Wednesday, February 27, 2008


You gotta adapt to changing conditions. Fast. Because all of a sudden, it's all different.

Clearly the case.

I had pretty much shifted my Weltanschuung around to deal with the prognosis given to me by Dr. Freedman: "Your father has Stage IV metastatic cancer. Probably originating in his G.I. tract. Possibly the pancreas."

A web search that night painted an awfully bleak picture. Especially where the possible pancreatic cancer is concerned.

So we were probably talking weeks.


I spent last week trying to get a call back from Dr. Vizeck. Or something. I'm not sure about the name, because Dr. Vizeck didn't manage to get around to calling me. All I wanted to know was what the pathologist had to say about the biopsy of my father's lungs. The initial results didn't find anything malignant so it was sent somewhere (Israel was a possible guess as apparently they do a lot of that there) for examination at the cellular level.

This week, I started in on it again. But after only one day of trying, I got a call back from my father's doctor-du-semaine. It seems that whatever the stuff is gunking up my father's lungs is not cancer. No idea what it is. Library paste? Guano? Bechamel? It's anyone's guess. So then there was the "malignant obstructive mass" removed from my father's colon. That was shipped off to wherever for analysis, too. But, from what they saw in there, that obstructive mass might have been the extent of the cancer.

Say what?

So we could possibly be looking at cancer that has not metastasized?

That could be.

So my father's prognosis might be something along the lines of favorable?

The doctor didn't disagree with that.

In fact, he was recovering from the surgery so well that he could possibly be discharged from the hospital as early as tomorrow. As in "today."

And guess what?

My father has left Doylestown Hospital. He's now installed in a place called Pine Run (which I've nicknamed "Pain Ruin") for rehab for his hip surgery.

And sure enough, after work, when I went to visit my father, I went not to Doylestown Hospital, but to Pain Ruin. (Pain Ruin features Much More Convenient Parking, I'm happy to discover.)

But here's what I've learned about the science of medicine: it's a lot more art than science. It could be that my dad had a malignant growth in his colon and they removed it and that's that. Or it could be that my father has Stage IV metastasized pancreatic cancer.

So we'll just have to see.

But today, you should see my father's cushy digs at Pain Ruin. He's comfortable. It's quiet. He has a room all to himself. The nursing staff seem friendly and attentive. He'll be there for the next four to five weeks or so. At that point, maybe we'll know more, maybe we won't. But he's sure glad that his sojourn in Doylestown Hospital is over.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Hello, BravoTV? Okay. Don't Say Anything, Just Listen...

As M. Scott Peck told us all those years ago, "Life is hard."

My life, of course, is very hard. Probably much harder than yours. I say this with assurance because it is my lot to carry a very heavy burden. You see, deep in my soul is the knowledge that I was put here on this earth with one purpose, yet because of cruel happenstance, I will never be able to achieve that great cosmic purpose.

Of course, I'm speaking of whipping Vin Diesel.

And it gets worse! For, of course, Vin Diesel--and I'm pretty sure about this--was put on this earth to be whipped by me.

Although he might give you an argument about that. He's pretty cathected (another M. Scott Peck-ism!) about his acting career.

But perhaps, life--or my life anyway--doesn't have to be all that hard. Perhaps Vin and I will be able to achieve our linked teleologies.

You see, I have an idea.

Now, you know I love love love Reality Television, right? And it's gotten to the point that it doesn't really matter what the hell the structure of the game is or who the players are. Do I care that Scott Baio is 45 and single? Not a wit. But if the cameras are rolling, I'll tune in and watch!

So my idea.

The aspect of SM that I favor has come to be called, in some enlightened circles, "ordeal oriented." That is to say, it's structured in a mytho-poetic way around some ordeal. The Top puts the bottom through a trial of sorts, and the bottom emerges at the end with a newfound sense of his own strength, power, and courage.

Now, couple that with Reality TV and not only do you have the makings of a great show, but I'd be able to fulfill my lifelong dream and whip Vin Diesel!

Here's how it would work...

The working title could be something like, well, "Ordeal." Or, if you really wanted to be outré about what's going down, "Safeword."

Every week, you'd assemble four contestants. They'd be average americans, soccer moms and NASCAR dads. But each of them would be selected because there's something that they want really really really bad ("a vintage Harley-Davidson police bike!" "for my kids to get into a really good private school!" "to open my own restaurant!" "a new kidney!"). And to get a shot at getting this thing they want, they'd be willing to undergo an ordeal of some sort.

Assembled for the show would be a group of SM practitioners whom we could call, "The Legion of Doom." The Legion of Doom would comprise various Tops, each with a distinct approach to SM. Sort of like the stable of masters they have on "Iron Chef," right? So they'd each have a little back story and larger-than-life personalities that viewers would get to know bit by bit as the show progresses.

One by one, each of the four contestants would get to go before the Legion of Doom and plead their case in what we could call the Star Chamber. "I would really love to have a little hunting cabin out in the woods somewhere. I could go there with my wife and kids on weekends and spend time doing what I really love to do, bow-hunting. I just feel that no matter what is going on in my life, if I just had that little place in the woods to call my own, I'd be a happy man."

The contestant would then leave, and the Legion of Doom would confer. They'd bring the contestant back and present him with the Ordeal: "We are prepared to offer you what you seek. But first, you must submit yourself to the ordeal we propose."

And it could be, y'know, your garden variety SM scene. Endurance bondage, a fire scene, being suspended by fishline strung through acupuncture needles piercing his body in two rows from his clavicals to his ankles, getting punched in the face, some humiliation scene... Y'know, the usual fare.

Or, of course, getting whipped.

Throughout the ordeal, the contestant could end it at any time just by giving up the safeword. But if he came through, then he'd get his little cabin in the woods.

Can't you just imagine the drama involved? Those one-on-one interviews that they do throughout? The other contestants would be able to cheer on and offer encouragement to the contestant going through the ordeal, but also get a glimpse of what they themselves might be in for when their time came in the Star Chamber.

Wouldn't that be a great show?

Okay. Now let's not lose track of what's important here: me and my needs.

I, of course, would be a member of the Legion of Doom, the one they call "The Whipsman." (With all due modesty, I think I have the makings of a Fan Favorite!) And for the premier show of the second season, there would be a very special Celebrity Edition. And among the celebrity contestants would be none other than Vin Diesel.

Now you see my brilliant evil plan?


So not only would I get to whip Vin Diesel, I'd get to do it on national television! And I love an audience!

So I think I smell an Emmy!

Now, nice guy that I am, if anyone out there reading this would like to take this idea and run with it and make millions and millions of dollars, I say, "Go for it!"

But just do me one small favor: when you cast the membership of the Legion of Doom, make sure you keep me in mind. And after the show is a big hit and you're looking forward to the season premier for the second run, have your people get in touch with Vin Diesel's people and get him on board.

I'll be here.

Waiting patiently.

Monday, February 25, 2008

What's That Mechanical Whirring Sound I Hear?

My mornings are tight. The alarm goes off an hour and a half before I have to be at work. Get up, head out to the kitchen, grab my breakfast--a Naked Fruit Juice Pure Protein--and chug-a-lug it. Give Faithful Companion a drink of water and take him for a walk. Hit the shower. Get dressed. Hit the road.

My workday is segmented. Work two hours, fifteen minute break. Work two more hours, take lunch. Work two more hours, the second fifteen minute break. Work two more hours, punch out.

At lunch, I drive over to the local Wendy's ("Single with no cheese" "Do you want the combo?" "Just the sandwich" "Anything else with that?" "White milk, please." "$3.54. Please pull around.") then I head to Starbuck's. I eat my hamburger sitting in my Jeep in the parking lot of Starbucks, then run inside ("Hi Drew! What can I get you?" "Triple venti latté please!" "$4.45.") And a great thing is happening at Starbuck's: they're returning to the old, calibrated machines, so they make shots of espresso two at a time always. With three shots in my espresso, they are now asking me, "Do you want the extra shot?" I always say yes.

I usually linger to read the headlines of the Times. I leave Starbucks twenty minutes before I have to clock back in.

After work, I head to the hospital. Find a parking space, in through the lobby, up the elevator to the Fourth Floor. Turn right, turn right, swing around the nurses station. I generally spend between a half hour and an hour visiting with my dad. We watch television together and discuss his parade of roommates. His roommates are usually in and out of the hospital in a day or two, but my father just goes on and on, outlasting them all. Three or four roommates ago, he stopped learning their names.

After I leave, I generally call my brother in Florida to offer the report.

Then I hit the SuperFresh Stoopid Fresh. With my groceries, I head home, make dinner, watch a little television, head to bed.

I could totally be replaced by a machine.

Information has totally come that far. My day is but an algorithm.

But wait! Relief!

I finally managed to track down The Reformation by Diarmaid McCullough published by Penguin!

And it's perfect.

His writing is conversational and lucid, and it's loaded with so many of those fun facts I love love love.

Did you know that the Church stopped giving the Eucharist under both forms--the bread and the wine--and just gave out the bread to communicants because of concern that the Blood of Christ would be trapped in the beards and mustaches of the faithful. (I always give a post-Communion clearing of the mustache!)

Today, I spent three whole blissful hours at Starbuck's reading The Reformation by Diarmaid McCullough published by Penguin. Per. Fect.

The Reformation by Diarmaid McCullough published by Penguin has brought a sudden peace and clarity to this whole experience. For example, I've thought when all this is over, I'd treat myself to a nice vacation. I thought about Europe or driving West, but today hit upon just where I'd like to go: Iceland.

Check out these sweet pics.

Now don't you all be like "Iceland! Of course! Let's head their now!" Give me a chance to get there before Iceland becomes the place to go and by the time I get around to going there i won't be able to get a room or rent a snowmobile to get out to see some fjord or glacier or something I want to see.

Anyway. time for bed.

Tomorrow the cycle begins again.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Today kicked my ass.

Today my father had the obstructive malignant mass removed from his colon. This makes his hip surgery look me boning a chicken. At it's most simple, your body is your organs enclosed in a membrane. Keep the inside in and the outside out. This gets tricky in your gastro-intestinal tract, where you've got outside stuff inside. Especially down in the intestines when that outside stuff has been distilled into pure badness. Having that obstructive malignant mass removed was urgent because if my father's intestines got blocked, they'd burst, and having poop shooting into your guts is just about the worst thing that can happen.

So with all this on my mind, I headed off to work today.

That, my friends, is a recipe for madness.

"You, Sir, are an idiot and I could give a rat's ass about your need for a 38" by 42" shower pan which nobody makes because no one else on the planet wants or needs a 38" by 42" shower pan because that's just stupid."

I didn't actually say that to anyone, but I thought it. Luckily--for my job--the words that came out of my mouth were something along the lines of, "Huh. Let's check the catalog, 'kay?"

Oh my Lord it was grueling.

Finally the day was over. Finally.

Not sure what I would find, I headed to the hospital. Feeling more and more anxious with every step, I made my way through the lobby, up the elevator, and down the hall to my father's room.

My father wasn't there.

As in, he and his hospital bed weren't there.

I was totally thrown.

Wait, I thought. Recovery.

I checked with the nurse's station. Yup. He was in recovery. He had his operation at 2 p.m., and the nurse said that as a rule of thumb, five hours in recovery was to be expected. She suggested I come back around 7:30.

So I headed to church and sat in my car until services started at 6:30.

But then, at 6:25 when I went in, the place was empty. No priest, no nobody.

Something was up.

I sat in the pew and prayed, taking advantage of the quiet and the solitude.

All but overwhelmed, I prayed for my daddy. As in, my daddy. The man who would sit me in his lap and read Uncle Wiggly and Dr. Seuss and even the Hardy Boys to me. My daddy who, when I fell asleep, would carry me back to bed in the carrier he used for firewood. My daddy who used to stand next to me when I was throwing up and tell me to "be a brave soldier." And my daddy who gave me my first driving lesson and who used to drive me to high school at 5 a.m. so I could go to morning practice when I was on the swim team. And my daddy who, when I told him I was gay, deflected that so we could have a debate about whether or not Leonard Bernstein was gay.

It was a total little boy prayer: "God, please let my daddy be okay."

It turns out that the Padres has that stomach flu that's going around. After conferring out in the vestibule while I prayed, they decided that instead of eucharist, we'd have Evening Prayer. Not, as a rule, my favorite office. And I'll admit a lot of that has to do with the inclusion of St. John Chrysostum's Phos Hilarion. St. John Chrysostum was a big ol' phobe. I mean, just obsessed with the whole gay thing. In like the Third Century yet! Prick.

After Evening Prayer, we re-convened in the parish hall for a lenten dinner. One of the ladies of St. Paul's made her amazing seafood soup. It rocked. And I got some to take home! Swag! Yes!

So then, it was back to Doylestown Hospital, arriving there a few minutes after Eight. Back through the lobby, up the elevator, down the hall, into my father's room, and still no dad.

So. Didn't. Need. That.

But what ya gonna do?

How about go home and get ready for the reunion episode of Project Runway. Forget all about everything and just watch some mindless television. Take inspiration from Tim Gunn and Make It Work.

As I turned into the driveway, I noticed that the lawn was bathed in moonlight.

No way!

There's a lunar eclipse tonight. Especially after the dreary weather all day today, I assumed that like every other celestial event, tonight's eclipse would go down behind clouds.

But there it was: as I walked Faithful Companion, I saw the full moon, with that strange shadow in the lower left.

And I saw that eclipse. (Running outside every time the cut to a commercial from Project Runway.)


So strange to see the moon not being the moon. There but not there.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bi-Focal View Of The Day


Today my father had his colonoscopy. They found a malignant lesion and a "large obstructing mass." That large obstructing mass has to be taken out of there pronto. So tomorrow he's scheduled to go back into the operating room at 1 p.m.

When I visited him tonight, his spirits were lower than they've been since he broke his hip.


Today at work, the call went out over the walkie-talkies we all wear for this hot boy I work with to let him know that he was needed somewhere in the store. After a pause, the hot boy got on the radio and said, "I can't right now. I'm all tied up."

I smiled.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Big Chill

I spent a few hours on the phone tonight talking to my friend Lou. I've known Lou for twenty-five years, since we met in the first semester of our freshman year at college. Lou mentioned that he had been talking to this other guy we both knew--whom I once beat in Scrabble--and this other guy (who was the dorm Scrabble champion until he played me) was saying that he wanted to get together with all of us and spend some time and talk, although that didn't include me because I once beat him in a game of Scrabble.

"Well that's just silly," I said, "Doesn't he realize that one of us has to commit suicide before that can happen? Remember that time I beat him in a game of Scrabble?"

Lou knew, of course, that I was making a reference to The Big Chill.

We were totally obsessed with that movie. Every time we got together, we'd try to figure out "Who Was Who," that is to say, which of us resembled which character in the movie. If memory serves, we were never able to get much further than determining that I was the character played by Jeff Goldblum.

Lou and I reminisced for a bit, trading lines from the movie that we still recalled. So when did you get so friendly with cops?

"Oh. My. God." sez me, "We're now the same age as the characters portrayed in the movie, aren't we?"

"Yes we are," Lou answered, "This is our time. I nail John on that all the time."

This prompted a three hour conversation between me and Lou about just what it was that we all shared back then, and how our lives had turned out, and--of course, because I'm endlessly fascinated with the topic--why it might be that John and Lou and I have never married when we live in a world were largely, everybody is pre-married, married, or post-married. And John and Lou and I are all un-married. A staggering statistical anomaly when you think about it.

Alas. No big answers were found to such pervasive questions as "What does it all mean?" and "What happened to us back then?"

Other than the occasional "Wrong, a long time ago we knew each other for a short period of time; you don't know anything about me. It was easy back then. No one had a cushier berth than we did. It's not surprising our friendship could survive that. It's only out there in the real world that it gets tough."

Which was pretty much inevitable.

Lou is going to try and come down to pay me a visit on March 1st. He'll check with John and see if he's available to join us. I can't remember when it was that the three of us were all together. I remember it as being in a diner, drinking coffee, which is probably accurate. And if it all comes together in two weeks, that's probably how it will pan out. Although all the diners are closed now.


Something occurs to me though. The Big Chill is about a group of people who had something once and then somehow lost their way, or lost sight of it. Or something. But Lou and John and I never did. We've still got it going on. True, I haven't become the Next Wallace Stevens, John and I never bummed around Europe like Hemmingway (John) and Fitzgerald (me, minus Zelda). Lou, however, has in many ways become a latter day Leo Buscaglia, frightening as that may be. (You have to know him.) But we are three amazing men, and our lives are each amazing in their own right. We none of us has sold out or whatever. True enough, viewed through the lens of those things which held us back then, those karmic riddles we couldn't solve... well, we still haven't solved them. But then, "No one ever said it would be fun. At least... no one ever said it to me."

Sunday, February 17, 2008


This morning at work, one of the designers greeted me with an observation. "You know what the secret of life is?" he asked rhetorically, "It is what it is."

"Huh," I answered, "No argument there."

Then I continued with another thought. "I know how to say that in Spanish: 'Esso si qué es."

Now how did I know that?

Back sometime in the last century, there was an ad on whatever NYC radio I was listening to at the time for a method of learning languages. The example given on the air was that you could remember the Spanish for "it is what it is" by remembering how to spell socks, S, O, C, K, S. I have no idea if my Spanish is anywhere near correct there, but I do know that phonetically how to say "it is what it is" in Spanish would be by pronouncing S-O-C-K-S.

It is what it is.

We were awfully busy at work today. I was going all day long. Yesterday was great for eye candy. Today, not so much. but today was awfully good for pleasant people to work with. Awhile ago, I arrived at the algorithm for the Best Possible Ho(t)me(n) Depot customer: there to spend money, in a hurry, and pleasant. Amazing how rare it is to find all of those elements together in one person, but today was the day. They were out in droves.

Good thing, too. Today was Day Five of working eight straight days in a row. And last night, I didn't sleep so well. I got to bed at a decent hour, but at 3:00 a.m., I was suddenly wide awake after a strange dream reached its culmination. In the dream, I had joined the Navy. Not quite by choice, but not quite against my will either. The night before, I was in a motel with a bunch of other guys who had also joined the Navy. We stayed up late drinking--although me not too late since I'm old and can't do that any more--shooting the bull and acting like we weren't nervous at all, even though we were. The next morning, we all boarded a bus that would take us to boot camp. (Do they have boot camp in the Navy? I can only imagine that they have something like boot camp. It's probably not like they toss you on a ship and say "welcome to the Navy, Sailor!". But I doubt they call it boot camp. Although a friend of mine who was a naval intelligence officer started his career in the Navy by going to Marine Boot Camp. Which he loved. Because he's insane.) But anyway, there I was on the bus to Navy Boot Camp. As the bus pulled up outside the naval base, I started to think about how I would disembark. I was nervous, and thought about holding back to the very last. Nah, that would look bad. One guy who was sitting in the middle of the bus pushed his way past all of us so he could be first one off. The rest of us looked at each other. As guys left the bus, they were being screamed at, boot camp style.

"Well," I thought, "let's get this over with."

And then I woke up.

"What the hell am I doing dreaming about the Navy?" I asked. Never in my life did it cross my mind, even for an instant, to join the Navy. The Marines, yes. The Navy? Nope.

Then I saw the point.

My therapist in NYC, Helen, once explained to me that a lot of puns show up in dreams. And that's where things became clear. Navy whites. Right. Who else wears white? Doctors. So there I was, embarking on this Big New Thing. Not quite coerced, not quite unwillingly. Kinda scared, but getting off the bus nonetheless. Yeah. In the Navy. Sure one way to think about it.

So after work came today's Tour of Duty (do they use that term in the Navy). My father wasn't in bad spirits, considering that he has his colonoscopy tomorrow. (Way Hot Man and I have been joking about making sure my father is well supplied with poppers for the experience.)


My Dad and I are sooooo... something.

When I arrived, he was watching Sands Of Iwo Jima on TCM. It was like the last twenty minutes. So after emerging victorious, the Marines reconnoiter. John Wayne, who plays the platoon commander (are Marines in platoons?) comments that he never felt better in his life and... Oh no! A japanese sniper! Bullet right through the heart!

"The Duke is dead!" I observed.

His men just then discover (and read???) a letter in his pocket addressed to his infant son whom he'll never see. "Be good to your mother and do your best to make her happy. I guess I'm not much good at writing. In some ways, I hope you're like me. And in some ways, I hope you're not. Maybe someday somebody who knew me will tell you about who I was." (Followed by reaction shots in the faces of his men, hearing that.)

As far as I could tell, neither I nor my father was particularly moved by that.

By that, I mean the poignant exchange about the nature of fathers and sons.

But we sure liked the flag raising thing.

But on the drive back home, I had a recollection. Two or three years ago, I was having one of my Bad Times. Walking my dog that night, I was furious at God. "I can't take this! I can't take any more of this! I can't endure any more. How much longer? How much longer do I have to be here?"

That kind of thing.

And then, I heard this still, small voice: "Until you learn everything you need to learn. Then you can move on."

And all of a sudden, it was all alright.

For awhile anyway.

So I'm wondering. Now that I seem to be on the verge of moving on, does that mean I've learned what I need to learn?


Esso si qué es.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Reformation By Diarmid McCullough, Published By Penguin

I'm obsessed!

With this book!

When I was down in DC for MAL, waiting for a table at Afterwords, I came across it browsing through KramerBooks (no relation).

"Hmm," I thought, "This looks interesting."

And about the time my father fell and broke his hip, I suddenly had an overwhelming urge to go out and get and read The Reformation by Diarmid McCullough, published by Penguin. I checked the bookstore in Doylestown. No luck. I trekked down to Farley's Bookstore in New Hope. Nada. So luckily I found it on for only $12.93 or something and put in my order.

Since then, I have been signing into "Track My Purchase" on again and again and again, charting the progress that The Reformation by Diarmid McCullough, published by Penguin, is making in getting to me.

It started off in Allentown, and then inexplicably went to Philadelphia. When I checked before I left the house this morning, it had left Philadelphia.


But then disaster struck!

When I got home tonight, I found that this morning, it had showed up at New Hope, PA, despite the estimated 2/19 arrival date. So far, so good, right?

But then, at New Hope, PA, The Reformation by Diarmid McCullough, published by Penguin, was declared to be undeliverable!!!

What the hell?

Since when?

Thereupon, I recognized my error.

I had thought that it was coming to me via UPS or some such carrier. So I gave my street address. But no. It's coming to me just the way every blessed order I've ever received from is coming to me, at the P.O. Box down in Point Pleasant that my family has used since 1949.

Oh hell.

And what's worse, even though there exists no earthly reason why the United States Postal Service can't deliver The Reformation by Diarmid McCullough, published by Penguin to me at my street address (indeed, every once in a while actual mailed letters show up in the mailbox at the end of the driveway for us, delivered by the United States Postal Service, The Reformation by Diarmid McCullough, published by Penguin, was returned to sender!!!

So pox upon the United States Postal Service.

So this all lead me to question, what the hell is this about? Why am I obsessing about The Reformation by Diarmid McCullough, published by Penguin?

Well, duh.

It is, in fact, not about The Reformation by Diarmid McCullough, published by Penguin.

When I found the book on, certain images came into my head. Such as me, quietly reading The Reformation by Diarmid McCullough, published by Penguin, sitting in my father's hospital room while he slept. Or me, reading The Reformation by Diarmid McCullough, published by Penguin, curled in one of the comfier chairs at some Starbucks. Or me, reading The Reformation by Diarmid McCullough, published by Penguin, here at home, with a nice fire going in the woodstove.

You get it?

It's not about The Reformation by Diarmid McCullough, published by Penguin. It's about me in the weeks ahead carving out some fraction of my day that has nothing to do with Ho(t)me(n) Depot or hospitals or cancer or powers-of-attorney or Do-Not-Resuscitate Orders or how many days to my next paycheck or colonoscopies or hospice care or remembering to call my brother in Florida to give him the news.

Rather, I'll be able to leave all of that behind and just reacquaint myself with Zwingli and Luther and Erasmus (love him!) and Elizabeth I and Hooker and Calvin and the Counter Reformation and the Council of Trent.

It's about taking time for me. And damn, do I need that. Stepping back six hundred years or so and getting out of this maelstrom.

It's a good plan, and it would have worked.

But it's been foiled by the United States Postal Service.

Thanks United States Postal Service! Really needed that right now! If I slip up and send my father to The Wrong Nursing Home, I hope you'll be able to sleep at night!


Hopefully tomorrow, I'll get an email from asking for a better address to send it to. And hopefully I won't have to pay for shipping all over again.

Because I really Really REALLY need to get my hands on The Reformation by Diarmid McCullough, published by Penguin.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Feeling It

So here's how it's gone. I get a grip. I gather all the facts. I figure it all out. I chart a course. I forge ahead.

And then there's some new piece of information that changes the whole deal. It's a kaleidascope reality: click! And it's all different. The pupil cannot dilate quickly enough.

Not so today.

Today was the day that my father got a bronchoscopy and a biopsy of whatever the hell is going on in his chest. For me, it was a work day. Six a.m. to 3 p.m. Which means that last night I set my alarm for 4:30 a.m., a.k.a. "one half hour after last call in NYC." I've come to really appreciate the rhythm of the day when I open the store. The alarm goes off in the middle of the night, I get up in the dark, the drive to work on roads that are often mine alone, being the first customer of the day at the Starbucks in Chalfont, entering before the store opens, walking through the Kitchen and Bath department alone, making sure everything is perfect, the morning meeting, the first customer...

Well this morning, there was this ice storm thing going on when I left the house. Or maybe slush storm would be closer to the mark. A few inches of snow followed by rain. The roads were awful. I had to go about thirty miles-per-hour the whole way.

And that had me clocking in ten minutes late. Hate that! I'm never ever ever ever late. Not even by a minute. So that had me a little rattled.

Or so I thought. As the day unfolded, I found out what "rattled" was all about.

In psychology, I believe they're what's known as "invasive thoughts." I just couldn't stop thinking about my dad. I threw myself into down-stocking toilets, became every one of my customer's New Best Friend, dusted out the bottoms of the bathtubs and shower stalls... but I was just a watch wound too tight. If anything had gone wrong in the least, I just would have snapped. And I felt at times I was hoping something like that would happen, just so I would have the opportunity to scream, "Do you have any idea what I'm going through you asshole?"

As the day wore on, something really started to worry me: I'm way conscientious about work. My job is important to me. I give it my all. And Lord knows that the Powers That Be have come to expect that of me. With everything I have on my plate and everything to come in the weeks ahead, I worry that I'll be slipping up. How to let the Powers That Be what I'm facing without it sounding like, "Be on the look-out for me falling down on the job!"

I decided to call the Employee Assistance Program.

During my orientation, the praises of EAP were sung. Although it was originally for folks with substance abuse problems, it's expanded. They now work to provide resources for anybody going through Big Life Stuff like marriage, divorce, buying a house... Surely they had something for facing the death of your father.

And they did.

I got hooked up to a website with tons of information, free legal consultation, three free sessions with a therapist...

Ho(t)me(n) Depot's got my back, Yo.

I finally made it to 3 p.m.

Off to the hospital to see my dad.

And tonight, I had church and Project Runway to look forward to. It almost counts as a day off!

I was joined at the hospital by this woman from church who's been visiting my homebound dad for years now. My dad's spirits were pretty good. The broncoscopy was trying, so they let him take a pass on the physical therapy. And he was eating a hamburger! He hasn't eaten a damn thing since he got there! And he seemed to be enjoying it.

So far, so good.

But walking to my car, I just had this thought: Let this be over soon.

Grim, considering what "over" entails.

But I kinda saw what was going down: for eight days now, I've been dealing, and this was a stress reaction. Which is cool. I'm stressed because it's stressful, right? It would be weird if I wasn't feeling this.

I took some time between the hospital and church to chill at Starbucks, and that felt good.

And church was just perfect: solemn, quiet, finding my strength. And after Mass, I got fed! (Love Wednesdays in Lent! Love that!)

Then off home. Finally home. Project Runway to look forward to.

Inside the door, I saw that our family lawyer had come through with the Power Of Attorney form my father had executed way back when. Per. Fect.

Oh wait.

My brother and I were both named.

Uh oh.

Does that mean that my brother who is a thousand miles away in Florida has to be there at the bank with me for everything?

Oh wait.

There's a message on the answering machine.

Someone I've never heard of from Doylestown Hospital, calling and leaving a message here when I've given them all my cell phone number to say, "Oh hi! So your father could be discharged to a nursing home as soon as tomorrow, so I need to speak with you today."

Well that's just like The Opposite of everything I've been hearing.

So home, instead of being a refuge and the place where I put it all behind me, I got hit by a shitstorm.

But it all melted away as i settled in for ProjRun.

Adieu, Sweet P. Gonna miss you, but kinda saw it coming. But that whole Chris and Rami thing! How sadistic is that? Do a whole line and kill yourself doing it and then we might give you an aufweidersehn anyway? Oh man.

Well, it's way late. Tomorrow I learn the results of my father's test today. And hopefully a couple of phone calls on my way to work will end the whole "as soon as tomorrow" thing and clear up the power-of-attorney issue.


Monday, February 11, 2008

Everything Changes

When I visited my father last night, I put in a request with the nursing staff for his doctor to call me. My father has been talking about "his doctor," but when I asked about his doctor, he gets vague ("I'm not sure. There are doctors in and out of here all day long.")

This afternoon, I got the phone call I had been waiting for.

Here's what I learned. My father's lungs are filled with metastasized cancer. As his doctor put it, "His lungs are a mess." They aren't sure whether the cancer originated in his lungs, and his colon is another possibility they're looking at. On Wednesday, he'll have a broncoscopy and biopsy, the analysis of which will tell them more. Additionally, they want to have my father undergo colonoscopy, but he'll have to be able to move around for that, so it will have to wait.

"The prognosis," the doctor said, "is not good."

You can say that again, I thought.

It's like looking through the lens of a camera. And the camera swings around, and now I'm looking at a whole different vista.

With The Breaking Of The Hip on Shrove Tuesday, I thought what I was in for was my father, only with a broken hip, and the goal being to have his hip get better. Now, it seems that it's all about End-of-Life care. As in the end of my father's life. From what I can tell from the web searches I did just now, we're talking a matter of months and weeks. Or days.

My father wants to die at home, I'm sure. And I'm hoping I can make that happen. Because of my stepmother, I'm a big fan of hospice care, so that will definitely be what I'm shooting for. The tricky thing will be my job. For example, I have off work today and tomorrow, and then I'll be working for the next eight days straight. Luckily only one 6 a.m. start and only one 10 p.m. finish, and mostly working the swing shift, but still. I mean, eighty hours over the course of eight days would be a lot to leave a dying man alone at home.

Death, where is thy sting?

I have an atypical view of death. Probably formed with all the death I've seen in my life. When I was not quite four, my mother died. My father remarried, and his second wife died on the eve of my twelfth birthday. Then my grandparents went, first my grandmother, then my grandfather, and I cared for my grandfather during the last years of his life, staying with him during school holidays. My lover Terry. My sister. Several friends.

Death seems to me like the last paragraph on the last page of the last chapter of a novel. At that point, you can ask yourself, "So what does it all mean?" You can't derive meaning when things are still going on. But as soon as it's over, then the story is complete: beginning, middle, end. Since struggling to understand is what I do all the time, there's a part of me that welcomes death. Now I'll be able to see.

I can now see this point approaching with my father.

But I can't say I'm welcoming it.

Huh. Irony: I've prayed for my father's death. Taking care of him has, at times, been that hard. But that would immediately be followed by a, "or, y'know, something less than that which would just take him off my hands." I had been thinking that him falling and breaking his hip was that "something less." But it looks like it's something more than something less.

Ah the weeks ahead. The discharge from the hospital into the nursing home; the consultation with the doctors that indicates that the end is near; making arrangements with the hospice; bringing my father home; getting my brother up from Florida; my father's death; settling of his estate; getting the house ready for sale; and then comes After.

After has been the content of many daydreams over the past few years. After. A vacation somewhere. Maybe Europe. Maybe packing Faithful Companion up and heading West, sleeping in my car, bathing in gyms where I get a day pass, maybe taking a sort of tour of natural hot springs of the Southwest. Spend some time in a monastery somewhere to get my bearings. Going to school to get that degree in Construction Management or something. Where will I live? What will I do for work?

And who will catch me when I fall?

That will be important.

Part of the reason that I so readily assented when my father asked me to come back here four and a half years ago to look after him was that I was feeling bruised and shaken. When I left the employ of Boss Sunshine, I was having a hard time making ends meet. NYC just sucks the money out of your pockets. In part, I was running away to home. It was a sort of safety net.

What will my safety net be now? Or more to the point: what will life be like without a safety net?

Who will catch me when I fall?

What's called for, in both the short term and the long term, will be prudence. And faith.

I'm so much stronger than I was four-and-a-half years ago. I mean Damn! The shit I've been through? I've learned so much.

I hope I hope I hope that After doesn't become some huge wasted opportunity, starting out with "I deserve a little fun after what I've been through" and quickly forgetting everything I've learned.

Am I up for that challenge?

Time, I suppose, will tell.

Although not as much Time as I thought I had this morning.

Cold Winter Night

Yesterday at work, when I took my second fifteen minute break of the shift, walking across the parking lot to my car was like Nanook of the North. The icy wind was blowing snow in parallel to the ground under a lead grey sky. I had to heave to open the door of my jeep against the wind. Once safe in my jeep, the wind drove the snowflakes with such force against the windshield that their impact was audible, albeit barely. A few days ago, the temperature hit 70°, but clearly we're in for six more weeks of winter.

After work, I braved the winter wind yet again to stop at the supermarket. I went to the more upscale one, even though shopping there is so annoying and I can never find anything. My shopping list: pancetta, half-and-half, parmesan, fettuccine, greens for salad, olive oil.

My father's room at the hospital is on the top floor. As I sat there with him while he watched the All-Star game, the wind was causing these booming sounds as it hit the HVAC units on the roof over our heads and howling through the ventilation system. "What's that?" my father asked, "Thunder?"

"Only the wind, Dad," I answered.

The All-Star Game was being played in Hawaii. I found myself thinking, "I wish I had gone out for football in high school and had gotten a football scholarship and had been drafted by the NFL and after a great career I had retired and started coaching some team that did really well this season so I could be there in Hawaii now instead of here where it's so damn cold." I told my father about how when I was talking to my brother in Florida yesterday, he mentioned that he had spent the day doing yardwork and luckily it wasn't too hot and sticky outside to clear weeds.

When I wrapped up things with dad, I headed home. Walking Faithful Companion was a test of our relationship and my forbearance: "Focus! Focus!" I shouted, as he heedlessly took a long, long time to sniff a leaf.

The Ol' Homestead was toasty warm though. I scrambled doing last minute housekeeping. Everything would need to be--if not Just Right, then at least Just Alright In Dim Light. And it was. Largely.

The arrival of Way Hot Man was delayed slightly by a tree blown down by the wind in the middle of 413 just three cars ahead of him, but omigosh, there was Way Hot Man coming through the back door of my house into the kitchen!

While we chatted, I got the pots on the stove. Water was set to boil for the pasta, and I started a saute of onions and pancetta in olive oil. On the menu was Fettuccine Carbonara. The beauty of Carbonara is that the cooking takes place in the pasta bowl, not on the stove. What happens on the stove are just the preliminaries. In a bowl, I whisked together two eggs, a little bit of the half-and-half, a generous amount of the grated parmesan, and a couple of eggs.

While I cooked, Way Hot Man and I chatted, and he made approving observations about my efforts.

The timer beeped: the pasta was done. Now for the Critical Twenty Seconds. I strained the pasta, dumped it in the bowl that I had heated up some in the oven, emptied the pancetta and onion and olive oil over the pasta, and then the egg-milk-cheese mixture, then stirred it up wildly. The heat of the pasta cooks the egg, see? Brilliant.

When Way Hot Man was living in Berlin, he had a job cooking in an italian restaurant. Their food was the german version of italian food though. I was not unfamiliar with this trope. In college, the polish nuns would serve us kielbasa and ketchup over egg noodles and call it "spaghetti and sausage." He said that germans loved carbonara, even though at his Berlin restaurant, the "carbonara sauce" was something they prepared every morning (Impossible! Absurd! Apostasy!). I answered that I could see why germans would love carbonara: it's basically bacon, eggs, cheese, and noodles.

And so good. Or at least mine was last night.

We finished with a salad, just the thing after the rich, starchy pasta. "The clean-up crew after the parade," digestively speaking.

Then I offered, "Tea?"

Way Hot Man enthusiastically accepted.

I brewed tea.

(Ah, tea. At the mention thereof, I felt compelled to get up and put a pot on.)

Over tea, Way Hot Man and I talked about food and tea and life and cars and dogs and ourselves and Germany and languages like chinese and vietnamese that rely on inflection rather than phonetics and our families and past relationships.

After I took Faithful Companion for his Last Walk of the Night ("Focus! Focus!"), we went to bed. Back to my childhood bedroom, now crammed with the contents of my apartment in Jersey City, my worldly goods.

Way Hot Man and I were naked in bed together for hours, interspersing talking and smoke breaks with making the springs squeak and the headboard slam rhythmically against the wall. Outside, the wind howled and at times screeched like a bird of prey.

Way Hot Man's body is thick and sturdy. He has a pelt of hair on his chest, shoulders, and back. His butt is smooth as a baby's. He has these wonderful little feet, soft and without a single callous, unlike my own horny and rough Poor Neglected Ones.

At two in the morning, I was dreamy and sleepy, but Way Hot Man heard the call of responsibility: he has a dog to walk at home. He dressed, I donned a robe and walked him to the door and watched through the kitchen window as he started up his truck. My cellie hummed. A phone call? Was it the Baron checking in? Nope. It was Way Hot Man. Calling from the driveway.

"It's sixteen degrees out here!" he said.

"Get home safe, stay warm, and I'll talk to you tomorrow."

Way Hot Man's truck backed out of the driveway and headed off into the night. I went to bed and fell asleep immediately, bundled under the covers, the bed still warm from Way Hot Man's wonderful body.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Oh... Kay.

Alright. Well, I'd like to take this opportunity to welcome a slew of new readers here to SingleTails. Namely, every blessed person I work with at... ummm... that big store with lumber at one end and a garden center at the other end. Or at least, those with internet access.

It seems that the friend of a co-worker--and a co-worker who I like a lot, not to say I don't like everybody I work with, because I do (I do like everybody I work with, that is), but this particular co-worker is definitely in the top fifty, maybe even the top twenty--anyway, it seems the friend of a co-worker was doing a web search on "Doylestown EMS" and what should pop up by my own humble weblog!

Go figure!

What a coincidence!

How 'bout that?

You never know, right?

So here we all are!

And gosh! This isn't awkward in the least!


So, how was my day? You may well ask! I opened to day at the big store with lumber on one end and a garden center on the other. That means I had to be there at six in the morning. And the day was Nice. I worked hard! There were a few moments I took to have friendly chats with my co-workers--all of whom I like!--but never when there were any customers in the Kitchen & Bath Department or surrounding departments where I'm always willing to lend a hand and help out! And as usual, all the customers today were Nice. And I did my best to be helpful and welcoming and make their visit to the big store with lumber on one end and a garden center on the other end a pleasant and rewarding experience. And that was really nice!

After work, I visited my father in the hospital. He's managed to actually eat some food (fruit salad and some tomato soup), although it seems his bedpan privileges have been revoked and they made him get out of bed to use the bathroom. My father seems to be stuck trying to decide which experience he likes the least: the pain he endures getting to the bathroom or a team of nurses cleaning him up after he uses the bedpan. Neither sounds particularly attractive.

Doylestown Hospital seems to have caught on to the fact that my father hasn't seen a doctor in the past ten years because he hates to go to the doctor, so they're taking full advantage of having him in their clutches. Yesterday he had three CAT scans, and next week they've signed him up for a colonoscopy. My father is vague on the details of what the doctors are saying to him about what they're finding. He is, after all, a man who only hears what he wants to hear. So, I asked the nurse to put a note in his chart for his attending physician to give me a call and fill me in. Last night I picked up a list of rehab options the hospital social worker sent me, and I'll be spending my days off, Monday and Tuesday, driving around checking them out, trying to find a good one for my dad. Somewhere I once read that the best way to evaluate places like that is to go in and take a deep breath: if you smell urine, head right back out the door. Good thing I don't use that criteria in other aspects of my life or I'd...

Oh! Hey co-workers!

...or I'd never be able to use the restroom in a Trailways bus station, right?

Ha ha ha!

So here I am, back safe and sound at home. Faithful Companion has been taken for a walk. I'm settling in for the night. Perhaps before bed I'll watch some television, or maybe pursue my hobbies, which would be ironing shirts and making book jackets from paper bags that I enjoy decorating with crayons and colored pencils and Nothing Else.

Oh, and of course writing posts for this weblog, which mostly involve ironing shirts and describing my recent book jacket efforts. And not much else.

Why heck, I can't imagine why I have anybody reading this here weblog at all, since all I ever do is ramble on about ironing shirts and book jackets! Not much interesting there, right?

Well anyway, I work at 8 a.m. tomorrow--can't wait! tomorrow is going to be another Good Day at the big store with lumber on one end and a garden center on the other, I just know it!--so I'll be sure to eat a nutritious meal and to get a good night's sleep so I'm at my best tomorrow for my job. Which I like. A lot. And the same of course goes for all the people I work with. And the customers who visit our store. They're all so nice! It's amazing really. It must have something to do with the fact that management is both competent and understanding. With those two qualities combined, you're bound to get a great work experience for all of your sales associates (like me!) and attract only nice people to come in to your store.


And one other thing.

The identity of the person who hacked into my weblog and left postings that weren't authored by me and that I didn't write or have anything to do with or know anything about remains a mystery. Rest assured, I've notified Google and law enforcement authorities. They told me that rather than deleting those posts that weren't authored by me but were written not by me but by Other People, I should leave them up because that will help with their investigation. Even though I hate to have to do that, since I don't know anything about a lot of what is talked about in those posts, So, inconvenient and embarrassing as that is--especially since they constitute the majority of what you'll read here over the past five years or so--I'll just have to do that.

Alright, so I guess that's about it. Even though I have some really exciting ironing to do and I made a really nice book jacket for the works of James Michener (one of my favorite authors!), I'll stop here and tell you about that--at length--some other time.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

And How Are We Today?

I got off work at Ho(t)me(n) Depot at 10 p.m. tonight and headed to Doylestown Hospital.

My father's orthopedic surgeon called after the operation to let me know that everything went well, but there was an issue. During the pre-op, my father had a chest x-ray, and they found some nodules in his lungs. To my surprise, my father had a chest x-ray at some point in the past few years--I was way out of the loop on that somehow--and he didn't have the nodules then. So there's the possibility that my father has lung cancer. After things settle out from the operation, they're going to look into that.

(Note: my father has lung cancer. Perhaps those of you who know my affinity for smoking are wondering if this is giving me thoughts of quitting. I have to admit that the reverse is true. My father is eighty-two years old. So, like, if I keep smoking I won't live to see eighty-five? I could probably tolerate that. That said, I probably won't be smoking for too much longer. Like not too much more than a decade or so. But enough about me.)

Let me just say that wherever my life takes me, wherever I happen to be, when the time comes that I have to go to a hospital, I'm going to see if I can arrange to get to Doylestown Hospital. Visiting hours there are noon to 8 p.m. I showed up there at about twenty after ten. Problem? Uh uh. They found the room my father was in, and the security guy gave me a special badge that would allow me to get up to the room, after calling up and clearing it with the nurses.

So cool!

All alone, I found my way through the otherwise deserted hallways of Doylestown Hospital up to the acute care ward on the fourth floor. And there was my dad! He got the bed by the door this time.

Honestly, he sure didn't look like a guy who had surgery earlier that day. He told me that it still hurt, although they were still being pretty liberal with the pain medication. His new nurse, Nurse Amy, came in to give him a new bag of sucrose or whatever it is and to check his vitals, which were good. While she was in the room... Well, let me express it this way.

Me: So Dad, I baked some brownies for you last night. I get off work tomorrow at seven and I'll bring some brownies for you then.

My Dad: No! I have no appetite! I haven't been eating anything. And I don't anything to eat.

Nurse Amy: Wait! We're talking about brownies here! And you've just had surgery and by seven o'clock tomorrow you'll probably have an appetite then.

Me: She has a point Dad.

My Dad: Well, okay. You can bring the brownies for me.

When I got home, the house was dark. As in, totally dark. No lights on at all. Faithful Companion seemed a little bit cheesed off by this. When I came through the back door, I could here him making his way through the dark house, bumping into furniture. Faithful Companion has a really hard head. And I don't think he's very bright. He bumps into things fairly often. Once when I was walking him in Jersey City, he was looking over his shoulder and sort of grinning back at me, his tongue lolling in his mouth, and he walked right into a lamp post so that it made this Roadrunner and Coyote cartoon sounding Dunnnnnng noise. I laughed loud and long at my poor dog.

I hate coming home to a dark house. I used to resent my father for not leaving the light on in the kitchen for me. But even when I would come into a dark kitchen, the floor light would always be on in the livingroom. Tonight, of course, no lights were on at all, because for the third time in four and a half years, I was coming home to a house where no one was home.

From here on, I'll remember to leave the light on in the kitchen when I'm leaving in the morning.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

And How Are We Today?

Visiting my father in the hospital this afternoon. (And it was "this afternoon" rather than this morning: I had some Very Important Lazing About The House to do today.)

He seems to be in good spirits. He hasn't eaten anything. Doylestown Hospital will have to learn to accommodate my father's eating patterns: he has tea for breakfast; tea, and donuts for lunch; and for dinner he has whatever protein and vegetables I manage to sneak into something he likes.

Mostly he's sleeping, which is good. He shares his room with a guy named Brad who doesn't seem to be taking much of an interest in the complaining old man in the bed next to him, focused as he is on some problem or other with his pancreas. His nurse, Nurse Kat, seems competent and pleasant.

His surgery is scheduled for tomorrow at 2:45 p.m., although there seem to be some nodules in his lungs that the doctors are worried about. They wanted to schedule a CAT scan to investigate them further, but then realized that since my father's leg is in traction, that would be problematic. So they might just go through with it regardless. (That seems pretty amateurish to me.)

My father and I chatted and passed the time. Then he turned on the television so he could catch the news. I filled him in on the results of the elections yesterday. He's worried about thunderstorms tonight, although given the fact that he's in a hospital, he has absolutely nothing to worry about there.

My Dad is still very much my Dad. I told him I was writing down the phone number in his room to pass on to my brother, his son, so that my brother, his son, could give him a call.

"No!" my father said, "Don't give out my phone number to anybody! I don't want any phone calls here."

Uhhh... What's up, Dad?

He explained himself: "Mostly I sleep. And when the phone rings, it wakes me up. I have enough that's bothering me."


When I reported this to my brother, he was nonplussed. "I've known him for longer than you have," he said, "and nothing surprises me at this point."

Tonight, while I watch Project Runway, I'm going to bake those brownies. When I stop in to see him on Friday, after his surgery, I'll bring them to him. That should brighten his day. Perhaps he'll even reconsider not accepting phone calls from my brother.


Last night was Shrove Tuesday, so of course I made pancakes for dinner. My day at work had been busy busy busy. Today, a big muckety-muck is rumored to be visiting our Ho(t)me(n) Depot, so the various Assistant Managers and Department Heads were scrambling to make sure every thing was perfect. I did my best to get into the spirit of things, but that whole dog-and-pony-show thing has always hit me as a little off. It's a game, right? Surely the muckety-muck knows that by letting folks know that he or she (in this case) will be coming, there's all this to-do beforehand. And if there's all this to-do beforehand, there's not going to be much in the way of an opportunity to gauge what goes down the other three hundred and sixty-four days of the year, right? But whatEVER. Being busy makes the day go more quickly.

Way Hot Man and I were supposed to meet up last night, too, since I have the day off today. But as I worked till 7 p.m., I rethought things and called him during my lunch hour to ask if we could hold off till Sunday night. After all, I had to go home to make pancakes for my father, so I wouldn't be available until 9 p.m. at the earliest. That was cool with Way Hot Man.

So the pancakes.

They were all stacked up, warm and golden brown. The chicken apple sausage I like to serve with pancakes was ready, too. I called back to my father to let him know that dinner was ready and started slathering mine with peach butter from a local farm stand.

As my father came into the kitchen, he lost his balance and fell. Hard. Going down like a ton of bricks.

"Daddy! Are you okay?"

He said he was, mostly. Although his left leg felt numb, he didn't have any strength in it. I massaged his left hip bone gently, it felt like the muscles were in spasm. I got down on the floor with him and had him put his arm around me, and I put my arms around him.

"One, two, THREE!"

My father weighed a ton, but I managed to hoist him up off the floor and onto the chair in the kitchen. Then, I scooched the chair across the floor to get him to the table. And then, my father and I enjoyed Shrove Tuesday pancakes while watching the election results on CNN. (How is it that Wolf Blitzer has a job? He should be teaching Social Studies in a junior high school somewhere.)

After pancakes, I cleaned up the dinner dishes. My father divided his attention between what I was doing and CNN. My father is for Hillary. Clearly. I don't like to dwell on the reasons for this. Suffice it to say that he refers to Senator Obama as "that black guy." My father is a man of his generation.

"How is your leg doing?" I asked.

My dad said that it still felt numb. And paralyzed. When he tried to move it, it hurt a lot. "Help me get back to my chair," he asked.

I tried to do a fireman's carry from the left side, but we didn't get too far. My father slumped through my arms and down onto the kitchen floor. "Ahh! Ahhh! AHHHH!! What the hell? How am I going to get to my chair?"

"Dad," I said, "I think I'd better call the ambulance."

"I guess you'd better," he said.

I dialed 911. Which seemed odd. All the time I was growing up, there was a little orange sticker on the phone with two phone numbers: "In case of fire, call 215 297-something-something-something-something, and for Police, call 215 766 something-something-something-something." This, of course, was literally the phone number of the local police and the local volunteer fire department. Waiting to answer the phone at the fire department would be one of our neighbors, who would respond by setting off the fire whistle, putting out the call over the radio, and calling other of our neighbors to get out of bed and get down to the fire house in Point Pleasant. Dialing 911 and talking to a 911 operator seemed like a foreign and un-Bucks County way to set this whole thing in motion.

I told the 911 operator that my father had fallen and he couldn't get up, that he had pain and numbness in his left leg. I gave my location--"we're at 4853 Tollgate Road, just north of Ferry Road"--and clearly this meant nothing to the 911 operator. I wasn't dealing with a neighbor here. "Township or Municipality?" he asked. Clearly not a neighbor.

Back in the kitchen, my father was struggling to keep himself upright on the floor. I fetched some pillows from the sofa and put them between him and the base cabinets so he could lean back into them. I ran out and put on the floodlight over the garage, and turned the porch lights on. Since it was trash night, I ran the garbage and the recycling out to the curb. I saw a vehicle with a search light scanning mailboxes making its way up the road in the foggy darkness. A police cruiser stopped out front and one of the local cops got out and came up the driveway, "What's the trouble?" he asked.

"Uh... I called for an ambulance," I said, maybe a little bit accusingly, "My father fell and he can't move his leg to get up."

"You did call an ambulance," said Officer Lawn, "But I got here first."



I flashed on a distant memory. Way back when then-Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani merged the fire department with EMS, my Awful Ex and I discovered a woman who had been raped and dumped out on our block in the West Village while walking the dog. I stayed with the woman while he ran back inside--this was before cell phones--and called 911. Within minutes, three fire trucks screeched to a halt and the traumatized woman and I were surrounded by a couple of dozen male firefighters in their turnouts.

The woman and I looked at each other and she said, "What the hell did you call the fire department for?"

I didn't. Clearly, the merger was not going well.

And now, I called for an ambulance and I got one of the local constabulary, a body I don't hold in the highest esteem, captained as it is by a kid I grew up with who spent his teenage years dealing pot. Remembering my father sitting on the floor of the kitchen, I suppressed the urge to present my license, registration, and proof of insurance, and brought the cop inside.

"Why did you call the police?" my father asked.

Both we Kramer men turned accusing looks at the cop.

"The ambulance is on the way. It's a foggy night, so it might take them a few minutes to get here."

"Damned good thing I didn't cut an artery or I'd be a goner," my father offered.

The cop and I started moving furniture to clear a way for the EMS folks. Sure enough, an actual ambulance came creeping up the road and after some discussion with the cop, backed into the driveway. The ambulance crew consisted of a man and a woman. And the guy was quite a looker: shaved head, compact muscular body with a nice gut, three piercings in his ear with the captured beads I'm more used to seeing on nipples.

"Well hello," I greeted him.

And he totally knew what was up. "Uhhh... Hi. Ummm... We're responding to a call?"

"Right! My dad! He's in here."

EMS woman did that what's-your-name?-what's-your-date-of-birth?-who's-the-president? thing with my father, who responded to that last question with "Bush. But only for another eleven months."

(All the while, CNN was still on. "Dad! Hillary got Massachusetts, but they declared Connecticut for Obama.")

EMS man (Woooof!) and I managed to get my father onto the guerney and they loaded him into the ambulance. I went back inside and called my brother to let him in on the news, then drove to Doylestown Hospital. It was after ten o'clock, so Starbucks was closed. And I could really have used a latté.

At the hospital, my father was in the hallway on a new guerney. Apparently it was a busy night at Doylestown Hospital. Probably all those Republicans having strokes because of John McCain's sweep. My father was really starting to hurt. No one seemed to be paying much nevermind. In one of the rooms, I heard listened as an inmate from the local prison, attended by two corrections officers, had a tube stuck down his nose and into his stomach. ("See Dad! It could be worse!")

After about an hour, my father was taken across the hall for x-rays. I sat outside reading House & Garden wincing as I heard the two young women who were the x-ray techs barking orders at my poor old dad. Who the hell raised them?

Luckily, my father's nurse, Nurse Bill, was a strapping young puppy with a sweet disposition. He took vitals, put in the IV line (I turned away at Nurse Bill's suggestion not wanting to add to their patient load by passing out) and promised my father that he'd get him something for the pain.

Nurse Bill was good as his word, and managed to get some morphine pumping through my father's veins in a jiff.

Finally, my father was seen by the ER physician, who looked over my father's charts, asked some questions, and explained the process to us: "After we get the x-rays back, the house physician will be by to review them, and he'll sign the order to admit, then we'll take you upstairs and get you settled in a room. If it is a break, that will mean surgery tomorrow."

A break? I hadn't been thinking of a broken him. I thought what we had here was a leg twisted out of joint. Does a man with a broken leg sit down and feast on pancakes? Are my pancakes that good?

Oh right. Endorphins.

A broken bone triggers a huge release of endorphins. All through dinner, my father was probably flying. Now that they were fading, he was really starting to feel the pain, and was already requesting more morphine. Which was readily given by the excellent Nurse Bill.

A break.


A break.

A room finally opened up as a guy who had had a seizure was dispatched towards home, and my father was moved in. I helped Nurse Bill maneuver the guerney. A woman with a voice like she was addressing a class of boisterous second graders came in and did an ekg and there were more blood draws.

Finally, at about one in the morning, the house physician came in. I didn't like him as much as the ER physician, whom I liked a lot. House Physician was shouting. Literally shouting. "How are you doing, Mr. Kramer?" he bellowed. I wondered if he was hard of hearing. I did this de-escalation tactic I had picked up at some point and lowered the volume of my voice, almost to a whisper, and that seemed to have some effect on the man's volume.

Speaking so that they could probably hear every word out in the lobby, House Physician gave us the news: My father's leg was broken just below the hip bone. That meant surgery tomorrow. After surgery, my father would be discharged to a nursing home for rehabilitation.

Holy shit.

My father broke his hip. Discharged to a nursing home.

All of a sudden, my life is different.

My father has been in one of those "holes in the donut" famous in our healthcare system. He has some significant health problems--spinal stenosis greatly impairs his mobility--but nothing that rose to a level where Medicare would jump in and pay for him to get home health care. Thus, taking care of my father has fallen entirely to me. Which wasn't too burdensome, as it mostly meant things like fixing him dinner every night. But that said, my father is pretty much unable to bathe himself. And me bathing him would be tough emotionally on everybody involved. And he has trouble making it to the bathroom "in time." Now, there is private home health care available. It's called custodial care, and my father would have to pay for that himself. In fact, four years ago, I did my research and stopped in and paid a visit to the Area Agency for the Aging and found out that there were a host of services, from hot home-delivered meals to transportation anywhere he wanted to go, available to my father. But his response then was, "I don't need that. I have you."

"But Dad," I countered, not very effectively, "What about when I go away somewhere?"

"Just don't go away anywhere."

Over the past four years, this cycle of his increasing need, his unwillingness to look to anyone but me for help, and my acquiescence to all of this--after all, he is my dad--have lead to the Whatever Happened To Baby Jane-type relationship that the two of us now enjoy.

So now, my father had broken his hip. And after surgery, he'd be going to a nursing home.

And after that?

Would my father be coming back to 4853 Tollgate Road?

Several months ago, I explored local assisted living options for my father. Two things became clear. Assisted living would be great for my father. He wouldn't be lonely because there would be folks around all day to watch television with and talk to. And by pressing a button, some nurses aide would hop-to and do his bidding in a way that I know he secretly expects from me. I know my father pretty well, and I can only imagine that he would flourish in an environment like that. But the other thing that was clear was that even at gunpoint, I would never ever be able to get my father to go for something like that.

But now, with his broken hip, my father is going for something like that.



What's my life going to be like?

Yesterday, projecting myself into the future, I saw it this way: I work at Ho(t)me(n) Depot; I come home and make my father dinner; I watch some television; I go to bed. Day after day after day after day. Interspersed with increasing rarity with opportunities when I'm able to get away from here if only for a few days. Or even for a day.

But now, it's just me and Faithful Companion here. And it'll be just us here for the next several weeks at least.

I can make stuff I like for dinner (my father won't eat anything with cheese, mushrooms, garlic... the list goes on). I can linger at Starbucks. If I had a gym membership, I could go to the gym. I can have guys over.

Suddenly, my life is resembling that of a forty-three year old.

It's all different now.

And another thought swimming through my head.

Last night, sitting there next to my dad in the hallway of the emergency department of Doylestown Hospital, I had this sense of being outside myself, observing myself. There I was, talking to my father, holding his hand, tenderly stroking his hair, trying to keep his spirits up. I think I caught looks of admiration from Nurse Bill and even from the two corrections officers.

"Job well done."

It's like this.

I try to be a good man. I try really hard. Even though I have serious doubts about this whole global warming thing, and even though my reading of the science shows that to the extent the climate is changing then human activity brings little to bear on that, and even if there is a small percentage of climate change attributable to human activity, of all the millions of people on the planet, does it really matter that I bring my own damn bag to the supermarket so when I'm asked "paper or plastic?" I can answer neither? No. It's absurd. But I do it anyway.

And four-and-a-half years ago, when I sat there with my father on the bed in the guest bedroom as they were taking away the body of his wife and he asked me to give up my life in New York City and move back here to sleep in my childhood bedroom and take care of him, I said, "Okay."

And the past four-and-a-half years have brought crushing loneliness and despair and a sense of being abandoned by God, I'd wake up feeling like I could cry because my life was frittering away as I tended to the needs of this grumpy ingrate of an old man who happened to be my father. And don't think that the past four-and-a-half years haven't taken me to some very dark places in my heart, places with ice cold bitterness and hatred, because they have.

But day after day after day, I found a way to make it work. Again and again I found my way out of the bout of misery or despair or anger. Last night, after Shrove Tuesday pancakes, it was my plan to surprise my father by making him a batch of brownies while I watched the Super Tuesday results.

And why do I do all this? Why did I sign up for this in the first place?

Because I want to be a good man. I want to do what's good and right. I may often fail, but I always try to do my best.

And why? Not for the accolades. Not so that other people will think me good. And absolutely not because I think of myself as good. (I am weak flesh. I've done some terrible things to people who didn't deserve it. I can be cruel and petty and mean-spirited and self-seeking.)

I want to be a good man because... because I want to be a good man. Maybe it's the Episcopal Church or the Boy Scouts or whatever the hell that instilled this in me. I have no idea.

And looking back over the past half a decade of my life, I can't help but thinking, "You did a good job there. Job well done."

So now, it seems, there's a new chapter of my life beginning. What will this be like?

We'll see.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Right Again!

Aha! Been all over the 'net, but I found this article from the excellent POZ magazine to be particularly enlightening. According to this Swiss study, if you're HIV positive and on meds and your viral load has been under forty for more than six months, than you're not going to transmit the virus when you have sex.

To be sure, there are plenty of nay-sayers out there who point out that it's impossible to prove a negative. However, I would respond by pointing out that there's absolutely no reason whatsoever that prevents the female Anaphales Mosquito from transmitting HIV the way she so effectively does with malaria. The only thing that epidemiologists can point to in order to show it doesn't happen is that... well... it doesn't happen.

Nay-sayers continue by playing their trump card: but who among us would be willing to take that risk? And there in the back of the auditorium would be me with my hand in the air. It's seemed obvious to me for years that it is less risky to have sex with someone who is HIV positive than someone who believes himself to be negative. Especially if the poz guy has been living with the virus for a while, he's probably on meds, and the gold standard these days is an undetectable viral load. But the neg guy may have sero-converted since he tested last, and shortly after sero-conversion his body is swarming with the virus and he's at a point where he's most able to transmit the virus.

Coupled with the success that the San Francisco Department of Health has had with encouraging sero-sorting (poz guys only having sex with poz guys and neg guys only having sex with neg guys), we arrive at an interesting logical endpoint: all things being equal, the safest possible sex would be what goes down with two poz guys; second to that would be a poz guy and a neg guy, but the riskiest sex would be between two neg guys. (Take that all you people who put "UB2" in your profile!)

That said, there is a down side. Recently diagnosed HIV positive men already face enormous pressure to start on meds sooner, even though they feel healthy and strong, and even though starting meds potentially means dealing with all of those hellish side effects like explosive diarrhea and neuropathy and such, not to mention having to worry for the rest of your days about your healthcare coverage. And with this news, the pressure will be even greater.

One sour note though. The swiss study only looked at sero-discordant heterosexual couples. Natch. The public health establishment closed the book on male-to-male transmission in 1986 when they conceived the mantra "Use a Condom Every Time," refusing to consider that for many people, this formula is a tad unworkable. But, they seem to feel that this lets them off the hook of doing any research that will provide gay men with information they need to make sound decisions.

For example, did you know that you're supposed to use a condom when you give or get a blow job? It's true! Do you know anybody who does that? And can you get HIV that way? In fact you can. But most of us have used the mosquito-logic mentioned above to conclude that even though there might be a risk, the risk there is negligible. Wouldn't it be kinda nice if someone with a research budget looked into this and other questions just a little bit? Nah. Let them use condoms.

Ah well, Science marches on.

To The Marriage Of True Minds Be Wed

Oh interesting!

On Andrew Sullivan's weblog is a link and partial representation of an 1966 article in The Atlantic titled, "Against Marriage." Here's the link to the complete essay.

"Consecutive polygamy," huh? That's a nice turn of phrase. It refers to the fact that situations where you grow up, find The One, are married, and spend your natural lives together are terrifically rare. Add to that complete and undefiled sexual monogamy and you get into hens-teeth realms. And think of those arrangements in the overall timeline of fifty thousand years of human history. Or even the last two thousand years during which the Judeo-Christian has held sway.

I also appreciate how Cadwallader, who wrote the essay, discusses the pressures all of us feel to buy into the paradigm. At the risk of being decried as a Marxist, I'd point out that there are significant widespread economic interests in seeing the perpetuation of marriage, also.

But when the essay talks about the toll taken by extricating yourself from the encumbrances of a marriage, my wheels started to turn. Cadwallader suggests that a better way to go about things would be for the legals aspects of the relationship to take the form of a one to two year contract rather than in perpetuity. (If I remember contract law, doesn't a contract have to have a term in order to be valid? Is there a term--as in span of time for which the contract holds--for a marriage contract?) That made me recall the advice of Black Rose founder, weapons inspector, and Guy Who Owns Slaves Jack McG. with respect to good Master/slave relationships. Jack commends that a Master and slave start out with an initial contract of three to six months. At the end of that time, they parties sit down and decide whether or not to renew the contract for a period of a year or two. And renew and renew and renew until you don't. Or don't renew.

The genius of this scheme is that if it's not a good relationship, no one loses face. You don't have to give a reason for not renewing, you walk away having fulfilled your obligations.

To be sure, especially for a romantic pig like me, "Will you enter into a one year contract with me?" sure doesn't hit the year like, "Will you marry me?" does.

Or doesn't it?

Mick Jagger famously only asked for one night, and I don't think I know of anyone, male, female, homo, or hetero, who wouldn't say yes to that.

So perhaps the day might come when hearts will sing to hear the request, "Let's spend a year together."

And how cool would that be?

I could plan a great year!

For one year, I'll do the cooking, and I promise you some really great meals. We can have some project that we do together, like renovating a house or putting in a garden, we'll plan a great two week trip together, we'll figure out some long weekend trips, too. From the git-go, we'll do couples therapy once a week. And at the end of the year, we'll sit down and see if we want to go for another year. In lieu of a complete melding of financial resources, each of us can benefit from the pooled financial resources that couples enjoy by keeping separate savings accounts that will provide a cushion in case the contract is not renewed.

I would love that! I would so totally be up for that!

Tragically, this stunning insight puts me decades ahead of the rest of humanity, so finding someone who wouldn't respond with "Say what?" to that proposal isn't likely. But time is on my side.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

What've You Got?

Big movie night!

While I made beef stew for my dad and I for dinner--I splurged on some bleu cheese since I like my beef stew over bleu cheese on toast points--I watched Help, the Beatles movie. John Lennon was so dreamy, no? After Help, our friends at public television were showing Rebel Without A Cause. I've read about the movie, but I never saw it before. Vito Russo treated it pretty extensively in his classic The Celluloid Closet.

Oh man.

I was totally unprepared.

It's sort of the bastard love child of Sigmund Freud, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Lee Strasberg.

With apologies to the late, great Vito Russo, I don't think Sal Mineo's Plato was a homo. However much I'd like to believe that. I think that what Plato wanted was a Dad, not a boyfriend. Still, how touching is it when Plato asks James Dean to stay over night? Awwwww...

Teenagers with switchblades spouting existentialist koans got to be a little much at times. Same with the Master Thespian ACTing going on. But every time it started to get to me, James Dean would take off his shirt, and that made it all okay.

And omigosh! That's Mr. Howell! And that's Maude's housekeeper Florida! And is that Dennis Hopper?

And here we are, teenagers, poised in a moment between oblivion and obliteration, looking to make friends.

Nice movie.