The wisdom of Rodney

The following post consists of quotations from Rodney Dangerfields book: RODNEY DANGERFIELD It’s Not Easy Bein’ Me.

I began writing jokes when I was fifteen. I think I was so unhappy all the time that I was trying to forget reality with jokes. I was always depressed, but I could tell a joke and get a laugh. But not from my mother…
I guess that’s why I went into show business—to get some love. I wanted people to tell me I was good, tell me I’m okay…. I’ll take love anyway I can get it.
Show business was my escape from life. I had to have it. It was like a fix. I needed it to survive.
At twenty-eight, I decided to quit show business…. To give you an idea of how well I was doing at the time I quit, I was the only one who knew I quit.
I sold aluminum siding for twelve years. I made a decent living, but I wasn’t living. I was out of show business, but show business wasn’t out of me, so I did the only thing that made sense—I created a character based upon my feeling that nothing goes right.
…I remember sitting in my dressing room waiting for the show to start. I looked out the window. It was raining, but the streets of midtown Manhattan were crowded, and I thought to myself. Look at all those people who are going to miss seeing me tonight on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Forty years ago, I was feeling really depressed even more than I usually do, so Joe recommended a famous psychologist…. I still remember two things he told me:  People are all fucking crazy, and most of them are unethical.”
I’ve talked with many psychologists and psychiatrists. It has cost me a lot of money, but at least I got a few jokes out of it.
…I didn’t go because I knew I couldn’t be myself with Jack Benny…. Can you picture me saying to Jack Benny, “Man, I’m so depressed. It’s all too fucking much.”
The worst depression I had was when I was in my seventies…. For two years, I couldn’t function.
I first started smoking pot back in 1942. I was twenty-one…
All the stories you hear about being getting wild on marijuana are ridiculous…. Booze is the real culprit in our society.
When you’re high, you become an avid reader…. one night I smoked some pot, then started reading the newspaper. An hour later, I said to myself, What am I doing? I was reading about fishing conditions in Anchorage. And I don’t even fish. And the paper was a month old.
I was sitting in an airport…. There was no one around, so I lit up a joint…. Suddenly a cop came running toward me.
…I ended up in intensive care…. I thought, Hey, there aren’t too many people here, and it’s dark. I’ll light up a joint… Two minutes later, a security guard came over….
…I now have written authorization from a California doctor that allows me to smoke pot…. Wish I’d had that prescription thirty years ago; life would have been easier.
It’s hard for me to accept the fact that soon my life will be over. No more Super Bowls. No more Chinese food. No more sex. And the big one, no more smoking pot.
One time I said to him [Rodney’s father], “You’ve travelled all over the country, must have slept with a hundred women. You’ve done everything, been through it all. What’s life all about? What’s the answer?”
He twirled his cigar and said, “It’s all bullshit.”
You can’t fully appreciate that line until you’re old.
Living as long as I have, you can’t help but look back on life and wonder what does it all mean. Sometimes I don’t even think I’ve made it. Even today, if I check into a hotel and the bellman picks up my suitcase, I feel awkward.
I can accept getting older. I can even accept getting old, but dying? Man, that’s a tough one to accept.
Life’s a short trip. You’ll find out.
You were seventeen yesterday. You’ll be fifty tomorrow. Life is tough…. 
What do you think life is? Moonlight and canoes? That’s not life. That’s in the movies.
Life is fear and tension and worry and disappointments.
Life. I’ll tell you what life is. Life is having a mother-in-law who sucks and a wife who don’t. That’s what life is.

Photo by Alan Light

Ban religion?

The so-called New Atheists* vilify all forms of theism, insisting that, while liberal theists might not be as overtly dangerous as other theists, they support them by virtue of their belief that something called divine revelation is superior to reason and evidence. I don’t know what’s new about this as I’ve been hearing it for the entire forty years that I’ve been a card-carrying atheist. I even agree with it, although I consider it better to err on the side of moderation in expressing ones beliefs due to the fact that hardliners alienate everyone but other hardliners. Then again…

Madalyn Murry O’Hair was much more abrasive than the New Atheists, and I used to wonder if, given that atheism got even less notice back then than it does today, the negative attention she brought to it might not have been preferable to silence. If so, the same is probably true of the New Atheists. Moderates don’t make the news, and if you are to succeed in your fight against something as rich and powerful as religion, you have to make the news.

One of my readers suggested that the New Atheists want to see religion outlawed. While I don’t follow their latest pronouncements, I at least scan every book on atheism that comes through the library, and I haven’t run into such a proposal. I wrote to a friend who stays more attune to such things than I, and asked if he knew anything about it. He responded:

“…I’ve never heard anyone honestly suggest that religion should be banned. Hitchens was one of the most strident and he often described religion as evil and poisonous, but I don’t believe he advocated for a ban. Today, P.Z. Myers is one of the most ardent anti-religious voices and he certainly doesn’t suggest banning religion…When a Christian leaps to claiming that atheists would ban religion, they are usually attempting to derail a conversation which has become uncomfortable for them in some way.  I believe it’s a form of the ‘Going Nuclear’ strategy when you are losing an argument. One person points out how the Catholic Church systematically raped children and hid the crimes and the other responds with ‘You atheists want to herd us all into rail cars like the Nazis.’ I’ve seen one of your commenters do this on several occasions.”

All this got me to thinking about my own feelings in regard to outlawing religion. I didn’t have to think long because I consider the following self-evident: 

1) Religious teachings that inflict emotional harm upon children constitute child abuse; 

2)  Such teachings should be illegal in the presence of children. 

You can beat a kid with a stick, or you can beat him with the fear of God (“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”—Proverbs 9:10), and when you have a kid hiding under the bed as I did because he’s afraid of God, you’ve beaten him pretty badly. While the New Atheists might not openly support a legal ban on the ability of religion to emotionally brutalize children, I would, if only such a thing were possible. Unfortunately, the only way to bring it about would be to take children from the homes of those millions of parents who are so benighted as to imagine that they are saving their children from hell after death by making their lives a hell on earth. In the words of Jonathan Edwards, who long ago wrote a sermon that’s still found in college-level literature books:

“The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you...he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.”

If you imagine that this kind of villainous talk was long ago abandoned by the church, I would point out that I grew up with it (though not always in such flowery language), and that it characterizes the teachings of Catholic, evangelical, and fundamentalist churches to this day. Churches like my childhood church might put more emphasis on their belief that only the blood of God the Son protects us from the righteous wrath of God the Father, but it remains church doctrine in nearly all of the churches I’ve studied, and I’ve studied the basic beliefs of dozens.

*The best known being Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens.

For those who live with pain

I take the following for pain: Neurontin, Ambien, oxycodone, marijuana, and Cymbalta (an SNRI—selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor). These drugs are what’s left of the 25 or 30 I’ve used, a list that includes every legal narcotic I know of, a half dozen sleeping pills, various anti-inflammatories, and, for good measure, Elavil. Cymbalta (see photo) has helped most, but, due to insurance changes, my cost for my next prescription will be $607 for a 90-day supply. While looking online for substitutes, I learned that Effexor (another SNRI) is equally good for pain and, because it has been around since 1994, comes in a generic form for $12.32. 

The high cost of Cymbalta is why, if you live in America, you are barraged with Cymbalta commercials, whereas you never see Effexor advertised. Along with price, other disadvantages to the latest “miracle drugs” is that their long-term downsides are unknown and they are rarely more efficacious than older drugs. So, why did my doctor prescribe an expensive medication before trying me on a dirt-cheap drug that is likely to be just as effective? Hell if I know, although I’ve noticed that doctors don’t usually know how much drugs cost. They also used to get kickbacks from pharmaceutical companies, although my understanding is that the government put an end to this.

It’s good to remember that you’re probably in a better position than your doctor to know which drugs might help you. For instance, if you suffer from ongoing pain, your medication options are limited, and with a little effort, you can learn what they are and stay abreast of the latest research. Of the drugs I’ve tried for chronic pain, I would say that narcotics are both the most heralded and one of the least effective. I mention this because some of you have trouble getting narcotics, and, as a consequence, appear to hold them in higher regard than they deserve. The reason for their relative ineffectiveness is that you quickly build up a tolerance, so if your starting dose is 5-10 mgs, you might be taking six times that amount (and incurring six times the risks) after a few weeks and still not get as good a result as you had with your initial dose. It is for this reason that I try to limit my narcotic intake to twice a week, but even then the tolerance problem remains. 

No doctor ever told me to take more than 20 mgs of oxycodone or Dilaudid at a time. This used to leave me in the troubling situation of thinking that, my god, I’m taking this strong narcotic that people rob pharmacies at gunpoint for, and I’m still in terrible pain—my condition must be hopeless. When I increasingly turned to the Internet for drug information, I learned about narcotic tolerance, and realized that my doctors simply weren’t taking tolerance into account, so I started increasing my own dosage, but no matter how much I took, I soon needed more. (If you should ever consider increasing drug dosage without your doctor’s consent, bear in mind the following statement from the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “In 2008, more than 36,000 people died from drug overdoses, and most of these deaths were caused by prescription drugs.”)

Rather than the prescribed strength being too weak, I’ve also seen it go the other way. For instance, if I had used that 100-microgram Fentanyl patch that one doctor gave me, I’m pretty sure I would be dead. After another doctor started me on a triple dose of Demerol, I could hardly get out my chair for three days. Such overkill (ha) is another reason that you should do you own research.

Because of my positive experience with Cymbalta, I’ve become very interested in anti-depressants for pain relief. Some of you might know that the old tricyclic antidepressants (Norpramin, Tofranil, and Elavil, to name a few) have long been given for pain. Then came the SSRIs (Prozac, Lexapro, and Zoloft are three that I’ve taken), which weren’t good for pain by themselves but were good in combination with a tricyclic. The next advance was the SNRIs (Cymbalta, Effexor, Pristiq), which are effective for the pain of arthritis, fibromyalgia, and neuropathy, along with depression, panic disorder, social phobia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

As you can imagine, any drug that can do all that can also kick your ass, as I discovered when I stopped taking Cymbalta cold turkey last November and felt utterly exhausted, experienced excessive scalp sweating, had symptoms approximating the early stages of a horrendous cold, and wanted to rage one minute and cry the next, symptoms that continued for nearly two months. Since I had stopped taking narcotics at the same time, I assumed I was suffering from narcotic withdrawal and so did my doctor. When I finally went online, it didn’t take me any time to become convinced that it wasn’t the narcotics, it was the Cymbalta. Why didn’t my doctor know this? Maybe he didn’t sleep well the night before, or maybe he was thinking about his last patient or the fight he had with his wife that morning. I have no idea, but I do know that one should never go to any doctor with the assumption that everything that can be done will be done, and that it will be done right. I’ve experienced situations in which so many mistakes were made by so many people in so short a time that I imagined myself trapped in a Monty Python skit.

I’ve gone into some detail about anti-depressants for pain control because Cymbalta has worked fairly well for me without severe side-effects or a tolerance problem. It’s important to remember that chronic pain causes anxiety and depression, problems that worsen the pain, and that anti-depressants have the advantage of treating these along with pain. The worse downside to Cymbalta—so far, anyway—is that, having been through drug withdrawal a few times by now, I worry more about drugs that cause withdrawal than I do about drugs that I can easily stop. Whenever I start to focus on such concerns, I remind myself that living with pain and depression pose their own serious health risks. For example, chronic pain makes a person more prone to accidents; depression impedes his immune system; and the two of them together make it impossible to get adequate sleep. I, like so many of you, can no longer imagine a drug-free life despite the fact that I anticipate dying earlier because of it.

I have found living with pain—and the resultant disability—to be a major challenge to my desire to live at all. Many people experience this, and because of it, I have a great deal of sympathy for other sufferers. We share a problem that can be very hard to treat and that many people dont understand (especially if you “look normal”) and often seem bored by. I do understand what pain sufferers are going through, at least somewhat, and I am far from bored by it. Just as some of you worry about me, so do I worry about you. I am hardly the worst-off of those in my blogging community, and I can thank many of you for helping me keep my head above water.