The Traitorous Knee

THE TRAITOROUS KNEE

I recently hurt – or as we trained and aging athletes like to say – “blew out” my knee.  I was running across the tennis court – all right, not running but moving as quickly as I’m capable of – and as I lunged for the ball – all right, not so much lunged as started to fall down – my foot “stuck” – obviously the shoe’s fault – and my leg twisted and the next thing you know, there I was, writhing on the ground, making a very big deal of it; in my mind comparing myself to a hall of fame running back, stopped by a dozen defenders at the goal line, thinking that in a moment I’d get up and soldier on – score!! – to cheers and adoration.

Only when I got up I couldn’t put any weight on my leg.

There is an odd, mixed feeling to be injured doing something you really like.  You find yourself thinking – oh, good, I don’t have to do this for a while — coupled with – Oh, god, when will I be able to do this again?  You realize you’re going to have some extra free time on your hands which is nice.  You have no idea what you’re going to do with it which is bad.  What if you’re forced to take up golf again?

Around where I live, when one is an aging tennis warrior and one is injured, there is really only one thing to do and that is to go and see Doctor Stu.

Besides being an avid tennis player, Dr. Stu is an orthopedic surgeon of note and has traveled with The Davis Cup Team as medical advisor.  Dr. Stu was a Division I middleweight wrestler in college.  For those who don’t know, wrestling is a sport where you train until you puke and then puke till you make weight. Unless it’s to gain it, most middle aged tennis players gave up on making weight long ago.  At sixty, Dr. Stu still greets every new day with two hundred sit ups and three hundred push-ups.  When Dr. Stu comes to play tennis he does so wearing ominous looking, black metal braces on both knees.  He wears a black, rubber shirt and has a towel around his neck.  He bounces up and down and rolls his head from side to side like a prizefighter, all the while swinging his racket in front of him as if he is going to seriously decapitate some flowers.  You just know, even if he loses the match, Dr. Stu is capable of taking you down and pinning you at set point.

If Dr. Stu weren’t a doctor, he’d be beating up linebackers in the NFL.

It’s always interesting to see friends in professional mode.  You realize they actually do something besides hit the occasional tennis ball, shoot the shit and drink beer.  You realize they are, when they have to be, serious people who do serious things.  As one who has never done anything serious in his entire life, I’m always somewhat embarrassed and very impressed.  My only serious talent is in trying to make people slightly chuckle.

Dr. Stu’s waiting room is filled with injured, middle-aged white people of which I am one.  There are casts on wrists and ankles.  There are people on crutches.  There is a woman in a neck brace.  Where do people like this hurt themselves, I wonder – the supermarket?  Was there a rugby scrum on isle 5 near the frozen foods?  I’m suddenly reminded of my father, who at the age of 70, farted and broke a rib.  So it goes.

For an orthopod, Dr. Stu’s magazines leave a lot to be desired.  Women’s Home Journal.  Redbook.  People.  You can never tell what medical practitioner is going to have decent reading material in his waiting room but you really expect a guy who deals with joint injuries to at least stock Sports Illustrated.  On the other hand, my friend, Paul, who is a dentist, tells me he spends a hundred bucks a month on magazine subscriptions and they’re usually gone from the office by the end of the week.  I would call this stealing but as magazines often walk out offices with me, I consider it borrowing until next time.  It all goes on your health plan anyway.

When I finally get in to see Dr. Stu he pokes and prods at my knee, measures it and twists it.  He makes doctors sounds.

Mmm, he says, poking.

Ahh, he says, prodding.

Does that hurt, he says, twisting?

Yes, no, I dunno, maybe, ahhh!!!, I say.

Let’s take a look, he says and he takes me down the hall to some machine that shows a picture on a computer screen.  He operates this miracle machine himself.  Amazing!  Just another thing I can’t do.  Look, he says.  Where I see shadows, he sees bone and ligaments, cartilage and padding.  He sees wear and tear.  Tsk, tsk, he says – not so much criticizing me as the aging process.

Dr. Stu proceeds to drain my swollen knee.  Do you like needles, he says, taking out a six inch syringe.   I like needles only slightly less than I like electroshock treatment.

This won’t hurt much, says Dr. Stu as he dabs my knee with what he says is a numbing agent.   Much.  What is much to a man who once wrestled the Olympic champion, Dan Gable?  What is much to a man who once had a colonoscopy done without sedation or anesthetic, just so he could watch the procedure on the screen along the with the gastroenterologist.  He liked it – he thought it all was interesting.

One – two – !

Dr. Stu doesn’t wait for three – he sticks you on two and a half as if you’ll be so surprised you won’t feel a thing.  It’s a nice gesture but unnecessary.  The examination room is small and the table is against the wall. I have nowhere to run.

Take a look, Steve, this is really interesting.

Okay.

I have been staring at the ceiling since “much” and I decide to venture a quick look.  The glass tube attached to the syringe is filling with fluid.  Fluid from my swollen knee.  My fluid.

I feel faint.

Hmmm.    Not bad, says Dr. Stu.  Pretty clear.

He likes the fluid in my knee so much, he decides to take two more syringes full.

We make an appointment for an MRI.

I have reached that point in my life where I can toss and turn and stare at the ceiling at 2 am in the morning and yet put me in a recumbent position in the course of the day – the dentist chair for example, with the light in my face and the water gurgling and a metal pick in my mouth – and I’ll be asleep in a matter of moments.   So goes my experience with the MRI – magnetic resonance imaging – for my traitorous knee.   The machine, which they slide you into after asking if you’re claustrophobic and wouldn’t you rather go home is a huge donut that clanks and whistles and hums and burps and belches and is loud enough that they give you earphones to deaden the noise.  The earphones in this case are playing Barry Manilow – hardly an improvement on burps and belches – and I’m tempted to wildly wave at the technician to change the channel – but it’s too late, I’m already dozing off.   I wake up a half an hour later to Celine Dion.

I am told Dr. Stu will have the results on Monday and will call.   Not one to sit on bad news, he calls me Sunday night and tells me that I have a partial tear of the meniscus and a totally blown out ACL.   I know what these are by name only but am able to translate that my knee is seriously fucked up.

Not so, says Dr. Stu.    “We’re going to fix you right back up, as good as new, Steve.”

I find this alarming.  “We” suggests that I’m going to be a part of this and as mentioned, I’m always more comfortable when other people do things for me.

The bad news, says Dr. Stu, is that we are going to be rehabilitating for six months.   That, I realize, is where the “we” meaning “me” comes in.   As one who hates the monotony of repetitive exercise – I would rather trim toenails than lifts weights – this is going to be a bitch.

Surgery.

I’ve had it twice  before – very simple carpel tunnel on the hand (knock wood) and  a we-shall-not-go-into-details colonoscopy.  Both involved general anesthesia and it made me realize I am one of those people who are afraid they won’t wake up.   I found it to be an acute form of airplane travel.  You’re pretty positive that nothing is going to happen, but at the same time you’re aware disasters do happen and you would find it very disconcerting if one should happen to you.

In terms of general anesthesia, I also find it annoying to think that if I don’t wake up, there’s the possibility I won’t even know that I didn’t wake up.   And this, of course, invariably gets me thinking/obsessing on the complexities of an unconfirmed afterlife.   Do plants believe in heaven?  If they don’t, why should I?   Do plants know they’ll be reborn again in the spring?  Even if they do, I don’t.  I want facts, not faith.

I arrive at the outpatient clinic at 5:30 for 7 am surgery.  I read a golf magazine which, after years obsessing about the game, I now find boring.  I read a men’s fitness magazine which features an article on a tattooed, cross training television actor who eats six small gluten free meals a day and drinks two gallons of water,   After years of working there, I now find Hollywood boring.

Forty minutes and three magazines later, one of them Popular Mechanics, I am taken to a small pre-op space where a no nonsense nurse who I sense doesn’t like me, asks me do I smoke, drink alcohol, have dentures, contacts, open sores, metal plates in my head, implants and when is the last you ate and/or drank water.

No, just a little, no, no, not presently, do loose screws count, huh? and as instructed, yesterday evening and before bedtime respectively.

She gives me a paper smock and booties, tells me to change and goes to talk to the patient on other side of the curtain.  In a matter of fact voice he tells her that he smokes two packs a day, goes through maybe a six pack or more every evening,  has several false teeth, wears a pacemaker and had juice, coffee and a breakfast bagel a little more than an hour ago.   When questioned further, he says it’s his shoulder being operated on, not his stomach.

The plane is leaving the gate.

My anesthesiologist is Dr. Levine.   He is friendly and personable and far too cheerful, and I immediately suspect he’s not telling me something.  In a minute, says Dr. Levine, we’ll be going down the hall to the operating theatre where he’ll give me a little buurschh – he makes a sound effect – and voila, I’ll be out like a light.  It sounds ominous and I say so.   Dr. Levine just smiles and tells me to start “planning my dream”.   But first he has a few questions.   Do I smoke, drink alcohol, have dentures, pacemakers, metal plates in my head, implants and when did I eat and drink last?

Inspired by my neighbor, this time I tell the truth about the alcohol.

When I get to the operating room – it’s 20 yards away and they make me walk – Dr. Stu is waiting.   I greet him by his title – Doctor Stu, I say – it seems only appropriate in this, his work place.   Unlike me, he looks confident and rested and his blue scrubs emphasize his muscles.  You know he’s gotten in his push-ups and sit-ups before coming in this morning.   Dr. Stu looks like he’s been anticipating this one for months.

How we doing, Steve, we ready?

Yes, I say.  We are.

I lay down on the operating table.  It is surprisingly comfortable.  Someone places a pillow beneath my head and wonderfully, warm blankets across my body.   The lights are bright, just like the dentist’s office.  Wait a minute, I could sleep through this all by myself.   Who needs anesthesia?    I am just about to bring up the possibility –

Buurschch!

–            I’m out. –

I am a terrible patient.  The lovely wife tells me this so it must be so.  She says I would try and micro-manage from my death bed.  I find this unfair.  I just want things the way I want them when I want them.  Especially when it comes to my own physical well-being which is pretty much all the time.

I bring this up because, yes, I have survived knee surgery.  Amazing!   One moment I was in the operating theatre, the next I was in a comfy bed with an ankle to thigh ace bandage and a Darth Veder-like contraction of black straps and metal brace surrounding my belabored joint.

Dr. Stu had come to visit and because I wasn’t awake to interrupt, has had a nice conversation with the lovely wife. The procedure had gone well and Dr. Stu had taken a “really good tendon” from my hamstring.

I’m known for my tendons.

I vaguely remember getting to the car.  I don’t remember the ride home.  I vaguely remember the whole family spotting me, gathered in a weaving circle, as I wended my way up the front walk towards the door.  I remember telling them I was a whizz on crutches having broken my leg when I was 9 and 12 respectively.

And then teasing them, I tripped and fell.

I was carried to the couch.  Give me a few minutes, I said and I’ll go downstairs to my office.  I have work to do, people to call, art to create!  There’s also tennis to watch.  Somewhere in the middle of this, I decided to fall asleep for five hours.

When I awoke, the lovely wife insisted I drink water.  The lovely wife is a big proponents of water.  She says it flushes the system.  I would rather flush my system with beer.

I drank some water.  The lovely wife suggested a pain pill.  Hah!  I said.  I am tough, I am already on the mend.  I fear no pain.  Pain fears me.  Unlike water, on this I stand fast.

An hour later, half of it spent whimpering and quivering like a dog trying to pass a tennis ball, I begged her for a pain pill.  How about two, I suggested.  No, I would have to wait three hours for the second.  As with water, the lovely wife is a big proponent of labels.

Gah!  What to do?  I am not tough.  I hate pain.  Pain makes me a wimp.  Outraged, I called Dr. Stu and got his answering service.  Tell him this wasn’t supposed to hurt, I said and I indignantly hung up.  In short order, I called my tennis friends, George, Adam, Blayney, Holiday, Mullen and Lucia.  They had all gone through knee surgery.  They would tell me what to do.

You’re confusing me with George, said Adam, Mullen and Holiday

It didn’t hurt a bit, said George.

They gave me a nerve block that lasted a week, said Lucia.

I called my friend, Dr. Cliff whose main tennis strategy is talking you death between points.  I asked him where was a nerve block when I needed one?   Hah! he said.  Ha-ha!

I called my neighbor, Dr. Colin.  Dr. Colin, who is an oenophile and gourmet of note, would know what to do.  What wine accompanies Percocet, I asked him, certain he would have the properly expensive bottle in his vast cellar and would bring it over post haste because that’s the kind of healer he is.

Percocet is a narcotic, said Dr. Colin sternly, you should be drinking nothing but water.

Gah!  Determined now, to wipe out the pain with even a greater pain, I read an Entertainment Tonight that the sweet daughter had quietly put on the reading table for me.  George Clooney was breaking up with someone while in Italy.  Amazing!  Jennifer Aniston had a chin implant!  Who knew!   Transformers was an A+.   Knee temporarily forgotten, I buried my head in my hands and wept.  It was working.

It’s Dr. Stu, said the lovely wife, handing me the phone along with a large glass of water.

How’s it going, Steve, said Dr. Stu, sounding as enthusiastic as usual.  Boy, do you have great tendons!

I’m… just a bit uncomfortable.

Loosen the straps and bandage, said Dr. Stu.

I can do that, I said?

Of course.  We want you to feel good.  Oh – and make sure you drink lots of water.

The lovely wife seemingly having an unending supply, I drank some water.   Still hurting, I decided to take refuge, yet again, in sweet slumber.

I loosened the straps and bandage.  I took a pain pill, caged a second as back-up and waited for a narcotic euphoria that never came but if it did, came in the form of bad dreams.  I slept, fitfully at best.

Three hours later, writhing dramatically in pain, I woke with a bladder-busting need to take a leak.

Stay tuned.  The lovely wife gets her whimpering, naked blob of a husband out of bed, onto his crutches and to the bathroom as he curses water.

Dr. Stu says that in six months I’ll be walking and playing tennis again.

The end.

On Hope

I wrote this about fifteen years ago but the idea that we be there for one another, that we provide hope, seems even more timely now.

*

As I’ve gotten older I’ve had a harder and harder time with the concept of hope.    Read too much.  Too many newspapers.  Too much internet. Too many news programs.   It’s a tough world out there.   I hope things will work out but I’m not surprised when they don’t.  I hope for the best but I prepare for the worst.  Because hope is not expectation.  Hope contains a small element of doubt.  Just hoping.  And hope and faith are not the same thing.  Faith suggests confidence and assurance.   Yes, it will all work out in the end!   Even if it doesn’t.  Hope, on the other hand, suggests that the best is not a given, that there is a need for outside intervention and if it’s not forthcoming, well….  one can only hope.

And why not?  The opposite of hope is hopelessness.

Imagine.  To be without hope.   To be in a place of no hope.  No hope for the present.  No hope for the future.   No way out.   No rescue.   No help.   No hope.

No.  Hope is a choice we make.   By choosing to hope, by giving others hope, we make hope real.  At least real enough.

This is real enough.

My son met his honorary godmother, Jodie, when he was four and she became our neighbor.   He would go over and they would sit outside on the terrace and they would chat.  Sometimes he would just sit as she worked in the yard.  And smoked.

My son has autism.

Jodie got him.   Applauded him.  Never got impatient with him.  Their relationship grew deeper over the years.   “I’m going to “Jode’s” my son would say and off he’d go.  Daily.  Twice on Saturdays and Sundays.   She was patient and watchful and wise and for a little boy who had trouble making friends, she was the friend.

Several years ago Jodie moved to Berkeley to be closer to her daughter who had recently given birth to twins and needed the help.   Her departure was tearful and difficult.   For all of us.  But especially them.

I will see you, my son kept repeating, as much a question as it was a statement.  And every single time Jodie answered, we will see each other.  And you will call me.  And I will call you.   Now give me another hug.  Even though we would always see Jodie once or twice a year, their relationship became one of cards and holiday gifts and letters and long phone calls.   Twice on weekends.

This last spring Jodie called to tell us she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Lung cancer.

I’m not sure how but my son understands death.   At least well enough.  You will be gone, he’d tell her on the phone.  I’ll be in the clouds watching you, she’d say.  You’ll be watching me, he’d say.

In July, my wife and son went to Berkley to visit Jodie.   He and Jodie did what they always did.   They sat on the couch..   They laughed.   They reminisced.    My son likes to start most conversations with, “Do you remember the time?”   And of course, Jodie did.   You are the best, she said.  Don’t you forget it.

I will never see you again, my son said.   A question as much as a statement.

No, but you will take some of my ashes and you will put them in the ground under our favorite tree, she said and we’ll be close to one another.

Okay, he said.

My wife and son returned.  He and Jodie talked on the phone whenever  Jodie could.  Every other day.  Twice on Sundays.   Two indomitable spirits.  Still, she grew weaker.  It was harder and harder for her to breathe.

The last time he called, Jodie couldn’t speak but asked her daughter to tell my son that she loved him.   Love you too, my son said.

And then, Jodie passed away.

When we told him, my son was very quiet.   As if he was trying to puzzle it out.   And then after a while, he went out in the yard to pick flowers.  He brought them in.  He put them in bowl.   Just the blossoms.   And then, he took them next store to what had been Jodie’s house.   He put the bowl on a table in front of an outdoor couch just like the one where he and Jodie used to sit.  And then he came quietly home.  Not sad.   Full of the hope he’d been given over the years.

By Jodie.

Oblivious

One thing about getting older is, if you’re being completely honest with yourself, you have to admit you no longer have the desire to be young again.  This is not to say you wouldn’t mind the energy, sex drive and indestructibility of youth, it’s just to say there’s a growing feeling of “thank god, I don’t have to go through that again”.   You’ve lost some of the idealism and optimism of youth, lost the feeling of “it’s all going to work just fine in the end”.  You know now, from painful experience and lessons hard learned, that a lot of the time, it won’t.   Actually I now wonder if I ever had any youthful idealism to begin with.   What I really had was youthful obliviousness.   A middle class white kid, I grew up in the shadow of Viet Nam and Watergate.   People marched in the streets. They protested at Kent State.  Leonard Bernstein had the Black Panthers to lunch.  What I remember is great rock music and youthful partying.

I was oblivious.

In 1973, there was a gas embargo.  Lines at filling stations went around the block.  Drivers of vehicles with license plates having an odd number as the last digit were allowed to purchase gasoline for their cars only on odd-numbered days of the month, while drivers of vehicles with even-numbered license plates were allowed to purchase fuel only on even-numbered days. Unlike the older generation who felt aghast and betrayed,  I remember feeling slightly inconvenienced.  Yes, there was no car available for date nights but I had no dates so it hardly mattered.

Yes, I was oblivious.

In the 1980’s, developing countries across the world faced economic and social difficulties as they suffered from multiple debt crises.  Ethiopia and other African countries witnessed widespread famine.  There was major civil discontent everywhere.  Violence occurred in the Middle East, including the Iran-Iraq War, the Soviet-Afghan War, the 1982 Lebanon War, the Bombing of Libya in 1986, and the First Intifada in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.  Guess what?  I was in my twenties through all of it, beginning the most unlikely of careers, having a good old time and none of it seemed like that big a deal.

I was totally and completely oblivious.

In the nineties there was the first Gulf War, the first and second Chechen War, the Congo War, the Kargil War, the Kosovo War, the Ten Day War, the Croatian War of Independence and the Bosnian War.  Among others.  There was also the Ethiopian Civil War, the Somali Civil War and The Tajikstan Civil War.  Among others.  And the Rwandan Genocide.  And the Srebrenica Massacre.  And the Los Angeles Race Riots.  And the Oklahoma City bombing.  And the World Trade Center bombing (not to be confused with 911).   I was in my forties now and guess what?  I suddenly started paying attention.  Maybe because I now had a wife and a house and children, I wasn’t quite so oblivious anymore  Still, I thought, the world would go on.  Wouldn’t it?

But then there was 911.  And then, based on lies and misinformation, we invaded Iraq and threw the midle east into a state of chaos.  We went to Aphganistand to defeat the Taliban, oh, and guess what?  We’re still there.

I’m at a point in my life where I now lose what little sleep I do get over news I might have shrugged off in my youth.  Why?   Regardless of whether or not the world is going to go on, pretty soon it’s going to be going on without me.  Why sweat this stuff now?  But I do.  I worry about the environment.  About the questionable values of capitalism.  About the smug intellectualism of the modern theatre.  About vapid movies and insane video games.  Uninspiring, dogmatic politicians and the crazy interest groups that finance them.  I get apoplectic over Donald (The Anti-Christ) Dump-Gump-Chump.   I despair about refugees stuck on small boats in the Mediterranean, the Russian influence in the Ukraine, chemical warfare in Syria, discfimation in Inda and the air quality in Asia.  I worry about on going gun violence, famlies at the southern borders and right wing nationalism.  I worry about the future of my children. The future of all our children.  About the world we are leaving them.

At times, I miss my obliviousness.

What to do?  I vote in every election.  I send in my donations to causes I believe in.  I pay my taxes.  (To quote Justice oliver Wendall Holmes – Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.)  Even though I believe in no specific god, I pray.  I try as hard I can to live one day at a time.  To be mindful.  And thankful.

The truth is, I want to be aware of every moment, oblivious no longer.

GUILTY, GUILTY

 

I’ve heard it said that guilt is anger turned inward.    I’ve read that guilt is caused by condemning yourself for being angry and inhibiting the natural expression of that anger.

I am one pissed off guy.

I am inordinately self-involved (would I be writing about myself all the time if I wasn’t?).    Yet, my self-involvement  seems selfish to me.  I often feel I am not being mindful of the needs and wants of others.  I am not fixing things, righting wrongs, solving problems.

Selfish, selfish.  Guilty, guilty.

The lovely wife tells me I am delusional.   Some things can’t fixed.  Life is a messy business, she says.   Many things are not and will never be fixable.  And besides, she tells me, when you feel you have to make things better and you don’t really want to or can’t in less than two minutes, you get angry and make things worse.

This is correct.

And I feel guilty about it.

I want things to go smoothly.  I want people to be happy.   And it pisses me off, pisses me off at them, when they’re not, because yes, I do feel I have to do something about it and my wife is right; I don’t really want to.

The truth is I want things to fix themselves.

Guilt, guilt, guilt.

If I’m winning at tennis, miraculously playing well, I feel bad for the guy across the net.   Maybe I should throw a game or two.   Guilty.

When I see a homeless guy at a street corner, begging for money I feel bad for the guy and I wish he wasn’t there to remind me how lucky I am and how unlucky he is and how unfair the world is.  Maybe I should throw him a buck or two.  Out of guilt.

I am not the guy you’d want to be stranded on a desert island with or stuck in a foxhole with.   I would complain you to death.   I am not a leader.  I am not a follower.  I am Lear’s fool.  I am the annoyed, aggrieved, sardonic presence off to the side saying it’s your problem, you deal with it.    Just let me know when the party starts.

I don’t find this admirable.   It makes me feel guilty.

I’ve read that guilt is narcissism.  It’s all about you.  You feeling guilty.   Well… duh!

I don’t want to be a narcissist.  Especially a guilty one.

I’ve read that guilt is thinking we are separate from God, and therefore, God has withdrawn His/Her love from us.

Oh, bullshit.  Separate from Mom, maybe.

There is a dingbat on the dog path who tells me that all ailments, physical, emotional and psychological can be traced to misfortunes in past lives.  Stomach problems are because you were tortured with a white hot poker.  If you have asthma you were burned at the stake.  If you’re afraid of dinosaurs, you were attacked and eaten by a pterodactyl in the middle of the night.

If you are a dingbat, you were a dingbat.

Having said that, I wonder if guilt isn’t on some level about loss.   Something happened, something precious was taken or lost and you feel you could/should have prevented it.  You tried but failed.   Or you were overwhelmed by the circumstances and you didn’t try at all.   Maybe it wasn’t your fault but regardless, you feel there is no one to blame but yourself.

Perhaps this is why I’m perpetually pissed off

I feel guilty that I’m perpetually pissed off.

And yet.   Sometimes I come through.

Yesterday the lovely wife said to me – I could use a little help here.

Why, yes, my dear.  Whatever can I do?  It was a small trivial thing and I did it with grace and good cheer and she was pleased.  And I was pleased that she was pleased.    Because when others are pleased I am pleased.

That’s how I roll.

But then it occurred to me that because it had gone so well, she might ask me to do something again sometime.

I immediately felt put upon.  I could feel the anger rising.

It made me feel guilty.

Men lead lives of quiet desperation.

REFUGE

 

In my house, my place of escape, refuge, privacy, contemplation and uninterrupted reading is on the toilet.  When the going gets tough, the tough get going and I go to the bathroom.

Excuse me, I’ll say!  I have to go sit for a while!

How can anyone object?

I keep piles of books, periodicals and extra pairs of reading glasses in the bathroom.   Better not to be caught unprepared and have to go back out.   I like magazine articles and short stories.  Both time out well.  Novels are too long and so would increase the risk of hemorrhoids.   Poems aren’t nearly long enough and besides, I’d rather not fall asleep with my pants around my ankles.

Cell phones are barred.   To make phone calls to other people from the toilet seems oddly disrespectful – unless they’re movie agents – and not having a cell phone allows you to not answer any phone, at anytime, anywhere else in the house.    Which is important as I work at home.

“I was calling you all morning”, my wife will say.

“I was on the toilet”,  I’ll say.  “I couldn’t get up”.

I think a lot when I’m on the throne.   A lot of writers do.    Rodin’s The Thinker is obviously a writer contemplating his lost youth while taking a quiet crap.    Take a look some time.

http://www.garden-fountains.com/famous-statues/thinker.jpg

I think about what I’m working on.  I think about all the mistakes I’m making with my life and I’ll vow to correct them.   I think about what I’m reading.

Unless the dogs find me, it’s a pleasant time.

It goes without saying I despise any bathroom that is not my own; especially those that demand you put down a protective paper shield on the seat.

Edvard Munch’s The Scream is obviously based on a man stuck in an airport who’s bowels have begun rumbling.  He races to the men’s room, pushes past other travelers, desperately pulls open a stall door and finds himself face to face with a urine stained floor, strewn toilet paper and a bowl of unflushed grumpies.   Don’t believe me?  Take a look.

http://www.artchive.com/artchive/M/munch/scream.jpg.html

I could be mistaken.  It could be a gas station.   Or a baseball stadium.  Regardless, it’s not a place one wants to linger, let alone read a book.

“When I married you”, my wife will say, “I didn’t realize I was marrying a man who goes to the bathroom six times a day”.

To which I will not reply – (I’m not entirely stupid) – I didn’t go to the bathroom six times a day until I was married.

Before marriage and parenthood,  I did my reading, thinking and contemplating in a comfortable chair out in the open.  No one bothered me.  Or needed help with their homework.  No one wanted to have a conversation about their feelings.   Or needed me to run to the store for doggie chow.   But now, like a poor hunted animal, I must stick to the shadows!  I must retreat to the glens of the deep forest!

Don’t fall in, my wife will say!

Sarcasm does not become her.

“I won’t!” I call.   I’ve had a lot of practice.

Men live lives of quiet desperation.  Writers more so.

THE DESPERATE MAN

 

It was Henry David Thoreau who wrote that The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.

I am not a fan of Henry David Thoreau.  Walden was a total bore written by a pedantic, self-involved nerd.

Just my desperate opinion.

However.   Maybe he was talking about getting older.

Because.

Of note.  Of late.  I have turned sixtysix.  And —

I have stopped eating.  Okay, not stopped.  But for someone who has pounded three large meals a day plus snacks for his entire 60 years (subtract 8 months for baby formula – I then graduated to sirloin), the sudden desperate demise of vacuum cleaner like intake is surprising.  Is this desperately due to age, desperate disinterest or quiet desperation?  I don’t know.  But I seem to make desperate due of late with Trader Joe’s roasted chicken breast and peanut butter.  Obviously I need an in house chef.  I think a good cassoulet or a Setzuan broccoli beef or even a Carnegie desperately Deli pastrami sandwich might restore my appetite.  In fact, the thought of all three, preferably served together,  just did.  Desperately disregard previous paragraph.

Lexapro, which is an anti-depressant and Lamactil, which is a mood stabilizer, take the edge off your sex drive, which, at 66, desperately does you no favors.   Actually it sort of blunts that edge with a sludge hammer.   The problem, of course, is that it does nothing to blunt your imagination.  The mind is still willing – even eager –  but the body is not.  At times it seems hardly worthwhile.   Obviously one desperately needs a partner who considers this a creative challenge.  One who will take the bull by the horn.  Grease the joints and crack the whip!  Once more into the breach, dear desperate friend!   All right, all right, enough.  Besides, wasn’t it Mark Twain who said that too often in life, sex is overrated while a good bowel movement is unappreciated.  He was, when he wrote this, I think – yes – 66!

But there is light.  A friend who is now seventy five tells me it was such a relief hitting seventy four years, eleven months, three weeks and two desperate days because he finally lost interest in sex altogether and for the first time in his life got some work desperately done.  Just another thing to look forward to.  Not.  Desperately disregard previous paragraph.

At 66, I sleep less of late.  I am more restless.  Often, knowing it’s going to be desperately difficult to fall asleep, I go to bed early to give myself lots of extra time to do so.  Once asleep, I wake up a lot.  Someone is snoring and this desperately disturbs me.  It especially desperately disturbs me that the someone is me.   The lovely wife has a remedy for snoring.  She puts a large fluffy pillow over your face.  If that doesn’t work, she sits on it.  One thing hasn’t changed.  I still dream insane desperate dreams.  Crashing airplanes, lost subway cars, trains going in the wrong desperate direction, cab rides to nowhere, abandoned apartments and desperately deserted houses I seem to be living in but have no memory of.  I tried describing my desperate dreams to a therapist one time but I could see she was growing more and more nervous by the moment so I stopped.  At the end of the desperate day it’s probably all just symbolic of bowel movements anyway. On the plus side, thanks to the knee injury,  I don’t sleep walk anymore.   The neighbors are happy too.  As are the desperate dogs who were getting tired of being peed on in the middle of the night.  Now I’ve embarrassed them.  Please desperately disregard previous paragraph.

One thing about getting older is, if you’re being completely honest with yourself, you have to admit you no desperate desire to be young again.  This is not to say you wouldn’t mind the energy and indestructability of youth, it’s just to say there’s a growing feeling of “thank god, I don’t have to go through that again”.   You lose some of the idealism of youth – lose the feeling of “it’s all going to work just fine in the end”.  Because you know now – from painful experience and lessons hard learned – that a lot of the time, it won’t.

Do not desperately disregard previous paragraph.

Oh, but come on.  I’m feeling sorry for myself.

66 is not a time to get so serious.  Let’s put on a show!  On NPR this morning they did a decidedly non-desperate story on the Palm Springs Follies – an old fashioned review of singers and showgirls and non-desperate dancers and comedians and magicians and jugglers all of whom are in their sixties, seventies and even their eighties.  They do show tunes, they do Vegas lounge act entertainment, they do Tom Jones – geriatrics in sequins sing What’s New, Pussycat?  A master of ceremonies gets out there and makes Don Rickles like small talk with the audience – all of whom are in their sixties, seventies and eighties as well.  “You!  How old are you, darling?  Seventy-five?  You don’t look a non-desperate day younger than ninety!  Is that your goiter or are you happy to see me?   Don’t make me laugh, I’ll mess my pants – literally!”

At the end of the show, they do a salute to any veterans that are in the house.  They ask them to rise.  There are as fair number of them, both men and women.  A few are WWII vets, most are veterans of Korea and Viet Nam.  The lights flare, the cast takes the stage, balloons fill the air.  And then everyone sings Auld Lang Syne.

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot, and never thought upon;  The flames of Love extinguished, and fully past and gone: 

Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold, that loving Breast of thine;  That thou canst never once reflect On Old long syne.

They keep the desperation decidedly mute.

ARE WE HAVING FUN YET?

 

Guess what?

The Walt Disney Company makes something in the neighborhood of  6 billion dollars a year from their theme parks.

Six Flags Magic Mountain nets 42 million from roller coasters.

Sea World generates about 180 million from fish.

What kind of incredible aberration in the human genome makes this remotely possible?

Am I the only person in the world who finds waiting in lines for hours to get on insipid rides that bore me, make me nauseous and are over far too quickly, a fate worse than death?   Am I the only guy who finds rubbing elbows on the promenade with Bubba, Lorna, Dufus and Fatso plus their ten thousand relatives, a bad LSD trip that can’t be over too soon?

Early memory.

My grandparents – my father’s parents – who’s idea of parenting was to pack their kids off to prep school as soon as possible –  has decided that taking their grandsons – my brother and me; 7 and 8 respectively – to the North Haven Fair would a grandparently thing to do.   I also think my grandfather has decided if he can kill us off it will save my father some child support.  Since he is supporting my father, it is a win-win.  Ten minutes in he decides to off us by putting us on some ride that zigs and zags and spins like a bat out of amusement park hell.   The car, made for four adults is more than big enough for two children.   Zig goes the ride – zag goes my brother and I, smashing around like bowling pins.  Zag goes the car – zig goes my brother and I, our heads crashing together like coconuts.   We seek refuge on the floor of the car.  The ride operator, no longer seeing us and thinking it might be a good idea not to be arrested for manslaughter, stops the ride.  We stumble as we get off.   Since we aren’t dead yet, my grandfather promptly spends 40 dollars so my brother and I can take a ride in an open doored helicopter.    I think he bribes the pilot to do loop-de-loops.

Still, we lived.

Annoyed that we still live, my grandparents takes my brother and me to the New York World’s Fair.  In my grandfather’s further attempt to kill us, we are forced to go on It’s a Small World After All (look it up on You Tube).   That we survive that earns my grandfather’s grudging respect.  From that day forward he will only seek to kill us with my grandmother’s cooking.

I equate amusement parks – and world fairs – with death.

Teenage memory.

I am 17 and I am with friends at Riverside Park in Springfield, Massachusetts.   It is a cold and rainy night but I don’t care because girls (!) from our high school are there  and I am in the process of falling in love with the beauteous, red haired Kristin Pardee.   We get on the tilt-a-whirl together – how romantic!   We tilt – we whirl.   It’s raining and we are soaking wet but we don’t care.  It’s magic.   This is the beginning of a life together.  One twirly-whirly later, I’m not so sure.  Two twirly-whirlies and our life together ends as hot dogs, popcorn, cotton candy and soda meet motion.  I puke in my lap.

I associate amusement parks with vomit.

Three parent-child interludes.

My daughter is 8 and on spring break.   She pleads with me to take her and a friend to Disneyland.    (The only thing I ever liked on  The Wonderful World of Disney was – seriously – Texas John Slaughter, you did what he ordered and if you didn’t, you died.).  We drive to Anaheim.   I pay ten dollars to park.  I pay one hundred and twenty to enter the magic kingdom.  Oh, God.   Humans in Mickey suits.   Tinkerbelle and Goofy.  And all around us hemming us in is what seems like the entire population of Hong Kong.   Who knew the Chinese celebrated spring break?  Two hours later we’ve finally been on the Indiana Jones ride.  Not as good as the movie.   Two hours after that, we’ve finally been on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.  Not as good as the movie.    An hour after that, tired of standing in lines, we’re sitting in a small theatre taking in The Country Bears Jamboree.   There is a reason that there is no one else there.  On the way home, my lovely daughter solemnly tells me that “Disneyland wasn’t as good as I thought it would be.”  I feel like it’s my fault.

Also.

There is no beer at Disneyland.

To make amends six years later I take my daughter and the same friend to Magic Mountain north of LA., a place, she tells me,  famous for earth vibrating rides with names like Apocalypse, Scream, Viper and Goliath.   We dive right in on Goliath which hits speeds of 75 miles of hours as it hurtles down into a tunnel and creates 14 G’s on the body as it bottoms out.  And that’s just the beginning.  It twirls, it whirls, it zigs, it zags, it falls, it climbs.  Suddenly and at high speed.  People throw their hands above their heads and scream in delight.   They take a picture as you get to the end.   In the picture I am a pale, glistening green.   I spend the rest of the day walking through the lines with my sweet  dates, getting to a ride, walking across the ride car, and waiting on the other side until they finish the ride.  Some fun!

Around midafternoon, having a headache, I channel my grandfather and pay an extra sixty bucks to put the girls on the parachute plunge in an attempt to kill them.  They love it and want to do it again.   I say yes but only if we can leave after.  They say no.  We stay.

There is no beer at Magic Mountain.

There is also no beer at –

Leggo-land!   For his seventh birthday and at his request, I take the chip off the old block son north to Carlsbad.   I’m expecting Leggoland to be horrible.  It’s worse.  Children are bored and irritated.   Adults wander around in a brain cramped stupor.  How many ways can you assemble little blocks?    The highlight of the day is when we take the leggo-luge which is a raft in a moderately bubbling stream bordered – yes – by Leggo happily smiling creatures.   I get drenched and go around with wet jockey’s the rest of the day.   The only thing my son likes at Leggoland is – yes – the Leggo-coaster.   To celebrate we go on it a dozen times.

I associate amusement parks with no beer.

Last but not least.

I am in Key West visiting my dear friend, Terry.  Terry is an ex-football star, now a  Top Gun pilot who enjoys landing jets on aircraft carriers in raging seas in the middle of the night.  That kind of guy.  Everything I am not.  Terry asks if I would like to out to the base and try… the simulator!

The simulator, it turns out, is a computer enhanced cockpit that simulates the experience of  landings on ships.  It was designed to put pilots into disastrous situations so they could practice getting out of them   Before they had it, pilots had to practice their disasters in real aircraft.    Pilots proved to be cheap and replaceable.  Jets did not.

We meet Terry’s friend, call name Spidey, at the base.   Terry’s call name is Brick.  They actually refer to one another by their calls names and as a token of friendship and affection they give me one – Numbnuts.

They take turns in the simulator practicing disasters, each of them programming the computer to make the disasters more and more disastrous for the other.  These are the kind of guys who, when dealing with disaster, chuckle and say “you fucker”.   Or they giggle and say “asshole”.

When dealing with disaster, I go into a fetal position and scream – “Oh, God!”

And then it’s my turn.   And as I climb into the cockpit I realize that this is the most expensive, most realistic, most terrifying amusement park ride ever made.   Leave it to the military!  It smells of sweat and ammo and jet fuel.  It’s cramped and tight, especially when you buckle in and when the canopy comes down, it’s dark and claustrophobic and far too realistic.

You’re off, says Terry.

The scream of a jet engine fills the cockpit and everything begins to sway and buck.   The controls and a computer generated screen are in front of me.  It’s as if  I am in a fighter jet!

Let’s fly around for a while, says Terry.

Let’s, I say.

We do that for a while.  Not well.

Call the ball,  says Terry.

Huh?

The ball it turns out is a computer generated beacon that the pilot uses to find the carrier.  When he sees it, he “calls the ball” – meaning he tells the swabbies on the carrier that he’s coming in.

I see the ball.  It disappears to the left.  I turn to the left.  I see the ball.  It disappears to the right.   I turn to the right.  I see no ball.

You’re upside down, says Terry.

Sorry, I say.

I’m sweating.   The jet engine is sweating.   The  aircraft is swaying and bucking.  And sweating.

We find the ball.   We’re coming in.

Are we having fun yet!?  yells Terry.

I chuckle.   Asshole, I say.    Numbnuts my ass.  Maybe I’ll be a Top Gun pilot in my spare time.

A horn starts blaring.   The jet engines are screaming, deafening.   All at once the cockpit jerks and stops and everything goes black.   There is complete and total silence.

What happened, I ask.

You crashed into the side of the ship, says Terry.

What does that mean, I ask.

You’re dead, Terry says.

To celebrate we go out and have multiple beers.

Yes.

There are beers in the Navy.

The Desperate Man

 

It was Henry David Thoreau who wrote that The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.

I am not a fan of Henry David Thoreau.  Walden was a total bore written by a pedantic, self-involved nerd.

Just my desperate opinion.

However.   Maybe he was talking about getting older.

Because.

Of note.  Of late.  I have turned sixtysix.  And —

I have stopped eating.  Okay, not stopped.  But for someone who has pounded three large meals a day plus snacks for his entire 60 years (subtract 8 months for baby formula – I then graduated to sirloin), the sudden desperate demise of vacuum cleaner like intake is surprising.  Is this desperately due to age, desperate disinterest or quiet desperation?  I don’t know.  But I seem to make desperate due of late with Trader Joe’s roasted chicken breast and peanut butter.  Obviously I need an in house chef.  I think a good cassoulet or a Setzuan broccoli beef or even a Carnegie desperately Deli pastrami sandwich might restore my appetite.  In fact, the thought of all three, preferably served together,  just did.  Desperately disregard previous paragraph.

Lexapro, which is an anti-depressant and Lamactil, which is a mood stabilizer, take the edge off your sex drive, which, at 66, desperately does you no favors.   Actually it sort of blunts that edge with a sludge hammer.   The problem, of course, is that it does nothing to blunt your imagination.  The mind is still willing – even eager –  but the body is not.  At times it seems hardly worthwhile.   Obviously one desperately needs a partner who considers this a creative challenge.  One who will take the bull by the horn.  Grease the joints and crack the whip!  Once more into the breach, dear desperate friend!   All right, all right, enough.  Besides, wasn’t it Mark Twain who said that too often in life, sex is overrated while a good bowel movement is unappreciated.  He was, when he wrote this, I think – yes – 66!

But there is light.  A friend who is now seventy five tells me it was such a relief hitting seventy four years, eleven months, three weeks and two desperate days because he finally lost interest in sex altogether and for the first time in his life got some work desperately done.  Just another thing to look forward to.  Not.  Desperately disregard previous paragraph.

At 66, I sleep less of late.  I am more restless.  Often, knowing it’s going to be desperately difficult to fall asleep, I go to bed early to give myself lots of extra time to do so.  Once asleep, I wake up a lot.  Someone is snoring and this desperately disturbs me.  It especially desperately disturbs me that the someone is me.   The lovely wife has a remedy for snoring.  She puts a large fluffy pillow over your face.  If that doesn’t work, she sits on it.  One thing hasn’t changed.  I still dream insane desperate dreams.  Crashing airplanes, lost subway cars, trains going in the wrong desperate direction, cab rides to nowhere, abandoned apartments and desperately deserted houses I seem to be living in but have no memory of.  I tried describing my desperate dreams to a therapist one time but I could see she was growing more and more nervous by the moment so I stopped.  At the end of the desperate day it’s probably all just symbolic of bowel movements anyway. On the plus side, thanks to the knee injury,  I don’t sleep walk anymore.   The neighbors are happy too.  As are the desperate dogs who were getting tired of being peed on in the middle of the night.  Now I’ve embarrassed them.  Please desperately disregard previous paragraph.

One thing about getting older is, if you’re being completely honest with yourself, you have to admit you no desperate desire to be young again.  This is not to say you wouldn’t mind the energy and indestructability of youth, it’s just to say there’s a growing feeling of “thank god, I don’t have to go through that again”.   You lose some of the idealism of youth – lose the feeling of “it’s all going to work just fine in the end”.  Because you know now – from painful experience and lessons hard learned – that a lot of the time, it won’t.

Do not desperately disregard previous paragraph.

Oh, but come on.  I’m feeling sorry for myself.

66 is not a time to get so serious.  Let’s put on a show!  On NPR this morning they did a decidedly non-desperate story on the Palm Springs Follies – an old fashioned review of singers and showgirls and non-desperate dancers and comedians and magicians and jugglers all of whom are in their sixties, seventies and even their eighties.  They do show tunes, they do Vegas lounge act entertainment, they do Tom Jones – geriatrics in sequins sing What’s New, Pussycat?  A master of ceremonies gets out there and makes Don Rickles like small talk with the audience – all of whom are in their sixties, seventies and eighties as well.  “You!  How old are you, darling?  Seventy-five?  You don’t look a non-desperate day younger than ninety!  Is that your goiter or are you happy to see me?   Don’t make me laugh, I’ll mess my pants – literally!”

At the end of the show, they do a salute to any veterans that are in the house.  They ask them to rise.  There are as fair number of them, both men and women.  A few are WWII vets, most are veterans of Korea and Viet Nam.  The lights flare, the cast takes the stage, balloons fill the air.  And then everyone sings Auld Lang Syne.

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot, and never thought upon;  The flames of Love extinguished, and fully past and gone: 

Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold, that loving Breast of thine;  That thou canst never once reflect On Old long syne.

They keep the desperation decidedly mute.