Tom Petty: one of the musicians whose soundtracks play behind our lives

By Alan Vitello

Tom Petty’s death has made me feel old.

When the people whose voices and whose art were the soundtrack and the landscape of our youth start passing away, it’s easy to feel the road ahead is considerably shorter than the road behind. It’s easier to hear the clock ticking away.

Alan Vitello is a writer and an award-winning cartoonist who lives in Colorado. Learn more about Alan…

In 1980, I was working at Rocky Mountain Records and Tapes, on Arapahoe, in Boulder. I worked there when John Lennon was murdered. I was 18 years old at the time.

I remember scoffing at all the people who were so distraught at Lennon’s death. I was never a Beatles fan, and I had little regard for Lennon, so the whole thing struck me as more than a little bit stupid and overwrought.

I said as much, in a letter to the editor that I wrote in the Colorado Daily newspaper. I believe the words I used to describe Lennon were along the lines of “What’s the big deal? He was a drugged-out, old has-been.”

I was 18.

The assistant manager at the record store was a guy named Ron. He was older than me, probably closer to 40.

After my letter was published, he stopped talking to me. For months. Even if we were the only two people in the store he would ignore me. Being around him was like being in an ice storm; nothing but a brutal coldness, all the time.

Finally, by the fall of 1981, I got tired of it, and finally asked him why he was so mad at me.

He said he could never forgive me for my letter to the editor. He said Lennon had been his “guiding star,” a constant in his life, who helped him get through good times and bad. He felt that when Lennon died, a part of him died, too.

My letter made him feel angry and hurt. Not only had Lennon’s death pulled the rug out from under Ron’s life, but my words had rubbed salt in the wound, as I was dismissively laughing at his pain.

“What an idiot,” I thought.

All these years later, I’m rethinking that sentiment.

I was nothing more than the most casual of casual fans of Tom Petty.

I never saw him live. I think I owned one LP and one CD. But he (like so many others) has been playing the background music of my life since I was a teenager.

Tom Petty: 1950 to 2017.

I don’t think I’m quite up to the level of my old co-worker, Ron, but I do have my pop-cultural “guiding stars.”

Brian Wilson’s music has been a constant in my life for nearly 50 years.

The Beach Boys are truly the soundtrack of my life. I’ve spent countless thousands of dollars on them, to say nothing of the vast quantities of emotional and psychological energy I have invested in them, to say nothing of the tens of thousands of hours of my time that they have occupied.

I can still feel just like the 12-year-old that I was in 1974 when I heard “Let Him Run Wild,” for the first time, every time I hear that song, even to this day.

Against all odds, Brian Wilson is 75 years old now. His story of creativity and perseverance in the face of the seemingly insurmountable challenge has been a continual inspiration to me.

What will I be thinking and feeling when he is no longer with us?

Will a part of me go with him, or does a part of him live on in me and tens of millions of others, when he’s gone, or both?

I think people from my generation (and those after) really do have personal soundtracks playing behind our lives, just like in the movies.

When the artists who gave us those songs start passing before us, it’s hard not to feel that our end credits aren’t as far off as we would like to think they are.

Rest in God’s arms, Tom Petty.

Congress Forgets: Healthcare Impacts Real People, Real Lives

By Alan Vitello

My wife, Ann, is a pediatric physician assistant at a publicly funded community health center in Aurora, Colo.

She sees roughly 400 patients per month. That’s usually 20 to 25 patients a day. (Yes, you read that right.)

Alan Vitello is a writer and an award-winning cartoonist who lives in Colorado. Learn more about Alan…

Twenty to 25 children, poor children, immigrant children, refugee children, children with serious physical, psychological and emotional problems, foster children, homeless children, children from two-parent homes, children from single-parent homes, children who have been sexually abused, children who have been physically and mentally abused, children with fetal alcohol syndrome, autistic children, children whose mom or dad or mom and dad work three fast food jobs (each) to make ends meet, children who’ve gotten pregnant and don’t know why or how, children with sexually transmitted infections, newborns, toddlers, little boys, little girls, tweeners and teens, some children struggling with issues of gender and sexuality, sick kids, injured kids, children in for a well-baby visit and children in for a sports physical, children who speak English, children who speak only Spanish, children from Africa, and the Middle East, and Eastern Europe, and children from the good ol’ US of A…and on and on.

All day. Every day.

Think you could hack it? I’m pretty sure I couldn’t.

…and that’s to say nothing of the 12-hour days, and the up-late every night, sitting with the laptop, finishing patient charts, just to go to bed at midnight, to get up to do it again, tomorrow.

Like I said, think you could hack it? I’d like to see you try.

And guess what? She’s not alone. She has five very dedicated co-workers: pediatricians, fellow PAs, nurse practitioners who do the exact same thing, every day.

And that’s only the pediatric side of the house. The other side of the clinic sees adults.

The providers who see adults don’t see as many patients per month as the pediatric side does, but the problems they see can be exponentially more complex.

Complex because of age. Complex because of cultural issues. Because of language issues. Because of lack of insurance or lack of money. Complex because the patient is a refugee who has been in the United States a week and doesn’t know anything, like how to fill out a form in English or how to ride a bus to reach the clinic. Complex because poor people—because they may not have any insurance, or enough insurance, or because they may not have enough money—wait until a health problem becomes a health crisis before seeking help at the clinic. Complex because of domestic violence or substance abuse. Complex because of homelessness or transience. Complex because of joblessness. Complex because life is more complex when you are on the bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder.

And this is only at Ann’s clinic.

The organization she works for runs or provides staff members to 20 clinics—from pediatrics and mental health to school-based clinics and family practice—all over the Denver metropolitan area. Twenty clinics providing basic healthcare to tens of thousands of people, every day, every week, every month, every year, year and year out.

That’s 126,700 individual patient medical visits in 2015 alone (to say nothing of mental health visits or pharmacy, wellness, substance abuse, or dental or school-based visits).

That’s 126,700 human beings depending on 535 people in Washington, D.C.—members of the U.S. Congress—to make a wise decision on health care that will have a profound and far-reaching impact on human lives, and the lives of their spouses and children and parents and…

My wife sees the REAL WORLD on her doorstep every, single day. Every day.

For Ann, and her incredibly dedicated and hard-working co-workers, “Healthcare” is not some wonky, abstract idea that people like Rep. Paul Ryan, speaker of the House, and Sen. Mitch McConnell, majority leader of the Senate, bat around to score political points.

It’s not about “winning.”

It’s not about “getting something done in the first 100 days,” just to say you did.

Nor about getting revenge on Barack Obama and his Democrat cohorts. Or about sticking it to Obama’s legacy.

It’s REAL. It’s living, breathing human beings. Real children. Real parents. Real circumstances. Real world. Reality.

When we stop talking about the “real” in healthcare we lose the thread. We lose the key that must drive the conversation.

Real people. That’s where it starts and stops.

Americans must demand members of congress answer these questions:

  • Which one, or ones, of Ann’s patients are you going to tell they can no longer afford care, or because of cuts to Medicaid, will have no prospect for care, at all?
  • Which ones are you going to decide are worthy enough, or lucky enough, to have the chance at life; their life, their real life?
  • Which ones would you tell that their chances have run out, because for you, “winning” is more important than “caring?”

With a straight face, I’d like to see members of congress tell them that “party” beats “compassion,” and “politics,” well, sorry, but that’s simply more important than common sense and common decency.
I mean really tell ’em, face-to-face. In person.

But, unfortunately, it’s likely not to happen until we make it happen. As we’ve seen in the last few weeks, many of our elected officials are avoiding meetings with concerned citizens; some have even ducked out of back doors when a town hall event got too tough with questions and comments.

Many of our elected officials have forgotten they have the power to impact real people’s real lives. Everyday in Ann’s exam rooms, and the dozens of other exam rooms, all over Denver, all over Colorado, all over the United States. Millions of real lives that don’t care about scoring political points.

Something to nosh on. Then contact your U.S. representative or senator to provide them your thoughts.

Bye, Bye, Democrats: Yadda-yadda, Not a Joiner

By Alan Vitello

Whelp…I recently switched my party affiliation from Democrat back to Unaffiliated.

That’s not because I no longer believe in most of the basic, and theoretical, tenets of the Democratic Party. It’s because I have become profoundly disappointed with the party and the way it is run.

Alan Vitello is a writer and an award-winning cartoonist who lives in Colorado. Learn more about Alan…

That, and because of a recent experience I just had. Let me explain:

Several weeks ago, I received an email from OFA, also known as Organizing for Action, formerly known as Organizing for America, which formerly was Obama for America. The email advised that—should I choose to apply—they were looking for “OFA Fellows” (read: “community organizers/activists”).

I applied. Passed. Had the phone interview. Passed. Spent four hours on a recent Saturday at an OFA orientation. I left a bit perplexed at the lack of specificity given to what, exactly, I and 40 other selected people would be doing.

Then, I sat through a two-hour webinar on March 8, followed on March 13 by an hour-and-a-half conference call with my “local group.”

It reminded me an awful lot of the disastrous and distasteful semester I spent on the student council during my senior year in high school: “Hey! Let’s pick the colors for homecoming, then we’ll put on a musical in Old Man Murphy’s barn to save the steel mill!”

What the…?

Don’t believe me? Well, read on: An OFA group in Boulder wanted to have a “Teach In.” What the…is a teach in? This is 2017, not 1969! Our local OFA manager LOVED the idea.

An observation about myself surfaced in my thoughts, something I’ve pondered other times in my life: I am not a rah-rah, praise Jesus, Can-I-Have-an-Amen! kind of person. In fact, I kind of hate when I have been in situations where I am expected to behave like a rah-rah, praise Jesus, Can-I-Have-an-Amen! kind of person.

The times I have been in such situations (and you’d think I’d have learned my lesson by now), all (ALL!) ended up with a bad taste in my mouth: teaching religious ed (and being a “proclaimer”) at our (former) Catholic church; being a Cub Scout leader; and my time as a union steward…all of these episodes asked me to open my skull, remove my brain and simply parrot the party line.

Nope. No can do.

It also became clear to me during the March 13 conference call that I was probably the only participant (of a dozen or so) who did not think Barack Obama was the single best president these ol’ United States of America has ever had. I don’t think that, at all.

It also became clear that—under the guise of the usual, liberal, let’s all respect-each-others’ opinions, yadda-yadda-yadda pablum—that the fix was in.

We were supposed to conference to offer our suggestions on what our first OFA-group community outreach capstone project was to be. Each of us was to offer an idea; then we would vote. But it didn’t go that way. Our appointed OFA manager first asked a person she knew from before what HIS idea was. Then she decided his was A GREAT idea. And that was that. Everybody else was just along for the ride.

Harrrummpphhh!

I’m not a guy who will allow his opinion to be subsumed into group think just because I am told to. Nope. It’s the editorialist/journalist and Mary and Joseph Vitello (my sensible parents) in me.

One of the many reasons I loved coaching soccer (and stuck with it fall, winter, spring,  and summer for eight years)—besides great kids and their great families—is that Arvada Edge (the soccer league in Arvada, Colo.) left me alone to run the team as I saw fit. They offered advice when I asked. They offered a few coaching seminars. More than anything, they let me coach. They let me figure it out. I never had to stand up for a praise Jesus (or Pele) even once.

Let’s face it, there’s a lesson for Democrats to learn here.

And a good lesson for me: I am just NOT a joiner. Nor a lover of yadda-yadda-yadda pablum. I still have a brain in my skull, so I’ve still got that goin’ for me.