You are currently browsing the monthly archive for August 2017.

Verschlimmbesserung (n.) German: An intended improvement that actually ends up making something worse. 

Oh those zany Germans! They have the most marvelous words! Leaving well enough alone is like not pressing the already lit elevator button. One just can’t resist. I suppose it is human nature* to not leave things alone but to tinker and poke about hoping to improve on the original only to make a mess of things.  For your edification and entertainment, here’s a few examples of Spo-verschlimmbesserungen.

The Dry Martini.  This classy cocktail consists of gin, vermouth (no rubbish please) and a cocktail onion or olive. There. That’s it. It is simple, eloquent, and tasty – like my men – or was, until people figured it had to be ‘improved upon’.  Alas, one can’t readily go to a bar and ask for proper martini with the assumption the bartender knows what they are doing. Alas, alas, you are asked do you want gin, vodka, or some other spirit. Then there are an array of colorful add-ons that have no business being there. Dry Manhattans are not too close behind in my catalog of complaints about corrupted cocktails.

Opera preludes.  This music was made to evoke a mood state in the listener prior to the curtain going up. The audience is to sit and use their imaginations to set the tone in time for the first scene.  “Never stage the overture” was a sensible rule until modern producers figured the audience would be either bored sitting there without something to see or they needed ‘help’ to understand what the music is about. More often than not one sees a dreadful tableau or an assortment of shenanigans that merely distract from listening to the music. This is the last thing Verdi, Mozart, and that crowd were trying to accomplish in the prelude. Sometimes I just sit there and close my eyes. Sometimes I actually wake to see the opera.

Hotel clocks. The average hotel patron wants three things from a clock: tell the time; play some music; wake me up at a time of my choice. A few simple on/off knobs etc. did nicely.  Last time I was in a hotel room the clock had more options on it than seen in a 747 cockpit. I could not even figure out how to correct the time. I ended up just using my watch.

Coffee. I don’t often buy any but when I do I cringe at the order counter as I view the myriad of options. My eyes cross when I overhear regular patrons of SB ask for a triple, venti, soy, no foam latte or something of that ilk. Urs Truly when he orders is looked upon as an object of suspicion.  Imagine the following:

Yes sir can I help you?

Yes I want a cup of coffee

(Long pause as if I just asked for a dead rat) What sort of coffee?

Just a cup of coffee… er… small.

(Another pregnant pause as the barista contemplates if they should call the manager)  Do you want that tall? 

No, just a plain small cup please

Nothing in it?

(Sensing we are recreating Monty Python’s Cheese shop sketch) No, I am fine with a plain cup.

Which coffee do you want plain?

(Sensing madness coming on) Oh, the house blend.

Shall I leave room for cream or sugar?

(Biting my tongue not to be snarky about the sottish sugar)

No, that will not be necessary. 

Oh OK then.

Small wonder I drink tea.

I could give some other examples of simple things bloated or altered to the point of Kabelsalat but it just depresses me.

Spo-fans are invited to leave in the comment section their personal favorite Verschlimmbesserung – provided you don’t mention medical insurance forms. 


*Especially if you are a Virgo.


I very much enjoy the podcast “Hello from the Magic Tavern”, which is a jolly good fun.  Think of a combination of Firesign Theatre and Dungeons and Dragons. One of the podcast’s charms is its zany spin on the Archetype “Stranger in a Strange Land”. Arnie, a man from Chicago, has fallen through a magic portal (located in a Burger King) into the magical land of Foon. He is trying to make sense of it all while trying to fit in as best he can.

The Stranger is often put there not on his or her free will but by fate or accident. Alice falls down the rabbit hole; Dorothy is whisked away to the Land of Oz.  Joe Gillis makes a wrong turn and ends up in the world of Norma Desmond.  Stranger in a Strange Land isn’t just found in fiction. History is full of such types.

Once in the Strange Land The Stranger has to come to terms with the natives, who often don’t understand or trust The Stranger “Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?” Choiceless, The Stranger has a choice to assimilate or figure out how to get home.  Lawrence of Arabia does the former;  Dorothy of Kansas does the latter.  Oliver Wendell Douglas is a comic spin on the archetype. He doesn’t try to leave but wants Hooverville to assimilate to his ways. Oh the pain.

We are in touch with this archetype whenever we enter a situation where there are people we don’t know.  When we start a new job or join a club or church the archetype is evoked.  I felt such when I traveled last week to Charleston and Savannah; I was a stranger in a strange land.

The archetype reminds us The Stranger and The Strange Land need each other.  The Stranger won’t survive or get home without help from The Strange Land. The Strange Land is always touched and altered by the Stranger. We can’t grow staying at home; we only grow when we enter The Strange Land.  It is scary and uncomfortable and even hazardous but necessary.

cropped-peninmouth.jpgSpo-reflections has had a brief hiatus, mostly due to my lack of time, having come back from a week’s holiday. Another reason for the lack of entries is The Board of Directors Here at Spo-reflections went away on their annual trek too, but they are not back. They are on a cruise to Oslo; they don’t know how to operate the internet, so I am not getting threats to put out as it were. I also lack an idea upon which to write. Apparently The Muses went on the same cruise.

So what is a blogger to do under these circumstances? When in doubt, get horizontal. Despite having a list of ‘to dos’ as long as my arm I may out of spite do nothing at all and merely go to bed. One exception: I should satiate the Spo-fans with a few imperial tidbits lest they become tetchy.

I returned to work to find my wall hadn’t been knocked down and the office divided into two. The Boss-man has been meaning to do so for years and there were hints that during my week away it would be a good time to make good on his threat. I wonder what happened -probably his ‘mañana’ approach surpassed action. I wonder where he means to put the nurse whom the recently hired.  In the end it is not my problem.

The Personal Trainer wants me to start counting calories and weigh myself daily. This is a lot of extra work and fuss, especially to weigh out everything that goes into my pie-hole. There may be method to this madness: rather than get out the scales and log my food log I just skip eating to avoid the hassle. Works for me.

Summer is almost over and good riddance to it. This summer seemed unseasonably hot, perhaps from global warming or maybe I am just growing intolerant to the heat. I was hoping this weekend to tidy up the yard but if the temperatures remain above 40C I may delay – again. I think it quite sensible of The Muses and The Board to have high-tailed it out of town to latitudes more cool. I hope it cools down soon and they return quickly, bringing with them fabulous souvenir ideas for me to write. I have my fingers crossed. I can count on The Muses but not on The Board. Last time they went a-viking to the Land of the Fjords they brought me back a Grandiosa Pizzas.  You try justifying that one to The Personal Trainer.


house-cleaning-11688-570x403I am in a pensive mood. This is probably the result of being ‘post-holiday’ and it is the end of August. Spo-fans know I often get a bit of SAD (seasonal affective depression) about now, so there may be some of that as well.  I think I am mostly depressed by matters of the nation, which I won’t go into right now, as it just makes my mood worse. My “Cancer” traits are showing: I want some reliable parental figure to assure me everything will be OK.

I am a bit cheered by my industry for I’ve cleaned the luggage.


MCR: cleaned        DAW: not cleaned

The suitcases are over a decade old (if not more). They came back from Georgia looking quite schumtig. I was ready to take them to a luggage/shoe store and have someone clean them at any cost. Someone (always the rationalist) suggested I try cleaning them myself. A simple solution of warm soapy water applied with a Doby sponge looks to have done some good – and at no cost and the quiet satisfaction of an autodidact.  The two sets have three pieces each, so I have five more to do.

Other than the laundry I’ve done precious little on this lackluster Saturday.  I’m presently putting all my torn-out recipes into some sort of taxonomy. They now cover the dining room table in discrete piles labeled with green post-its. If I live to be one hundred I could not make all I’ve gathered – and there are more to do!  The pile labeled ‘Chicken” is the highest stack, closely followed by “Pasta”, so you know what floats my boat.  I suspect I have torn out the same recipe several times, so that will help narrow them down a bit. When they are edited they all go into brown accordion files.


Putting things in order (and throwing out some in the process) is something I do when I am feeling down or helpless or angry.  There is no lack of things to do around the Spo-house, so I should have a rather purging Saturday night today.

Our original Saturday flight had a connection through Texas,which will soon be under water thanks to hurricane Harvey. Our travel plans are thwarted; we are going home today one day early. It is the end of our holiday. This entry is written while sitting in the airport.


This week we toured several old homes in Charleston and Savannah. They were full up with antique furniture and the like. One house was wall to wall with the owner’s collection; each room overflowed with vases, furniture, and statues.  The walls were covered with paintings. The docents were delighted with it all and we were supposed to be equally awed.

Rather than be inspired to envy all I felt was the desire for a large auction or garage sale and clear out the place.

Perhaps the house-tour staff are right: human behavior doesn’t change viz. thems with money have always wanted ostensible items to show off their wealth.  I am not so certain about this axiom. I’ve read some articles on how the younger generations do not want their parent’s possessions. Mothers and grandmothers tell their descendants ‘Some day all of this shall be yours!” only to elicit aghast in their children, who are already plotting how to unload this all to Goodwill or something.  Younger folks – and Urs Truly – want simplicity and space. They prefer putting their income not into things but into trips and eating out.  They don’t want the a living room the size of a racquetball court, or the china/silverware to host twenty people. They would rather just reserve a restaurant space and treat.

There is little that is fancy, old, or precious in the Spo-house*. We have some Native American artwork from The Northwest Pacific Northwest; it is our one go at conspicuous consumption.   I have never felt the need to have people over in order to impress them with my furniture. My exposure to the opulence of the South has inspired me to go home and commit ‘danshari’ more than ever.

Give me a little to nothing and put the money in the bank.

Just let me keep the Bookwus.


What I enjoyed most about Savannah was meeting Domini Dave. An afternoon with him was better than all the house tours and shrimp grits in Georgia. 



*Other than Someone.


Oh, it’s been nonstop activity and sightseeing here in the faraway South. We are presently in Savannah Georgia, Land of Humidity.*

Rather than give you a tedious play-by-play of our itinerary here are some imperial tidbits on which for you to meditate and ponder great thoughts and fill in the blanks etc.


Here’s Urs Truly dressed in the height of fashion for the solar eclipse. It was partially cloudy, so the full spectacle did not occur -a page 71 if there ever was one.  However we saw enough; the sky went dark as seen after sunset. I saw stars between the clouds. It was marvelous.


The South is hot and humid; keeping cool is the key.  I have not had a bomb-pop since I was ten years old. It was sweet, cool, and turned my tongue blue – like my men. 


In Savannah I was thrilled to make a pilgrimage to the childhood home of one of my favorite authors, Flannery O’Conner.  If you haven’t read any of her short stories, I recommend them. Miss O’Conner has the dubious talent of having written lots of short stories and novels  – and absolutely none of her characters are likeable. They are all awful.  Delicious dark writing indeed.  She writes how Wednesday Addams would have written if she had grown up to do so.


We went to the Alley Cat bar which has a drinks menu so vast it comes in the form of a newspaper. Notice the photo of the bourbons is on page 16. I had the pleasure of sampling several ‘someday to try whiskies’, in one ounce samples. I also had a proper Sazerac – no rubbish indeed!  I was pleased as punch I was able to identify the whiskies in my double-blind study flight. This bodes well for my palate – or portends I am a lush. 


Finally there is the haute cuisine of the south. Here is my first try at shrimp and grits (with okra and sausage). It was quite tasty.  There is nothing ‘lo-cal’ about Southern cooking.

News! We are absolutely thrilled for today we meet blogger-buddy Domini Dave. He is going to drive in to meet us. This is better than all the shrimp and grits in Georgia. Pictures will be taken and posted anon, provided he doesn’t do a 180 upon actually encountering me. 


*90% today. Oh the pain.

The Board of Directors Here at Spo-Reflections telephoned me to tell me several Spo-fans remonstrated about the lack of photographs. They strongly recommended I put up some photos lest people think I am ‘fake news’ and not really doing what I say I am. So be it.

Today I succeeded is accomplishing one of my Bucket List items: to see a tea plantation. I figured this would not likely happen unless I travel to some far-off place like India or China. It turns out there is one here on North America, located in SC. Happy joy!

Someone and I drove through stereotypical moss-covered southern looking swamp to The Charleston Tea Plantation. It turns out someone has tried to grow tea here for some time but only lately has it become profitable.  The legs are Someone’s.


The plantation’s mascot is Waddy The Frog. I gave him a kiss but he did not turn into a prince, nor did I turn into a frog, worse luck.


The tea plant likes rain, humidity, and hot days. South Carolina has all of this in spades. The air is almost stream-room saturated with moisture. It made for sweaty weather as we toured the plantation.


As far as I know, all tea plantations harvest their leaves using manual labor. This is terribly tedious but it ascertains getting only the tippy growth of the right leaves and leaving behind the twigs and no-so-good older leaves. I sensed ‘trouble’ as we pulled into the plantation as I did not see anyone in the fields picking leaves with big bags hanging on their shoulders. Urs Truly was appalled to see the tea is harvested by a moloch-like machine which trims the top inches off the bushes like a lawn mower.  I didn’t get a good answer from the tour guide how the twigs are cleared out along with the weeds and rubbishy old leaves.  There is something “The Jungle” going on here.  I suspect it is just more economical to use a machine harvester, but I fear for quality.

tea leaves

Here am I fulfilling a dream: touching a real proper tea plant.


Someone tells me I am not supposed to buy any more ‘souvenir mugs’ as our bins at home are full. I promised I would discard some in turn for another. I don’t need more tea either but there it is.


As I was beating about the bushes I found this item. I knew tea leaves come from tea bushes. Now I know they also are the source for tea towels.

Greetings from South Carolina, Land of Humidity. *

We are having a lovely time walking around and seeing the sites, with frequent change in our shirts. I’ve had my first okra (fried, served with mayo).

I’ve not taken many photos and I will tell you why. I am beginning to prefer my own memories than those in a photograph. There is research on the subject to support my approach. People who quickly take a photo are less likely remember the experience than thems who look around and imprint their impressions using their senses. I write things down too, which helps jog my memory to recall the details.

On our first day in Charleston we took a bus tour. We sat up front on the right side of the bus; across the aisle sat another couple. They were well over four feet. As we drove by the points of interest, this quiet pair would get up quickly turn and click their phones to take whatever was whizzing by. Were they actually listening to the tour guide or merely taking photos at the cue there was something of worth there to see? A few times when their was something on the right side of the bus they would jump up and sort of lean over us (invading our personal zones) to try to capture the moment.   In contrast, Someone and I took no photos but listened to what was being said. We also asked questions, which the tour guide was happy to address. I hope said-couple enjoyed the tour. I wonder if ‘their way’ is good as our own at making the morning memorable.

Nowadays it feels a bit odd to walk up to a monument or lovely view and be the only one not wiping out their phone to take a photo. There is something old-fashioned about just standing and looking, but I don’t recall my grandparents complaining they could not remember what they saw or did on their travels.

With that said, we are not against photography. We took some photos, but not of the main things. Mine were of tangents. At Fort Sumter I took a close up of the brick wall. We were told the bricks were made by hand by slaves. The bricks had broken shells in them. I wondered who else saw them and why they were there.  Photographs of Fort Sumter – and good ones at that – are easily viewed and download via the internet. My quirky close up souvenir photos are good for what I want to remember.



* More accurate is to report on the dew point not the humidity. The dew point is 80F. Oh the pain.

draft_lens1615031module4595356photo_1211841208overpacked-bagThe Supershuttle picks us up in half an hour so this one will be brief. We are on our way to South Carolina!  

I don’t know anyone who can quickly pack for a holiday. I needs days to do so. I start a few days ahead of time by writing down on a list what things I may need for the trip. These are not the obvious like undergarments (although I’ve been known to forget these. Oh the embarrassment) but

the items I am likely to sorely miss. Choice examples: headphones, backscratcher, and the Kindle device.

Physicians are trained to do a physical exam in a particular order so there is less chance of missing something by doing things by rote. Urs Truly packs likewise.

Always first is the medications.  Out go the various blood pressure and cholesterol medications along with the vitamins (MVI and D) and whatever snake oil I am taking at the moment.  They go in little day travel boxes of white plastic. I’ve learned these go into the carryon lest the luggage lands in an alternative destination than my person.

Second: the dopp kit. Mine is a beat up black ersatz leather case the size of a small loaf of bread. It has several zipper compartments in which I am continually discovering lost items from previous trips.

The ghost bag is next. I envy people who ‘travel light” as I sure as hell don’t. In goes the laptop, my journal, a book or two, GAMES magazine, my wallet and spectacles, and (if there is room) whatever medical journals are at hand that I read and toss along the way.

Clothes are last as they are less clear. How much to bring is always the question. My Boy Scout training combines with my Midwest mentality to make me usually pack more than necessary. I do like a daily change of Spo-shirt (lest there is talk) and a daily change of underwear (lest I am in the ER and there is worse talk).

This is a good point for an aside to say Someone is fantastic at packing. He could pack a closet full into a carry on. If we are sharing luggage he does the packing.  Clever man.

After I gather all the clothes together I stand back like a show director in front of a group of applicants all after the same few jobs.  I try to whittle down to ‘the basics’ which is often far from basic. No one can accuse me of being spartan.

I always leave room in the luggage for the return trip. Dirty duds take up more space in the suitcase than clean items. Away on holiday I tend to buy things which demand their own space.  Someone tends to pack a full case to avoid the purchasing of knickknacks and bricolage.

For fun I sometimes imagine putting something ‘eye-raising’ in the bag just before closing, lest there is an inspection by the TSA fellow for him to have a heart attack for snooping around my undies.  But I never do.


At work I often encounter patients who have extraordinary circumstances or just bad luck between appointments. I call this “The Helen Syndrome”, which is named after a patient or mine who was named – wait for it – Helen. Helen seemed to have the worst luck. I kid you not I would see on January 1st and we would start a medication, let’s say Prozac.  She would return on February 1st and I would ask how the medication is going. She would reply it was hard to tell for on January 3rd the house burned down with all their possessions and they had to move in with that bitch sister-in-law who I can not stand and iI am so close to knocking her teeth out and oh by the way I got pneumonia about mid-February I was so sick I had to be hospitalized.  She  would finish she had only been discharged home a few days ago and the bitch sister-in-law still hasn’t done anything in her absence and now the insurance company is doubting the story.

“So you see, Dr. Spo, I can’t tell if the Prozac is doing any good.”

Oh the pain.

When this happens I change over from listening if the Rx made her feel better to Helen despite it all did you go off the deep end and crack up?  She admitted she hadn’t gone postal on the insurance agent and she hadn’t axed her sister-in-law. Normally she wigs out in hospital, but she took it in stride. Perhaps the Prozac was helpful after all.

The Helen Syndrome happens a lot. People are forever having unexpected events most unpleasant occur while they are out and about.  One patient astutely questioned the phenomena. “Gee doc, isn’t what you are calling The Helen Syndrome, just, you know.. life?”  Good point.  Life is full of random actions and surprise appearances. One definition of mental health is how well we deal with life’s surprises and roadblocks.  However, it’s the humdinger happenings that really test our mettle (and the meds).  Interesting: most patients  who worry they had snapped a tether since that random comet annihilated their house are comforted by my feedback they did OK under the circumstances. Seldom do they want ‘more meds’ but are willing to see if the next month is a bit more mundane.   This follows the sage advice of Hippocrates who defined all of Medicine as the careful craft of entertaining the patient while the body heals itself.

Neurotics don’t trust good times; they just know the shoe will drop soon and they are not wrong. What they don’t consider is during Helen Syndrome-like down times it is equally true the shoe will pick up.

It is a bit giddy for me to forever wonder what is going to walk in my door next, a patient spitting blood or one worshiping my intervention ‘you saved my life mister’.  The Helen Syndrome and Life itself keeps me on my toes. It is never dull. It sure beats cardiology.

Blog Stats

  • 1,756,932 Visitors and droppers-by


August 2017

Spo-Reflections 2006-2018