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Jul. 17 2010 — 11:45 am | 636 views | 0 recommendations | 6 comments

Life Without Health Insurance

Erythematous rash in the pattern of a “bull’s-...

Image via Wikipedia

A few weeks ago I took a trip with my girlfriend to lovely, lovely Julian, California — a lovely little mountain town where there are lovely, lovely wine tastings and just the most lovely apple pies you’ve ever eaten. The town has a lovely gold-rush era feel with a small, but dense main street and plenty of lovely open space. Just outside of town there are lovely fields of lovely tall grass filled with lovely, lovely ticks that latch on to my genitals.

It was a lovely time.

Actually it was. Julian is a beautiful, reasonably priced alternative to Napa, charming romantic and all that. But a tick to the balls has a way of putting a damper on a perfectly good trip – especially when you don’t have health insurance.

I’m from Boston, where Lyme disease is a real problem. Friends and acquaintances that have come down with the disease suffered months upon months of misery, and in some cases permanent neurological damage.

Coming from Boston, I also happen to know that tiny deer ticks are the ones that carry the greatest risk of spreading the disease, and that the longer the tick stays attached, feeding, the grater the chance of infection. My tick was definitely tiny, with the exception of his blood-engorged body. He’d been feeding on me for two days before I caught him.

Not good.

They say the obvious sign of Lyme disease is a telltale bull’s-eye-like rash that appears on the site of the bite after the tick is removed. Now, trying to remove a tick that has its head buried fairly deeply inside your genitals is neither an easy nor pleasant task. By the time I got the sucker off, lets just say there was some carnage. Impossible to tell whether what I was looking at was a bulls-eye, a scab or Godknowswhat. It’s not a particularly pleasing aesthetic canvas down there.

It seemed like I didn’t have a bulls-eye, but I couldn’t be sure. And on top of that I was getting headaches and a wickedly stiff neck – two of the 5 billion signs of Lyme disease.

So much for self-diagnosis.

The disease is treatable if caught early. But, to catch it and treat it I would need a doctor. But how does one do that without health insurance these days? Well, there are three things a person could do in my predicament: go to the emergency room to get an immediate test for Lyme disease, but that struck me as a bit excessive and potentially costly; I could schedule an appointment with a private doctor and pay out of pocket; or I could go to a free clinic and get checked out. If it looked bad, maybe my lab results would even be covered. I went with option number three. Trust me, if you make what I do you’d take door number three as well.

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Jul. 13 2010 — 4:18 pm | 35 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

The Advocate Stiffs Its Freelancers

Masthead from The Advocate, volume 1, issue 1

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On July 3rd, 2009 a piece I wrote entitled “Mommy the Gays are Coming” was published on the GLBT magazine The Advocate’s website. The piece detailed the major advances in gay rights in the ultra-right-wing, Catholic nation of Colombia, and included original photos from Bogota’s gay pride march — the largest gay event in Colombia’s history. The piece was 600 words and included six photos (not to mention international reporting in a country that can be fairly dangerous — I was mugged at knifepoint days before the story was published) for which I was promised $175.


I completed my piece, it went up on the site, I sent my invoice, W-2 and signed all the relevant contracts. Months went by and no check came. After a couple of months, I wrote the relevant parties at The Advocate and their parent company Here Media to see what was going on.

“Thank you for contacting our office,” I was told. “Your paperwork is being reviewed and processed at this time. A payment will be issued a.s.a.p.”

No payment came. Still more months went by.

Making matters worse, at the time I wrote this story I had just lost my job at the LA CityBeat after that paper folded. 175 bucks might not seem like much, but I really needed it at the time. I personally financed my trip to Colombia, hoping I could dig up the kind of stories that would allow me to establish relationships with new and different kinds of magazines. My plan worked, but little did I know I’d be starting a relationship with a mag that doesn’t pay its writers.

On December 16, 2009, after sending off multiple tersely worded emails demanding payment, I received a reply from Michael W.E. Edwards, Director of Editorial Operations for Here Media.

Matthew, first off, I’m sorry that you’ve probably been getting only “form letter” types of statements from our Accounting department in regard to your due payment. That’s why my department is hoping to do a better job at communicating with the contributors and vendors that Editorial works with.

And second, I want to thank you for the extraordinary patience you’ve shown us as we at Here Media recover from an economically difficult 2009.

Our sales team, on all fronts, is reporting that 2010 will be a much better year. That said, we are working hard at catching up with all our valued freelancers and other vendors, and I know that you will be paid in the near future. We are making progress and look forward to fulfilling our obligation to you shortly. I wish I could give you a specific time line for payment, but I simply don’t have the insight for when our Accounting team will be able to complete its catch-up task.

I know this isn’t the news that you were hoping for, especially now that the holidays are here and since your payment is so many months past due. But I do hope that you will bear with us, because we are committed to making good on payment to you and all of our contributors.


So the promises of payment I’d been receiving were simply form letters, presumably sent to a bunch of other freelancers The Advocate had been stiffing.

Nearly eight months have gone by since that letter and still no check. I recently emailed Edwards again and he referred me to the company’s finance department. They checked their computers and saw that, indeed, I was owed $175. They provided no rationale for this negligence and apologetically promised to pay me. Nearly four weeks later the check has still not been mailed. I have called the office of Here Media’s CFO repeatedly over the past few weeks. Each time I receive more promises of payment that go undelivered.

In short: The Advocate owes me money, they know they owe me money and have refused to pay me for over a year.

A slightly modified version of the piece originally appeared on Fishbowl LA

Jun. 12 2010 — 2:30 am | 597 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Guerilla Gum Art in LA

Some of the most interesting guerilla street art I’ve seen in quite some time — a mini-gum mural on a palm tree in Glendale.

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Jun. 3 2010 — 2:12 pm | 63 views | 1 recommendations | 0 comments

Biggie Smalls and Thomas the Tank Engine Mashup

This is just too amazing not to post. Better than Girltalk.

May. 17 2010 — 1:22 pm | 3,351 views | 0 recommendations | 4 comments

Saturday night socialist happy hour

English: Chinese poster with Marx, Engels, Len...

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I went to my first socialist happy hour last Saturday. What is socialist happy hour, you ask? It was a fundraiser at a bar for the San Diego chapter of the International Socialist Organization. Ten bucks got you a dollar off your beers all night. Not a bad deal if you feel like drinking. An even better deal if you’re curious about the state of alternative political representation in America.

Even the Tea Partiers have figured out the two-party system is a failure. But what else is out there? Ron Paul is consistently sane, but I don’t know anyone who would actually want the majority of his ideas put into practice. Everyone (wrongly) hates the Greens since Ralph Nader’s 2000 campaign helped put Bush in office.

So what are the socialists up to these days? With the country stuck in two interminable wars, the economy a mess, Wall Street bathing Scrooge McDuck-style in swimming pools of tax-payer money, you’d figure there might be some underground drift towards socialism. Southern California has plenty of Latin American immigrants after all. They haven’t been conditioned to hate socialism on principle like the rest of us Reagan-brainwashed American dolts. Immigrants both legal and illegal come over here, are generally exploited, subject to police harassment and deportation at any moment — socialists should be making huge traction in these communities, no?

As it turns out, not so much. About 10 people showed to socialist happy hour. This despite the fact the event was listed in the San Diego CityBeat, the local alt-weekly rag. Publicity was not the problem.

The folks who showed up were perfectly nice and earnest about their causes. They were mostly white; educated; well-spoken enough, but not compelling. What was their political platform? Aside from generically believing in the need to restructure the American economy, their main issues were supporting social justice, immigrants’ rights, banning-offshore oil-drilling and rallying against the Arizona immigration bill. The closest thing to a local issue was protesting budget cuts to the public university system. Oh, they didn’t like Prop 8 either, which for those of you out there living in a hole, constitutionally bans gay marriage in California.

All well and good, but I failed to see how any of these issues differentiated the socialists from any other casually liberal Californian. Practically every Democrat in the state supports the same things. And most of this stuff was national politics – how are a tiny band of socialists in San Diego going to make a dent in political consciousness of a nation talking about the same things everyone else is? Wouldn’t it make sense for a socialist organization to start small – keep their platform hyper-local? Or at least regional?

“With all that’s going on with Wall Street and political corruption in both parties,” one of them told me, “we think can capitalize on the public outrage by embracing national politics.”

Ummm, no, you can’t.

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    About Me

    'Nobody walks in Los Angeles' you may have heard or read or said to yourself absentmindedly. This is entirely untrue. Plenty of crackheads walk in Los Angeles. Any number of schizophrenics too. And so do I. I'm a journalist who came up through the alternative weekly world, first as a staff writer with the LA Weekly and then as a senior editor of the LA City Beat. I currently write for the Los Angeles Times Magazine among other publications. When I'm not writing I wander, usually by foot.

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