Sunday, March 22, 2009

World Baseball Classic: U.S.A. vs. Japan

It was still the game I've followed since childhood, but it was different somehow. Tweaked. For starters, there were words on the scoreboards that I had never seen before...

How do you dream about playing in the Honkbal Hoofdklasse when you're a little kid in the Netherlands? If their word for fireman is even slightly better, we're never going to see that country in another W.B.C.

I tried to settle in and enjoy the game. As a Red Sox fan, this made me feel right at home.

And what's a game of good old American baseball without Ichiro standing on second and Derek Jeter scratching his balls?

Team USA trotted out some legends to try and impart some wisdom on the younger guys. Welcome back, Cal. We've missed you.

The problem with the W.B.C. is that the American fans don't have any idea what they're doing there. I could see it on their faces and hear it in their half-assed cheers. I felt weird chanting "U. S. A.!" at the top of my lungs and didn't do it more than once. The thing is, we like Ichiro, Matsuzaka, Fukudome and Iwamura. We've adopted them as our own and it makes us feel weird to see them in some other uniform, playing against us. They've become part of our culture... but they will always be Japanese at heart.

The Japanese fans weren't confused at all. They cheered every strike, booed every ball and went crazy for each of the nine runs their offense put up for them. They looked like this for the entire game.

They had better chants, better headbands, better noisemakers and better posters. In the end, they got what they deserved.

I think the World Baseball Classic has the potential to become an epic test of patriotism and talent. Maybe the American fans will figure this out before the tournament rolls around again. I hope so. Without us, Team U.S.A. doesn't stand a chance.

Monday, March 16, 2009

This Pharma Life: Ruined.

I listen to every "This American Life" podcast and I've recently started watching the TV version on Showtime. As I was thinking about writing this blog, I thought it might be fun to structure it in the T.A.L. tradition. Call it a tip of the hat to Ira Glass and all the fantastic people at Chicago Public Radio.

So, today on This Pharmaceutical Life, stories about things that are ruined.

My blog today is in three acts. Act 1: A mother misses the point of her own lesson. Act 2: The death of cool. Act 3: Mondays really are that bad.

Act 1

This morning I found myself standing by an elevator with my rolling file cart, waiting. There was nobody else around until another drug rep came up with another rolling cart. We nodded a casual greeting and looked at our phones. A mother pushed a stroller up and started fixing her young daughter's hair as the baby in the carriage started crying. Five other people walked up.


One of the elevators opened and the last five people piled into it, blocking the rest of us out. The doors closed, leaving us all to wait for another round. The young girl said, "That's not fair, Mommy, we were here first." The mother said, "That's just how people are. They have no consideration for others."


Another elevator opened and the mother raced over to it, jamming her stroller in, blocking me and the other drug rep out for yet another elevator. The door closed, leaving both of us, the two people who had been waiting the longest, standing in the corridor together. We smirked at each other. Good life lesson.

Act 2

I was standing in the back office of a prominent medical practice today when a famous Rocker was admitted to a patient room. I can't tell you who it was for legal reasons, but if you imagine any of the Hair Band guys from the eighties, you'll be pretty close. He still had the teased out hair, the crazy tattoos and the low-slung leather pants. I always wondered what those guys would look like when they got older... they look pretty much how you would expect.

As a rule, I try very hard not to listen to what people are talking about with their doctors. I'll go so far as to walk away from a room if I hear anything. Mr. Rocker was in the room for twenty minutes or so when he came out, still talking to his doctor, " my slipped disk is feeling a lot better but my sinuses are, like, impacted. It feels like there's a mountain of snot in my face."

The saggy skin, the trying-too-hard hair, the absurdly commonplace medical ailments... rock stars will never be the same for me.

Act 3

Last Thursday, I forgot to do laundry. This resulted in me having to reschedule Bow Tie Friday for the following Monday. Today. I was all excited about wearing the bow tie because, as a rule, Mondays suck. I figured everybody could use a little Bow Tie Monday, right?

On your average Bow Tie Friday, I get a dozen comments about the bow tie. People have shaken my hand, high-fived me, hugged me and dragged me around for other people to see. It's an event, and it makes everybody happy. Except, it turns out, if you do it on a Monday.

I was on my third call before anybody really even looked at me. People were locked into their Monday misery and refused to come out. No comments, no jokes and no breakthroughs with tough offices. It's possible that the bow tie has run its course, but I don't believe it. I last wore the bow tie on a Tuesday and got fantastic results. There is still power in that wacky little twist of silk, but nothing can overcome a bad case of the Mondays.

I'm Jeff Drongowski and I'll be back soon, with more stories of This Pharmaceutical Life.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Left turn.

My dog, Gypsy, gets three walks a day and a couple of pee breaks at night. When you're on this kind of schedule you get into a routine and you rarely deviate from it. Walk out the door, turn right. Sometimes it's around the block and sometimes it's all over the neighborhood, but it's always a right turn.

I just took her for walk number two today, and I turned LEFT for the first time.

You're probably thinking, "Slow down there, crazy man!" I know, okay? This isn't the Change we've heard so much about and it isn't going to cause any paradigm shifts... or maybe it is.

People leave the house every day thinking they have the whole thing figured out. They make the coffee, make the bed, make it to work and then make it home. Every. Day. The rhythm of it soothes some people and drives others crazy. I've fallen into both camps at different times in my life and I've been firmly planted in the former as of late. I have a good woman, a good dog, a good job and a pretty good life. It's easy to walk in the same circle every day when you have that going on.

But I didn't do that, did I? I turned LEFT!

The street looks funny when you turn left. The light hits you in a new way, the cars are all going in the other direction and all the signs show you their backs, as if they don't approve of this new wrinkle in the universe. I checked out my neighborhood again as Gypsy happily peed in a new patch of grass and I liked what I found. It was the same walk, but it was new for both of us.

You should know that I didn't just turn the doorknob and decide to go left today. I don't work like that. I respond to movies.

"Henry Poole is Here" is a Jeff movie. There are no aliens, no explosions, no robotic spiders, no ransom notes and no super powers. Because of this, most of you have probably never heard of it. It's a dramedy about a sick man (Luke Wilson) trying to live out the rest of his short life alone when one of his neighbors discovers the face of Jesus in the stucco on his house. A man without hope is surrounded by the hopeful. It's cute, charming and has a certain inspirational gravitas.

I watched this little gem and then I grabbed the leash. I stood at the gate in front of my apartment and stopped Gypsy when she tried to go right. I can't tell you why. All I can tell you is that sometimes I forget how powerful a small movie can be, and sometimes I forget that I'm supposed to be writing those movies. "Henry Poole is Here" may not bring clarity to your life, but there is a weird little movie out there that will speak to you, and I challenge you to find it.

Just so you know, you may have to deviate from your normal route.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cloud Pictures

I take a lot of photos. Specifically, I take a lot of cloud photos. I took this one in Maui and it's my current desktop image. I thought you might like it.

If you don't like it, punch yourself in the face.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lawn stepper.

I go to a writing group on Tuesday nights. It's an interesting mix of people from very different backgrounds and I always come away with new ideas and creative solutions. I enjoy this group a great deal and I look forward to it every week.

Tonight I left for group a little late. Generally, I try very hard not to do this as we workshop material in the order we arrive at the table. Since we all have day jobs and the group goes until ten, you're much better off going early in the night while everybody's awake. I was late, but I only saw one car on the street so I thought I was going to be able to go pretty early.

I parked the car, turned off the iPod, unplugged my phone from the charger, unbuckled my seat belt, grabbed my bag off the seat and lurched out of the car... as another car pulled up to the curb. I watched as the other group member popped out of her car and headed toward the house.

I did the math: it was going to be close.

I started speed-walking down the sidewalk, messenger bag swaying as I went. It became clear that she was going to beat me if I followed the pavement so I cut across the lawn. She made a face and said something under her breath. "Hello," I said, thinking she was greeting me.

She gave me a weird look and repeated herself. "You're a lawn stepper." Her tone indicated that I liked to pan fry infants and bathe in the blood of freshly slaughtered unicorns.

I stopped and looked down at my feet on the grass. Yep. I was stepping all over the lawn in an egregious act of walking! I wasn't sure how I was going to live with myself.

"I'm not allowed to walk on the lawn?"

"Well, it makes it hard for it to grow, to look nice."

I don't have a lawn, so I don't think of these things. The guilt hit me in waves. Obviously, I had ruined everything and there would soon be an angry mob of homeowners on the scene to bury me in Miracle Grow. I had broken a fundamental law of the universe and I would have to suffer.

I grunted, swallowed a series of snarky comments and quickly made my way across the rest of the lawn without making eye contact. She was already at the door, which meant she had won the foot race and got to workshop her material before me.

Lawn Nazi: 2
Jeff: 0

The "lawn stepping" issue followed us to the table. She brought the matter to the attention of the group and tried to make me into some kind of insensitive prick for walking across the lawn. Andy, the group leader and homeowner, smirked and said he didn't give a shit about the lawn. Turns out he used to have a nice lawn but they did some work on the house and it messed up the sprinkler system and he gave up on it long time ago. Lawn Princess tried to convince Andy he needed a gardener and the whole conversation turned into a debate about the benefits of hiring people to clean your house and take care of your yard.

I was off the hook, but I wasn't finished.

The Patron Saint of Lawns was the first out of her chair when we wrapped up. I hung back, allowing everybody to beat me to the door. I watched them file out behind her, everybody still talking about the good work we'd read. When I hit the porch I called her name, everybody turning to look at me.

I held out my arms. I didn't say anything else because I didn't have to. The three other group members walking across the lawn on the way to their cars said it all.

Monday, March 9, 2009

My war on tobacco.

My parents used to smoke. My mother did it in secret, after my sister and I had gone to bed. My father did it right out in the open. He would come home from work and dump the contents of his pockets on the desk in the kitchen. Keys. Wallet. Change. Pager. Lighter. Benson & Hedges. I would stare at them as I walked past, entranced by the rich packaging. I would stand with the refrigerator door open and look over at them, milk spoiling by the second. They were there every day, and I would often open the box and count them, just to keep score.

One day I learned that smoking was bad for you. Could kill you, in point of fact. I sat in my little desk with my big head spinning. Death by cigarettes? Really? I looked at slide after slide of disgusting lungs and mortality rates on charts. I heard the word "addiction" for the first time. I thought of my parents, two very smart people, sucking death into their bodies every day. It was a big thing, this smoking revelation. It turned the desk in my kitchen into a hospital bed. When the teachers were through with their presentation I vowed to take action, to bring this fight home with me.

At first, I could only bring myself to steal a few cigarettes at a time. I'd wait for my parents to settle into the couches downstairs and I would tiptoe into the kitchen, pocket two or three cigarettes and slide into the guest bathroom. I broke them into little bits, flushed them and watched the tobacco swirl around, disappearing forever.

This went on for some time, until I couldn't stand watching him smoke anymore. I told him I wanted him to stop smoking, that I didn't want him to die. I don't remember what he said to me, I'm sure he tried to make me understand that it wasn't that easy, but the packs of Benson & Hedges stayed on the desk in the kitchen.

Every day I stared at the box. Every day I took more cigarettes and flushed them. Once or twice I broke a bunch in half and left them in the box. I vaguely remember I got a lecture about wasting money that I answered with Ghandi-like civil disobedience.

Then the box was gone.

I could still smell it on him so I knew he didn't quit. I rifled through the cupboards and his jacket pockets but didn't find anything. I went through the garage and his bedside table. Nothing. Then I went to mow the lawn and spotted them in his car. The doors weren't locked, so the cigarettes disappeared. He never mentioned it, but he did sit me down and tell me he was going to quit. If I had any coordination, I would've done a back flip in the yard.

He went cold turkey and switched to candy. Instead of a box of Benson & Hedges there was a bag of Lifesavers. Every time I heard the wrapper I would add a few minutes onto his life and smile. I had won the war, and I was proud.

That's how I remember it.

My father doesn't remember any of this. He doesn't remember the pleas for his health, the broken cigarettes or the civil disobedience. He tells me he always considered coffee to be a harder habit to break, that he just decided to stop smoking one day and did. No fanfare, no withdrawal and no happy little boy.

Knowing this, I have to look back and wonder if my war on tobacco was all in my head. Have the years taken a few little gestures and magnified them into drastic measures? Could this just be another symptom of the storytelling disease that has taken over my life?

I do have some very vivid memories of tobacco swirling around a toilet, of my mother hiding a cigarette when I came downstairs, unable to sleep. I remember sitting in the car when I was supposed to be mowing the lawn, staring at the pack of cigarettes. I put a cigarette in my mouth and studied myself in the rear view mirror, pretending to smoke and drive. I remember feeling like an adult as I picked a tobacco leaf off my tongue. I also remember putting the pack of Benson & Hedges at the bottom of the garbage can and spreading some old newspapers over it.

I can't prove that any of these things happened, but I don't think that it matters. What matters is that neither of my parents smoke anymore, and that it's a better story the way I tell it.