I'm Still Alive
(1) Conference travel. In early November I waddled off to DC for the American Studies Association conference, where I delivered a paper, drank lots of beer with Erik Loomis among other fine scholars, and stayed in perhaps the worst hotel in the world, the President Inn — a befouled hovel that various former patrons have reviewed to hilarious effect here. (My favorite commentary includes the following observations: "The greatest disadvantage to this hotel is its location. The neighborhood was filled with helpful people, but at the same time they were always reminding our group to stick together because 'people like you get robbed.' There were prostitutes on the street and in the hotel. In one instance a man offered to sell a member of my group cocaine, which was a kind gesture, but we were all uninterested.") At the President Inn, I commenced each day with a free copy of the deliriously conservative Washington Times and a stale donut from the hotel's "continental breakfast," which could be found in what appeared to be a converted laundry room. No one ever offered me cocaine, but I was usually in a hurry to get the fuck away from the hotel and probably missed some opportunities to score. Story of my life, believe me.
(2) Modern medicine. My wife and I recently had prenatal screening for spina bifida, Down Syndrome, neural tube defect, and Edward Syndrome. The standard preliminary screening involves a blood test that measures four different proteins -- alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), unconjugated estriol (uE3), human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), and Inhibin-A -- that are present in the fetus and pass into the mother's bloodstream. Based on the age of the fetus, the weight of the mother, and a few other factors, the test indicates an elevated or reduced risk of these four conditions. Unfortunately, the language used to describe the test results -- including words like "positive" and "negative" -- is not especially helpful, especially when you receive word from your doctor that your baby has tested "mildly positive" for Down Syndrome. What the tests actually indicated was that the baby's risk of Down's had shifted from 1/350 (the average risk when the mother is 34 years old) to 1/140 -- in other words, instead of a 99.7% chance that the baby did not have Down's, we were now looking at a 99.3% chance that the baby did not have Down's. But because my wife and I had not adequately researched the tests beforehand and did not know the right questions to ask -- and because our doctor did not offer up the actual odds until I called back several hours later -- we lost our goddamned minds. And because Juneau doesn't have adequate facilities to follow up on the initial screening, we flew to Seattle last weekend for a high resolution ultrasound that indicated, somewhat anticlimactically, that the baby is quite likely healthy and quite likely female. We're quite obviously thrilled by the good news, but the whole ordeal proved to be a tremendous waste of time and money, to say nothing of the unnecessary stress that prevented me from grading papers, preparing for classes, walking my dogs, and resuming work on this unreadable blog. Had we not gotten to spend time with some good friends in Seattle and catch the New Pornographers' show at the Pyramid Alehouse on Saturday, I would be leaving a flaming bag of shit on our doctor's porch to mark this Thanksgiving holiday.