Thursday, July 29, 2004

Trouble Today


The pilot of the Orange Line drifted a bit when pulling into the Halsted Street stop.  He pulled up on the brakes suddenly to avoid shooting past the end of the platform, and we well went stumbling to the floor.

Dozens of us.

Rush hour.

~ Connor

Monday, July 26, 2004

Matt Reading is running for State Representative


Normally, my loyalties tilt a bit more pink than green, but I've known this guy for a few years now, and he's both capable and committed to the welfare of Maine.

Having myself lived in a part of the country afflicted with economic blight and severe brain drain, I can't tell you how important Matt's style of passion and loyalty will be for most of our communities.

Please consider supporting him in any way possible.

His website it

~ Connor

Well, I'm back


In this town...

I think I mentioned that last Sunday, after the completion of the Occlusion retreat, my brother and I dropped off Elisabeth, visited Jessica, and returned to Michigan. We got in a little bit after midnight.

I slept for twelve hours.

* * * * *

I spent most of Monday finishing the revision of Adrift on the Mainstream.

I slept for ten hours.

On Tuesday, I set out for Flint, with the intention of resolving the problems I've had with my novel Urbantasm. It was inordinately hot and humid that day, and I had packed my backpack too full. I walked from my parents' house to downtown Flushing, less than three miles, and already felt sticky and exhausted. But I visited my grandmother for an hour, and she talked about her visits with Celia, up in Oscoda, on lake Huron, in a little cottage at the end of a road, with a porch swing. And I stopped at the BP for some water. And started walking again.

I followed Main street until it became Flushing road and followed it out of Flushing. I passed the House With The Six Foot Tall Wind-Chime, which I learned was also the house with three scary dogs, and stopped to use the bathroom at a party store that seemed like something right out of a slasher flick... the place was dim and smelly musty and damp, and there were unoiled machine parts and (animal) trophies littering the place. And then I crossed Linden, passed the lot where the veterans' mental hospital had been, crossed those sweeping, rolling cemeteries across the river from the sanitation district, passed under 75, and went through the white trash neighborhood that fringes that side of Flint. I passed Paul's old house, which will always be Paul's in my mind. Its present owners, who have turned the Tarp shop into a recording studio (something Paul and I had always dreamed of doing, with variations), "All 4 Him Productions," have been evicted. And so I passed the Shell and the Golden Gate and after a few minutes entered Flint.

And then Ben Paciorek saw me as he drove down the street, offered me a ride, and I accepted. He took me to Tom Z's coney island. I walked a total of only nine miles, but was hot and sweaty and tired.

At Tom's, I sat and worked for five hours. I had a coney and fries and coffee. It stormed outside. A bunch of angry high schoolers came and sat and stared at me, across from me. I read. A white trash cook arrived, angry that he had been fired without being paid. He tried to pull one of the waitresses hair, but she backed him up against the wall. Swearing. She called Tom Z. And then he was shouting on the phone to Tom. Then he talked more softly. Then he left.

It rained for hours and hours. The rain rushed down Grand Traverse as if the street were a river. I called the Perkins-Harbinses. They said that I could stay with them that night. When the rain stopped I zigzagged over to 2nd Street and crossed down into Hall's Flats (aka the "Cellarway") to see if that area was flooded just like I heard it used to be. It wasn't flooded. The dyke built along the western edge has fixed that problem. But is was very foggy and ghostly and romantic. I crossed the flat and climbed the twenty-four steps to Court street. I followed Court to Saginaw, and walked under the unlit arches. The last purple glow was fading above. I turned onto Kearsley, passed through the U of M campus, and crossed 475. Then, walking through the Cultural Center... I stopped at the reflecting fountain for awhile. The fountain was turned off, but the lights had been turned on beneath the water, cycling through and mingling pale yellows, bloody reds, and most haunting iridescent blues and greens. It was like museum lights shining from behind some glass.

I crossed through the big ramp, and passed through Mott. I stopped in East Village and noticed the house I grew up in was for sale. They're asking $100,000 for it, but my parents bought that house for about $24,000 in the late-70s. Finally, I arrived at the Perkins-Harbinses, and stayed up watching television with Emily, and working on writing, until 2, when I went to sleep.

* * * * *

The next day, Liz PH let me use Sam's old car, so I found myself rotating through the city. First I hit the Atlas, where I worked until its surly owner asked me to leave (something he does after about an hour, even if the goddamn place is bone empty), then I hit Borders, drank coffee, wrote, read, and tried not to notice a girl there that I strongly dislike. Then, the library for an hour, to check my email and post here (2 entries back). Then, Toshi's which closed at nine, to my surprise. I had a Flint and a Detroit style coney. And writing, writing. And finally, back to the PH's. I'd realized I needed to change Urbantasm, so I called my parents and called them to come get me.

* * * * *

Thursday was angstified, but my mom took me out looking at wedding stuff. We went to four different places; two greenhouses, a craft supply store, and a fabric store. And then we went home. I watched TV and rumbled through my room, looking for things I'd saved because I am a packrat. That night I went out to the Torch for a drink. While I was there, I ran into Jon Grenay and Jason and Tiffany Hurley. They suggested I come to the Flint Youth Theatre play of "Alice in Wonderland" the next day.

* * * * *

Friday, I dropped my dad off at work, picked up the music and clothe's I'd left at the PH's, stopped at the Good Beans Cafe for several hours and spoke to Ken, the owner. He told me about the concert series he has started, how it's building momentum, but slowly. I mentioned that I'd heard that often the first several years of such projects are simply about survival, not growth. He agreed, then added that in Flint, three or four years of such were needed.

Katie Nicolai and Dan Gerics arrived. I talked to them for awhile. Katie told me about a horrible accident her brother, Greg, has been in: he was touring Virginia with dancers but the bus was overturned. The bus driver died. Many of the dancers were badly hurt. Greg and Liz, his girfriend, were hurt and bruised, but essentially alright. I asked Dan about their work with Flint City Theatre. He suggested I submit a script. I will do so. It will be a revision of an old play I started but never finished, called "Canaryville Blues."

Mrs. Crawford and Theresa arrived. I talked to them for a full hour... not long enough. Mrs. Crawford told me about the horrible accident Linday had been in: she was sad and driving through Pennsylvania, and her car overturned in the middle of a busy two-land highway. She didn't know the orientation of her vehicle. It was spinning on its roof. She kicked out the windshield, unbuckled herself, and walked away without a scratch. She'd been living in Pittsburgh. Now she lives in Philly. We talked about math and unemployment and frustration, and all of that sordidness. But the coffee shop was closing. So we left.

I drove to the culturual center, and when the box office opened, I waited in the lobby for Walter and Bill. They got me a comp ticket, and they invited me into to share the circle before the show... they dedicated the show, in part, to me. It was a wash of memories, not so much just the circle, but being surrounded by all those kids wearing rabbit ears and pig noses. The production was very enjoyable. Jason Hurley, playing the Queen of Hearts, stole a scene... or three.

Afterwards, I'd intended to go out for drinks with Jon and Jason, but they were both tired and went home. Instead, I went out with Walter and Bill and Suzanne to a bar in Grand Blanc. I called home so that my mom would pick up my dad from work. I had a whiskey and beer and got really loopy talking about the past. Then we left, and I walked up and down a cold and dewy Saginaw until I'd come down a bit. It was late when I got home.

* * * * *

On Saturday, my grandma took my brother and I out shoe shopping for our birtdays. She took us to the mall.

We stopped in the food court at what I thought was a Chinese restaurant, and all of a sudden my brother started making these unfamiliar sounds, and an older Asian man behind the counter nodded his head and responded. They were speaking Japanese. My brother's been learning this because he traveled to Asia on a tour not long ago, and as I just learned, picked up a Japanese Girlfriend, Jun. He's learning Japanese. She sent him a kimono in the mail. She will be visiting soon. I hope I can meet her.

In the end, I got a fine pair of leather shoes at J.C. Penny. I didn't even look at the price. They'd been deeply marked down... to $18.

That night, in celebration of my brother's 21st birthday (on the 25th) we went to Skips in downtown Flushing... my Cody, and dad, and I. We had nachos and talked about the way the place had used to be, back when it opened in the early 50s or 40s or whenever. Then we walked around downtown, the river and park. I'd been feeling horrible about coming back to Chicago and life in general. But then I felt better.

When we got back home, all five of us we were awake, so we stayed up and talked for a long time.

* * * * *

Yesterday, I bought presents for my brother and aunt. I got Cody Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein, and my Aunt a scented candle. For my birthday (next week), my aunt bought me six Guinness and a pair of Guinness jams, which I promise that absolutely everbody will be seeing me wear often.

We had lunch; grilled chicken, corn, and green bean cassarole, then Cody opened gifts, and Elisabeth arrived to give me a ride. I frantically began to pack. We breaked to eat cake. I finished packing, and finally, Elisabeth and I rode off.

The ride back to Chicago made me dread coming back a bit less. Though I still hate it. But we talked about journals and writing, our various problems, stopped in Benton Harbor for the Cracker Barrel, and to look out over the lake. When we finally got back, I found a message on my machine from Advanced, asking me to come back and work for Orthopoedic Surgery this week and next, Wednesday on, seven days. We left my apartment and headed back to Hyde Park, but then I remembered my mom had given me some perishable food to refrigerate. So then we took another half-hour detour, returning to McKinley Park just so I could put some food in the fridge.

This morning I called up Advanced and told them I'd accept the assignment.

I know I said I wouldn't... maybe by doing so I've forever sacrificed my right to bitch about this.
But it's a seven day assignment... and I'm going to California for a week right after. This will put another $400 in my pocket. Another $400 will allow me to holdo ut that much longer to find a better job.

I intend to reward myself with nightly drinking binges until the assignment's been finished.

All in all, quite a week. As of now: love Jessica, love my friend, love Flint, sick and tired of Chicago, but Hell and "oh, well."

~ Connor

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Dear John


Dear John,

This is the letter you've been predicting me writing for awhile.
Your expectation has made you angry.
At first I responded by taking a summer off work to work with you. I did this again. You've only gotten angrier. I've ignored you. This made you angrier still. Finally, I gave you an open ulnar fracture, and a painful recovery, and finally you shut up for awhile. But when you began to speak again, it was with more anger.
You have gotten angry to the point that your voice shakes a little; you must be very angry, then, because I know how dearly you prize your self control.
Maybe it will comfort you to be correct again. I have been wrong. Your expectations were justified after all.

In the beginning, though, it wasn't this bad.
I remember when I met you on a chilly March afternoon, way back in 1996. It was a gorgeous day. I discovered you at once in a pair of sunglasses. I'd already been working for two months on an abortive script I titled Urbantasm, but it was obviously going nowhere. There had been an even earlier incarnation of the project, going back to the summer before... it was called Agamemnon... something-or-other. But if that moment was conception, than meeting you, John, was birth.
You began to speak a little more, here and there. When that girl dumped me, you were perched on my shoulder all night long, and I'd known I'd gotten something out of that catastrophe. A month later, I was finishing up the draft of a script, A Spring Storm in Paul's computer room while it stormed outside, and then we went for a walk at 4 AM in the rain, and I was barefoot and cut my foot open on shattered glass near Mott Park. You were close then, as well. Thinking of sledding in the South Village, or preparing for your Odyssey? Or some other story that I'm not privy to? I knew that you were not in that play. I knew that you were adjacent to that play. And as soon as you introduced me to Selby, I realized that she must be a neighbor to Chastity and Ryan. I realized that they lived in the same place! It was mid summer, though, before you really trusted me enough to start writing your story.

Look where your trust has gotten you...

A part of me is too sorry to express my emotion in coherant words, but a part of me is not sorry at all.
A part of me wants to blame you. How dare you solder me with this and then hold me up to such high expectations. You bitch and moan, but do you know how this has wrung me out these past eight years? Sometimes, I feel like a victim of vampirism, trying to render everything for you in your parallel universe, while mine spins on... winds down.

But of course, any blame against you is really a front I suppose. I realize that you are completely dependent upon me. I realize that, being so, every choice is mine, and so all blame should be directed at myself.

It was too ambitious... that was the problem.
You asked me back then if I could do it, and I was flush from reading Les Misèrables and writing at Denison. Of course I thought I could do anything! Let me render, render, render.

But I couldn't and you know why. You wanted me to write a romance for today. You wanted math. You wanted it from your perspective, and you wanted to come across with all of your anti-messianic flair, contempt and compassion. Do you have any idea how difficult it is for me to render contempt and compassion? I've tried. I've sufficed in moments, brief spasms.

I cannot do it, John.
Maybe someday, and I can see you already shaking your head in rage and disgust.
If you can find somebody else, I urge you to do so.
If you cannot, then come back when I am ready, and I'll do my best.
I promise you I will.
I have something invested in this too.

And perhaps you will be surprised at what I say now, but what I regret the most isn't the loss of the story or the loss of Arkaic. It's the loss of May. I really wish I had gotten far enough for people to meet her. I really wish...

"May has appeared."

Yes, she has. In the planetarium. It may be better than nothing, but at best it's still only a glimpse. Please give her my best. Give all of your friends and family my best, but May in particular. I might have never gotten along with you, John, but May and I could have been close friends, I believe. If I was telling her story instead of yours, perhaps this would be turning out very differently. But May would never ask such a thing of me. No... it has to be an asshole. I understand why it had to be you.

And while I cannot honestly say that I like you, I can and must say that I admire you greatly. Working with you has been one of the most humbling experiences I can think of, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

Your story was too bright, too shining, too far for someone like me to write at such an age and with so little experience.
I am not a bad writer, and I am an exceptionally loyal friend.
I do not know where you might have turned to have asked for more.
I understand that you had recourse to much greater experience, but I also understand why you bypassed that to choose me.
And I think I even understand why such a risk seemed worthwhile at the time.
I hope that someday, somehow, I may honor my commitment to you.
I hope that someday, somehow, you may tell me that you are thankful, and that you pleased with the work I have done on your behalf.

In the meantime, you and I both know how it all turned out.

In the words of Tori Amos: "Won't you just hold down?"
In a paraphrase of Outkast: "We missed a lot of church, so the words are our confessional."

Take care of them, John.
Take care of yourself.

Your friend always,

Connor Coyne

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Ennui + Michigan = Greasy Buttdungsroman


Certainly not the most sophisticated title ever, but I figure I still don't get enough hits to be "credible," so what the Hell.

Anyway, I know I haven't posted much lately, or even kept up with friends' blogs, and that's alright.  For the last two weeks I was working the job from hell, and now I'm wandering not "homeless" are rather sort of "prodopted" in the streets of Flint and don't have convenient internet access.  In short, July is my sabbatical.  Okay?

Anyway, this month hasn't been good nor bad, but just plain bizarre. 

If you want to know about my Helljob, just read below.  Earning-less-than-minimum-wage-due-to-executive-graft washing dishes all night weekends and ending up with stinky clothes as a result at Angelo's compared favorably with this gig.  Mainly because at Angelo's I only had white trash screaming at me two or three times a night, and threat of physical injury is, frankly, much more appealing to me than the threat of a $10,000 fine.

Then, literally the day that party was over, we began the first Occlusion retreat.  Hallie and Paul were unable to attend, and unfortunately, so was Sam due to car malfunction way up in Marquette (for those of you not in the know, he might as well have been on the moon).  But Cody (my brother) was there, and Elisabeth came, and Jessica was present a lot of the time as well.  Not bad for a first effort.  I wonder if in days to come people will reflect on us as the friendship between Byron, Shelley, and Polidori, or better still, the Junimea society in Romania.  Probably not, but it's fun to fantasize.
The retreat was good.  Unequivically good.  And emotionally exhausting.
First is the fact that the project I was working on, Adrift on the Mainstream (link to right) is a novella about a serial killer written in the second person.  It was consuming and exhausting to work on... equally depressing and exhilerating.  The only characters who I feel are redeemed for certain in the end are real-life figures who were, historically, monsters.
So while I accomplished a lot, I also feel like that accomplishment came at a cost.  Excavations and times spent in the mines tend to have that effect.  You scrub your clothing afterwards by hand, but those grains are fixed on fast.

And that's what the last several days have been like.
On Sunday evening, Cody and I left for Michigan.
I came back to Michigan to try to "save" Urbàntasm, which I've been working on for the last eight years (see the post below... something something Pt. II... wedged in between those Summersdawn posts).  Some people have doubted if this trip has been prudent for me to make right now, and that doubt has made the trip even more angstified for me.  Quite simply, I have no idea yet if this trip is worthwhile or a waste of my time yet.  It's a lot like being a Physics major.  If I didn't give it a shot, I'd never have know.  And I need to know.

Still, what I do know is that the feeling I have right now is sort of a churning bittersweet weighing heavy on the "bitter" side.  I'm sitting on the second floor of the Flint public library typing as fast as I can because I want to make it back out to Sam's car (that his folks are letting me drive) before the heavens break.  They will certainly break.   They're already an umbral gray and the radio says the next county over is being "dumped upon."

I wish I could see a therapist, simply to hear someone else's take on what makes me tick.  It's a selfish fascination that I think more of us have than are willing to admit.

For me, place, or locality has always been of overwhelming importance in the most literal sense.  And most often, the only PLACE I feel relaxed and comfortable is Flint.  I do not know why this is.  I think it has always been this way.  I feel more comfortable in the most unfamiliar parts of Flint than I do in the most familiar buildings of Hyde Park.  I think I've always felt this way; I remember feeling it as a twelve year old when I was starting elementary school in the suburbs (I was home schooled before that).

And here I am, in Flint, without that feeling of cut-off I've tried to acclimate to for the last seven years.

Problem is, I'm also lonely.  I feel lonely for my family... and for friends.  Partly because I'm spending my time alone, writing in diners, writing in odd-spots, writing.  Writing is a very isolating career.  Even when you are with people, you have to be completely alone, I find, in order to write.  I try to write at diners, at coney islands and coffee shops, because it hurts a little less that way, but still... alone.
More poignantly, though, I am lonely for Jessica.  I have been with her for more than four years now.  We have spent so much of that time together, and we have been through trials together.  We are going to be married, and I have come to feel that Jessica too is a place in the same sense that Flint is a place.  I can only feel comfort or joy or... any sort of relaxation... when I am with Jessica.
To not be near her hurts.
To not be near her is wrong, in the sense that I could use the very sensation to define the word wrong for myself.

It is the sensation you get when someone you care about breaks up with you, or when someone has moved away and you need them.  Almost the feeling of having someone die.  It is a physical sensation.  It's in your head (dizziness) and chest (acceleration), but more than anything it is in your stomach (twisting, or of objects falling into a pit).  I don't believe all that about love in the heart, or Platonic, cerebral, spiritual love in the brain.  For me, love is in the stomach.  My stomach will always sense the absence or presence of love before any other part of me.

Maybe acting on that, I've been having tons of good, Michigan food.  Good Flint food.  I spent four hours at Tom Z's coney island yesterday, and three at the Atlas today, despite that asshole manager trying to make me leave.  (I showed him!)

I think I have five minutes before the rain...
Or less...


~ Connor

Thursday, July 15, 2004

My Hometown is So God-Damn Ghetto


I don't do this often. This is worth reading.

For the record, Saginaw, Pontiac, and Detroit are pretty ghetto too...

~ Connor

The 27th Summersdawn: Volume 3


Jessica said that the last entry here (the one with all the photos) sounded like a cheesy tour guide.

She's right: it does.

I don't know why I fall into clichè so easily. I really enjoy tour guides; they explore regional distinctions that, however obvious and superficial, are often never noticed.

I enjoy facts. Statistics. Ratios. Milestones. Lists.

Sometimes, it affects the way I speak or write.

So sue me.

* * * * *

No more pictures.

After Berwyn, the sun had set, and while I took another dozen or so shots, none of them picked up enough light to turn off.


At Harlem Ave., Route 66 veered off of Ogden, and rode south a half-mile. At Pershing (39th St.), I passed a standard sterile strip mall that had replaced the Fairyland Park where people paid to ride the Whoopee Coaster. No, actually, it was just a bunch of timbers to drive your car over. Even the dime rides of the 1950s are euphemisms.

Route 66 turned west onto Joliet road, and immediately plunged into a forest preserve. The wind roared and clouds built up, and it started to rain, hard. So I took off my backpack and hugged it, to shelter the books within. But the rain stopped.

I crossed the Des Plaines river, entered a residential neighborhood with tiny Cape Cods and Chicago bungalows. The wind built up and it rained again, so I took off my backpack, hugging it, protecting the books within. The rain stopped again.

I crossed 47th St. and entered McCook.


Joliet Road twisted and turned, passing giant crops of transformers and electric circuits, running under an expressway that thundered with the third and final outburst of heavy rain and semis, and an eerie sidewalkless bridge that climbed by a foundary of sorts on the left, glowing Gary green, and on the right... yes: "General Motors Electro-Motive".

It could've been Michigan.

As I stood below the giant sign and felt several hundred miles northeast of my actual location, I thought of a revision to the old saying:

Home is where GM is.

At this point I arrived at a road block in the middle of Joliet road, while a detour veered off on 55th St. to my right. My internet guide to Route 66 told me: "Joliet Road runs between two quarries, is structurally damaged and unlikely to reopen any time soon."

After reading that I certainly wasn't about to take the detour.
Especially considering I'd be led astray; the detour was not part of Route 66.

This was one of the most surreal and creepy moments of my nightwalk that night. For one mile I walked along the splintered and cracked concrete, lifted like a bridge several hundred feet above the pitch black delves on either side, and skeletal spine of stone rolling between two massive quarries.
The quarry to my left was active, with bulldorzers grumbling in the depths and radio lights winking below.
The quarry to my right was inactive, black and empty, a huge depth.
As I continued on, the condition of the road deteriorated, and I eventually found myself walking along the right shoulder, watching steps and clutching the stone barricate erected in lieu of guardrail. In fact, the road was built on solid bedrock and about thirty feet across. The decay would've simply been lack of maintenance. Still, I thought being all alone in the middle of the night warranted a little caution.

That, and the fear of serial killers.

(Ambiguous question: the agreement of pronoun and antecendent?)

Pitch black beyond the barricades. No cars or people allowed.

I later searched for that empty stretch on a map.

Each quarry was about a half-mile across. The causeway I walked was a mile long.


I reached the other end of the blocked off section. I had to climb a chain link fence twelve feet high and try to jump over a puddle of water a foot deep. I failed partly on both counts. I slipped as I flipped over, puncturing my right hand below the thumb, and in pain lost my grip, landing squarely in the puddle. I then casually walked the last hundred feet to a gas station, where I cleaned up in the bathroom. On the other side, I passed the Hodgkins police station.

Hodgkins was a sketchy little town. It reminded me of parts of Beecher or Burton, somewhat. I bought a 2-liter of Strawberry Punch and headed on my way.


As I entered Countryside, my resolve began to falter. I half regret it. And half do not.
See, over two hours had passed since Berwyn, roughly. I underestimated my progress. I also had the consequences in mind; I had one more day of work, and if I could not make the Joliet Metra by 6 AM, I was stranded.
I called Jess from a restaurant to check in. We talked a few minutes. I became homesick. I thought, and decided to return to Chicago.
I walked north on LaGrange Road until I came to 55th and waited for the Pace bus to take me back to the city.
It didn't come.
I called Jess again and asked if she was willing to come and pick me up. She was. She told me to walk along 55th as she drove toward me.

Here was where the night's final and most frustrating adventure began.

As I walked along 55th I realized that it was the detour. Sure enough, I passed the GM plant and found myself back on Joliet road, which I followed, hoping to eventually meet back up with 55th. Instead, it north faster than I had recalled. After passing through empty and fog lit Gary Green Industrial Junk, I fonud myself back at 47th street.
I waited and waited, hoping and praying that she would turn this far north, but after a half-hour, worried and frustrated, and thinking I had nothing to lose, I walked back along Joliet.
She found me among the Gary Green. It was almost one. We had been within a mile of each other, looking for each other, for over an hour. It was mostly my fault.

And so it was that the summersdawn walk this year was filled with many adventures, more exciting as the walk went on, but ion the end I abandoned my plans and was suitably punished.

I have to return to finish that walk this summer. At the very least to pass the quarries in the day and take photos.

~ Connor

Saturday, July 10, 2004



I'm describing this as a political post because it ultimately is, even if I'm also describing my last week.

In the last several years I've worked in an oncology clinic in which four doctors visited with dozens of patients each daily, a box office in which the entire database of a sold-out season broke down a week before opening, and as a dishwasher with mafia style management and nightly fights in the parking lot. Nothing, none of these matches up to the Hell of working in the last week.

Take this blog as a sign; I managed to post and read the week my play went up as well as the week in which I got engaged. This week however, stuck me like a bad hangover. When I got home, all I could do was read pulp and sleep. Sorry.

I'll explain the situation. I told Advanced I was looking for a part time assignment in the Loop. They found me another full time assignment at the hospital; working reception for Orthopoedic Surgery. The specifics were the most grim of any of the departments I've worked for. OS has just expanded their practice from ten to thirteen doctors. Originally, there had been three receptionists among them, but within a week, two were gone. One, a veteran with eighteen years experience took all of her vacation time to "unwind a little." The other, less experienced, had a breakdown on the job, ran to the file room where she sobbed for two hours before she left and never came back.

At this point I was brought in to assist the only remaining receptionist.

But this is only the beginning:
- All of the new three doctors had to have all incoming patients reregistered; this meant asking them for insurance information and to fill out four forms, the last of which was an extensive medical history.
- Somehow the department's filing had an arcane system by which none of the charts were prepped until the night before or day of (all of the other departments I've worked in have done this at least a week in advance), inevitably leaving unsorted and unphabetized piles of sensitive patient information strewn across the desk.
- Receptionists disgruntled from being laid off when the doctors moved told patients to come in as walk-ins. So we had a constant stream of patients with no records and no appointments.

I was running from the moment I got in until the moment I was left.
I had no training. I had no knowledge of how to prep charts, or where to send information as I received it. I was not granted access to the encounter manager program necessary to arrive patients even though this was what I was supposedly doing all day long.
On the second day, the other receptionist was reduced to tears, and I snapped at a nurse who had been critical of my errors.
We both went home exhausted. We both had patients waiting three hours for appointments. We both skipped lunch and all breaks on several occasions.

Friday was supposed to be easier.

On Friday we had nineteen patients instead of one-hundred fifty. Everything should have gone smoothly. We took a deep breath and exclaimed how happy we were the weekend had arrived.

* * * * *

Take you back fifteen months.

My friend Armand is in med school. I had asked him how things were going, and he mentioned that all of the U of C hospital was freaking out because HIPAA guidelines must be followed by April 15.
"HIPAA?" I'd asked. I'd heard little about this at Northwestern, and certainly nothing from Advanced.
HIPAA stands for the "Heath Information Portability and Accountability Act." It is supposed to address questions of patient confidentiality, you might think such as protecting patient information against insurance companies. It is far reaching, however, to the extent that repeated accidental violations could lead to an individual being fined up to $10,000.
Any time a nurse steps into a reception area and calls a patient by name, he or she violates HIPAA.

On the Friday following April 15th, I went into Advanced to pick up my paycheck.
Britney, the receptionist asked me to sign a form before I picked up my paycheck. She was casual and relaxed about it. The form was stapled to a twenty or thirty page booklet. I asked if I could read it over. She seemed puzzled and surprised by this, but allowed me to take the booklet unsigned, along with my paycheck, though I needed to sign by the end of the day, she said.
In the elevator, I skimmed through the material. Sure enough the form was consent to abide by HIPAA. It mentioned the $10,000 fine and breezily outlined a million ambiguous actions which might denote a violation.

I returned immediately. I told Britney I had questions. I did not feel comfortable signing. The penalty was too harsh and the offences too unclear. I asked to speak to a manager. She put me on the phone with Loop upper management. I explained that I thought it was pretty sketchy asking temp employees who were unfamiliar with a hospital setting to sign off a complex consent form on the way to pick up their paycheck.
I was airily informed that employees were adults and took responsibility for anything they signed.
My point, of course, had not been that Advanced had violated any laws, but rather that they had conducted themselves in an ethically questionable way, enouraging employees to remain ignorant of important regulations and consequences. In the end, though, I signed. Why?


Fast forward a year, plus.

* * * * *

And so here I was.
Until two hours before we were set to leave.
A call came in.
A patient had complained about a number of things, including the visibility of social security numbers at the front desk.

And suddenly my day and weekend were ruined.
At least.
Because I am on record as the receptionist those days.
There is plenty of documentation that we were both violating HIPAA by having sensative information visible from the reception desk.

And here we go...

There was categorically no way to avoid the situation we encountered that Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
Most of our patients underwent a five to fifteen minute long registration and check-in process.
We assembled information that was not prepped or even organized.
We had days with 150+ patients spread between 2/3 the typical load of receptionists operating in an area of maybe 40 square feet tops.
The only alternative to a HIPAA violation would've been to cancel clinic and send everyone home.

And here I get political.

Here is my gripe.

In the late 90s and early 00s I heard an awful lot on the news about insurance companies getting unpleasantly cozy with medical providers. It would be interesting to see what impact these events had on the development of HIPAA and how HIPAA has affected these relationships, if at all.
What I do know is that, from the perspective of administrative security, there has been little or no improvement in any of the five hospital departments I've worked in since the implementation of HIPAA.

There aren't the resources.

I've worked in departments that have been universally understaffed and underfunded. Administrative support is the last priority. Doctors making 1.5 mil+ annually won't take a pay cut to allow a $22,000 annual full-time filing position.
I don't think HIPAA has anything to do with patient security.
I think it is an absolution of responsibilty.

Doctors and departments and legislators don't have the time or patience to deal with daily privacy dilemmas. Liability issues and malpractice suits cut heavily into profits. HIPAA takes responsiblity out of their hands and places it with an office staff ill equipped to meet the vague and encompassing need for "patient confidentiality." It's a quick fix that is aimed at symptoms, but it doesn't solve any of the problems the bill was created to address.

I could still walk into any hospital, roust up some poor patients SS number with little trouble, con him or her, and land the poor receptionist, file clerk, or service representive with a $10K fine.

And that's why I will be telling Advanced I do not want any more hospital assignments whatever after this coming Friday.

A potential $10,000 liability just isn't worth $11.06/hour without benefits.

It just isn't.

Besides, I've disliked this job for years now, and have hated this assignment more that rotting cabbage or bird shit in my hair.

I needed something like this to make it worth leaving.

* * * * *

I will not be working in hospitals any more.

~ Connor

Friday, July 09, 2004

The Hell Week


It has been...
I'm coming off of the first 50% of the worst assignment I've ever held.
This assignment has combined the worst features of my assignment in Gynecologic Oncology (eg. frenzy, stress, overload, despair) with the worst features of my jobs this past summer at Angelos (eg. insomnia, ill will, fights in the parking lot, grime).

I'll tell you more about is soons I'm able to stand the sight of a computer.

~ Connor

Monday, July 05, 2004

The 27th Summersdawn: Volume 2


I never promised to be much of a webmaster or photographer.
Some of these shots are underexposed, and I scrapped the worst, but my main intention in posting these is to help describe the adventure I had walking the inception of Route 66 on the night of June 23rd.



Route 66 begins in at the corner of Jackson and Lake Shore Drive
in Downtown Chicago.
The "old west" look of the foreground is courtesy of the setup
for the Taste of Chicago festival, which began the following day.
The wall of skyscrapers in the background is the west side of
Michigan Ave., one of only a few places in the world in which
a wall of high-rises fronts open parkland on a harbor. Typically
high property values prevent this sort of planning.

For some reason Buckingham Fountains always fails to impress
me in pictures, while taking my breath away in real life.
The fountain is ornate, but without any immediate features to
scale it by, picture's don't fairly convey a sense of its size.
Buckingham is about fifty or sixty feet across, fires jets of
water a hundred or so feet in the air, and the spray can be
felt blocks away in a strong wind.
But in spite of all this, the fountain still feels a somewhat
intimate place to be.

Michigan Avenue, looking south from Jackson.

The Santa Fe Building · 224 S. Michigan Ave.

Home of the Chicago Architecture Federation.

The Chicago Institute of Art

It's supposedly the premiere art school in the U.S.

While there's all sorts of sweet exhibits inside the CIA, the
life out front is equally fascinating. In addition to dozens
of students, tourists, and passerby, it's not unusual to see
groups of musicians like these kids thumping on plastic water
barrels. Their ability to improvise with their hands and a
discarded chunk of plastic is nothing to laugh at.

One block east, at Wabash and Adam, Connor
tries to get artsy with the El. Incidentally, I'd just
passed the Chicago Symphony Center.

Where are you going?

The Sears Tower above the famous Berghoff Restaurant.

Rush Hour in the Financial District

Canal and Adams, facing east.

Union Station. Outside.

Inside. There isn't an earthquake. My hand slipped.

With a major renovation, the place could rival Grand Central.

Evidently the original Mitchell's restaurant has
been torn down.
I always thought the place was a bit overpriced, frankly.

I-94 and Adams, facing east.


Racine and Adams, facing east.

Ashland and Adams, facing east.
This is almost two miles due west of the Sears Tower.

Cook County Hospital

One of Chicago's historic hospitals. It's difficult to
explain how huge the hospital complex actually is, except
to say that it took twenty minutes to pass at a brisk walk,
and that's its easily larger than U of C hospitals and
probably all of the Flint hospitals combined.

At this point, 66 has turned from Adams/Jackson, and
plunged southwest along Ogden.


Just west of Western, Ogden passes under the P.C.
Railroad and enters the neighborhood of Lawndale.

Lawndale is one the AfroAmerican neighborhoods on Chicago's
West Side, and it picked up a nasty reputation with the
riots just following the MLK assassination.
I always feel awkward in areas where I stand out, not out
of fear so much as I hate causing people to feel as if they're
being visited like a museum. As a result, I didn't take many
pictures, even though the neighborhood was three miles across.
Photographing Flint last summer, many things were shouted at
me, but I think my Lawndale anxiety was all in my head. Two
people asked me for cigarettes, but otherwise, nobody seemed
to notice me.

Douglas Park dominates the Eastern quarter of Lawndale.

The park covers half a square mile, making it one of Chicago's
largest, and genuinely beautiful with lagoons, streams, hills,
golf course and ballparks, and a fabulously restored field house.
Unlike Washington Park on the South Side, however, Douglas seemed
to be a real neighborhood park; it was crowded with people,
from kite flying children to the homeless, squatting in archways
and amid dumptsters.
The intermingling of tasteful maintenance and superimposed
poverty in Douglas Park galvanized me. I want to return.

The Blue Line. Looking east-northeast from Central Park and Ogden.

Approximately five miles from the Sears Tower.

Somehow, I missed both the Castle Car Wash and the Western
Electric Hawthorn Works plant in Douglas... two more reasons I'll
have to undertake this walk again.
The latter was "once a workplace for 40,000 workers producing
virtually all telphones made in the U.S." according to my downloaded
guide to Route 66.


City limit. Looking east-northeast from Cicero and Ogden.

Approximately seven miles from the Sears Tower.

My first glimpse of Cicero.

Cicero has a somewhat infamous reputation throughout the
midwest, given it's former connections to Al Capone. Ciero
seemed "tough" is the way Bridgeport is "tough"... you don't
mess around, sure.
But a den of iniquity? Please.


For a half-mile I passed this vertical slatted fence, which
hid rows of semis, which hid thousands of tons of freight
slowly creaking along the C.B. & Q. railroad.

Cicero was where I first recognized many telltale sights of 66.
A surprising number weren't shuttered or demolished.

A shitty photo of the Egger, which was an awesome restaurant.

Henry's Drive-In.

Robin Hood Mufflers.

A paraphrase of either Jess or Meridith: "He steals from Mercedes and gives to Corvairs.

Tragically, Bunyon's Hot Dogs had been demonlished.
Even the address is gone.


Berwyn is the suburb immediately following Cicero.
It felt slightly more upscale and is supposedly very Czech and Mexican.
This is, incidently, home to Daryl and Dembowski.

Route 66 is Big Business in Berwyn.

The clouds came out and the sun set, so underexposure
became an increasing problem.
In this shot, though, it had a kind of cool effect:

Another view of Beverages.

My flash didn't work this time, and it pisses me off. I've
posted the negative, however, so you might be able to make
out some of the mural.
It appears to have been painted in airbrush, and depicts a
globe, with the US lifted off, and Illinois lifted off the
US, with the serpentine path of Route 66 twisting to Chicago
from L.A. and Route 66 Beverages proudly guarding the gate.

I decided to forego the famous Spindle (you can see it in
Wayne's World; another reason I have to return this summer),
because it was four miles extra, and decided posting the
White Castle on the corner of Harlem and Ogden was a
waste of bandwidth.

I did however, get one more nice shot,
looking east-northeast from Ogden and Harlem.

Approximately ten miles from the Sears Tower...

At this point the sun had sunk and with my weakass film, any pictures I took from this point on didn't turn out.
The third and final installment of this account will be befeft of photos.

~ Connor