Friday, August 24, 2012

A Rant: Lance Armstrong and the USADA

So the news broke today that Lance Armstrong has decided to not fight the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). This has resulted in their assuming his guilt, banning him from cycling for life, and stripping him of his 7 Tour De France victories.

I've railed about this on my Facebook since it came out.

Here's the short and simple of it: Cycling is a dirty sport. Lance may or may not have doped. Hell, when he was undergoing cancer treatment, I'm sure he took in enough EPO to give him red blood cells the size of maraschino cherries. But the simple fact is that the USADA doesn't have any PHYSICAL proof. Fortunately, the International Cycling Union (ICU) and US Cycling are disputing the USADA's jurisdiction - which they should - and Lance has a pretty savvy PR and legal team... so it may turn out all right. But that's not why I'm all hot and bothered about this.

It's hard to put my finger on why I'm so pissed off about this. We see injustice every day. We've become inured to it. But this is very different for me because it seems very personal.

For my more recent readers, you may not know this but Dr. Zombie is a cancer survivor. In 2008 (at the age of 37), I was diagnosed with male breast cancer.

Before this I was reasonably healthy, and did a lot of mountain biking. I remember watching the Tour and feeling proud when Lance won. I'd always admired the fact that he'd done so as a cancer survivor, but it wasn't until my own diagnosis that I realized how incredible that feat was. So, a few days after I received my diagnosis, I picked up a copy of his book, It's Not About the Bike.

Throughout my treatment, and during those dark days and endless doctor's appointments, I found strength in Lance's story. I can't put too fine a point on it... Lance Armstrong helped me through my battle with cancer. I found not  only strength, but inspiration and hope in his own victories.

And this vendetta by the USADA - predicated solely on the whiny testimony of losers like Floyd Landis - voids those victories like they never happened.

So, because of my own nerd rage and how weirdly personal this feels, I did something this morning I've never done in my life. I sent emails to my Congressmen, Steven Latourrette, Rob Portman, and Sherrod Brown and asked why my tax dollars are supporting the USADA and it's unsubstantiated railroading of a man who's been an inspiration for millions of people.

I proudly wear a Livestrong bracelet, and have since the day I was diagnosed with cancer. Lance did win those 7 Tours, despite what the USADA says. And he did inspire myself and cancer victims worldwide.

Here's a copy of the email I sent my Congressman:

I am writing today because of the recent news regarding the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA) actions as they pertain to Lance Armstrong. They have – at the time that I’m writing this – begun the process of stripping him of his seven Tour De France victories, as well as banning him from competitive sports for life.

Per the USADA’s website – they are recognized by the US Congress as “the official anti-doping agency for the Olympic, Pan-American, and Paralympic sport in the United States”. That being the case, I am addressing my questions and concerns to you regarding, what looks to me, as an unfair, illegal, and disreputable action by this organization.

The fact is the US Department of Justice dropped charges against him for lack of evidence. Additionally – both the International Cycling Federation (UCI) and USA Cycling have claimed jurisdiction in this case - and rightly so. And yet the USADA continues to pursue charges against Lance Armstrong despite no physical evidence.

The USADA – with the tacit approval of Congress - has instituted a witch hunt that ignores hundreds of clean tests and has indicted Mr. Armstrong based solely upon hearsay and has done so outside of its own stated jurisdiction. How is this acceptable or allowable?

Additionally, the USADA is going back in time some 18 years. Mr. Armstrong has been retired since 2005. How is it fair that they can – based on hearsay and a lack of any tangible, physical evidence – go back in time and retroactively strip him of something he earned? Would it be possible for someone to say “I think Jim Brown was using EPO” and have the USADA strip him of his legacy as the NFL’s greatest running back absent of proof? How about Jesse Owens? Can we strip him of his 1936 gold medals? Where does it stop?

Lance Armstrong is an American icon. His winning of the Tour De France (an international race not falling under the purview or jurisdiction of the USADA) a record seven times is an amazing feat. Throughout his entire tenure as a racer of the Tour, he never once tested positive for any banned substances. He is one of the greatest athletes to have ever competed in any sport, and he did so as a proud American. These victories are made even more amazing by the fact that he survived cancer and – at the time of his diagnosis – was given a less than 50% chance of survival. He not only beat cancer, he came back and made history in what amounts to the Super Bowl, or World Series of cycling. Seven Times.

While Lance Armstrong is a resident of Texas, I think that his impact has a far larger reach than that. For my part, in 2008, I was diagnosed with cancer myself. While undergoing treatment at University Hospitals of Cleveland, I found inspiration in his book, It’s Not About the Bike , and his story of survival. It helped me through my long fight and he served as an example of what positive attitude can do – especially as it pertains to fighting an illness as devastating as cancer.

And that’s the tragedy and injustice here. Despite his athletic accomplishments and the loss this reprehensible action represents to US athletics and pride, Lance Armstrong’s other contributions – his philanthropy and contributions to the world at large - will be forever tainted by an egregious lack of due process and a detestable abuse of power by a quasi-governmental agency that is more interested in bringing down a sports and inspirational celebrity than doing what’s fair and what’s right. Absent a more logical explanation, one can only assume that this is a vendetta and being done not for the purity of a sport -- but, instead, as a political and media spectacle designed to embarrass Mr. Armstrong and the sport of cycling.

My question to you, as my duly elected Congressional representative, is whether this is something that can be reviewed at a Congressional level? How would one go about correcting this injustice and righting what is, plainly, an impropriety and egregious misuse of government authority?

At the least, can you help determine why this organization operates in such a manner while receiving tax payer dollars?

Thank you for your time and consideration,
Doctor Zombie
I'm not sure how effective a rant this was, and I haven't fully articulated how I feel about it.

Christ, who knows, maybe the USADA has incontrovertible proof that Lance doped. If they do, and they can prove it, I'll gladly admit I was wrong. Somehow though, I seriously doubt they do. As I said, Lance may have doped. A HUGE percentage of the cycling community does. As a friend on Facebook pointed out, staying ahead of the tests is part of the game.

I'm only saying that they need to prove it.

And, even if they do, I'll still like Lance and respect him for what he's done.

Seven Tour De France victories.

With one ball.

Dude. That's hard fucking core.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

An Indulgence: Doctor Z.'s Dreamlands

(Note from Dr. Zombie: I wrote this while I was on vacation last week after having a pretty wicked nightmare. I've toyed with the idea of trying to convey the strange world I see when I close my eyes for years. This is a sad attempt.) 

In Ex Oblivione, H.P. Lovecraft wrote, "In my dreams I found a little of the beauty I had vainly sought in life, and wandered through old gardens and enchanted woods."

Lovecraft had a deep, vivid, and rich dream world; a world populated by fantastical creatures, beautifully hued and perfumed seas, verdant forests, ancient and stately cities, and kingdoms that lazed beneath soaring mountains that stretched into the violet, snowy depths of unimaginable heights.

For my frequent readers, you know that Lovecraft is my favorite writer of horror and weird fiction. I can only aspire to write as well as he did... to create the strange things he did and convey them to the printed page so well. I do, however, have one thing in common with him. 

We both have a dream world. 

Some background... I have, my whole life, suffered from night terrors. I have labored under - at first - a sense of shame. Nothing makes you the weird kid (or at least weirder than I already was) than to be the kid who wakes up screaming and panting at the slumber party, or having to bashfully explain to college roommates that no, I wasn't in fact, batshit crazy when I woke them in the middle of the night with guttural, harsh screams that sounded like I was being murdered. 

That shame changed to a weary resignation as I got older, and my friends accepted my eccentricity. Now, only my wife deals with it... although she does show the occasional exasperation at my nocturnal terror. 

"You woke me up fifteen times last night, you moron," she will sometimes say, "If you weren't tossing, turning, and moaning - you were screaming and hitting me".

"I'm sorry?" I would say, not sure why I was apologizing because, in a quirk of irony, or perhaps fortune, I often forget my true balls out, heart-wrenchingly terrifying, night terrors. 

That's right, when I have a true night terror, I don't remember what I dream about. I have no idea what it is that makes me wake up, my throat sore from screaming and my body covered in a sour, clammy sweat. I often wonder how terrifying the dream must have been because my regular nightmares, which I have on a nightly basis, are crazy intense. 

In addition to the night terrors, my dream world is extraordinarily deep and vivid. 

I have, my whole life, dreamed of a dark city. It's crazy to me that - for as long as I can remember - I have wandered its streets. Whether I was a child, or an adult, I know it as well as the street I grew up on as a child. 

I could draw a map of it, and I've often toyed with the idea of doing just that. Instead, I'll take you on a short tour. Be forewarned, it's not a bright, beautiful place like the majority of Lovecraft's. My dream world is not a pretty place. Don't say I didn't warn you...  

It's a dark, old city where it is often gloomy and rainy. It's is on a cold river that stretches wide between between its banks. Across its black, inky waters is another city that I've visited only once or twice. You can reach the other side only by taking a ferry run by a crotchety, ancient, old Italian man who only takes payment from those who can afford it. The fare is a combination of money and other things that are expressly forbidden - things that can only be obtained by spilling blood. 

Near the ferry, there is a hospital. I don't go to the hospital anymore. I used to explore it when I was younger, and remember sitting on its roof, looking across the stormy river to the twinkling lights on the other side. My earliest remembered dream of the hospital began when I was seven or eight years old, and even then I wondered why my dream world was decayed and why the lights only worked half of the time. I stopped going there when I was twelve. That's when I met a serial killer named Carl. He pursued me for months in my dreams, and he finally caught up with me at the hospital. He murdered the night nursing staff, and strung their innards like party streamers around the main waiting room. He seemed hurt and angry when I didn't like his decorating. He pursued me from the modern, white antiseptic halls of the newer hospital to the closed, rotting, creaking, dimly lit Victorian-era older section of the hospital. He cornered me in a morgue with bloodstained tables and gore-clotted, rusty surgical instruments. 

I mercifully woke up just as he caught me, but I've met him on and off through the years. Those are never good dreams. He's always enraged because I can escape him by waking up... but that doesn't mean he's going to stop trying to kill me. 

Up the hill from the hospital is the city proper. It is an old city. It is a combination of different architectural styles.  It has the riverfront area, which is ancient and old. It has tall Tudor-style buildings that are built one on top of the other. They are too tall, and when one walks the inclined, unevenly brick-paved streets, the buildings lean crazily towards one another and it feels like you are often walking through a tunnel. A couple years ago, I went to Universal Studios in Orlando for a work outing and remember getting a chill when I saw the sway-backed and tilted buildings of Hogsmead in the Harry Potter section. They were so eerily familiar, I felt an almost suffocating sense of deja vu. If they had built the buildings closer, and it was foggy and rainy and cold, instead of tropically warm, I would have felt like I was dreaming. 

Between the twisted, hulking silence of the buildings run alleys strewn with offal and stretching into unwelcoming darkness. You NEVER go into the alleys... no matter who's chasing you or whatever you might be running from. Dark things live there. Nasty things. Hungry things.

Outside of the river port, as you ascend the crooked, maze-like Main Street you enter the newer part of town. It is an odd mix of turn of the century farm town with blocky buildings. It looks much like downtown Willoughby, or downtown Bowling Green, OH and it always feels like it's autumn there. The leaves are always brown and withered and blow down the quiet street with insect-like rustling. Half of the building are empty and shuttered, and the few shops that are open seem dusty and on the verge of closing. 

 At the intersection at the center of this portion of town, on the southwest corner, is a bookshop. I own the bookshop, and it is a refuge from the darkness of the town. It is quiet, has a warm potbellied stove in the corner and comfortable leather chairs. It smells deliciously of old books and tea.

Behind the hometown feel and facade of the buildings on Main Street to the west, the city stretches on for miles and looks much like the deserted industrial areas of Detroit, or my own Cleveland Flats. It is an endless, decayed, abandoned stretch of Rust Belt factories and foundries that I've spent years exploring. The rats are as big as dogs, but I also feel oddly comfortable there. 

Far to the east of the city,is a university. It is mostly a place where I have those stupid dreams of going to classes naked and the indignity of having to leave my wife and children to move back into a dorm rooms. The campus itself is a place lost in time. It is a former world's fair site, and has the feel of Walt Disney's original plan for Disneyland. It is an anachronism in that it is the 50's version of what the future will look like; only it's now only old, uncared for, and filled with students I once long to meet, then met and went to classes with, and now vwho look at me with undisguised disgust because I've grown old and no longer fit in there. The campus itself has walkways, and the classrooms are in buildings that are shaped liked Flash Gordon rocket ships. The library sits at the center of the campus, a round building like the abdomen of a white concrete spider, with mirror-like windows. It is surrounded by empty fountains. It moves up and down on a spire like a massive version of those old amusement park spire rides. It frequently gets stuck, especially when you need to be somewhere. The dorms are in a building on the east end of campus, and the building soars upward with at least 100 or more floors. It has claustrophobic elevators, tiny rooms, and miles of steps and elevator shafts.    

Returning to the Dream City, you follow the Main Street of the town south, past the rows of blocky buildings, and the land slowly climbs and grows hilly. The town ends and the country begins there. The hills are covered in dark green kudzu, twisted old oak trees, sad and lonely willow trees, and the occasional cornfield. Standing guard over the wilted, brown, rustling stalks of corn are weathered scarecrows who follow you with their eyes when you walk by. 

Out here, south of the city, is a house I inherited. I don't know who left it for me, I only know it is mine. It is a large, hulking Second Empire style home. ( And no, I had no idea what type it actually was. I only know what it looks like. I actually had to look up the Architectural style when I started writing this - I found a couple picture on the internet that are similar to the style.)

The house is old and needs a lot of work. The exterior is weathered and is painted mostly a dark gray so old it looks almost black. Inside, it has creaking hardwood floors, but beautiful woodwork and bright, Victorian wallpaper. The furniture is mostly antiques and my master bedroom has an overly large framed bed. The wind blows through the house in the winter, and it has upwards of seven or eight bedrooms, each with a fireplace that does little to chase away the chill. At the rear of the house is a ballroom it is a large open space that soars upward three floors. There are  hallways from the second and third floor that act as balconies overlooking it. It is in serious disrepair and I seldom go in there. The floors are unsafe.

It makes me sad because it is no longer used. 

I suspect the house is haunted, but the ghosts like to stay out there in the ballroom. I don't fear the ghosts, Although they are mostly harmless, they do sometimes scare guests and like to make a racket when I am trying to sleep. My home is not always safe, and I'm not talking about the occasional wailing spirit. Sometimes there are monsters there, and serial killers, and all manner of unpleasantness. I'm used to it. 

Behind the house is a dark strip of wood with a twisting dirt path that leads to an open field. This is one of the many bright places in my dream world. It always seems warm there, and it feels like mid-summer dusk. The wind blows the tall grass gently, and there are several willow trees and the eerie green twinkle of fireflies in the growing gloom. There's a pond there, with a long dock where I often sit quietly, listening to the sound of crickets and the buzz of small insects. I seldom have nightmares there, although a few times, I've fled hordes of zombies to the very edge of the dock to take refuge in a small rowboat I have moored there. Once, the serial killer, Carl, pursued me there and shot at me as I hid under the dock in the warm water. I felt the last of his bullets strike my head and I jerked awake, screaming in pain, depriving him of yet another kill.    

There are other places in my dreamlands. I've spent almost 40 years exploring it, and like I said, I could draw a map of all the places and their relationship to one another. There's the lighthouse that overlooks where the dark river flows into the sea miles away from the town and perched above craggy bluffs. I go there sometimes to watch the yellow moon travel across the sky and read. There's the train station near the center of town, a large place with shops and people who scurry to the university or on to other places outside of my dream city. There's the endless rows of bungalows and colonials in a suburb to the southeast of town, eerily abandoned long ago like the test towns the goverenment built in the 40's in the Nevada desert.  

I visit these places at night, and know them as well as I know my own house. I dream of them, have nightmares of them, and I sometimes forget that they're not real. The places there aren't as sexy as Lovecraft's. And I've rarely strayed from my dream city, mostly for fear of what lays beyond it. It's can be pretty horrible in the city... I can only imagine what the world outside of it's like.   

I sometimes get story ideas from the nightmares I can remember, but - truthfully - I can't write about a lot of the people and monsters I meet there. They're too terrible to share with the world.


People will begin to think I need therapy.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Dammit! Almost Made It...

So, as you all know, I'm a wee bit strange.

Case in point, every October, when Halloween rolls around, they stock my favorite cereals in the world. I remember when I was a kid that they stocked it year round, but now - sadly - they only put out the Monster cereals once a year. The bastards.

Of course, I'm talking about the sugary, spooky awesomeness that is Boo Berry, Count Chocula, and Frankenberry. 

Few things remind me of my 1970's, geeky, weird, monster film-obsessed childhood more than eating a bowl of monster cereal while watching horror movies. Old Count Chocula was my companion on Saturday afternoons while I watched Cleveland's own Superhost and  classic Universal Horror films. Boo Berry was my best friend and I gobbled him down every late Friday night while watching the creepy cool Hammer Films on Big Chuck and Little John. And Frankenberry was there for every alien invasion and 1950's mutated monster/insect film in between. 

So, in that vein, I look forward every year to that magical time of Halloween when I can be reunited with my old sugary pals. And, the last couple years, I've made an effort to lay in enough of a stock to last me through the long year until it's available again. 

I made it until about an hour ago.

Yep. About an hour ago, I finally killed my last box of stockpiled Monster cereal. I was watching a horror anime and decided I might as well have a bowl of cereal (which I don't admittedly eat very often. My diet, despite my middle aged paunch, is decidedly low carb). But I do occasionally splurge, and this was one of those nights. I needed me some marshmallows and outrageously blue, pink or brown cereal chunks.

I needed some Monster Cereal goodness... and I finished my last box.

Seriously. Here's a picture I took to honor the occasion. At about 11:30pm on August 5th, I ate my last box of hoarded Boo Berry.

Two fucking months short of October. 

Admittedly, I made it longer this year than I have in the past... but now the waiting until October starts. And it's infinitely torturous when you know you can't have something. When it was in the cupboard, there when I wanted it, it was fine. But now? Now the Monster cereal twitches start. 

On a related Halloweeny, October note; myself, Wolf Girl, and Zombie Boy had our first preliminary Haunted Yard meeting tonight. I don't know about you, but I'm tired of this unrelenting summer heat, the sun and its angry brightness and its desire to kill me. I'm sooooo ready for fall, Cleveland Browns football, clambakes, cool weather, pumpkin brew beers, falling leaves, and HALLOWEEN!

Now though, I can occupy myself with planning the best haunted yard display to date, and soothe myself with warm memories of Count Chocula and his cartoon friends.

God knows I can't assuage my hunger by drinking it away. I drank my last bottle of hoarded Great Lakes Seasonal Nosferatu back in June.