Butterfly Buffets and the Wayback Machine

It’s a stunning autumn evening, and the last few days have been bluebird skies and butterflies, as the largest Painted Lady migration in decades is underway in Colorado. There are so many millions of insects it showed up on weather satellites. I am one of the lucky ones who happens to be in the path of a 70-mile-wide kaleidoscope.

Over the last ten days I have spent at least a dozen hours standing in front of my house watching these beautiful, delicate insects fly over my roof from the north, down in a stream to land on the sunflowers I planted almost-too-late in the season to bloom. But bloom they did, and it has been a Butterfly Buffet in my sunflowers.

 

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In late June, after coming home from a week of especially brutal treatments that left burns on my skin which required treatment, I threw some seeds from 2 different packets of sunflowers into 3 larger-sized pots. Planting those flowers was an act of faith that I would live to see them bloom. Back then it seemed inconceivable to me that no doctor would be able to put a name to the disease that had been systematically attacking my lungs, teeth, stomach, bones, muscles, joints and skin for the last 5 years.

 

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More of the sunflowers sprouted and took hold than I expected. The pots became overcrowded – I watered them twice a day through the heat of the summer and bought some miracle grow to make up for the lack of soil for the roots. They became top-heavy, and I tied them to the rain gutters and the porch. Watering their roots to appease the drooping leaves and buds, and making sure the nascent stalks were supported and protected from grass hoppers gave me something to take care of. It was therapeutic and got me out of my own head about my illness.

When we returned from (literally) howling at the total eclipse of the sun for two-and-a-half minutes in a fallow field in the middle of Wyoming in late August, I was delighted to find one single sunflower had bloomed – dark and full of beauty I was unprepared for, like the amazing solar event we had just witnessed with our son.

 

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It was a week before another flower unfurled its petals – a Mammoth Sunflower that was bright yellow, with a head larger across than a dinner plate. I was certain it was too late in the season for the rest to bloom, but kept diligently watering in my own act of faith for them. Flowers bloomed intermittently, but the majority of buds refused to open.

In the middle of September my sunflowers blazed to life, as if someone had thrown a switch.

I was reluctantly walking to my car one morning, on the way to my first treatment of the week, when a riot of color met my eyes: 3 kinds of yellow, orange, peach, burnt umber, and red. The sight of those flowers felt like a triumph: I was still able to nurture something, to be useful.

A few days later Richard called excitedly from the front yard and I walked out into the glorious sunshine of a late summer day to find a flurry of butterflies in my flowers. I stood transfixed, delighted at their delicate flitting and bold coloring. It was a tonic to my soul, and for a little while I forgot the long hallway of pain the last few months had been. All my work had been worth it.

 

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Eleven days later I found myself sitting in my car in my driveway, hands on the wheel and utterly lacking the energy I needed to walk into the house. I had just finished my third ultraviolet radiation treatment for the week – number 40-something since May – and I stared at the garage until it seemed the right thing to do to shuffle inside.

 

Wayback Machine

 

Three times a week I step into what I call The Wayback Machine. (Google Mr. Peabody and Sherman, those of you under 40)

The Wayback Machine administers a prescribed dose of UVB radiation via a contraption that is god’s own tanning booth. The light box stands about 7 feet high and is circular with 25 or so vertical lights lining the inside. The machine swings open on hinges, and you go in naked – but for goggles to protect your eyes from blindness – and step up onto a box. You close the door as the nurse dons protective gear, and grab a bar above your head to keep steady, and prevent you from falling into the lights and getring burned.

You take a breath, steel yourself and give the okay.

Lights that look like giant florescent tubes come to life with a literal *POP!* that makes you flinch, and you see a flash of white light through eyes pressed closed and hiding under the red goggles I prefer over the yellow. A giant fan kicks to life a quarter of a second later to make the heat bearable, and the machine grinds and whirs.

Instead of weak, annoying florescent lighting, these bulbs bake you with the literal heat of the sun: Cancer-causing UVB rays scorch deep into your skin, burning off the top layer. You smell yourself burning – the actual smell of your skin burning off begins to nauseate you, but the fan wafts the stench away. You feel hours worth of direct sunlight beamed onto your unprotected skin in a matter of seconds. Deeper down below where the skin’s cellular DNA is being damaged and cancer might develop, the radiation suppresses your immune system, further reducing your ability to fight off your invisible enemy.

You begin to feel the tightness in your face as the burn starts anew – and the machine stops. But you’re not done. You’re only halfway through. Put your hands down, hang on to the grab bar by your index finger and thumb and try to expose as much of your hands to the UVB as possible.

You give the okay. *POP!!* Flash, grind, hum, whir, burn.

Wash, rinse repeat.

Each week my exposure time has to be turned up to keep my skin free of the mystery rash and disease that has stumped 35 doctors and nearly took my eyesight in June. My exposure time is 7 times greater than my first treatment. I am quickly approaching my threshold of pain and exhaustion, and the sensibility to keep exposing myself to a cancer causing agent.

Imagine getting sunburned 3 times a week every week into forever – until you develop melanoma.

THAT is my reality and my treatment plan.

I literally have NO DOCTOR supervising my UVB treatments – I’m the one calling the shots on The Wayback Machine. I have a nurse who administers the treatments, but I am the one setting the schedule of treatments, and telling them when I need more. If anyone reviews my orders and realizes the doctor who gave them ‘fired’ me in June when he decided he had no clue what was wrong with me and didn’t want a goose-egg case on his load, I would no longer be able to go into the Wayback Machine. He had the office manager call me on a day I was trying to get an appointment, and tell me I was no longer a patient because he couldn’t help me. She told me I should go to the Emergency Room if I needed care, but my best bet was to try the University of Colorado Medical Center’s Dermatology Department – a facility that had a 6 week waiting list and refused to take me as a patient, too. Right now I have a compassionate dermatologist who is monitoring my skin for the inevitable melanoma, hoping to excise it quickly. That’s hardly a treatment plan and leaves me feeling hopeless some days.

That’s where I was a week ago… Burned and burned out from fighting a nameless disease that is the thief of joy.

Just walking into the house seemed too much of an effort, and I was feeling sorry for myself in a powerful fashion. Using my cane I hoisted myself from the car and began to shuffle into the house like a caricature of myself.

As I brushed against the sun flowers along the front walk they seemed to explode in front of my eyes – a swirl of color around my head that startled me – I flinched and let out a surprised, ‘Hunh!’

It was butterflies: Dozens of butterflies.

 

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I looked around and there was a stream of butterflies flying over the top of my roof, and toward me, dropping to land on the sun flowers that reached toward the autumn sky. Turning southwest I could see the Painted Ladies who had finished at the buffet flitting off down the cul-de-sac and out of sight.  Turning back I realized there were even more butterflies than I thought – they were camouflaged beautifully by my sunflowers!

The sky was alive with color and beauty and somehow I’d nearly missed it by staring down.

The rest of that day I came out to stand amongst the Painted Ladies for as long as I had the strength. I would stand for 10 or 15 minutes, and then go rest, and come back out. The fall sunlight didn’t seem nearly so nefarious as The Wayback Machine, and I even enjoyed the feel of it on my too-burned face.

 

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I took pictures – dozens and dozens of pictures. It was a feast of images. If I stood still near the flowers the butterflies would land around me, allowing me close up shots of their brilliant patterns and feather-like scales.

 

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I had never seen anything like it, and posted a 90 second video of the migration on Youtube and Facebook. Many local friends said they’d seen them, too, and we worried it was too late in the season for such delicate creatures to be migrating.

The next day the rain moved in, cold and windy. The nasty weather held for several days, and during last afternoon I made the first pot of bean soup for the season. I resigned myself to the fact the migration was over. I wished them well on their journey and was  grateful for the unexpected beauty of the Butterfly Buffet.

Two days ago the sun came back in full force, and with it a mighty cloud of travelers 70- miles wide. The migration was so large it initially stumped the folks at the Weather Service.

Butterfly Buffet Satellite

 

Coming home from my second treatment of the week I could hardly believe my eyes at the sight before me: Butterflies hanging from every bloom, gorging themselves on nectar before they heading on down to Mexico.

Moving slowly I pulled out my phone and snapped a close-up of 3 Painted Ladies gossiping at the salad bar. I thought to take a video, but instead put my phone in my back pocket. It’s not like I could capture what I was seeing, as hundreds of butterflies flew past and into me, swirling around my flowers, and on to their next destination. I was damned if I was going to watch this spectacle through a smart-phone screen.

 

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I stayed as long as I could, soaking up this ephemeral beauty, laughing like a child as a butterfly briefly landed on my head.

 

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I dipped back into the transitory show as I could, taking a snap now and again, sometimes sitting on my front step until the weariness won out. As the country mourned and asked itself questions about Las Vegas that it already knew the answer to, I soothed my ragged soul with a sight I’m not sure I will ever see again.

Who knows? Maybe next year will bring another spectacular migration – a smorgasbord of color that transports me to a childlike place where beauty is enough. I’m not sure if I’ll be here to see it. I’ll be ready, though, if we all happen to be in the same place next year.

I have carefully clipped and saved the Eclipse flower and it’s immediate friends – you can see the clean cut in the picture above on the stalk at the far left of the frame. I have saved the Mammoth sunflower head that has at least 200 seeds. I rescued the plant that had both orange AND yellow flowers when the stalk broke the same morning the cold spell did.

I am carefully drying them, and will do the same with all of the rest I can that are still in the front yard.

I am harvesting the seeds of my garden in an act of faith that I will plant again next year and live to see them bloom. The Butterfly Buffet *will* be open, no matter how many patrons show up.

The only way I can stay sane in the face of living with this hateful, nameless disease and stepping into the grueling Wayback Machine again and again and again with no end in sight is to plan ahead and live my life as if there is more to come.

The only choice I have is to move forward like I still have time with my beloved husband and son. Not an unlimited amount of time, mind you, but a hopeful amount of time to see more of this astounding world with those I love, and to try to make a difference through meaningful resistance to purposeful ignorance and hate.

Really, what good are any of our lives – sick or no – if we don’t make time to howl at eclipses, laugh deeply with our friends, and plant Butterfly Buffets?

 

A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.   — D. Elton Trueblood

 

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Cautionary Tale

Yesterday’s post was NOT a narrative for sympathy – it was a warning about abusers and their bottomless ability to create chaos with a smile on their face. That said – I’m truly touched by the good and kind people in my life.

My point remains – and must be repeated: 45 utterly lacks remorse. He. Has. None. He never will. He operates out of insatiable greed, hubris and revenge.

If he EVER does the right thing it will be by accident – an Unintended Consequence of Sociopathy and Narcissism.

Sadly, 45’s followers cannot be reasoned with either. Don’t bother. Your time would be better spent trying to teach a dog a card trick.

Facts don’t matter because this is a Cult of Personality. (Keep repeating this until it sinks in)

Trumpers LOVE-LOVE that 45 pisses off ‘The Libs’. We all remember the ‘Love to piss people off’ jackasses from high school: They hated intellect, broke things for fun & never understood consequences.

Understand that for Trumpers it’s Payback time for making them follow the rules and behave with manners these last few decades. You know – what they call ‘Being PC’.

Treat them like the Zombies they are: They are infected with his sickness and cannot be saved –Move on if you want to save yourself.

We can only hope to wake the silent middle. I fear the longer the middle sleeps through this the more they will agree with 45. People like to be on the winning team’s side – so remind them that 45 is, in fact, not winning.

Speak Truth to the High Crimes and Misdemeanors that are our daily bread with 45, whether it’s to the sleeping Silent Middle or GOP politicians whose spines’ have the resolve of cotton candy on a humid day.

Speak Truth to create momentum for resistance.

Speak Truth so we can remind each other that our eyes are not deceiving us, and that THIS IS NOT NORMAL!

 

 

 

Orange Is The New Black

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I wrote the following a year ago, when I was assured again and again that Trump would never get elected because the American public was not that stupid. Besides – they nodded knowingly – he doesn’t really want the job.

Well – guess what? We elected a Fascist as President.

 

I am scared of Trump’s cult of personality.

I have at least 3 friends who support this asshole, and nothing he says seems to deter them. One is a staunch abortion supporter who is now willing to negotiate on it because she thinks he tells it like it is. Another is married to a Mexican national – and doesn’t have a problem with what he says about Mexicans. The last has always been conservative, but has outright endorsed our registering and forcing Muslims to wear ID badges in public. He doesn’t have a problem with it, and says that not one Muslim anywhere can be trusted. Although Trump has declared bankruptcy 5 times he is convinced he’s a terrific businessman.

Trump is a pathological liar who released bogus crime stats from a fictitious company on Friday. He defended his supporters beating a protester at his rally on Saturday. On Sunday he fabricated a video clip of ‘thousands and thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering the WTC falling’. In the past any one of these things would have sunk his candidacy, and he would have skulked away in shame. But nothing this man says seems to affect him negatively. The loonier he gets the more his base laps it up. He’s proposing fascism, suspending the Constitution and state sponsored torture – and he’s more popular than ever!

But, I’ll tell you what really scares me: The people who are silent about this. I’ve accepted that his supporters will agree with anything that falls out of his pie hole – but, the ones who are just ‘meh’ about the whole thing are pissing me off. When that dentist killed Cecil the lion the internet exploded. Trump says register a religious minority? It gets a collective yawn. No screaming about the Constitution, or how it’s just morally wrong. Just roaring silence.

That’s what simultaneously scares and pisses me off. All it takes for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing.

KGO and the Death of Radio

 

 

Radio died for me today.

The Great Lady – KGO Radio in San Francisco – was killed off this morning, ending a long downward spiral for a once-great station. Many good people I had the honor of working with were laid off today.

KGO was the #1 radio station in San Francisco for 3 decades; it was a 50,000 watt powerhouse whose signal went from the Pacific coast to the Rocky Mountains – from Mexico to Canada and on up to Alaska. It was the West Coast Flagship station for ABC News. It was where you went to stay informed, and on any given afternoon at least half-a-million people were listening.

KGO was responsible for the News Talk format, and it employed the absolute greats in the field. I could not even begin to estimate how many journalism awards KGO Radio won – it would be in the hundreds. The News won those awards – but, Bret Burkhart was a force unto himself and won more awards than I know. And Ravi Peruman won awards for his work, especially the piece he did on the Harvey Milk assassination.

Over the decades it raised $20+ million for Leukemia research during its annual Cure-A-Thon. It was the voice of information during a night of chaos after the Loma Prieta quake. For nearly 20 years it was the home of 49ers Football. It was the voice of San Francisco.

We were based in the ABC broadcast center along the Embarcadero, the newsroom looked out on the Ferry Building, and I watched many sunrises over the Bay Bridge from my desk. There was a deck that ran the length of the building, it had a barbeque and patio furniture so you could sit out and enjoy the sun before the fog rolled in.

Our GM installed a fancy machine that made honest-to-gosh fresh ground espresso and lattes – there were employee appreciation luncheons, and bottles of good champagne for the milestones. There were beers at Gumpy’s (the Cheers-type bar across the street), and wild celebrations after awards ceremonies. There was a camaraderie, a shared goal of excellence and we were all proud to work at what the business itself had dubbed ‘the best News Talk station in the country’.

That all changed when Citadel bought the ABC-owned radio stations for an obscenely high price in 2007. That’s when everything changed. The Vulture Capitalists that bought KGO weren’t interested in radio – they were interested in nothing but money. They weren’t interested in making money off of radio – they were simply interested in what the next quarter would mean for their profit statement.

Citadel, along with Cumulus, Entercom and Clear Channel (a.k.a. iHeart Radio) destroyed radio as we knew it. If you can’t stand to listen to radio anymore you can thank these companies. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 allowed them to consolidate thousands of Mom-and-Pop radio stations into just a handful of owners. What was once a thriving marketplace of ideas and new music became a moribund feedback loop of homogeneity and satellite programs.

In a feeding frenzy of buying these few companies overpaid for stations, borrowing 4 and 5 times more than what they were worth – starting out hopelessly in debt. They would buy 10 stations in a market, shove them all into one building that was owned by a subsidy, to whom they would pay rent, and then sell all of the physical assets of those stations (buildings, radio equipment and everything inside down to the last paperclip). The Grinch left more at Cindy Lou Who’s house than these vultures did. Next, they cleared out 80% of the staff – such a savings on labor! – and forced the remaining 20% to pick up the slack.

They took all that gooey, gooey money they got from the sale of EVERYTHING and instead of paying off their obscene loans, the Vultures gave themselves 8 figure bonuses annually on top of their obscene pay. My favorite was the $27 million bonus (on top of $3 million annual pay) Farid Suliman, the CEO at Citadel, took the week the company declared bankruptcy, which was the year they cleared out half the newsroom, which had been cut in half the year before.

The Vultures relied more and more on satellite programming, and laid off scores of professionals. This drained the product of any local flavor – and had real consequences in many marketplaces when a local emergency happened and there were no live people to cover it and tell people to evacuate or shelter-in-place.

Sure the product SUCKED and ratings dropped but, hey – the Vultures were making bank.

KGO – like Wile E. Coyote – continued to run on air for nearly three years after Citadel bought us. We finally looked down after they cut three-fourths of the news room, the helicopter, airplane, most traffic reporters, and virtually all admins. Then we fell to the bottom of that long canyon. Poof.

The Crash of 2008 accelerated the demise of radio, but it was on a path to destruction no matter what. The Vultures had created a cycle of cutting people and services to keep their bonuses intact. The cuts meant a shabbier and more worthless product, which drove down listenership, and thus ad revenue. I likened their cuts to a Doctor telling her patient, “Look, your toe is bleeding – we need to take off the foot to stop it. Oh. Now your foot is bleeding – let’s take off the leg to stop it.”

Every one of these Radio behemoths is teetering on the edge of complete disintegration. iHeart Radio, formerly known as Clear Channel (the name of the beast that started this whole buggery), has a few weeks to come up with $6 billion of the $21 billion they owe creditors. Cumulus – the company that bought Citadel a few years ago and finished off KGO today – owes nearly $3 billion and their stock has gone from $4 to 46 cents in the last year. Entercom seems healthy with only $500 million in debt, and $9 million in cash on hand. They are all out of assets to sell, and they owe billions more than their stations are worth. They are not underwater on their loans – they are drowning in debt they have no way to pay.

I will never forgive the Dickey brothers, the Mays brothers, Farid Suliman, and David Field for what they did to Radio. Like vampires they sucked the life force out of radio, and killed it. What they did should have been illegal. But, there were no regulations to stop it, and there still aren’t.

KGO was making a $5 million a year profit on top of paying its full staff *very well* (and that was in the Bay Area) when Citadel bought it and killed it in 10 quarters. When I left the station at the end of 2011 I was doing 4 jobs – our newsroom having been cut from 32 top-notch professionals to 13 overworked souls. The rest of the station had it just as bad – the cuts were capricious and in one afternoon I watched 412 years of corporate memory walk out the door. It was the first of many cullings.

When I gave my notice I didn’t have anything left to give to the station. I simply couldn’t continue to do 4 people’s jobs, and I knew that what I was putting out was 60% garbage and 40% news. I fought the good fight to try to keep information on the air. But, the lack of personnel, and the *terrible* management were demoralizing.

The day I had a knock down drag ‘em out fight over whether we should run the story on the ‘Singing Dog’ in New York City or go with the rapidly unfolding events of the Egyptian Revolution and the Arab Spring, I knew I had lost. There was no point in trying to push that rock up the hill anymore.

Leaving KGO was the toughest professional decision I have ever made. Radio had been my life for 25 years – and I grieved. We radio people are an odd lot – but we’re indulgent with each other’s idiosyncrasies, have each other’s backs, and we play fantastic practical jokes. I never felt more at home in a job than when we were all working on breaking news. We worked as a team – a well-tuned machine that came together to relentlessly find the facts our listeners counted on.

We weren’t producers and reporters and anchors and engineers – we were a unit that leaned in and skipped dinner or going home and worked hour after hour because our job was News. We were dedicated professionals who all had go-bags in our car just in case, and followed the story where it took us. We were the most dedicated people you will ever find in a news room anywhere, and it reflected in the superior news we produced for decades.

To all my friends who were laid off today: I am so sorry for your loss. I wish you the best of luck in finding a place to use your talents. Never forget that News is a noble profession and can make a difference in the world, and you worked in a place that set the standard for it in Radio. It was an honor to have worked with you, and to have called KGO my home.

 

This was originally a Facebook post I wrote on March 31, 2016, after mass layoffs at KGO and KFO , and posted for my friends to see. One of them, Dennis Willis, posted it to his website Soundwavestv.com later that night, and it went viral, getting more than 100,000 views and 20,000 shares in under 4 days.