Sunday, April 17, 2005

Looking Beyond

I turned 60 this past week. I had spent the last few days of my 50s without great introspection, and dived into my 60th birthday sans regret. I should have anticipated some entry turbulence. The birthday cards were nice enough: Donna Collum’s card got the “Best Sentiment” award. Multiple heart-warming calls from the Fusillos in Atlanta; and a surprise telephone call from Sister Evalyn, doyen of the New York stage.

Then I took a late lunch with a friend, Sam Akers, on Wednesday afternoon, at The Davenport. Said lunch consisted of three Martinis, and I should never, ever have had the third. (Why at my age haven’t I fully absorbed the “Two’s the Limit” Rule?) These of course are real Martinis, made with gin. Barbara’s still laughing about my post-drinking telephone call to her: between my hiccoughing and my giggling, she wonders how I got home at all. Falling into bed – by myself – was the last thing I recall, Your Honor.

Thursday evening with the regular Mo Mong crowd, I had two more Martinis, but maintained a moderate sobriety.

Last evening, Saturday, Barbara took me, Georgia and Sam Akers out to Le Colombe D’Or for an elegant dinner. When we arrived at Sam and Georgia’s home for pre-dinner drinks, I pointed at Sam and said, “Don’t let that man come near me with a Martini glass in his hand!” Had champers instead.

The dinner was excellent. I am so grateful that Barbara put the evening together. Sam and Georgia presented me with a lovely bottle of Dom Perignon champagne for the birthday. Don’t have much in the way of wisdom to impart…see the Martini Rule mentioned above.

A story from Rob Schoenbeck illustrates the dangers I may face in the years ahead. One night an 87-year-old woman came home from Bingo to find her 92-year-old husband in bed with another woman. She became violent and ended up pushing him off the balcony of their 20th-floor assisted-living apartment...killing him instantly. Brought before the court on charge of murder, the judge asked her if she had anything to say in her defense. She began coolly, "Yes, your honor, I figured that at 92, if he could have sex, he could fly."

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Granddaughter’s Eye

Last week, Maddy (age 5) was visiting the house. She looked up from her lunch at a lithograph hanging on the wall of our breakfast nook. She asked, “What is that?”

Like most adults, I took the long way ‘round to explain: It’s a lithograph, Maddy – kind of like an artist’s print – of a hand. I bought it more than 30 years ago from an art gallery in Minnesota, before I even met your grandmother. It’s by a man named (and I squinted to look at the artist’s signature, to remember) Dennis J. Flynn.

The litho, measuring about 20” x 30”, is of a large-scale handprint, created in different primary colors: the thumb in red, the heel of the hand in purple, and so on. I recalled that there had been a much larger painting, oil or acrylic, of the same subject, at the gallery – but I couldn’t afford the painting; there was an Artist’s Proof litho, however; so I purchased that, from the 118 Gallery in Minneapolis.

Maddy was content with the explanation, but I wasn’t. I realized I had no idea what had happened to the artist who created the lithograph that has been hanging on one wall or another of every house I’ve lived in since 1972.

So I Googled “Dennis J. Flynn” and “Artist.” Found him in New Mexico. I sent him an e-mail – and he called me back half an hour later. It was one of the most enjoyable conversations I’ve had in months.

Dennis Flynn was born December 26, 1942, in Fennimore, Wisconsin. (That makes him three years older than me.) He earned his BFA degree at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and MA and MFA at the University of Iowa. He taught art in various colleges including Minneapolis College of Art and Design, University of Texas at Arlington and the University of Idaho. It was during his stay in Minneapolis that he produced the hand painting and lithos – he said he had no idea what had happened to the painting. Last he’d heard, it was somewhere in Wisconsin, but he’d lost track of it.

Dennis has exhibited widely in the United States and abroad including Ljubljana and Colombia. This year he has been invited to represent the United States in the Florence, Italy, Biennial of Contemporary Art. Museum collections include San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Art Institute of Chicago, and Minneapolis Art Institute. He’s currently part of a major exhibition at the Las Vegas Art Museum, ‘15 Santa Fe Artists.’ Approximately 125 paintings by 15 living Santa Fe artists are featured in the exhibition, which is curated by Dr. James Mann. The artists range in age from 28 to 70 years old.

“This exhibition features 15 Santa Fe artists whose works are transcending the analytic reductivism of the second half of the 20th century, from abstract expressionism through pop art and the movements which treat art as ephemeral, principally conceptual, installation, performance, and environmental art,” explains Dr. Mann.

“That is the general critical framework within which the artists were selected, not any more specific similarity of style, approach, or appearance. Each finds an individual way to reconstitute the art of painting from the ruins of its deconstruction and abandonment, the reductive mode that still dominates in establishment international art but is destined for extinction. Above all, these 15 artists were expressly selected because they do not employ the typical imagery of Southwestern art, which has its market epicenters in Santa Fe and Scottsdale.

“Recognizable imagery is most plentiful in this exhibition, although some abstraction is included. Highly non-traditional landscapes are included, along with subjects employing the human figure. The exhibition aims to be completely groundbreaking, the diametrical opposite of what is familiar or predictable. It is not meant to be a representative survey of art being made in Santa Fe today, but rather to frustrate ordinary expectations of what 'Santa Fe' art is at the present time. Innovative originality, contrary to what is typical, is the salient quality that the artists selected display.” (Here’s a man who talks too much.)

Today, Dennis’s work looks absolutely nothing like the “hand” I purchased 30 years ago. You can see what he’s been doing at

Maddy isn’t ready to see these differences, but I am. The artist has moved on but I still prefer the 30-year-old lithograph. What’s odd is that Maddy, looking up from her McDonalds Happy Meal, really saw it for the first time, even though it’s been hanging on the same wall for years. Me, too.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Local Feed

Some jurors ate in. Some dined out. A regular group sampled various restaurants within brisk walking distance of the Federal courthouse in downtown Houston. Here are the results if you find yourself downtown at lunch time. [With thanks to Marc Del Tatto for keeping everything straight.]

Artista **** (2/24/05)
Located in the Hobby Center. Good food, attentive service, and great view of downtown.

Perbacco *** (3/2/05)
700 Milam at the corner of Capitol. Delicious Italian food made with fresh ingredients.

Bai Thong Thai Restaurant **
401 Louisiana St. #102. Tasty but standard Thai food

Mia Bella **** (3/7/05)
320 Main St. at the corner of Preston. Very delicious and fresh Italian food and a great wait staff.

Bossa ** (3/8/05)
610 Main St. at Texas. Average Cuban cuisine. We tried the national dish of shredded beef which was bland. Nice décor, though.

Treebeards Take-Away *** (3/9/05)
In the tunnels at Rusk. Tasty Cajun food. Per Richard, “Have you ever been to a five-star Cajun Restaurant?”

Zin Restaurant & Bar *** (-* because they could not get us out in time!) (3/10/05)

401 Louisiana St. Food was very good but I will state again that time is of the essence. Do NOT go here if you’re in a rush.

Sambuca **** (3/15/05)
909 Texas Ave. Delicious bistro-style food and the service was very attentive.

Azuma **** (3/17/05)
909 Texas Ave., Ste. E. Delicious sushi, bento boxes and stir fried udon noodles. A definite recommendation

Cabo ** (-* because they could not get us out in time!) (3/22/05)
??? Food was bland and the service was terribly slow. We had to find our own menus and did not get all of our beverages. Thanks to the kitchen we only had 10 minutes to eat our meal.

Josephine’s *** (3/24/05)
1209 Caroline & Dallas. Very good traditional Italian food. Only go to this one if you have the time because it is a considerable walk from the court house. Cafeteria style so you can be in an out quickly with enough time for the walk back.

Cava Bistro *** (3/29/05)
301 Main St. Delicious American bistro-style food with a very conscientious wait staff that made sure that we were out in time. Part of the same group that owns and runs Mia Bella.

Go. Eat. Enjoy. And make your comments known to each restaurant's management.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Jurors Freed


Six-Week Case of Medicare Fraud – Jurors Fried.


Judge Offers Free Seat Cushions to Weary 12.


Baron Duty Done: “What – No Gift Basket?”


I have been one of 12 jurors (13, with an alternate who had to listen for six weeks, but did not get to deliberate with us) in the United States versus a collection of persons accused of conspiracy and fraudulent billing in one of the biggest Medicare/Medicaid fraud cases in US history. We were selected on 15 February.

There is no way to recap six weeks of detailed information and testimony here. Below are the basics.

I hesitate to tell you just how much money was involved – alright, it was in excess of US $20 million. Most of this money seems to have ended up in Nigeria. There were/are a large number of co-conspirators, including a number of doctors; plus a raft of Nigerians who started medical equipment companies. The doctors were used to (or participated in) issue false Certificates of Medical Necessity (CMNs) for motorized wheelchairs and other equipment, for which the companies then billed Medicare.

Medicare/Medicaid were billed and paid for motorized wheelchairs, but delivered “scooters,” which in most cases the patients could not use. The cost difference between motorized wheelchairs (known as K11s) and the scooters is somewhere between $2,000 and $3,000 – which the owners of the medical equipment companies pockets.

We’re not talking about dozens of K11s; not hundreds of K11s; but thousands of K11 motorized wheelchairs billed to the US government. The doctors, in addition, may or may not have (1) billed falsely for medical examinations for all these Medicare patients; (2) paid recruiters to bring hundreds of non-qualifying patients into their practices, so that they could write CMNs for the equipment companies; (3) received kickbacks from the recruiters and/or the medical equipment companies.

The mainspring of the fraud/conspiracy, one Jimmie Eking, skipped back to Nigeria. Many other participants have been indicted; and either copped a plea, are awaiting sentencing, or are awaiting trial.

Our portion of the case involved a Houston doctor and his office manager. The jury hung on the former, for which the judge announced a mistrial; and acquitted the latter on all pertaining counts. (The look on this person’s face when the “Not Guilty” verdicts were read on these counts was enough to make the jury feel very, very good about the ending of this very long trial.)

Several things to note:

1. The US Medicare establishment doesn’t really get the concept of “Due Diligence.”
2. If you want to start your own medical equipment company, bill Medicare and/or Medicaid, and make an immense amount of money, you don’t need much more than a broom closet and a telephone.
3. If called to Federal jury duty, don’t get caught in the shallow end of the prospective jurors’ pool.

Thank you – thank you very much – for your patience and your understanding while I was undertaking this very long service. I must say it was a privilege to serve my country in this matter; my fellow jurors could not have represented a more diverse cross-section of the American population; and they were all bright, cheerful, and dedicated to doing their duty, too.

More blogging soon - now that I am free, free, free!