it would have been ludicrous to expect me to be full of rainbows and unicorn glitter, would it have not?

But hey... I'm all about making friends, so I gave it a shot, nonetheless.

Switching my tone to that of a prizewinner from The Price is Right, I finished off my listing of her staff's incompetence and professional errors with enough sprinkles and icing to drop a diabetic at twenty yards. After I wrap it up, Veena's measured and professional response was to jump right in and get all sides of the story in order to establish a baseline for a thoughtful course of action.

Well, that's what should have happened- in a logical universe, anyway.

Instead, I am haughtily informed that the "doctor/patient relationship has been irreparably broken" because I dared to complain, and that in her [non-doctor] opinion, I should be discharged as a patient because she (once again) didn't appreciate my tone when I dared to suggest that her perfect staff was anything but.

Off tangent: you ever meet anyone who makes you think to yourself: "This person will be the reason I buy a chainsaw and rent a large wood-chipper someday."?

Obviously, reassigning me to another doctor (as I suggested) was just too crazy an idea, as was  apparently her fully investigating the validity of my criticisms in the first place. See, there I was, naively assuming that an office manager actually manages an office, versus the reality where they play a game of cover thy incompetent minions' asses.

To threaten complainants with the loss of their health care is a unique, and I might add, truly creative way to keep those negative quarterly numbers down. It's almost downright Republican, to say the very least, and if I were a normal person, it might have worked.

Fortunately for you, my loyal readers, I am as far from normal as you can get- especially when you make a situation as personal as this. Throw my pain on top of my need for justice, and you can just imagine how far I'll go in regards to acquiring personal satisfaction. If there is one thing I can modestly brag about, it's the fact that I'm exceedingly good at getting to who's really in charge of things- I don't usually deal with the cubicle monkeys, I go straight for the biggest kahuna I can find.

Once discovered, I then make their life a living Heck, while simultaneously letting them know that all could have been avoided if only the people beneath them had done their jobs with just the merest hint of professionalism and personal interest. Not too surprisingly, this has generally resulted in my getting satisfaction, while also seeing some positive changes occurring within the power structure.

The ends justifying the means, as it were.

An amusing aside: several years ago, I had a minor problem with a cel phone bill, had called one of  my then-phone company's Pakistan/Phillipine/India- based call centers, and by hook and crook, had ended up getting into a shouting match with the zombie on the other end. I finally wound up slamming down the phone, because I was getting nowhere, despite having asked for a supervisor several times, which is what had led to the argument in the first place.

Within minutes, vulgar text messages started appearing on my phone, all seemingly sent to myself from my own number. It wasn't too hard a stretch to ascertain where they were actually calling from, so I did what one would be expected to do, and called the 1-800 service number to formally lodge a complaint. Over the course of a week, the messages kept coming, and despite my dealing with everyone from the phone jockeys to the physical store, the flow was relentless.

No matter who I talked to, the buck was passed, and excuses were rampant. BTW, I loathe rampant excuses, absolutely loathe them. Even more than I hate stale PEEPS, which is a hatred that burns with the heat of a thousand suns. But getting back to the point, it morphed into a crusade for Truth, Justice and the Wayne Michael Reich way, which comes not only with Ding Dongs, but awesome cartoons as well.

After just a few more days of phone calls, I hit the mother-lode: a retiring [and fed-up] secretary to the afore-mentioned Really Big Kahuna. She not only gave me this persons direct office number, but their private cel and home numbers as well.

Which of course, I did not use, as I am an honorable man.... until the following Sunday that is, when I called them at nine o'clock at night to explain my particular situation. Shockingly, they were actually somewhat upset, but after a few awkward minutes where my lineage was questioned repeatedly, I eventually managed to convey just why it was that I was talking to them- their lesser employees had passed the buck, and here I was, humbly attempting to deposit it.

At that point, this individual became very interested in just who I had been talking to, and I cheerfully gave up all the names of the various managers that had been blowing me off for the past two weeks. Unfortunately for my newest Kahuna bestie, I couldn't for the life of me remember exactly who it was that had given me their private numbers in the first place- darn, that squidgy memory of mine.

I'm still all shades of broken up about it.

Regardless, the promise of swift and ferocious action was made, my number was grabbed, and I was informed that it "will be taken care of" ASAP. Darn, I just love a good conversation with stimulating people, don't you? Anywho... the next morning I was called by no less than three different managers, their apologies were made (one through obviously gritted teeth) and I was given a "credit" which reflected several months of my average bill.

That my loyal bitches, is how you drop the mic. BOO-YAH.
So why should this have been any different?

Well... complaining about medical related care is kind of difficult, and purposefully so. You can complain to the BBB, which isn't going to do squat, or to the Board of Medical Examiners, which reviews complaints and issues judgments. However, since it's doctors reviewing other doctors, unless you kill someone [3 seems to be the magical number where BOMEX wakes up and yanks your license] you can guess what the outcome will most likely be.

SPOILER: the patient loses, and BOMEX by law, will not/cannot tell you the course of discipline taken, or if any actually was. Isn't that helpful?

So where is a ticked off Artbitch to go when he needs to complain about what he feels is a pressing issue? In my case, that would be the one and only Saint Joeseph's Patient Relation Board, staffed by an amazingly friendly woman named Denise Bludis. To be fair, Denise also followed a script in how she dealt with me, but at least she wasn't a rudely condescending cow like Veena had been, nor was she dismissive about the concerns I had brought forth.

All in all, a lovely person to deal with, given the situation.

However- if I did have to speak poorly about interacting with the "board" as it were, I would definitely suggest that the process itself really needs to be sped up. It took almost two weeks for my calls to be returned [I blame that on inter-office miscommunication, not her] and at least two more before a resolution was even discussed.

If there is an upside to all this, it's that St. Joseph's does take complaints like mine seriously- the only problem being that they take it so seriously that they won't tell you, the patient, a damn thing, or even allow your complaint to be made public. All shades of a mini-BOMEX, where an unethical whitewash takes place under the guise of looking out for the consumer.

Think about this for a minute: the average citizen has no idea how to find out what complaints their doctor has, or what, if any, action has been taken against them in regards to the same. It's easier to find out how many health code violations your local Mc Donald's has, versus being able to see whether your doctor is competent or not.

I'll hazard the theory that when St. Joes is paying out a settlement for a severity of health issue or an actual death occuring from one of these incompetent lapses, they'll give pause to rethinking their pre-established policy, but the jury's still out on that one so far.

During the time this brief dialogue occured, I also had the joy of receiving a certified letter from Veena wherein she whined about my nerve in complaining about her impeccable staff, accused me of using "verbally abusive" language, (told ya she was BATCA crazy) and then discharged me as a patient, without so much as a referral for a new doctor.

Yep. That's who you want making medical decisions for you- an unprofessional ass-covering troglodyte who gets offended when you don't belch rainbows.So to recap: $251.00 in, still in hideous pain, tests required to get vital medication, and now- no doctor. Back to square one. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.00 Start from scratch. Best of luck, here's your hat, bon voyage, arriveaderci. 

Naturally, I took all of this in with an even temper and good humour- the two things that are my stock in trade. Granted, if I was able to have my druthers, I'd like to take that letter, deep-fry it, roll it in powdered sugar, drizzle it with honey, and have a team of rabid gerbils hand-deliver it up Veena's  overly generous rectum sideways.

You know. Like you do.

Up until that point, all I wanted was to make sure my complaint was taken seriously and on the books- no careers ruined, just a course of some minor disciplinary action taken, that's all. After the receipt of that bitchy little missive however, it became exceedingly personal. Nobody has the right to impact your health just because they don't like your "tone", and nobody has the right to keep money they didn't earn for services that they didn't provide.

In other words, I was now going out for metaphorical blood, and I was going to get it, come Hell or high water. The one thing I have noticed after dealing with so many different levels of the medical industry is this- there's a huge disconnect between patients and the staff/doctors in most offices.

Think about all the times a doctor has kept you waiting with no explanation, or their office screwed something up- have you ever gotten a credit for your inconvenience? I didn't think so. But if you're late or have to cancel....  do you get where I'm going with this?

I can't think of any other industry where filing a simple complaint is this much of a pain in the ass, can you? Well I for one, wasn't going to just bend over and take it like I was the new guy in the prison shower, I was gonna get back what was mine- in this case, all the money I had spent on fruitless office visits.

The lingering question: how exactly was I going to do that? To be honest, I wasn't really coming from a position of strength- sure, I was convinced that I was right, but I also feel the same way in regards to how Milla Jovovivch should come over to my house for a massage, and we all know that hasn't happened......yet.

As I stated earlier, I tend to be a rather darkly upbeat, if somewhat cynical, kind of guy- there's generally a lot of criticism directed at cynics, but it's only because people don't "get" us, and as to what brings us joy. That's right- I said "joy". Cynics at their core are ALWAYS happy. Not because we view the world through ash-colored glasses, but because we're consistently being proven right or being pleasantly surprised, all the time.

And I am a cynic's cynic, thank you very much. I understand how the world works, and I comprehend exactly how it's worker drones react when placed under pressure. The answer is simple. They crack like Kim Kardashian's makeup when she smiles. And at it's core, St. Joeseph's is staffed by worker bees, not Queens.

Therein lies the exploitable chink in the armor. One of the major flaws in forcing people to stick to a script is that it doesn't allow the drones independent thought- they have to get every decision approved beforehand, which is maddening when you're dancing around a resolution. One step forward, two steps back, as it were. 

Fortunately, I'm German-Sicilian. We don't dance so much as we march, forward and usually through, a roadblock. As my Father once said to me: "German efficiency mixed with the Sicilian thirst for revenge... yeah, that's a great combination." There was no way in Hell these fraudulent and incompetent nimrods were keeping my money, for one simple reason:


Now by this point, I thought that I had defended my case pretty well with Denise- seemingly genuine in her sympathy, she nonetheless held fast to the corporate line in the sand, albeit without being haughty or unprofessional. But regardless of what she actually believed, she was forced to defer to her so-called superiors, who so far as I could ascertain- just wanted me to shut up and go away without the money I felt that I had wasted.

Clearly, my devastating charm and ruggedly good looks weren't going to cut it over the phone, so whether I liked it or not, it was evidently time for me to dig deep in the dark corners of my soul, pull out that dusty steamer trunk, open it up, and unfurl my inner Machiavelli. placed there many years before. Fortunately for me, it still fit perfectly, and all false humility aside... my ass looked great.

Sensing that I had nothing to lose, I suggest that perhaps the time had come for me to file a lawsuit  via small claims court as a means to get my money back- after all, I had gone though the proper channels, and was getting nowhere [no fault to Ms. Bludis, mind you] and that if I were forced to do so, would use my considerable self-promotion skills to bear, letting everybody know about their business practices.

As you might imagine, threatening a small claims lawsuit for an amount that was less than the cost of an I-phone went over just as well as Steven Hawking telling Mike Tyson he was about to get the beating of his life. Don't quote me, but I'm pretty sure I heard Denise yawn- or maybe it was just a passing breeze... taking place inside her closed-off office. Stranger things have happened.

So I pulled my trump card, and casually added that there was always "Artbitch". Just as casually, the response was: "I'm sorry, did you say Artbitch?"

"Yes. Artbitch. The infamous blog that covers a wide variety of subjects as long as it falls under the Phoenix-based art scene or my life? Artbitch. The blog that took the Phoenix New Times over it's metaphorical knee and spanked them until they started covering the Arts more like a newspaper and less like a home-schooler's pamphlet?

Artbitch. The screed that regularly reminds Phoenicians that Peter Bugg is our artistic version of Adam Sandler minus the charm, talent, and originality? Artbitch. Written by an amazingly talented, yet oddly humble visual artist who's single-handedly changed the perception of Ding Dongs as an after-meal snack?

Artbitch... you know... the blog that..."

In the distance, the sound of crickets, and then: "I'm sorry... who, again?"

Regardless of the fact she had never heard of me [how that is I have no idea- I am so talking to my PR department come Monday] I still felt I was on to something, and decided to roll the dice. After all, I had nothing to lose and everything to gain- in this case, that being two and a half Benjamins, and one sawbuck. That buys a lot of Ding Dongs, by the way, and more than a few gallons of skim milk.

Just putting it out there, that's all. Undaunted however, I pressed on:

"Sigh... never mind- anyways, the point I'm trying to make here is that I have a very select set of skills- in my case, that happens to be creative writing. People are always telling me that I'm a damn good writer, and at this point, I don't think all of them are just trying to be polite. I'm thinking that maybe I need to write something about this whole mess."

"Well, that is your right, Mr. Reich- and if you want to say someth-"

"In fact, I've been getting a lot of attention lately in regards to what I've previously written, the New Times slap-down being chief among them, so I'm thinking that if I could take on a major publishing chain and emerge not only unscathed but better known after the experience, how hard would it be to take on one unprofessional doctor staffed with a bevy of incompetent minions?

I'm no mathematician by any means, but I like my odds here. In fact, here's where it gets interesting- there's this major publication that seems really interested in my stuff, and I want to make my bones with them, so I need to come in strong, know what I'm saying? And I just had this wonderful idea...

How about I pitch them a story regarding patient dissatisfaction with doctors and how complaints are kept hidden from the general public? I could name names, give dates, really get into the facets of the narrative, which would be easy since I've kept really detailed notes... is that a story that you think people would like to read? I sure as heck do, and like I said earlier, there's always my blog if that doesn't pan out.

Granted, it doesn't have the reach of a major magazine- what does? However, what it does have is a  readership base who passes it around like cigarettes in prison. So at the bare minimum, I figure I could inform a few thousand people about why they should avoid you guys like the plague."

What followed was a looooooooong pause.

So long in fact, that I thought she had hung up on me. But like I said, Denise was nice. Professional. And definitely not stupid. That inherent intellect led to what I believe was a spur of the moment command decision, that being the following:

"Mr. Reich? Upon looking at the situation, I think it would be in our, I mean your best interest to refund your money. You obviously feel that we acted in bad faith, so I'll get it moving as soon as possible- you should see a refund in check form sometime in the next four to six weeks."

[It actually got to me in six days. Imagine that!]

And all it took was eleven phone calls, five messages, two veiled threats, and playing on the fear of everybody thinking that your business (and it IS a business long before it's a calling) reeks of unethical behavior to get it done. But I wasn't quite finished yet.

Yes, I had achieved satisfaction and gotten my money back, but the people responsible for this cock-up were pretty much gonna skate on by, a theory borne out by the letter that I received from Ms. Bludis a few days later which summarized the investigation of my complaint. Basically, it goes through everything I claimed very thoroughly [nice job, Denise!] but by and by, allows Dr. Kapoor, Shaun and Veena off the hook.

I think. Or it doesn't. You know what? I'm not really sure, since after all, I the patient, don't need to know or am allowed to know, what consequences (if any) they face. Wouldn't want anyone to feel bad about themselves, you know- it's very damaging for the professional confidence.

At the end of my conversation with Denise, I told her how much I appreciated her help, and how nice she was throughout this entire process, but could I possibly ask one last small favor, to which she easily says: "Yes".

"When you talk to Ms. Dhillon and Dr. Kapoor, let them know this if you would... tell them that despite my getting my money back, I'm still going to write about this."

" Well... that is your right... I guess."

"Thanks, appreciate that. Also please tell them that I'm going to make them famous. And you... you have a lovely day."

Once again, that is how you drop the mic.

"Whenever a doctor cannot do good, he must be kept from doing harm." - Hippocrates

Monday, April 6, 2015

Paging Dr. Feelbad. PT. 1 (What's Behind the Green, Kapoor?)

"When the doctor said I had diabetes, I conjured images of languishing on a chaise lounge nibbling chocolates. I have no idea why I thought this." - Mary Tyler Moore

Hello Blogiteers!

Diabetes can be a real bitch.
No... I take that back.

Diabetes is the bitch.

Sure, my claws are sharp, but they might as well be made out of papier-mâché in defense against  the wellspring of pure evil that Diabetes can call to arms at a moment's whim. If I didn't know better, I'd say that this disease is seriously trying to kill me.

I know, I know... it sounds completely paranoid, but I'm starting to think that I might just be right.

Over the last few months, I've suffered a puzzlingly random escalation in my blood sugar numbers, an almost crippling bout of peripheral neuropathy, which in turn, has led to a painfully heightened skin sensitivity that makes accomplishing even the smallest of tasks exceedingly difficult at the best of times.

The best analogy I can think of to describe this sensation is that of a T-Rex with a bad sunburn trying to make a bed that's full of hyperactive kittens... while standing in a lava pit.

For those of you who are unaware what peripheral neuropathy entails, here's the rough definition:

"Peripheral neuropathy, is a result of damage to peripheral nerves, and often causes weakness, numbness and pain, usually in the hands and feet. It can also affect other areas of the body.

The pain associated with peripheral neuropathy is generally described as stabbing or burning. Often, there's tingling."

Ah, yes... tingling. That would be a definitive up-sweep in joy if that were only the sole symptom I was currently experiencing. For sake of clarity, imagine vengeful demons repeatedly stabbing you with red-hot knitting needles as you try to tie your shoes with your legs, arms and hands sheathed in fire, and you'll get a much clearer understanding of what I've been going through recently.

And yet... I'm still feeling fairly optimistic about this, the relatively new year of 2015. Sure, I could easily give in to my obvious discomfort, but I'm the Artbitch. I dispense pain, I don't suffer from it.

In fact, it's currently a quarter after midnight as I write this newest screed, and while it's true that the only reason I'm up this late is because my bed-sheets feel like barbed wire on my skin, I'd like to call attention to the fact that I'm taking this particularly sour batch of razor-lemons and making 100 proof hard lemonade out of them.

If I have to be up half the night, I might as well be productive, and despite the fact that I've had to fire two doctors for refusing to follow their sworn duty to the basic tenets of the Hippocratic Oath*, I'm still soldering on. Throw in all the medical marijuana recipes that I've received from friends wanting to help ease my pain, and I'm pretty sure that I could open my own cannabis-based bakery.

The wonders of modern science. It's so much more than just Velcro and Shrinky-Dinks.

[*Seriously. Avoid Dr. Jatin B. Daas of Arizona Primary Care like the freaking plague. He won't return messages, doesn't "believe" in prescribing medication that you've been taking for over three years, won't follow your pre-established protocol, has quite possibly the worst magazine selection that I've ever seen in a physician's waiting room, and as an added bonus: possesses (in my opinion) the bedside manner of Dr. Mengele at a B'ani B'rith pot-luck*. [*Allegedly.]

And while we're on the subject, I'd recommend that the office of Dr. Smita Kapoor at Internal Medicine Health Center at St. Joseph's is also best avoided as well. Taking care of, and listening to, their patients isn't seemingly something that interests them, so do yourself a favor and just visit a voodoo priestess instead.

That way you know they'll be some tasty bomb-ass chicken soup waiting for you in the end, and let's be honest here- who doesn't love themselves some tasty bomb-ass chicken soup?

Pasty-faced Vegans, that's who. More on her operation in a bit.]

Minus my ongoing pain issues, it's been relatively low-key here at the Lair of Snarkitude- the day gig framing art for galleries and their clients is humming along, my social life is fine, and I was tapped to write a small article for PHOENIX Magazine which should see publication sometime in the next few weeks, as well as being assigned two additional Q&A commentaries- overall, it's shaping up to be an interesting year, to say the very least.

What hasn't been interesting or fun has been the amazing amount of hoops I've had to jump through recently in regards to my medical care and the ongoing maintenance of my health, which as you may have already surmised- has been exceedingly problematic as of late.

Some context.

Being a diabetic is a lot of work- you're constantly micro-managing every bite you eat, endlessly testing your blood sugar, and let's face it, constantly whining about the travails of being a diabetic  is known to consume up more than it's fair share of energy as well.

You just can't win.

If all goes well, hopefully one dies of old age before this disease kills you in all sorts of interesting, yet terrifying, ways. Heart attack/strokes. Liver failure. Low blood sugar. Kidney failure. Retinal failure. Circulatory system failure leading to the amputation of fingers, toes, and even your legs.

Good times.

Let me tell you something from my unique point of view- if you have to pick a disease to be cursed with, get one that they write operas about. Granted, tuberculosis is always a solid choice, but I'm also highly partial to the route of wasting away via alcohol as well. Sure, it's tragic, but at least it's singable. In fact, I'm in the midst of writing one myself.

Working title: "Sweetblood, or hey- I'd love to have a Ding Dong, but... you know."
The dancing Snickers bar dream sequence by the way, will be the show stopper, hands down.

All creative diversions aside, the majority of my free time these days seems to be focused on battling my disease, and that, at times, can be just downright exhausting, both physically and mentally. I sometimes get panic attacks when I see a white lab coat, which to be honest. has really put a heckuva kink in those times when my GF Ashley and I like to play "naughty scientist and pizza delivery guy".

One of the other irritants of being a diabetic is trying to find a doctor that actually understands the complexities of Diabetes, and all that condition pertains to, as most GP's (general practitioners) don't have the background knowledge to make a viable difference in your health, and when it comes to dealing with specialists who do know, AKA: Endocrinologists, it's been my sad experience that they don't really earn the over-inflated fees that they charge.

Don't take this the wrong way, but if I'm paying $250.00 for ten minutes of someone's time, it at least better be with an Asian dominatrix wearing thigh-high boots who gives an amazing lap-dance while  letting me know that I've been a very bad boy and need to be punished.

What can I say... I'm a simple man who enjoys simple pleasures.

Fortunately, at one point I did have such a doctor- the aforementioned Dr. Smita Kapoor. I started seeing her several years ago after my previous physician started cracking jokes to my girlfriend about me "milking" my neuropathy pain for sympathy, rather than performing the job he was being paid an exorbitant amount to do.

Like all relationships, it was great in the beginning- my pain levels went way down, I was on top of my condition for once, and as an added bonus, she was easy on the eyes. Granted, that sounds incredibly sexist, but if you have to be poked, prodded, and examined constantly by a stranger, it might as well be an attractive one.

But all things eventually come to an end, whether we like it or not. I lost my medical coverage, which led to my not seeing her for over a year, mainly due to the cost of the office visits- this in turn, led to the failure of my health, resulting in my most recent and unwilling hospital stay, where I once again discovered that the ICU ward at John C. Lincoln has some dope-ass vanilla pudding.

Seriously. You have no idea how freaking good that stuff is. It's like creamed crack. On steroids.

So when I finally got back on my feet, I decided that it was time to bite the financial bullet and start getting back to seeing my doctor on a monthly basis as a way to wrest control of my life back from the fiery grip of Diabetes.

That was the plan, anyway.

Sadly, when I contacted my doctors office, I discovered that she was in the process of leaving the group practice, and any further details as to where she was going to wind up were not forthcoming.

Son. Of. A. Bitch.

Chagrined, I decided that since I couldn't do anything at that time, I'd just accept the physician who took on my now former doctor's patients- that being the aforementioned Dr. Jatin Daas. Going in, I wasn't worried, as there was a multi-year treatment history for him to reference, and being the eternal optimist that I am, I naively assumed that he would just follow the pre-established protocol.

One day, I have to really apologize to my gut for not listening to him like I should. I'm not sure in which manner this will occur, but I'm definitely going to have to get him something nice for all of his attempts at keeping me from being a complete idiot.

When I finally get to meet my new doctor, he takes all of eight minutes to establish our new working relationship, and proceeds to re-up my prescriptions, one of which is a fairly low-dosage of the narcotic known as Oxycodone. Currently, I take the following drugs daily for control of my Diabetes and neuropathy:

Novolog (fast-acting insulin taken by injection)
Lantus (slow-release insulin taken by injection)
Pregabalin AKA Lyrica (for nerve pain)
Oxycodone (pain control)
Amitryptyline (a non-addictive sleeping agent)

Now, when it comes to the Oxy, it's essentially a back-up medication to take the edge off my pain when the Lyrica isn't cutting it, which is rare- in other words, I normally can make a 30 day supply typically last three months. But as of recent that hasn't been the case, due to the hellish bout of neuropathy I've been battling.

Unfortunately, it's been trying to become an essential part of my daily routine, and since my day gig involves the handling of expensive art while using sharp and stabby tools that can take your hands off if you're not careful, I can't allow myself to be too doped up either.

Therefore, I generally "tough it out" and take the Oxy at night, as a means to help me stave off the ever-present pain, which if timed right, lets me grab two to four hours of sleep before the fire in my skin wakes me up again. Even sleeping naked can be too much where my skin sensitivity issue is concerned, and if my GF happens to move, accidentally dragging the top-sheet across any part of my body, it's a sure bet she'll find me hanging from the ceiling, man-bat style come the dawn of the new morning.

So, as I leave my new doctor's office, I make the follow up appointment for a month later, and I go about my day, running errands, accomplishing tasks, and occasionally killing the random circus clown here and there.

You know... like you do?

Granted, I was still in a lot of pain, but I did have the Oxy, and after all, I was going to talk to him about upping my dose of Lyrica during the next visit anyway. See, I have a theory- after five years of taking this drug, I'm convinced my body has become acclimated, and that the dosage needs to be "tweaked" a few milligrams upward in order for it to continue working as effectively as it has been.

But there upon the sunny My Pretty Pony horizon, a spanner in the works was thrown.

Roughly a week and a half before my appointment was to occur, I discovered to my horror that I was going to run out of the one medication that kept me from peeling the skin off my own face by seven days- that of course, being the Oxy, a drug that I had been taking without incident for the past half-decade. So, like any responsible adult, I called his office and left a message explaining the critical situation... and didn't hear anything back for three days.

Thus began a game of phone tag that would make the Gods of Olympus themselves weep. Despite the fact that I had a well-documented medical history of neuropathic pain going back five years, Dr. Daas seemingly couldn't care less about the discomfort that I was going through, or the hellish pain that I was on the cusp of experiencing.

Let me be clear- at no time whatsoever, did he even bother to return any of my messages personally, leaving that sensitive task to his head nurse, who to her credit, became more and more agitated by his unethical refusal to render any sort of aid regarding my situation.

Not once did he offer to move up my appointment or recommend an alternative pain killer, but he did let me know (via his nurse) that he wasn't "comfortable" prescribing narcotics, a small but important fact that I feel should have been told to me when we first met. Forgoing an actual solution, he offered up (via his nurse again) the name of a pain specialist who charged $250.00 for the first office visit, couldn't see me for three months, and then, to top it all off, didn't actually treat diabetic neuropathy...


In fact, their practice was based on what their receptionist referred to as "Erector-Set" pain- the analogy being that if you were more metal than flesh due to an accident, then they were your go-to guys for said treatment in regards to the same. While she was truly sympathetic, there wasn't really anything that they could do to help me whether it was in the short or the long term.

I tells ya- sometimes, I really wish that I was a jazz musician, so that I could go do some heroin without anyone giving me real grief for it.

But as my circumstances seemingly became bleaker, there was a flash of white light on the horizon, a joyous trumpet-call from over the hills, the sound of a crash between a truck full of chocolate and a truck full of peanut butter- my GF Ashley using all of her redheaded Google ninja skills had found my old doctor, the one and only Smita Kapoor!


God, what an amazing feeling that was- not only did I have my old doctor back, I was able to get an appointment on the very same day that I was supposed to see the schmuck that was refusing to follow my treatment protocol- certainly, this was Fate dealing me it's finest hand.

It's closely akin to an old high school buddy calling you up and saying: "Dude... my parents let me move back into the basement- so come on over and let's get that wicked surf-punk ska house-mix Def Leppard cover band project going, and we'll make some rock and roll myths happen!"

So, after setting up my new appointment with my old go-to girl, I then called up Dr. Daas and proceeded to fire him as my physician- granted, I had to do this via his head nurse, but she
seemed more than happy copying down my thoughts on his inability to follow the tenets of his chosen career.

And as an aside, she did this with an inordinate amount of personal glee, I'm happy to report.

You think that I'm a bitch on the pixilated page when you piss me off? You should really hear me on the phone [or see me in person] when I get going, as I've made Teamsters weep for their mamas, and yes...

I AM that good.

As for his difficulties in following my pre-established care, I'd normally state that "It ain't rocket science", but it might as well have been, since reading what was in my file was apparently a parallel to NASA being able to land the Space Shuttle on top of one of Neil deGrasse Tyson's lawn gnomes.

But no matter, for I was about to get back on track while wearing black, and I was looking forward to it- picture a Christmas morning inside the Willy Wonka Factory while all around you the gathered Oompa-Loompas dance in their native and festive garb, and you'll be close to the joy I was feeling at just the mere thought of getting my pain issues finally settled.

And when the blessed day finally arived, it went great. She seemed genuinely thrilled to see me, and even re-upped my pain meds, all the while chatting about how "we" were going to get back on top of my condition. Who-hoo. Yipee. Yowza.

Sure, there was one small issue- that being I was told the office charge was going to be $100.00, and it turned out to be $151.00 instead, but at least I was getting to see the person most responsible for my continued health, so that seemed to be a small price to pay in the long run overall.

[Side note: this practice of adding additional fees after the fact for a standard office visit seems to be the newest way the medical profession attempts to gouge it's hostage client base- I would love to see if any other business could get way with this, wouldn't you?

"Yes, normally it's two-seventy-nine for that Big Mac, but our counter-person did have to hand you a receipt, so now it's four-fifty-five."]

But back to my narrative.

When I came in for the follow-up appointment a mere two weeks later, that breezy attitude had been replaced with the countenance of someone who had previously dated me and had the misfortune of seeing me naked. Clinical. Calculating. In a word, just plain frigid. As I describe how bad my pain is, she seems distracted, and I observe that she and her nurse (a bottled-blonde named Shaun) are taking subtle glances at their watches as if they had somewhere else to be.

Cutting me off in mid-sentence, Dr. Kapoor informs me that she wants me to get my blood drawn for a series of tests- one will be a full blood work-up panel (over $300.00) a urine/drug test ($200.00) and then she wants to see me in another two weeks for another visit. ($100.00-150.00) For those of you keeping score, I haven't had any real cessation in my pain levels, plus that's at least $650.00 at the bare minimum, and I don't have any health insurance.

Not because I'm irresponsible or anything along those lines, I'm just still working my way through the tepidly bureaucratic mess that is the Affordable Healthcare Act- and while I can't speak for you, I generally don't have that kind of cash on hand at any given point, a detail which I made particularly clear to Dr. Kapoor.

Several times, in fact.

Brushing that aside, she informs me that I will need to find a way to raise the funds, as she cannot (and will not) re-up my pain meds without a current urine test, and as to my request for "tweaking" my Lyrica dosage, she states rather haughtily that she is, and I quote: "not in her comfort zone" for doing that either.

Let me clarify. She wouldn't prescribe me the low-dose narcotic that she originally approved as a side drug to ease my pain, nor will she alter the dosage of the non-narcotic drug that is obviously not working like it used to.

And for this, I get to pay her $150.00? I would have been way better off giving that money to the aforementioned dominatrix- if I have to be in severe pain, I'd rather that it be served to me while it's wearing a black leather corset. Once again, I'm a simple man with simple appetites.

Excusing herself, she gathers up her laptop and exits the room with Shaun, leaving me sitting there... for 45 minutes.

Interesting side note: when you're stuck in a room with no magazines save for Good Housekeeping, [Happily, I did learn how to make cookies that are moist and delicious- the secret is butter.] and your phone only has 50% of it's battery left, you'll find it's truly amazing what you can make out of tongue depressors when you're tragically bored beyond belief.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you, the Leaning Tower of Pisa!

All kidding aside, I cannot even begin to tell you how infuriating it is to hear someone mewlingly complain that their "comfort zone" is being compromised when all your zones (and I do mean all) are in sheer f**king agony. Aww... poor baby- you feel uncomfortable.

Well, guess what, you self-absorbed bitch, when I wake up in the morning, my goddamn eyelashes hurt. So f**k your comfort zone, and f**k you as well.

And as an aside, here's a heads up: when a patient of yours is diabetic and you abandon him in a room for 45 minutes and he hasn't had a chance to eat yet, he's apt to have his blood sugar drop, so next time please make sure to leave him a glass of OJ or a peanut butter sandwich before you decide to go see the other six patients that you all cleverly scheduled for the same time.

Once again, I'd love to see any other profession that does this: "Hi, I'm from the cable company and I see you have a one o' clock appointment, so I'm also going to be installing the other five houses on your block at the same time- this could take a while." That's right- I experienced a "low" when I was there, due to having to wait so long for them to get back.

Fortunately, I always carry sugar pills and fast-acting glucose gel to stave off such an event. Thank the Lord, that I do, because when Shaun returns, she dismisses what could have been a very bad thing and doesn't even once to think to check my blood sugar*- instead, she just blathers on about how Dr. Kapoor will "return soon", because as I think I've established by now, I obviously have nothing but time on my hands.

*[When we did check it almost 30 minutes later, it was 114- which means I probably dropped into the low 60's. That's pretty bad, and could have led to my passing out.]

Granted, this is all occurring on my day off- what better way to spend my excess time than being trapped in a beige room with nothing but cotton balls, six month old magazines, and tongue depressors to amuse myself? If I only had access to a roll of bubble wrap and a box of packing peanuts... I could have kept my inner child amused for days.

Attempting to make the most of the down time, I at that point handed Shaun the other reason why I was there, that being my medical aid paperwork. The drugs that I require to function and stay upright, (namely the Lyrica and my two Insulins) are bloody expensive, and because of their prohibitive cost and the fact that I'm uninsured, I'm more or less forced to be on aid programs to receive them free of charge.

Each box of Insulin pens and a 30 day supply of Lyrica runs about $268.00 each, a price that has only been rising since the new insurance laws went into effect. Mind you, I don't blame the AHA, I blame the drug manufacturers who saw it as a golden opportunity to gouge it's client base. For instance, a vial of Lantus used to be around $90.00- not cheap, but also not break-the bank expensive either.

Heck, even without insurance, I could afford that. But now?

Try $250.00 for a drug that I could buy from Mexico or Canada for less than twenty, the only difference being the zip code it's located in. That's what I love about this country- if you're rich, you'll be just fine, but if not- well, just pick out what suit you'd like to be buried in and what song you'd like to be played at your service.

[By and by, my choice would be Frank Sinatra's "My Way" as covered by Sid Vicious- it is a train wreck full of awesome.]

Overall, the process for receiving this medical assistance isn't that complicated- it typically requires filling out a one page application, providing proof of your financial status, and per the federal requirement, your doctor's office faxes the whole shebang, along with a prescription for whatever drug you're applying for, directly to the company who manufactures said drug.

Normally, a five minute procedure at worst- two if you're firing on all eight cylinders.

Now as a rule, I tend to keep things highly organized where personal paperwork is concerned, as it's a combination OCD and German thing, and this was no different. Each application was individually binder-clipped together, and the areas that my doctor needed to fill out were highlighted with one of those neon yellow marker thingamajigs- in short, a masterwork of neurotic compulsiveness that even Helen Keller could have easily followed.

With her hands tied.

So naturally of course, it got all shades of bolloxed up. Shaun exits the room once more, paperwork in hand, and when she returns almost 45 minutes later... none of the paperwork is filled out, which for some reason, she did not notice. Mind you, I could see this from across the room, but apparently, when it comes to the fine details, Shaun is far-sighted.

[For those of you keeping track of the time, we're close to almost TWO hours for what should have been a half-hour visit at worst.]

Giggling, (I kid you not) she suggests that I should leave, and states that "they'll take care of it"- not to worry. Note to self: whenever anyone offers to do this in the future, remember this day, and how badly they screwed the metaphorical pooch with a sandpaper condom.

After I reluctantly depart, I call Shaun's direct line and leave a message reminding her not to forget to send the financial info for all three forms- granted, it says to do so right underneath the fax number printed on each application, but since she had already shown me signs that she was possibly three beans short of a burrito, I felt I should hedge my bets, and make sure, nonetheless.

Speaking of burritos, it seems that now would be a good time for me to take a pause from my tale and go microwave one, and then hit the sack. And when I come back...

I get a Dear John letter, have a showdown with Marshall Dillon's incompetent sister, dance a tango with a nice (but scripted) St. Joseph's patient relation flack, and show the bitches who I be, using nothing but the power of positive thinking and my melodic voice.

"I don't trust doctors. It's not to say there ain't some good ones, but on a general level, no, I wouldn't trust 'em at all."- Keith Richards

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Art Spaces of Tommorrow? (Mesa rising) Part One

"In every artist's life, it is inexorable that environment play a determining part"
- Eric Walrond

Hello Blogiteers!

I'm feeling pretty good these days. My blood sugar is slowly getting under control, I'm putting back on the weight I lost during my brief sojourn at John C. Lincoln Hospital, and I finally got to see "White House Down" via my newest and bestest buddy Netflix. It rocks, by the way. Just suspend your common sense regarding how the terrorists gain control of the White House, and you'll be perfectly entertained.

Ten words: presidential limo gun battle, on the White House front lawn.
Life in a word, is just kick-ass.

And speaking of the subject of kicking ass, my last humble rant generated a slew of emails, most of them centering on my take in regards to art galleries versus art-spaces. As I expected, there were a few angry missives criticizing my devotion to fervent capitalism, but I still maintain that in order to be seen as a world-class art destination, it's absolutely crucial that we present ourselves as total professionals when it comes to the marketing and fostering of our base talent.

But there was also the following comment left on my personal FB page, and it's remarks like this that inspire me to keep writing:

"Thank you for your words about art spaces and selling art. I've had some negative experiences, alongside some really positive ones. Sadly I let the negative ones carry more weight and Ive been treading water on my art lately. But after reading a bit of your blog I want to get back to some of my work."

Years from now when this guy rules the art world, I'm gonna ask him for a favor. A big one. Most likely involving Milla Jovovich and a tub chock-full of marshmallow fluff. And people say it doesn't pay to network? Pshaw, says I.

Back to the issue at hand.

To quote myself: "Picasso wasn't discovered in a coffeehouse." If we want to run with the big dogs, we need to get our lazy asses off the porch and actually get our shit together instead of endlessly talking about it. I've often (and publicly) stated the need for a subsidized mentor gallery program within the PAS, and if we're ever going to make Phoenix a serious contender along the lines of cities such as New York and Los Angeles, it's definitely one of the numerous things we need to implement, and that right quick.

If we want our metaphorical art-forest to continue to grow and prosper, then the need to make sure that for every tree that's cut down, two saplings take it's place is not only logical, it's essential.

All hail artsy HYDRA, as it were. Sadly, when it comes to the PAS, it seemingly feels that for every Eric Cox and Christine Cassaro we're lucky to have, there's six Peter Buggs, and they just keep reproducing like rabbits mainlining Viagra.

The inevitable poseurs and wannabes aside, we still have a long way to go before anybody of note sees this burg as an art mecca worth investing in. It's not for lack of talent or passion, but the lack in marketing and leadership that continually sinks our ship before it evens get to unfurl it's sails.

As time goes on, I'm becoming less interested in the nuts [Joe Brklacich] and dolts [Peter Bugg] that comprise the inner workings of the PAS, and instead have been trying to visualize the long-term subsequent end goal- Phoenix becoming the go-to spot for serious art patrons. While that may seem overly optimistic and perhaps even a little naive in relation to the reality we find ourselves currently in, I do believe it is possible.

Still have doubts? Keep this in mind: Ben Affleck can't act his way out of a brown paper bag, and now he's freaking Batman. If the universe can let that happen, surely we can make our little art-scene commercially viable. And personally, I feel the universe owes us a big one, especially after letting that monstrosity of casting become a tangible fact.

I'd never thought I'd say this, but I really miss George Clooney.

My fellow artist and respected colleague Pete Petrisko recently opined over coffee that it was time for me to take on a more expansive worldview and concentrate my snark-fueled energy at those who are really to blame for the lack of the PAS's progress- in other words, bigger and badder targets, and I'm inclined to agree.

Don't get me wrong, I've always found it highly cathartic to metaphorically flay alive those who's ignorance goes right to the bone, but I also think it's time I take this knack for creative writing and kick it up a notch. I'm not going to be one of those people who name drop, as I've always perceived it to be both tacky and somewhat embarrassingly self-serving, but in the last eight months I've had no less than four professional writers (and one highly respected magazine editor) inform me that they think my writing is, and I quote: "solid and damn good".

Let me tell you, nothing makes me feel pretty inside like sincere compliments. In fact, I'm going to be applying for a Warhol Grant in relation to creative writing later this year, and if I don't get it... well, there's always that management position at Cracker Barrel to fall back on, I guess.

Priorities over personalities is the tack I'd like to take over the course of 2015, as I'm getting slightly topped off having to deal with the seemingly never-ending barrage of human speed-bumps that infest the PAS, much akin to an artsy version of Lyme disease. And in retrospect, I feel I've done a lot for starting the discussion of what course the PAS should take for the future.

That's me... your basic conversation yeast.

But I'm also the guy who bitch-slapped the Phoenix New Times and it's Mangling Editor Amy Silverman so hard and so publicly that they actually started covering the PAS almost like a real newspaper. Granted, their writing and coverage is still uniformly terrible, but at least they're doing something, even if it's only partially beneficial in the end.

Throw in my recent shaming of the equally unimpressive* (and wholly unethical*) art entity SMoCA, for their past rewarding of shameless outright plagiarism, and one could easily surmise that getting in my crosshairs is not the wisest decision that one could make. Especially if you're unprincipled or by the dint of your actions, you impede logical progress.

If truth be known, I loathe roadblocks, and when I encounter one, I tend to do one of the following: go around, go under, or more typically- go right through the middle of that f**ker like a chest-burster straight out of Alien. Truly diplomatic subtlety has never been my modus operandi, and I see no real need to start now. If there's a crisis that arises, you don't stick your head in the sand, you grab that sucker by it's greasy little throat and make it your... well, I'll let you chose your own metaphor.

People who tend to sugarcoat obvious (and solvable) problems have always been one of my major pet peeves, as there's only two ways you can go when faced with an issue- the right way or the path so well traveled by the PAS, that I'm surprised that we haven't trademarked it yet.

Living in the 5th largest city in America would make one naturally think that we're at least on par with other cities where community infrastructure is concerned, and for the most part, you'd be right.

We have a rapidly expanding transit system, new businesses are springing up like dandelions, and our convention center can hold an entire Comicon's worth of Princess Leias and Thors, with room to spare. And let's not forget all of the public art, whether it's the Calle 16 project, Third Street's murals, or that god-awful sky-condom mesh monstrosity that's hanging in Downtown.

Which, by the way- I would love to see aflame, if it wasn't for all the public money that's already been wasted on it. Where are all the truly dedicated arsonists when you really need them?

Due to my hatred, I'm even open to suggesting the idea of giving Peter Bugg a shot at creating something new to hang there, but as we saw with his obviously plagiarized* [and sadly winning] entry at SMoCA's Good n' Plenty grant awards, I'd have to believe that he'd just take the original sculpture, turn it upside down, add glitter, and call it a day.*[Allegedly]

Sorry. That was just a tad bit rude and highly inaccurate. Peter would never use glitter, as it tends to possess more substance than his entire body of work thus far. Gah. I'm trying to take the high road, honestly I am, but the snark wants what the snark wants.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the subject of art, most people tend to regard it as more of a want, rather than as a "need", a position that I'm obviously biased in regards to. If I were to engage in a debate with someone who was advocating this POV, I'd start by illustrating the financial impact that a successful art community can bring to the table, such as increased tax revenues, along with the sometimes overlooked benefit of the revitalization of previously depressed neighborhoods.

Think about Roosevelt Street some twenty odd years ago, and I'd have to strongly suggest you think harder about whether it's truly a "need" or not. Without foresight, would anybody have built those overpriced condos there at that time? Definitely not.

But all of this boils down to a pointless exercise in theoretical academia unless there's a structured framework already set in place to support the development of an economically viable arts district.

To construct a successful arts community, you also need the built-in convenience found in most major American cities, and that's where Phoenix is constantly dropping the ball. Deaf to the sound of opportunity knocking. Missing the boat. Arriving a day late and several dollars short, for lack of a better analogy.

Along with the myriad of previously discussed concerns, the PAS also suffers from another uniquely urban malady, that being the issue of sprawl. If you've ever been out on a First Friday, you're acutely aware that seeing all that's to be seen is quite the Herculean task.

Forget the lack of convenient parking, the human lemmings gumming up the sidewalks, and the ongoing issue of half-ass presentation combined with limited hours that are to be found in most of our art galleries, and you could easily argue that one of the major thorns in the art community's side in regards to progress is that it's footprint is huge- not in presence, but in distance.

For those of you who are familiar with the layout of the PAS, think about walking from Modified to the Icehouse. In July. See the inherent issue? For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, it would be the artsy equivalent of the Bataan death march... with hipsters. I get chills just thinking about it.

Unlike many metropolises, Phoenix is not, nor has it ever really been, a walkable city. There are some limited areas where this is not entirely true, but as a rule, you really do need a car if you're ever going to get anywhere in this town within what passes as a reasonable time. Call me crazy, but if you're going to support the arts, then you need to be able to easily support all the areas, not just the one over-gentrified street.

While I'll acknowledge that Roosevelt has become a central location for the PAS, I'll also state that I find it as edgy as a glass of warm milk. I'm a traditionalist. I like my art and my artists the same way I like my great white sharks- hungry and slightly dangerous to the status quo.

I'll take gritty (IE: Grand Avenue) over white-bread any day of the week, and I've always felt that you can be both professional and cutting-edge without having to placate the white and uptight patron brigade. Gritty doesn't mean that you have to phone-in your approach, in my view it means that you're willing to take chances others would take a pass on, either out of fear or ignorance.

Come to think of it, they're two sides of the same coin, but I digress. While RoRo and Grand are part of the PAS for all practical intent and purposes, they may as well be on separate planets given their unique nature and amount of space between them. Keep in mind that between these two art anchors are several various galleries, art-spaces, and artist studios, the majority of whom are off the beaten path, and you'll see why I say that ours is a highly fragmented art scene, in terms of both leadership and location.

To be frank, it's exceedingly detrimental to establishing a solid base of patrons who actually buy art, rather than photographing it with their I-phones. In addition, it's also a tough haul for the artists as well, since unless you're lucky enough to have enough room in your house/apartment /garage/cardboard box for a dedicated studio, you'll have to rent a space- and in Phoenix that usually means a small (overpriced) rat-hole, typically situated in an area that could be charitably described at best as a demilitarized zone.

Speaking from a wealth of precedent experience, most of what passes for studio space in this city could be considered an exercise in personal suffering that would make the most ardent of Catholics weep. My old space had no air conditioning, save for a 30 year old swamp cooler, one window facing away from any natural light, and was home to an ever-changing roster of field mice, assorted weird spiders, and roaches that I swear on all that's holy, would just laugh in my face whenever I pulled out a can of RAID.

Good times. The rent for this slice of Lucifer's paradise at the time was $425.00- which even then, was way steep. But I was an artist, and an artist had to have a separate studio space, and who was I to go against tradition? An idiot, that's who. But then as now, the options open to artists seeking an artistic creation space were limited.

If you look at successful art markets around the country, the trait they all seem to share is that the artists and the spaces that show their work are integrated into a concentrated area, which makes perfect sense in regards to both business and convenience.

Phoenix, on the other hand, has no such cohesion when it comes to it's art community, and that lack of planning is proving to be quite the hindrance for serious patrons and artists alike.

Some measures towards this problem have been taken- the Oasis project on Grand for instance, which provides low-cost housing for artists, and also possesses an on-site gallery to showcase the work of said Creatives that live there. However at this time, it's still overshadowed by the entity that is the RoRo District, so at best, it's a baby-step in the right direction.

I'm not smack-talking the Oasis, mind you- I for one, think it's a great concept. It's close to downtown, the views of the city are terrific, depending on what side you live on, and it's three minutes away from Grand Avenue Pizza, and that's always good.

But at this particular moment in time, it's a wolf without a corresponding pack, and if this model were pushed even further and harder throughout the PAS, I think there'd be a definite upsweep in revenue and exposure for our art scene overall, and I can't see anyone having an issue with that.

Except of course, for our local contingent of art-hipsters, who most likely, will kvetch endlessly about how much cooler Phoenix was before it "sold out" and went all commercial.

Now in order for this to work, we definitely need to pattern ourselves on a system that seemingly has all the kinks worked out. We could look to the successful platforms that are already established in art centers such as LA or NYC, but pick only those parts that would work for us. However, as much as I would love to see this city become an art destination, I also want to make sure that we don't become a weak-ass clone of either one of those cities.

Granted, I'm not really certain what Phoenix's true artistic identity is, but it sure as hell isn't the detached coolness of New York or the toxic plasticity of LA. Fortunately, it doesn't have to be to guarantee our long-term success, and in fact- there's a project that's currently under development that Phoenix could emulate, and the beauty of it is that it's literally in our own back yard.

So where is this small, yet brilliant, beacon of artistic development? Mesa.

(crickets chirp.... a lone tumbleweed rolls by... somewhere, in the twilight distance, a dog barks.)

Yes. I said MESA, the ancestral home (as the joke goes) of Mormons, meth, and morons. I see by your slack-jawed expressions that some form of explanation is required- fair enough.

I live to bring enlightenment, if not clarity, to the masses as you know.

However, my explanation is also going to be a tad bit awkward, especially when you take into account that Phoenix should be the one setting this particular bar rather than a city I've always compared to my Oma's 1957 Hoover vacuum- grey-colored, completely industrial, and sucking like Ben Affleck in Daredevil.

Sorry. I still can't believe that they gave him yet another super hero to completely screw up. Is it too much to ask that Hollywood stops screwing around with the things I love? What's next? Jonah Hill as Wolverine?

And don't even get me started on the new Star Wars movie- if JJ Abrams f**ks that up, I swear on my light-saber collection that I'll take a cue from Jabba and toss him in the Saarlac Pit.

Oh yeah... I went there.
Moving on....

As I was just saying, it seems that Phoenix's ugly stepsister is apparently making some serious moves in regards to upping it's artistic game by developing a true artistic presence, and as usual, we're the ones who once again, are lagging a step (if not two) behind. I wouldn't dare speak for you, but I for one, am getting really sick and tired of watching the other kids get the Evel Knievel Action Set while we're stuck with a metaphorical lime-green sweater that we're supposed to grow into.

Seriously. We're the cute one- why can't we have the nice things too? If I were to hazard a guess, I'd say part of the issue would be the puzzling attitude that Phoenix is somehow not deserving of such artistic amenities- an ignorant stance that personally, I find highly infuriating.

Let me clarify this point.

Some time ago, I made the unfortunate decision to attend a presentation at the Mesa Arts Center, an absolutely gorgeous building, in Mesa's quickly burgeoning Arts District. The speaker that night was promoting a self-help program (of sorts) aimed at artists who wanted to achieve a stable financial base in regards to the selling and promotion of their art- for the working artist, as it were.

As someone who is all about the Capitalism, I can get one hundred percent behind the concept of educating Creatives in regards to how the big scary machine works- forewarned is forearmed, after all. But as a rule, I've always believed that most self-help books and the like are typically nothing more than repackaged self-indulgent twaddle.

If you can get something beneficial out of these types of programs, that's great, but you shouldn't have to pay for information that with the merest of research you could glean for free at your local library.

That's just my humble opinion, but if you're one of those people who wants the legwork done for them, then feel free to open your checkbook and have at it. I, on the other hand, have always believed that personal growth requires both inner focus and even perhaps a little private discomfort to be truly transformative in the end.

As I sat there listening to this person's saga about how they got to where they were now, two things became highly apparent- first, they weren't an Artist in the traditional sense, their foundation was in the marketing and sale of art (which had been lucrative) and second, they were just a slight bit out of touch with their target audience, a fact which became even more crystalline as they described how exactly their self-help program came to be.

Most Artists aren't in this gig for the money, shockingly enough. We usually have to chase it down like Cujo going after a bus full of pre-schoolers, and that's on a good day. The option to relax and engage our sense of inner contemplation is usually not in the cards, typically due to lack of money and/or time. How to pay the electric bill gets my contemplation more than my career, for instance.

Being a professional Artist myself, I'm painfully well acquainted with being under the thumb of both of these constraints, so when I'm in the presence of someone who waxes poetic about how they got their head together by taking a year off and going to Europe to sit in the ruins of an ancient keep, while pondering the meaning of it all, I tend to get somewhat... let's call it touchy, and leave it at that.

Most artists can barely afford to sit in their own house, much less a 16th century fixer-upper, but I digress. All their hard-earned success aside, it's easy to talk about getting one's career and life on track when you're blessed with an abundant bank account and sitting in a castle- just saying.

But the best was yet to come.

After the talk and subsequent "buy my stuff" sales pitch, the remaining crowd gathered outside by the cash bar, where I demurred the opportunity to buy a three dollar can of warm soda, and as our host walked by, I managed to grab a few minutes of conversation with them. After a little shop talk, the discussion eventually turned, as it always does when my dialogue involves art, to the ongoing problems with the PAS and the difficulty of advocating for it outside it's defined borders.

Certainly, this highly successful former Scottsdale art sales pro and self-help entrepreneur would have some sage advice for me, a lone artist hoping to make a difference, right? As I made the case for the ol' 602, she rather directly states that "Phoenix is a lost cause" and that I should "just get off the sinking ship while I still could.", finishing up with the implication [I'm paraphrasing here] that all my efforts were tantamount to spitting in the wind.

Sigh... one day, please remind me to definitely sit down with my sense of optimism and talk some sense into that naive little bitch, cause if that doesn't work, I may just have to fire her altogether. If there's a sure fire way to get on my dark side almost immediately, it's to suggest that something I'm truly passionate about has no inherent value, especially when I know it's not true.

This outlook doesn't apply to the "Xanadu" movie or any of ABBA's albums of course, as after all- while I may be fervent about them, I'm also not completely crazy. I don't think for a New York second that the PAS is a lost cause.

And to be brutally honest... if it is, then it definitely needs all the help it can get.

In my humble opinion, lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for. Well those... and any that involve the overthrowing of our Evil Lizard Overlords. All half-joking talk of freedom aside, I found their short-sighted point of view to be highly insulting, and despite the fact that my first instinct was to unsheathe my razored tongue and metaphorically peel them like a sentient potato, I did not.

I do have some social graces after all, and besides- I like that place and don't want to be banned for life over what at best, could be considered a matter of difference in perspective. I've never truly understood why certain people are so willing to write this city off without a second thought before getting all the relevant information first.

I'd be the last person to say that we're running on all eight cylinders, but I'd also take the position that given the right mixture of leadership and marketing, this city could be one of the heavyweights, hands down. And a true believer in the dogma of self-empowerment would see that potential and want to support the effort to make it so, not deride it from their ivory tower.

That's just a personal thought, mind you. Take it for what it is.
Now, before I get back to talking about Mesa's artistic leap forward, I think it's time for a break.

And when we come back... I venture into the wilds of Mesa for some artistic research, learn about the difficulties of navigating state bureaucracy, and discuss having to pick my 3 favorite symbolic children in order to apply for a Warhol Grant.

Good times.

"Culture is the Arts elevated to a set of beliefs."- Thomas Wolfe.