Thursday, August 27, 2015

Let's think about what's next

I've been giving a lot of thought to my funeral lately.

Let me guess what you think of that. “Man. How come I don't get to be in this guy's posse so we can do cool stuff like think about our funerals? All we ever do is discuss TV shows, movies, stuff like that. Why can't we be one of the cool ones?”

Well, maybe that's not exactly what you're thinking. But the truth is, we should all think about our funerals at some point, and not just right before we die, which I'm not close to doing (any closer than the average person, at least), by the way, in case you think that's what brought this on. First off, who says you would be able to have that kind of perfect timing. Besides, if you do it that way, there are no do-overs. If something doesn't feel quite right, chances are you aren't going to be in good enough health to make the change. Besides, not to work on it ahead of time just leaves the people you care about with the ridiculous burden to deal with all by themselves. That's no way to run a funeral or to show someone how much you love them!

Nah, the best time to work on your funeral is before you even get sick. I used to think about it before I got cancer, but if you're not sick, you can usually have a discussion with someone because... well, because the other person isn't going to feel the awkwardness that could come with discussing any aspect of dying with someone who is sick. Like me, for example.

But when all is said and done, we're probably just as unlikely to discuss the funeral as we are writing out our wills. Typically, even if we are willing to make out a will, we wait until we think the Grim Reaper is using Google Earth to find our house so that he's ready when the time comes.

In many ways, making out a will is a lot like talking about dying. We know we should have a will, and we know we could die at any minute, but talking about them, let alone doing something about at least getting a will, seems to be way too difficult.

But, since I haven't been giving a lot of thought to my will, probably because I already have one, let's get back to thinking about our funerals.

If you would rather not, and want to skip this week's column, of course you should. That's a standing offer as many of you know. Yes, you will miss some pithy observations about life in general, and, in this case, about funeral planning, but you shouldn't make yourself uncomfortable.

Now, if you're still with me, let me guess one of the things you'll be thinking next: This is all about control issues and my ego. Well, that's not true... Well, actually that is exactly true but it seems cruel to be having such thoughts about someone who is, after all, planning their funeral.

It is about control and ego. I want my funeral to be like my life- well orchestrated, with moments of drama, romance and plenty of laughs, all keyed by the music that is played. Now that I reread that sentence, this may be even more about ego than I initially thought.

Cut me some slack, why don't you. Who is going to be able to detail my life better than me? Or in your case, you?
Attendance concerns me. I did actually make Sheri promise to come and bring a date. I think she agreed. She did mutter something about how stupid it was and what was wrong with me and what on earth made me think of idiotic things like that. So, that sounded like a yes to me.

In recent years, especially since I found out about having cancer, I've made a conscious effort to become beloved by the little people who have been such an important part of my life. You're welcome, and I hoped it worked. Bring a date.

As far as mood, I admit to being somewhat torn. Of course, there should be tears, but not too many. Likewise, laughs would be essential, but let's not forget why we're there people.

For me, music is the key. It is an important part of the relationship Sheri and I have, but playing “Camel Walk,” by Southern Culture on the Skids might be a bit much for casual attendees. I know for sure we'll have “Turn, Turn, Turn,” by the Byrds, because that has been on my list since I first heard it 50 years ago. I have been putting tunes I'm considering together in a playlist. Hey, do you think a commemorative CD would be too much?

Oy. Sometimes I really astonish myself with some of the things I'm willing to put in writing to be read and dissected by thousands of people. This whole topic should probably be off-putting, but I don't find it so. Maybe it's because I know what I have floating around in my head that I don't write about. Some of that stuff would be off-putting, believe me.

Anyway, don't worry that I'm turning morbid or anything. Au contraire. In three or four weeks we will mark the end of our second year with cancer. I'm still here and Sheri is still doing really well in handling all of the stuff that goes with having someone you love suffer from cancer. Still, questions remain. Like for now, I'm obsessing over whether we should us the long or short version of “In a Gadda Da Vida.”

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Regrets? I've had a few. Seriously???

“Regrets, I've had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption”

Paul Anka

Let's begin with a spoiler alert: I may well end up being at least a “little” critical of one of your “all-time favorite” songs. But, remember, it's only my skewed way of looking at it and I don't really know Jack (not his real name) about your taste in music, so, the heck with me.

Anyway, whether sung by Frank Sinatra or Elvis Presley, or, I suppose, anyone else, there is no doubt that the song strikes a chord (he he) with many people. Sinatra and Presley are two of the biggest stars... EVER, why they would become so identified with a song about living your life as best you can, is, at least, on one level, a bit beyond me. Yes, rich, famous people have problems too. I get it. Still, Elvis's rousing ending to his version seems like so much overdo...

But, if you get past you-know-who and you-know-who-too, I think the real “passion” for the song would have to be found in bars; places where people congregate to drink alcoholic beverages.

And by bars, I mean bars, like the days when movies were in black and white. The “Set 'em up Joe” kind of places, where smoke was mandatory. There was no “drinks” menu; the drinks were either beer or liquor and... gin AND tonic, scotch AND soda, and so on. They were not cocktail lounges and the guys (almost exclusively) who served the drinks were bartenders, or occasionally barkeeps, but certainly not mixologists.

The lights were always dim, and not in a great, atmospheric way. They seemed dim because something was missing- light bulbs, joy, any sense of enjoyment. Much of the time, neon signs presented the bulk of the light.

In the scenario in which I see “My Way,” being so at home, there are almost exclusively men, who may or may not have started out looking for women at some point, but are now just sitting around a bar looking for an explanation of what it is about sitting around a bar that makes them spend so much of their time doing exactly that.

There may be an occasional woman, but, generally speaking, women have more sense. They also tend to drink in places with better atmosphere. The bars I'm thinking about are “joints.”

So, the customers may be alcoholics, or not. They're probably people who can stop anytime they want to, but don't want to. I don't think they stopped by just for the one drink.

As the night goes on (this is quite a scenario I'm presenting, is it not? There is a point coming, though, if you can hang in a little longer), the jukebox gets quite a workout, and it's the three tunes for a quarter juke, by the way. Depending on the neighborhood, there could be some popular ethnic choices- “Irish Eyes are Smiling,” for example, or anything by Frankie Yankovic and the Yanks, or even Mario Lanza.

As the night starts to wind down, though, a quarter will be dropped, C6 or D8 or whatever will be punched and Frank or The King will start pouring comfort on everyone's hurts. Eyes will begin to tear, hearts will begin to soften, and someone may actually join in, off key, probably, but with complete conviction.

After being played once, it quite likely will be played again, at least two more times. But then, the night is over. The melancholy hangs in the place almost as thick as the smoke, and it's time to go. Regrets, hah! What regrets. I did it my way, buddy!!!

Whew. I may have gotten a bit carried aware with my metaphors and my passion for film noir may have leaked out, but still...

I tell you all that, to say this: for me to claim “Regrets I have a few, but then again too few to mention” is silly. For me, the world is too big, too wonderful, too amazing, too full of choices not to have a fair number of regrets, assuredly not a few. Seriously, we are presented with so many great choices virtually every day that getting half of them right would be a wonderful thing to sing about.

I was always one of those people who would try to live my life so that I could look back and not have to say, I wish I had done... whatever, when I had the choice. And even with that philosophy, I have all the regrets, and more, that one man can carry.

None of this is a bad thing, by the way. Regrets, no regrets, it doesn't really matter all that much, at least not to me. The point is to have done the best you can, make as many good choices as possible, and let the Sinatra or The King sing about the rest.

Just one final thought about the song- the English lyrics were written by Paul Anka who also wrote “(You're) Having my Baby.” Just sayin'.

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Feeling “positively moist” and other constants

Can I just take a few minutes of your time to tell you I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired?

Actually, it may take more than a few minutes, but then again, maybe not. It depends on how fast you read?? Heh heh.

My wife Sheri and I are approaching two years of dealing with cancer. Two years. Is that a long time? Don't know. If you're serving a lifetime jail sentence, I guess not. If you're in an unhappy relationship and aren't able, or worse, don't have the courage, to get out of it, two years probably seems like a loooong time, I would guess.

For the two of us, in this particular instance, two years has seemed like long enough. We have had enough highs and lows to fill eleventy-seven trips to Disney World. Or Disneyland. Or Disney Tokyo. Or Disney Paris, for that matter. The point is...There have been a tremendous number of ups and downs.

Initially, everything was huge. I had cancer. I had multiple myeloma. I had chromosome deletion 17p. One thing after another bonking us on the head and in the heart. We did okay, though. Better than okay, I would say. We kept going, returning to the front of the line for the next trip, be it up or down. Even if it meant saying, “Excuse us. We were here first.” We got on the ride and went where we would.

In some ways, and bear with me on this one, those were sort of the good old days. Trust me. I know how ridiculous that sounds, but, I think, only because you aren't us. Maybe I should say, maybe because you aren't me, in this case. I haven't discussed it with Sheri. I can hear her in the kitchen now, making something healthy to eat, which in itself leaves me a bit torn. I know it will be delicious, as well as healthy, but I haven't enjoyed food for months. That is one the downs we've dealt with.

Anyway, the good old days... The news was terrible and consistently so. Each punch left us reeling and clinging to each other like... like, say, those tag team wrestlers who are all jacked up from being bounced about by the other two wrasslin' guys; but neither one is all that anxious to resume being tossed about like so much flotsam and/or jetsam.

We were tough, though, we could take it. And we did.

But now... I feel sick and/or tired almost all the time. Anything big? Not really. Not like finding out about the cancer, for sure. But, rather, an omnipresent nausea. I feel like I could easily throw up (or should I say vomit? Is vomit classier? Is there, in fact, any classy way to talk about... you know?) at various times through each day. I have these waves of hot and cold flashes that leave me, as good girls would say in the antebellum South, “positively moist” and wanting to wave a fan to cool myself.

The stomach pains that began so long ago remain. Still unnamed, but still responsible for considerable pain and discomfort.

The ribs I hurt when I was attacked by bees almost two years ago still hurt. As do the ones I damaged falling on ice in the winter and on our lawn this summer.

The collarbone I broke just prior to my stem cell transplant has still not truly healed. At least, not as far as I can tell. There is a numb, constant pain there that sometimes is replaced by a horrific jolt when I turn on my side just so and it feels like the two parts have tried to join together and just missed, causing a jagged bone into skin feeling. Sorry if that seems graphic. But, maybe it gives some credence to why I might be sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Let's see. What else? Well, there's an emotional aspect to this roller coast existence. Sometimes I feel good just because I stop feeling bad. Sometimes I just feel good. Other times I swoop down to a new low. And this affects Sheri too. She can see all of this and is very sensitive to it. She does what she needs to do to take care of herself, but as I've said before, it isn't easy watching someone you care about in pain, physical or mental.

Um... Um... Did I mention my bones hurt? All the time? Well, if I didn't, they do. They hurt to touch and I really suffer anxiety around someone bumping into me or punching me- anywhere- in some sort of attaboy gesture bound to go horribly awry.

So, maybe you can see what I mean. I should be feeling better, except my doctors say I feel exactly as I must. They don't really have a lot to say about any of these things, other than, “I'm sorry your ribs hurt. I'm sorry your bones hurt...” You get the drift, right?

But you know what? I think of my friend Cindy who died from complications resulting from her stem cell transplant, and of Dolly who succumbed to multiple myeloma after fighting it for some five years, and understand how much they loved their families to keep going. I don't think they struggled on so they could feel the way they felt for yet another day. God bless them and God bless all of you who have prayed for me, Sheri and my family. I can't imagine how sick and tired I would feel without your efforts.

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere.”

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Sheri and Jim, sitting in a tree... 23 years later

The moon has a face
And it smiles on the lake
And causes the ripples in Time
I'm lucky to be here
With someone I like
Who maketh my spirit to shine

Warren Zevon

On Aug. 8, Sheri and I will have been together for 23 years. Maybe it brings to mind the old vaudeville joke (I know how you love 'em): Guy- My wife and I have been together for 15 happy years. 2nd guy- That's wonderful. 1st guy- Yeah. Fifteen out of 27 ain't bad. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

We had known each other for a couple of years before we started “going together,” but Aug. 8 was our first official outing. We couldn't call it a date. We were both 44 and hadn't dated since we were in our teens; to call it a date was not possible. She was going through a divorce and I had seen the end of a long-term relationship. Myself and Judy (not her real name, of course) mutually agreed the relationship was no longer working, and that it was probably more because of my behavior than hers. Fair enough.

So, Sheri and I started and here we are 23 years down the road, still together and still extremely happy. After all this time, I do sometimes ask myself: “Why do you still like her?” Not love, you'll notice, but why do I still “like” her? Two entirely different, yet valid, I think, questions.

I think there is some mandatoryness to loving someone, especially after a longish period of time. Sort of “In for a penny, in for a pound,” although that might be a little cold. But, liking someone. That's entirely up to you. If someone casually asks about your relationship- “Gosh. The two of you are still in love after all these years, huh?” You say yes, brothers and sisters, and “like” isn't even gonna come into the picture.

So, why do I still like this amazing woman? Well, she's beautiful. I still look across a room sometimes and think, “Wow! Who's the chick with the brilliant smile?” and semi-blush when I realize it's my wife. She is really smart. Incredibly loyal. Wait a minute... I'm making her sound like “Lassie.”

“Go get Jim, Sheri. Go get him. He fell down the well. Go on, Sheri. Get him.”

And maybe there is a bit of that in it. But, she's also good company, fun to be around, and generous with her heart. She is a great friend to her friends. Ask any of them and I'll bet they say that about her.

Me? I know a lot of people. They are my friends, but I make that a more difficult proposition than it should be. Somebody says to me: “Jim, go get Toby. He fell in the well. Go get him.” I'm just gonna say, “Hey. He got himself in there, he can get himself out.” Or, more likely, “Sheri. Some jackass named Toby just fell down a well. Go get 'im. That's a good girl. Go get Toby (the jackass).”

We've been through an incredible amount of stuff in 23 years, but so have you. Right? If you're going to take your marriage vows seriously, you are going to be faced with huge amounts of stuff that will, on occasion, seem insurmountable. And when you are, you have a choice. Go on and get over it together, or stop, thank each other for a nice time, and go your separate ways, leaving the huge amount of stuff where you found it.

For 23 years, Sheri and I have chosen to deal with the stuff, one pile at a time. Of course the toughest challenge right now is our roles as Man With Cancer and Wife of Man With Cancer. That, boys and girls, is a tremendous amount of stuff to have to get over. And it's really two different piles. I think I have the easier job. I'm ill, and I deal with it. I have to. I can't say, “Well, maybe I'll skip this one.” Not gonna happen. This is my life and I need to do what it takes to keep living it.

Sheri, on the other hand, has to look at someone she loves suffer day after day, wishing she could do more to help, but knowing she can't. There's no well to pull me out of. I'm sick and her love for me requires her to stay here day in and day out, when many days we know she couldn't possibly feel like it.

She does take good care of herself and that's where her wonderful group of friends comes in. They go to the beach together, they get together and talk about stuff, they have coffee and donuts. They help each other. But at the end of they day, it's Sheri's best friend who is sick and only she can do much about it, after all.

She can't even really get mad at me, poor guy with cancer. Weep, weep. Well, actually now she can become upset with me and does! I think it costs her emotionally to be angry with me, but she is willing to pay that particular price and I'm very happy that she does.

So, 23 years after our first outing, here we are- Man With Cancer and Wife of Man With Cancer. It's become a real study in the power of like. Audiences are hailing it on two continents. Or, maybe they aren't. It doesn't seem to phase Sheri and Jim, either way. They get to spend every day together, and at that, 23 years doesn't seem like anywhere near enough.

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere