Smell the roses

It was a helluva decade, my fifties, some of the greatest ups in my life and some of the scariest lows. As it wore on, epilepsy inevitably began to dominate, the damage of a lifetime, and memory evaporated, and executive functions, and finally the ability to hold a job and even write articles. If you’re epileptic you know it’s gonna happen, you just hope it waits till later, much later, but it happens early, too early. Hell, it was giving me huge problems in my late forties, just when my life’s ups were becoming so up. I just hid it well, so I could keep working and getting writing gigs and not look like a spaced out fuck up. One of those.

But the real downside is the financial cost. You have no idea how expensive epilepsy is. Between the cost of medication and finance charges incurred taking out loans to buy the damn medicine–I couldn’t function without it, couldn’t drive, would be scary–it has cost us $40,000 in three years. And that was just for the medicine. Figure in the loss of income this past five years and the total cost gets into the hundreds of thousands. Hundreds of thousands of dollars. She’s already disabled. Still, we went from being a successful hard working middle class couple, completely self-made, to having little more than a roof over our heads and epilepsy incurred debts that suck up every loose penny. And you can’t get disability for epilepsy unless it is incredibly severe…and I’m not, I’ve just got a lifetime of damage that leaves me about as useful as a burnt out computer. You can’t get any assistance at all. No relief on utilities. No nothing. It’s just like being a normal person, except I can’t work.

So we enter our sixties flat broke but with a roof over our head. Rent control is such a blessing. But otherwise we have no idea what will happen next. The last decade was a series of surprises. You get fatalistic. I never was before. I am now. You just expect the worst and when it comes you shrug and deal with it, if you can. Though neither of us have the brain capacity anymore to deal with much of it. We just blink and wonder what to do.

Still, she just came back from the store with a steak and a six pack of beer and a bouquet of freshly picked flowers from the hillside, and there’s a mess of vegetables of all kinds from SuperKing and we’re going to have one helluva birthday feast. Life is good. I mean life is fucked up, even doomed, but it’s good, and we both take it a day at a time and stop and smell the roses.

Forgetting

Fifteen years ago, I worked for about thirty or so people, from executives on down, and I handled all their expense reports and purchases and you name it. I was so good at it that I was one of the employees that others would come to when they were stumped trying to figure out how to expense something. Executives from outside my department would come and ask for help. That was at Disney and I knew my shit. I was also, for a year or two, the one man purchasing department for Disney Online, when it was a start up. Millions of dollars of purchases went through me, I drew up the purchase orders, I figured out to set up the accounting for each, I got them approved. I remember setting up a database on Access to keep track of them. A schedule on Project. I had that purchasing down, too. Later, I was told by accounting that I processed more accounts payable invoices than the rest of the Walt Disney Internet Group put together. Tens of millions of dollars every couple months. That is in addition to all those expense reports and getting purchase orders processed–though I was no longer the purchasing department. There were several people by then doing what I had once done. I was a master of details and process and numbers.

This occurred to me a couple nights ago as I stared at our bank account and tried to figure out if we had enough cash on hand to cover rent. (We did.) I couldn’t remember what charges were outstanding. I couldn’t remember what we had paid or not. I had definitely forgotten to pay the DWP, I knew that, as they were threatening to shut us off. Time Warner Cable too. All these numbers swimming, these things I have no ability to calculate or schedule or understand. An infinitesimal fraction of what I was once a master of at Disney. It’s all beyond me now.

Losing your executive functions is a bitch. Abilities just disappear. Things everyone can do I can no longer do. Basic human being things. Those neurons burned away a long time ago. My temporal lobe, where all these things lie, is a beat up mess. A life time of small seizures, thousands of them, have done their damage. It’s like someone reached into the hard drive of the computer I’m writing on and 0-949uj1/’p23fh13wcde’p9dcalkjaZXA. Just like that.

A couple days ago was our wedding anniversary. The day before I was looking up at the digital sign above the bus driver, charmed, and it said November 28. November 28? Oh wow, November 29th is our anniversary. I said that aloud. She said yes it is and smiled. I said I had completely forgotten. I had never forgotten before. Not even almost forgotten. I always remembered. She smiled again. That’s OK, she said, we’ll have a nice dinner. You live with a husband long enough and you can see that his brain has been zapped away, and that he forgets things, but he means well.

I had never forgotten our anniversary before. I wondered what else I was forgetting. What else I would forget. And I sat there, as the bus lurched along, with the cold hollow suspicion that I was not going to able to take care of us by myself much longer.

 

(This is also posted on bricksbrain.com)

Fifty thousand

(2013)

Did a rough calculation just now and figured that in the three decades or so since I was diagnosed as epileptic, I’ve taken over 50,000 pills. And that’s low-balling it. I don’t know if that’s cool, or gnarly, or just a helluva lot of pills.

Fifty thousand. Fifty times a thousand. Fifty thousands, really. It would have once been fifty thousands. When it finally got to the point that it was not a plural, not fifty separate thousands, it became the one fifty thousand. There went the plural, no more s, poof. Was that a mathematical poof or just a linguistic one I don’t know. Did some smart guy decide it was one thing, this fifty thousand, or did people just get lazy and drop the s the way people do? People are lazy speakers. I know I am. I can’t be bothered with consonants. Drop them all over the place, especially in the middle of words. D’s in particular. Just hint at the thing, glottalize it softly, can’t be bothered to stretch the tongue all the way to the teeth for that little rush of air off the palate that makes a d. What’s the point. People understand me anyway, mostly. Anyway, maybe that’s why fifty thousands is fifty thousand. Lazy tongues. But let’s say no, it was a mathematician. Some guy in a lab coat, a blackboard covered with x’s and y’s and no social graces whatsoever.

But back to fifty thousand. I know a guy that has fifty thousand records. He has as many records as I’ve taken pills. And I know a guy that has fifty thousand rubber bands in a big ball on his desk. It’s a really stupid hobby, but he has as many rubber bands as I’ve taken pills. And I know a guy that has fifty thousand dollars.

No, I don’t know anybody that has fifty thousand dollars. I mean fifty thousand dollars just hanging around. Fifty thousand dollars in a big fat wad in their pocket, like the Weenie King in The Palm Beach Story who gave a mess of them to Claudette Colbert who was standing in the shower in a skimpy bathrobe and driving the male half of the audience out there silently mad. There are people that have fifty thousand dollars like that, just fifty thousand dollars hanging around, but I don’t know who they are. I don’t know people who have a million dollars, or a billion, or a zillion dollars even. You don’t know these people socially unless you also have a million, billion or even zillion dollars. You can’t eat at the same restaurants, or go on the same vacations, or buy the same companies and lay off the same people. But I do know they have more dollars than I have taken pills, that’s for damn sure. I don’t even have to use my calculator to figure that out.

Then there’s that whole thing about a picture being worth a thousand words. They measured it. It’s a thousand words. I saw a photo album today that held fifty pictures. People pictures, cat pictures, baby pictures. I would rather have seen the fifty thousand word equivalent, as it was a really dull fifty pictures. And that would be as many words as I’ve taken pills. And words are something I can understand. Though I have written way over fifty thousand words. Ten times that easy, five hundred thousand words plus some. I figured that out once. MS Word made it feasible, put all those words together in a huge document. So huge it was cumbersome as a brontosaurus and took forever to open or close or edit even. I did a word search once that crashed my computer. I was afraid I was going to crash the Internet. It didn’t, and the world is safe, but now I’m on WordPress and though I like it, and that’s why you are reading this, it’s all fucked up, word wise counting wise. I just have to guess. I never guess about my pills.

Actually I’ve written way over ten times fifty stupid pictures in a boring photo album’s worth of words. Some are on this blog. Some are still in that brontosaurus of a word document. And there’s a whole mess of words tucked away in columns in the archives of the LA Weekly, maybe five times that stupid photo album’s worth of words. But the rest are hand written in a big box in the closet. Some are typed. Remember typewriters, those big clacking things that dinged? Ancient. Words that came from typewriters are made of ink, though the words you just read are made of electrons. This is the modern world, baby. I found an electric pencil sharpener at work, once. It was hidden in a supply drawer that had been locked up for year and was full of fossils. Carbon paper. White out. Rubber bands by the thousands. Boxes of pencils. Erasers in all shapes and sizes and colors. And that electric pencil sharpener. I took it out and put it on my desk. An intern asked what it was.

There’s also a bunch of words stuck in a hard drive from a computer that died a bad death, sparking and smouldering. Funny they aren’t words right now, just codes or whatever it is that sit in the memory chips, awaiting electrons that make them words again. Actually none of these words are words unless you open the file to look at them. I’ll finish this post finally, save, log out and go look at the news or pictures of ladies or something. None of these words exist then, until someone decides they really need to read what Brick says about pills. Press the link and voila!, words. And there’s all the words sitting in emails I never deleted, plus the ones I deleted are just memories of words, or would be if I remembered them. I don’t mostly.  Who knows how many words disappeared over the years on work email accounts. Then there’s instant messaging and texting and twitter and Facebook. That must come to millions and million of words. I have no idea how many cat or baby pictures that amounts to.The calculator is way over there and I’m here typing, and it’d be just a wasting time exercise anyway. We were here to talk about pills.

My pills usually come in the mail. But sometimes I forget to re-order and have to go to the pharmacy to get more. It’s in Hollywood, the pharmacy. The last time I was there a man in a Santa hat came in, sat down and ate a sandwich. He didn’t want pills, he was just eating a sandwich.The next day I went there again, and there was a man wearing Mickey Mouse ears. He didn’t eat anything. He was in line wearing mouse ears, talked to the pharmacist in mouse ears, paid for his package in mouse ears, and disappeared out the door weaning mouse ears. He probably ate later. And I saw a lady there once who was so beautiful you couldn’t believe she was here in the wrong end of Hollywood. She wore a pink cowgirl hat and had legs for days that ended in cowgirl boots. I don’t think she was a real cowgirl, though. She was just bored, and sighed, and stared. People stared back. Mostly, though, the people waiting there don’t wear Santa hats or mouse ears or any kind of head gear of any sort. They just wait.

OK, time to take my pills.

An unseen miasma of threats and spies and anarchists and criminals

I’m just an uneducated layman at this kind of thing, strictly amateur, but I sure can see why botnets are being built up by using WordPress. WordPress does not take security seriously. Never really has. It’s a joke. Even their fix it plug-ins can crash sites. And they blow off people who complain, essentially tell them it’s their fault and refer them to bulletins and forum discussions years old. It’s a huge site just screaming to be exploited for nefarious use. Facebook is an ideal channel for predatory malware, too, but WordPress is even worse because so little effort is made to impede it. At least Facebook seems to give a damn. And in a plot device worthy of I Spy or Mission Impossible (or even Batman) It appears that someone is building up to a huge Denial of Service attack on unspecified targets in the U.S. (so far they’ve been going after Washington D.C. based media sites, interestingly enough). And they are planning to use WordPress as the means to do so. Infected javascript is snuck onto a legitimate website’s homepage (such as those media outlets in Washington) which automatically redirects visitors to a WordPress blog that was hijacked and filled with malware (or set up deliberately as a Trojan horse full of malware). Suddenly your machine is infected too, and your security software might not even realize it. You begin infecting others. This latest phenomenon began in late July. About the time, interestingly enough, that WordPress bloggers began complaining again about performance issues.

There are nearly 70,000,000 blog sites on WordPress. All those blogs with all their plug-ins and widgets, literally billions of them, each of which is a potential vulnerability. That is, plug-ins and widgets are ideal ways an enterprising hacker can introduce malware to a blog page. WordPress, staring at numbers like that has done the easy thing and barely done anything at all. The Alfred E.Neuman theory of website security. You can either be proactive or just not give a flying fuck. Hence there are no fixes (well, there are, but they tend to crash Windows, something WordPress hasn’t bothered to address).  It’s somewhat disturbing when you realize that the brass at WordPress has decided to let the teeming millions of blog owners fend for ourselves. So some of the geeks in our midst have developed their own fixes. Alas geeks that they are, almost all of these fixes are written in dense packets of code that will scare the bejesus out of anyone with social skills. No easy to download tools for these people, which means that only a tiny percentage of WordPress users can apply any of these fixes (provided they even work). And as I said before, the limited fixes that WordPress does provide, in periodic upgrades, are so badly written that they freeze up Windows (often with a very attractive flashing or windows that metastasize so fast that your only recourse is to shut down the computer.) 

You have to be impressed by the WordPress brass and their belief in their decentralized approach to internet security. Afterall, the exact same thing that is happening now happened last April. 90,000 WordPress sites, hijacked by malware that created an enormous botnet that began Denial of Service attacks that just about did in WordPress itself. Was that a practice run? Whatever it was, it worked, making the site just about unusable for about a week there. Whew. That was close. Let’s hope it never happens again. The Chinese (or whoever)  could probably not believe their luck, and so they did the same thing again. That’s what is happening now, and you can google your brains out trying to find more that a couple press releases from WordPress announcing their half-assed and unworkable fixes. They might as well sacrifice a chicken and chant. That would be just as effective.

So potentially millions of WordPress blogs can be brazenly hijacked by unknown evildoers, who draw in unsuspecting visitors to innocent sites suddenly full of malware that, unknown to them (or to the owners of the infected site), will eventually make them unwitting participants in an oncoming Denial of Service attack when it comes. A potentially massive denial Denial of Service attack. Not that any of the infected visitors will have a clue that they are doing so. That’s the beauty of it. That’s what this botnet is, that’s what it does. All these infected computers that will one day receive a signal to begin contacting targeted sites over and over, maybe thousands of times per machine, overwhelming it’s ability to respond and essentially taking it offline. And doing so without the user–you or me–having any idea we are doing so. Talk about a perfect crime. This current website hijacking campaign was preceded by a similar attack that contacted Free Tibet activists on their Android phones via a “rogue” Twitter account and led them to a compromised Tibetan human rights website infected with malware. Not only did it link them to a botnet, it also provided their location (or their Android phone’s location, anyway) on a 24/7 basis, as well as gave a look-see to the evil doers into just what these Tibetan activists had on there. (I can’t find the article now, but I believe the infected site was a registration site for a human rights conference, which probably means credit card information was requested.) Interestingly enough, the malware used (something involving Adobe) had been used previously against manufacturing and defense industry targets (i.e., for industrial and military espionage). The coding was in Chinese. You  figure it out.  One of those things Edward Snowden didn’t bother mentioning.

(I saw today, incidentally, that the Dalai Lama’s website  had been hacked in a similar fashion. What’s driving a lot of this is the Tibetan self-immolation campaign. Beginning in 2009, at least seventy-eight Tibetans have burned themselves alive protesting Chinese occupation. The Chinese, frantic to put an end to it, have infiltrated Tibetan social media. A digital campaign against self-immolation, which is about as analog a message medium as you can imagine.)

Hijacked WordPress sites have been serving malware at the core of a number attacks during the first six months of the year.  Attacks against Washington, D.C.- area media sites involved javascript injected on to the sites’ homepages redirecting victims to a compromised WordPress site hosting malware. The same tactic was used against Tibetan freedom supporters where attackers were using Twitter to send victims to a Tibet-themed WordPress blog that featured Adobe Flash, a technique that had been used in the past against manufacturing and defense industry targets. What a coincidence. It bothers me, by the way, how local media sites in the Washington D.C. area–not the Washington Post but a television station, for instance) are being targeted. Why those? Why concentrate on D.C. people? Regular people, too, the type that log onto the local happy hour news team website. I have no idea.

By the way, those Facebook issues we’ve all been having seem to be related to this sort of outside interference as well. I have no idea if they’re related. There seems to be no financial gain in this. No one is scamming anybody or stealing credit card info. This is either a domestic, politically motivated campaign (an extremely well organized Anonymous type thing, which doesn’t seem likely) or a foreign power infiltrating and damaging the U.S. cyber infra-structure. It has gotten particularly intense this summer.

I suppose it ought to make us feel better that we do it too. Snowden laid that out. Is there a Chinese whistleblower doing the same? It would be helpful. Though unlikely as hell, not with their black jails. But it would give us, that is the American public, a clearer picture of where we’re at. Is the NSA creating huge botnets in China? Is this mutually assured digital destruction? The Chinese have admitted that a massive Denial of Service attack launched against American websites in 2011 (aka “Operation Aurora”) was counter espionage, and that they acquired some very useful information (some of which sounds similar to what Snowden revealed.)

Of course, 99% of you haven’t a clue what I’m talking about, but maybe you ought to. It’s almost Cyber World War, baby, and you are all right in the middle of it. I must have a dozen security and anti-viral/malware/worm/hack programs I use now. There is not one that can do all. And who knows what remains invisible in our machines? Or on sites that we use. Your Facebook page can be infected just like your hard drive can. Any site is the same. The whole cloud is a vast network of potentially infected sites, slipping infected code between each other. Cloud virus protection is a growth industry. The impenetrable firewalls that maintained the sanctity of intranets are sooooo last technological era. Almost everything is wide open now. We’re all as connected in the ether as are the neurons in our brains. It’s surreal. And just as a brain can be shut down by seizures that overpower all the neurons, overwhelming synaptic connections till every neuron is firing and freezing the whole thing and the body is paralyzed and spazzing and unconscious, so can botnets launch massive denial of service attacks that knock out websites by the thousands and effectively cripple huge chunks of the internet for a while. This digital existence of ours is full of virtual plagues, virtual wars, virtual criminals, virtual time bombs and virtual creatures that move about in perfect sequence following binary dictates. We are so fucked, you might say. Or at least doomed to an endless battle with these forces of virtual evil.  Some of you are so web-bound, online in some way or another 24/7. And that world you have your head lost in is an unseen miasma of threats and spies and anarchists and criminals and drone like codes that just can’t help themselves as they infect whatever they can. Craziness. I remember when we were bothered by pornographic emails. And all they did was offend us. Simpler times, those. There was email, and there was our lives.Two separate things.  Now many people’s lives are their Facebook accounts. They have friends they have never met, never will, and probably wouldn’t even like if they did. Men fall in love with two dimensional naked ladies who move about on their screens. We read books in photons where once we touched paper. Our money is in electrons, we never see it, and we’re not even sure if it’s ours anyway.

We have totally surrendered ourselves to this other world. In some ways we exist more in the ether than we do in the physical world. Yet out here, in reality, we have some control over our lives. But online, in the ether, they own us. They know everything about us. Not the government so much ss we fear, not really, when compared with all the data that Facebook and everyone else you register online with has. I’ve already gone on and on about data mining and what it means for you (in You Are What You Type).That stuff creeps me out. It’s essential, but kind of creepy. Too many years working in online marketing, I guess. I scan my machine almost daily with Spybot to get rid of all the spyware (it works better in the safe mode with networking, by the way.) I’ve done deadly battle with Win32 and WebCake. DoubleClick is a pain in the ass. The ZeroAccess Trojan was a tough one. Man. Had to go through half a dozen anti-virus softwares before I found one that worked. A vicious little bastard, that thing. And who knows what is lurking on my machine, invisible. Who knows what is ready to pounce every time I log onto another website. What sneaks past us off our Facebook pages, or even via Twitter. Our iPhones are like live virtual grenades, ready to go off and wreck things.  

I try not to think about our automobiles. Though I love the status report I get every month from OnStar. It even tells me my tire pressure, for each tire. Imagine that. Yeah, imagine that. Some guy in the Midwest somewhere knows more about the tire pressure in my car than I do. Or a light comes on while I’m driving in the middle of nowhere. I call OnStar on the phone in the rear view mirror. They tell me what the light means. A little coolant,. Mr. Wahl. The lady is a thousand miles from me, and she knows that my engine needs coolant while I, in the driver’s seat maybe three feet from the radiator, had no idea. That is just amazing. Till some virus fucks it all up. Afterall, our benign internet hs turning more and more malign. And we don’t care. We leave it to the specialists to worry about that. Because we are having too much fun with all this stuff to care.

I wonder if there’s an app for that, caring. Something that’ll do the caring for you, plus tell you it’s time to feed the dog and where the best Mexican place is in Tehachapi. Pictures of tacos, Yelp reviews, directions, everything. Now that’s what I call progress. pictures of tacos on an iPhone. And to think this all began as a way to talk to each other after a thermonuclear war. Who’d a thunk it.

OMG. I’ve been sexted. Talk to you later.

King Tut

So according to the eight zillion stories about it on Google this morning, King Tut was weird, fell down a lot and had excessively feminine features. Therefore he was epileptic. Voila. Just like that.
 
OK, I’ll give them the weird and falling down a lot. But why the excessively feminine? It’s never he was weird and fell down a lot and was a gnarly dude or he was weird and fell down a lot and was hung like a horse or was strong as an ox or was John Wayne. It’s gotta be something vaguely gay. People think wow, there’s Brick the epileptic guy. I hear he has seizures and wears women’s underwear.
 
I have never worn women’s underwear.
 
I don’t know if the same could be said for King Tut, however.  Or John Wayne, for that matter. Though he was not epileptic. So I don’t know what his excuse would be. 

There was also a big story about Neil Young making the rounds on Google, an interview to plug a new book or something. The story mentions his epilepsy (and why he finally stopped drinking and smoking dope because of it, but never mind.) Now, Neil Young is weird. That’s a given. And no doubt he’s fallen a lot, from seizures, or from being too stoned to stand, or by being tripped by Stephen Stills for being such a creep. That’s a given too. But I’ve been staring and staring at this picture…
 
 
…and I can’t see anything remotely feminine in it. He’s a little too clean shaven, yes, but maybe he just has a good razor. Otherwise, though, he’s as macho as they come in a demented, drug addled epileptic rock’n’roll visionary kinda way. If he’s wearing women’s underwear you can’t tell, nor could you blame it on seizures. It’d be a lifestyle choice, or maybe they just feel good.
 
Which brings us back to King Tut.
 
OK, it doesn’t. It just brings us to the end of this ridiculous essay.
 
 
 
(That beautiful shot of Neil Young  is by Graeme Mitchell for The New York Times.)
 
 
 

Book ‘em, Dano

(Not sure when I wrote this, but quite a while ago, or to whom even.)

So it was Tuesday night last night. I love Tuesday nights. No responsibility nights. Nothing to worry about nights. Deadline is six days off. I’ve already scheduled everything—bills, whatever—over the weekend. Already did the bigtime job search thing Monday morning. So Tuesday night there’s nothing. Almost never go out on Tuesdays (summer excepted). Fyl cooked up a light dinner. Eat a lot of light dinners. I found a bottle of Giant Chicken wine. (Well, it has a big rooster on the label, but I can never remember the name so it’s just Giant Chicken). Polished off half of that. That’s a lot for me. Then cracked open a good bottle of port. I’m old enough now to enjoy port. (You have another seven or eight years to go, but it happens.)  Looking through a drawer in the coffee table here, behind a stack of Playboys (seriously, a stash of Playboys, somehow I get a free subscription) and I found half a joint. I’ll be damned. Some stoner must have dropped it at my birthday party. They take out the zines and clean their pot on the centerfolds. There’s always an expanse of white ass in the center that makes it easy to see the seeds. This was explained to me. Anyway, I fired it up. Yow. Pharmaceutical grade. The hockey game got very confusing but quite beautiful.  Poured another glass of port. The game ended. Fyl switched to Star Trek.  Cool, my favorite ever episode. Frank Gorshin painted black on one side, white on the other chasing some dude who was white on the one side and black on the other.  Their bi-coloration was unusually vivid this time. I was really getting into it. Settled back on the pillow. So sweet, baby. Closed my eyes just for a second. Opened them. Jack Lord said book ’em Dano. Some guy in a flowered shirt and a lei around his neck. What the? Hours had passed. It was like 2 in the morning all of a sudden.

Seizure meds have made me such a wimp. I love to drink, but man, what a lightweight I’ve become. So I rarely do more than a couple glasses of wine. Open a bottle and it sits there a couple days. Or maybe it’s just that I ain’t used to this new pot. It’s all so potent now. Or maybe it’s both. Whatever. Book ‘em, Dano.