Thursday, October 29, 2015

Lord, how much would he write if he did have a topic?

I spend a great amount of time thinking about what to write about in any given week. I don't mean, sorting through all the choices. I mean thinking... about what... to write... about.

Someone asked me the other day if I write every day. Holy moley. I THINK about writing every day, but the actual writing tends to come in a blur right before my deadline.

So, imagine my surprise, this week, when I found myself thinking about things I didn't want to write about. Seriously. Not write about.

Obviously, death came immediately to mind. If you are a regular reader, you know it isn't something I avoid talking about, I'm just tired of writing about it. See, to write about death, there has to have been... What, class? Right. Some death in my life. I don't want any more of that. Not my family, not my friends, not my pets, nobody.

On the pet front though, we finally have some good news. Our newest cat, Wolfie (don't ask), has a heart murmur. Talk about deja vu all over again. We took him for an electrocardiogram to determine how serious the congestive heart failure our vet was sure he had was.

Well, what do you know. He got a clean bill of health! His heart murmur is caused by two slow closing valves, but that doesn't mean much of a problem in the world of kitty cardiology. That's the first time in two years a vet, through no fault of their own, has had any good news for us. Yippee! I'm actually thinking about asking our vet about the pains in my stomach. Haha.

Oh, back to the primary topic ... As you know I wouldn't want to have to write about having contracted ALS, Lou Gehrig Disease.

So, in thinking about what I hoped never to have to write about, I think one of the biggest worries is the answer to the trivia question: “I'm standing waist deep in the Amazon River. What could possibly happen to me worse than an attack by a school of piranha?” Your initial reaction is “Nothing could be worse,” right? But if that was the case, how would the answer be attached to any sort of trivia contest? Good thinking all my little Sherlocks and Shimlocks out there.

Now, before we go on - and I assure you we will go on, possibly at least glancing off the point, in a moment- you need to know that this is an unpleasant subject, especially to males, interesting though it may be. If you, male or female, are easily embarrassed by talk about pee pees, wee wees, and such, skip this bit. Also, if you are generally regarded by your friends as squeamish, skip this bit.

The Amazon's true horror, for me, comes in the form of the Candiru, which is a fish that can, and occasionally does, swim up a man's urethra. It's about the size and length of a smallish sardine (the Candiru, not the... you know), generally speaking, and it is usually found in the gills of bigger fish, sucking on blood. How do you like it so far?

Part of the urban legend, or jungle legend I suppose, is that it can swim up a man's urine stream and... well... you know. That hasn't been proven. HOWEVER, the rest of it can and has happened.

But, since I don't want to write about it, and Sheri hasn't gone to Bible study yet this week (which is how we adjudge the embarrassment level of anything I may be doing- can she hold her head up at Bible study?), I will stop there. It you must know more, go on the Animal Planet website and check out River Monsters.

There's also the thought of driving shotgun in a clown car. No offense to clowns, of course, but the thought of being cooped up with all those Jockos, Bozos, Bongos, Chuckles, Harpos, Jingles, Raffles, Shaggys, and Shirleys, Sheilas, Bettys, Bimbos, Candys and Hermoines, all screaming: “You've got your foot in my kidney!”; “Which one of you clowns ate garlic bread before getting in the car?”; “My urethra hurts since I got back from the Amazon!” and the ever popular, “That's not the door handle...” I don't want to write about something like that.

As you can see, there are plenty of things worse than cancer to have to write about- Like going to a Carpenters concert; oh, she's... never mind. Or being closed in a very small room with noted Sixties celebrity Tiny Tim, with or without his violin and his charming wife Miss Vicky (talk about the answer to a trivia question, two or three of them actually). Or getting a tattoo- I'm too big a coward to get a tattoo.

And so on. You can surely come up with lots of things not to write about. In fact, if you always wanted to be a writer, but just couldn't do it... it gives you the perfect solution. You can tell people, “Why yes, I am a writer. I'm just in a phase now where I'm focusing on things not to write about.” Poifect.

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

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Look at those stars. Don't they look like a herd of stick animals?

Our friend Jack (not-his-real-name) underwent a quadruple heart bypass last week. He came out of it doing very well, in fact his family was delighted at how quickly his recovery started to pick up steam. The success rate of such operations tends to make us believe that it is less dangerous than it is, I think, so the fact that he is doing so well, so quickly, is wonderful.

I did think... Wait. Before I go on... This whole “not-his-real-name” thing is becoming an issue in and of itself. Not-his-real-name Jack is related by marriage to not-his-real-name Walter and I have a suspicious feeling that assigning the name Jack to a family member is going to cause NHRN Walter's issues to resurface. He does not love his alter ego and I'm sure he thinks Jack is a much more manly sobriquet. I, on the other hand, really like the name Walter, which is why I gave it to him in the first place! Oy. But, I will not falter, brothers and sisters, never fear. Walter it is and Walter it will stay.

As, I was saying... But wait, more on the not-his-real-name front. It turns out my longtime friend Not-His-Real-Name Peters has changed his name and is now legally called Bob Peters. Oh,man. See... What I've always said proves true once again- no good deed goes unpunished, although I'm not sure the whole fake name thing is up there with the least of Mother Theresa's acts. So, to all my friends in Idaho, which Peters assures me is growing steadily... Peters is THE Bob Peters of television evening news fame.

As I was saying, Not-His-Real-Name-Jack (now I'm just grinding it in) went through a serious operation and came out strong on the other side. But, it did get me to thinking about how we talk about the human heart and how we have come to view the term “heart broken” as defining anything but an injured heart. Right? When our friend went for his operation, his wicked smaht sister, NHRN Walter's wife, didn't tell me, “Jack's heart is broken and he needs an operation.” Not even close.

Someone, at some point in history, presumably a poet, decided that the human heart should be assigned properties which made if susceptible to injury from non-physical affronts. If the heart was, well, truly, obviously heart-shaped, I would still wonder what that has to do with anything, but at least I would see some basis for using it in situations involving emotional damage. But it doesn't. Maybe, if you put it at some impossible angle and connect the dots to show the heart shape... But, to me, it's like looking into the night sky and saying groups of stars look like... anything.

Take Leo the Lion, for example. You tell me you see a lion, if you don't have the lines and/or dots to connect. At best, it looks like every stick animal drawing you would find on any preschool class wall.

And don't get me started on Ursa Major, or Minor even. How does that look like a bear? Someone looked into the sky a thousandty-eleven years ago and said, “Look, honey. Doesn't that random assortment of stars out of the millions that are up there look like a big bear? It really does, right? It's like that cloud your Uncle Octavio saw the other day that looked just like a duck.”

So, maybe amidst the people who named the various constellations, was one who decided we needed to tie our body parts back to our emotional state and decided, “Hmmm. Emotional upheaval. Hmmm. We need to make that seem more real by giving it a bodily attribute.”

Then, no doubt, the great debate began. A broken liver? Nah. Kidney? Nah- you'd have to assign different types of pain to each kidney. Lost love would be a broken right kidney; grief a broken left. And, since as EVERYONE knows I have two of them, let's not even mention spleens.

So, the heart it is and I suppose it always will be. Look, I know there are plenty of you out there who could explain this to me, and explain it so it made sense. Please don't bother, and, by don't bother, I don't mean to be rude, I just don't really care. This whole column is about venting frustration and worry; concern over the health of my friends.

If someone you know has a medical heart issue, you know how worrying that is. And, let's face it, there isn't really anything we can do about it. So, join me in raving and fist shaking.

In the end, after all, I have a feeling all I'm really doing is raving and fist shaking about my own situation. As far as I know, no one invokes the term cancer for other than what it is, unless it's to name something so ugly/horrific that cancer becomes the only word that will help us describe just how hideous something is.

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, October 15, 2015

Reunions- not how I remember them

I feel philosophical today. I think it may have been something I ate, but, reunions are on my mind.

Yeah. Reunions. Thinking about reunions to me is akin to thinking about taking a trip to the zoo. Why would I waste any time- even thinking time- on either one? And I don't think I can charge this one off to having cancer. Even though looking into the past should be added to the list of cancer- any cancer- symptoms, I'm not feeling it around this latest reunion fetish.

See, reunions strike me as odd things to be involved in. Basically, to me, we're saying: “Hey! This event was great. We had soooo much fun and we are all closing our time together on a fabulous high. I love you. You love me. We all love each other. It's a veritable luvapolooza.

“I've got a great idea. Let's get back together for a reunion in a few years, after we've had the chance to really burnish this memory into something special, taking it from a truly wonderful and fun time together, and making it legendary.”

We mess with it so much, that, in the end, what was once a wonderful memory becomes just another oh-so-close, but not quite, FAAAAHbulous spot on the Circle Lines Cruise of the island that is your life.”

Now, as someone who has struggled with weight issues most of my adult life, any thought of any reunion must first be ID'd and assigned a weight age. Like the mesozoic, neanderthal, cro-magnon eras, my chubby, mostly near the right weight, and wow I don't remember ever being that big eras must be accounted for.

If you think of the chart showing the evolution of man, and, instead of it showing how upright you walked as the eons went by, it revealed how your stomach looked from the side, you'd maybe get some idea of what I'm talking about.

And once you've decided what those pictures are going to show, then you have to consider what your weight has done to you now.

So, what seemed like a good idea at the time- let's get back together to remember this in five years- morphs. Even when you get the reunion invitation in the mail, or email, you spend the first few seconds remembering the fun and the rest of.... oh, let's say...eternity remembering all the other bits. Time to hit the old excuse book, brothers and sisters.

Or maybe that's just me.

But, then, there's high school reunions. You'd probably guess that I don't like them. OK, but that wouldn't really be right unless you put at least seven reallys in front of “don't.” You'd have to also become so self-centered and hateful that you couldn't entertain so much as a glimmer of the thought that other people might enjoy going to their high school reunion. No way, man. There is no good reason for going back to high school... for anyone.

If you're like me, you surely have a list of people you've always wanted to see having had some terrible thing happen to them. There's a couple you might still want to serve a glass of punch that you've spit in (sorry, but it could be true), and, more to the point, a much larger number you want to grill on why making your life so un-happy was such an integral part of making their life happy-happy. “Seriously, man, why did you have to pull all that crap?”

It used to be that I wanted to be sure I measured up, that I was at least less of a failure, if I couldn't be more successful than my classmates. I wanted to be able to have all this “Stuff” to compare with their “Stuff” and have everyone agree that my “Stuff? was way better.

But here's the issue: you cannot go back. I might want to be 16 again and experience wonderful success, whatever that might have looked like back then, against a whole bunch of mean people. But I can't. The best I could do would be a 66-year-old guy laying some petty revenge on some poophead who wouldn't even remember what he's done or why I would still be so mad about it almost five decades later. Besides, having cancer took whatever minimal pleasure there may have been left in that. The person I didn't care for could have had any number of completely random bad things happen to them. I wouldn't want to add to a person's upset for even a second.

I did go to one high school reunion. It was my ex-wife Janice's high school reunion and it think it was the fifth, though I'm not sure. Actually, my ex-wife and her sister Jeanne are twins. So, being in some manner joined to the twins made it very easy to put people out of their misery when they stood in front of me putting undue pressure on their brains trying to figure out if I had been in Mr. Walker's sixth period trig class with them. I just said, “I didn't go here. I'm with one of the twins,” and that was more than 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

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Who'd a thought that was gonna happen?

When I first found out I had cancer, I thought that, from that moment on, it would be biggest thing in my life. I mean, who wouldn't? What could be bigger than having a life threatening disease, literally, eating away at you?

Well, come to find out, for bursts of time... plenty of things. As a human being, I don't think I can keep something like having cancer in the forefront of my mind all day, every day. I don't think it's possible. Hell, I can't keep things I like to think about in the forefront of my mind for any great length of time, why would cancer be any different?

There was, obviously, something new and shiny about the diagnosis when it was first given to me and Sheri. It came from completely out of the blue, for one thing. I got stung by a bunch of bees, went to the doctor guessing he'd tell me I had hurt one of my ribs while trying to get out of the way of the bees, and left his office with cancer. Boom Just like that.

Finding out you have cancer should have had a grander beginning than that, don't you think? In the “dream sequence,” Sheri would have been there, holding my hand, her entire demeanor indicating that everything was going to be alright; perhaps brave little tears forming, but not slipping over the edge of her eyelids. We would have been able to talk about it on the way home from the doctor and begin our plan of attack then.

Instead, I was by myself, driving home at least two hours later than Sheri would have expected, and the plan of attack I was trying to design was how to tell her there was a very good chance that I had cancer? Whaaat? Try to get that out of the front of your head, why don't you.

And then we started to deal with it. We went to the clinic together every week and every week we had some new aspect of the disease, and what it had to do with us, to consider. First, it became absolutely definite that I had multiple myeloma. Then we were told there were medical things that could be done. We didn't really debate them, per se. It wasn't as if the doctor said “There's this, and this, and even that, we could do. What do you think?” It was really, “There's this, and this, and that... we're going to do that,” and Sheri and I said, “You betcha.”

My first oncologist retired and my current one took over. He and my lead doctor in Boston both decided a stem cell transplant was the way to go. “You betcha.”

There are so many moving parts to a stem cell transplant, especially when it is being done some 250 miles away (in Boston), that it was about the only thing we could think about. We had to find someplace for Sheri to stay for the month I was going to be in the hospital; we had to build up my healthy stem cells; I had to have radiation on my fractured clavicle; I had to undergo massive doses of very strong chemo; had to have my healthy stem cells harvested, frozen, and then put back in. Whew, huh?

So, we did all that. I felt nauseous for the entire time I was in the hospital. I lost most of my hair and Sheri shaved off the rest. My stem cell count started at two and worked its way up to a number that allowed me to go home.

While we were gone, friends came to our house and cleaned, not only top to bottom, but side to side and then some. Dust and any little bits were my enemy. Little bits of what? Didn't matter. I had to wear a mask sometimes, especially if I went outdoors. Listen to this: if I went for a walk outside, I had to be sure I picked up my feet; no scuffling. My mother tried for decades to get me to pick up my feet instead of scuffling. Now I was supposed to do it on my own? You bet I was thinking about that... every time I had to pick up one of my feet, don't you know. I was a thinking fool.

So, I was isolated from folks and left with plenty of time to think while I was by myself. During all this, my friend Cindy helped keep me sane as we emailed back and forth about the progress of each of our transplants.

It was about the time Cindy's condition worsened to the extent that we knew what the outcome was going to be, that I realized my own cancer was not the only thing I was thinking about. Then Cindy died; my lifelong mentor Dick died; my new friend Dolly died(of multiple myeloma) and low and behold, my multiple myeloma was no longer in the forefront of my mind, 24-7.

I had an incurable form of cancer that was responding spectacularly to treatment, while at the same time there was something wrong with my stomach that was tempering our joy. At a time when love was crucial to our well being, Sheri and I had to say goodbye to our cat Kenzie who provided us with huge daily portions of love.

So, what do you know? I have cancer and that fact has taken its own place with the numerous other things that make up my life day in and day out. Who'd a thought that was gonna happen? Still, if there's one thing I've learned, it's that I need to stop saying, “Who'd a thought that was gonna happen?”

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, October 1, 2015

96 tears? Nowhere near enough

Guess what I've been thinking about? Go on guess... Give up? It's honesty. I know. I know. Not again, right? Jeez. Haven't we been through this often enough?

Well, evidently not, because here we are again.

This time I was thinking about it because I found myself crying last night for over an hour and it would be easy to skip talking about it. Not because, “Men don't cry,” or because... well, just because. It's a pretty sensitive thing to talk about it, and I don't see a lot of columnists mentioning it, let alone focusing on it. But, I do and say many things others don't and so...

Here's the thing... I couldn't figure out what was upsetting me so much. When I say I was crying, I mean cryyyy----ing, sobbing, blowing my nose frequently, the works- the water works, ha ha.

I kept running reasons through my head.

We lost another long-time friend to cancer this week. We had been close friends in New York for about seven years, and did lose touch when we moved up here and they moved to Florida. But, then, that's one plus in the Facebook v. Facebook argument. It does help keep you aware of what old friends are up to. We always knew he was there, but now he's not.

But, no, the crying didn't seem to be about that. Nor did it seem to be about our friend Neil who left us just last week. He is missed and will continue to be, obviously, and, just as obviously, Facebook isn't going to help us with this one.

So, no, not that. I had coffee with Cindy's brother yesterday and, while we didn't really talk about her and her struggle per se, it was still right there. It always is when we talk, or at least, it's never far away. He's a wonderful person to be with because I don't have to explain... anything. Nothing. He understands my moods and my reactions to him, based on how I feel at any given moment, so there's nothing to explain.

I also had coffee with my friend Dollie's son-in-law. (I don't really drink all that much coffee. It was just one of those days and, God forbid we should just get together somewhere without a beverage being involved.) In truth, in the end, it seemed like everyone was OK with Dollie's leaving us; she had done enough.

So, still going through my list, trying to sort it out. Part of it was probably about losing Kenzie, since that was still so fresh in my heart. Also, we adopted another cat from the Humane Association, so that opened a lot of wounds. This was the first cat Sheri has had, rather than a kitten, so that's different. He's almost three years old and was destined, I think, to be moved from shelter to shelter since he's huge (15 pounds) and had most of his hair shaved off because it had been so matted. My head and his butt feel about the same when I rub them. I can empathize with his hair loss. I anticipate becoming friends.

But that wasn't it either. These were older tears, coming from deep inside; so deep inside that I thought I might actually throw up while they were spilling out. So, the crying was at least in part for Sheri and me. All that we've been through- so much loss, so much pain, but so much love as well. Hell, if we didn't love each other so much, and all those others I've mentioned as well, I guess, there wouldn't be much need to cry, old or new tears.

After a while, though, it occurred to me that I was missing the point. I was crying because I needed to. There was healing to be done, and crying was an essential part of it. In our experience, that is where healing can truly begin and where it gets to grow and bring a new and essential piece, or pieces, to your life. We are truly works in progress, and, as with building or growing anything, that means plenty of breakage and lots of, “Hmmm. Does this part go there?”

At some point, I realized that the need to find a reason for crying could be found only by taking a trip in the Way Back Machine. When I was a kid, around our house, if you were going to cry, you'd better have had a darned good reason why. In Scotland, crying was called greeting, or maybe that was just around Glasgow, where I lived. But, I can still hear my mother saying “Whit are ye greetin' for? Keep it up and I'll gie ye somethin' to greet aboot.” Sometimes you had the chance to think, other times you didn't. It appears having a reason just became part of my DNA.

And, when all else is said and done... “It's my party and I'll cry if I want to.”

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