(This post is rated PG-13 for strong, but entirely appropriate, language).
You’re walking down a path running along a rushing mountain river when you hear a grunting up ahead. You pause. Maybe it’s a bear or a hog of some sort. Do they have hogs in the mountains? As you draw closer, you see a man wearing boots up to his chest, a hat jammed onto his head, polarized sunglasses. He’s bent over, in some sort of distress. Maybe the nine foot pole he’s grappling with has pierced his side. There’s a pair of hemostats on the ground, almost in the water. Nail clippers, too. He’s mumbling furiously.
Closer still, you make out what he’s saying. “You piece of shit. Come on you little son of a bitch.” Over and over, weaving in worse as he goes along, sounding like The Old Man from “A Christmas Story” fighting with his furnace — except you don’t need to use your imagination to figure out the words.
You’re looking at me on my first solo fly fishing excursion.
Funny how the internet works. At some point in the last week or two, someone on Twitter was discussing “ALF,” which led to someone else discussing ALF, which led to me remembering ALF, which led to me digging up this oral history of “ALF” from 2016 that I absolutely loved at the time. Because I loved ALF.
Now some of you of a certain age are likely asking, “Who is Alf?” and “Why do you keep capitalizing his name like you’re some sort of deranged PR spokesman who thinks this Alf is a client or something.”
ALF actually stands for Alien Life Form. ALF was the star of “ALF,” a hit sit-com on NBC in the mid 80s. ALF was, in fact, a puppet. That’s right, after a string of humiliating flops, including a pilot season in which NBC didn’t order anything (“Manimal!”), the network greenlit a primetime sitcom whose main character was a loud-mouthed alien who ate cats, drank beer, and was basically an insult comic. And this alien was a puppet.
And it was apparently one of Ronald Reagan’s favorite shows. Mine too! Even though I don’t remember any of it — especially the episode in which ALF, who is a puppet, gets his own puppet. From the oral history.
“We did an episode, ‘I’m Your Puppet,’ which gave ALF a puppet of his own. That was written by Al Jean and Mike Reiss [The Simpsons], and their original script was very dark, almost Twilight Zone-ish. It kind of creeped people out.”
The healthcare debate is entering its 25th year, and one thing that confounds me is the politician who’ll stand up on stage and promise that you’ll be able to keep the healthcare you love, or that you’ll still have freedom of choice in healthcare. I imagine this is the same sort of politician who would likely struggle at a gas pump or, if presented with the necessary ingredients for a sandwich, would take 30 minutes to complete the job. But what confounds me most is the number of people out here in the real world, who deal with actual health plans on a regular basis, who applaud the idea of keeping the insurance you love.
So some questions.
Do you have health insurance?
Did you choose your health insurance provider?
Did your employer choose your health insurance provider, giving you no say in the matter?
What would happen if you chose to opt out of your employer-provided healthcare plan?
Did your employer offer you a range of plans? Is the top one fairly decent and, while not perfect, will cover most things with what passes for minimal hassle when dealing with health care? Does that one cost an arm and a leg? Is the bottom one a low-cost, high-deductible plan that won’t break the bank but is really only suitable for a single person who goes to the doctor once every two years?
Has your employer dropped the ability to choose your plan and now only offers the low-cost, high deductible option?
Could you buy a used car for the price of that deductible?
Does adding a family member exponentially increase the cost of that plan and the deductible?
A few more questions
Does your employer actually pay for your healthcare?
If so, do you work for the government or some other tax-payer funded entity?
Or do you have to contribute money every pay period to pay for your “employer-provided” health insurance?
Has the amount you’re required to pay crept up steadily every year?
Do you consider a set amount of money taken out of your check every pay period a tax?
How much is your own private healthcare “tax” every month?
Do you have to pay for a separate vision plan?
Do you have to pay for a separate dental plan?
Are you ever suspicious that maybe your employer isn’t paying a whole hell of a lot?
Some final questions to wrap things up
Is your insurance plan accepted by all the doctors and medical service providers in your area?
Does your insurance company make sure costs are reasonable and the pricing transparent and easy to understand?
Does it make getting health services simple and efficient?
Can you just walk into a doctor’s office, or do you have to wait until an appointment opens up?
What are the copays like?
Does your plan cover prescription medication?
After meeting the deductible, is it smooth sailing from then on out?
When it comes time to pay a medical bill, does the insurance company make it easy to understand what you’re paying for and why?
How many phone calls on average does it take to settle a standard medical bill?
How many phone calls, emails, and faxes(!) does it take to settle a dispute with a health service provide?
Do you sometimes ignore the first three bills sent from a doctor’s office, hoping the insurance company will communicate that it paid its share and then you can figure it out?
Have you ever cried while trying to figure this all out?
Have you ever put off medical visits because the thought of dealing with your health insurance company just made you want to crawl under the bed and die?
It’s been three months since we’ve moved into our house in Conifer, Colorado. To be honest, it sometimes still feels like we’re squatting in a vacation home. Until I have to write a check for the plumber. Or the surveyor. Or the garbage collection company, which, by the way, still hasn’t given me the bear-proof garbage can I’d requested.
You hear a lot about guarding your garbage against black bears up here. They’re basically the raccoons of Shadow Mountain. In fact, while I have seen one live black bear up here (cutting through our yard on Fourth of July, much to the delight of visiting family. As one said, “That’s a big motherfucking bear.”), I’ve only seen one raccoon — and that poor guy was dead on the side of the road.
Prior to moving into the new house — yes, we bought a house — I’m sitting in our rental, listening to the various noises it makes when the heater kicks in or after a toilet gets flushed.
And it occurs to me that we just spent a ton of money on a place where we will sleep, conceivably for the next 30 years, and we have no idea what it sounds like at night.
You can test-drive a car. Some dealers will even let you take them home for 24 hours. You can try on your clothes. Hell, you can sample beer, wine, and food before buying. Some animal shelters will let you try out a dog or cat to make sure it’s a good fit for your family.
We closed on a house last Friday. A lovely four-bedroom, four-bath — that’s two each for both of us — in the foothills town of Conifer, west of Denver. It’s up on Shadow mountain and sits on two acres of sloping pine and aspen and other assorted plants that I don’t know the names of. It’s the very picture of serenity, and the close on Friday couldn’t have gone smoother except for the LAST MINUTE FLIGHT TO AND FROM DALLAS THAT CARA WAS FORCED TO TAKE BECAUSE CAPITAL ONE IS NOT ONLY THE WORST BANK IN THE WORLD BUT IS THE EPITOME OF ALL THAT IS WRONG WITH LATE STAGE CAPITALISM IN THE UNITED STATES.
But more on that later.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. We moved to Colorado last fall with the intention of renting for a year, figuring out where we wanted to live, then buying toward the end of our lease — or even after the lease was up.
Then again, it wasn’t originally supposed to be like that either. We’d come to Colorado last spring with the intention of just buying a house and then moving. We checked out the mountain town of Nederland, which was full of hippies, had a semi-functional traffic circle, a few coffee shops and a lot of houses set on dirt roads where murderers, bears, and murderous bears might lurk. It was small is what I’m saying. And we’d just stayed at The Stanley, so maybe we were primed to think Colorado ghosts were out to get us.
We saw an amazing house in Nederland, one we considered out of our price range at the time (if you watch House Hunters, you know what kind of foreshadowing that is), and some not-so-amazing houses. But we learned that we didn’t know a thing about Colorado in general and mountain (or mountain-ish) living in particular. We also didn’t know what our work situations would be, so Nederland — west of Boulder — wasn’t going to be practical if either of us had to take a job in Denver. Also, trying to get a mortgage while living out of state seemed like it was going to be a pain in the ass.
So we found a place in Superior, a bedroom town between Boulder and Denver, and two hundred yards between the target and a massive open space with trails and amazing views of the Flat Irons.
If the mountain doesn’t kill you, something else will. Like eating the way I do when I go home for Christmas. I forgot to take photos of a few meals this time around, but I think the ones below will still give you an adequate sampling.
When Ken and Cara moved from Brooklyn to Colorado, all they wanted was a change of pace, to trade the grind of long commutes and a dysfunctional city for fresh air and a slower pace of life. Maybe a little adventure. What they couldn’t have known was that just over two months after moving, they’d be trapped on a mountainside, tears freezing to their faces as they shivered, staring at their useless cellphones, the last light of day leaking out of the thin air.
Man. I should totally write one of those pieces for an outdoor magazine, shouldn’t I.
The biggest problem with this story is we didn’t die. Didn’t come close to it. Maybe if you ask Cara, she might tell you differently. She’ll tell you that, once again, I went out of my way to kill her. And the worst part might have been the indignity of it all. The scuba lessons I signed her up for came with about six hundred things that could go wrong and kill her. Swimming with sharks? Well, duh. They’re sharks. Glacier hiking in Iceland was a day of extremely high winds, crevasses and deadly ice caves.
But snowshoeing? You don’t die while snowshoeing. Hell, we’d been snowshoeing a couple of times before. It was a fun way to spend a day.
Outside Magazine writer: The two were about to make a number of rookie mistakes that often cause trouble for those new to winter sports, well-meaning people whose enthusiasm far outstrips their skills.
Here’s another gumbo recipe that Louisiana folks can argue about. More importantly, most non-Louisiana folks should be able to pull off.
I’ve written extensively about gumbo on this blog and elsewhere, so much so that I get tired just thinking about linking to the other pieces — and the arguments that usually ensue. There’s always some joker from Texas, or New Orleans, or North Louisiana — or even better, who has never set foot in Louisiana, but his grandma was from there — who’s gonna stroll in and tell you all about how wrong you are. “IF IT AIN’T GOT OKRA IT’S NOT GUMBO.” Nope. You’re wrong. Get out of my face. Or some fellow Cajun food snob will pop in with, “Mais, you gotta make you own roux, cher, or it don’t count no.” Mais, I’m here to tell you, you couldn’t tell the difference in a blind taste test. (The point is, people like to argue about food. Also, Cajun gumbo is different fro Creole gumbo is different from New Orleans gumbo.)
Anyway, my longtime friend Toby Dore, aka The Cajun Traveler and proprietor of the Cajun Hostel, has just posted his Chicken & Sausage Gumbo recipe. I’ll let you in on a little secret: When I moved from my basic gumbo recipe toward my advance recipe, it was after watching Toby cook a massive gumbo for one of his annual Christmas parties. I swiped a few steps from him. Clearly, he knows what he’s doing. And he makes a particularly bold old-school choice with one ingredient.
The good thing about this recipe is that it should be easy enough for most non-Louisianans to master and create an authentic Cajun gumbo in their own home. Just don’t skimp on the sausage!
The last time I barbecued a brisket in New York, I spent $100 or more for what was once considered an inexpensive hunk of meat. Last week, I spent $30 on a brisket at Walmart. It turned out to be one of the best I’ve barbecued to date.
This was to be my first barbecue in Colorado, the first time I had people over, and it was all for the LSU-Alabama game. The game went about as I expected. Thankfully, the meat — brisket, ribs, and chicken — did too, despite a lot of worrying about barbecuing at altitude with variable weather conditions.