Cane Fu

You can tell the building where my surgeon has her office is a place where serious illnesses are treated, because there’s an artificial waterfall cascading down the height of eight or nine storeys. Medical buildings of a more general nature have to make do with aggregate planter boxes.

It’s on the campus of the local monster hospital complex, which probably has more than one zip code, and because people who have grown unidentified foot-wide space aliens in their chitterlings are sent to oncologists on principle, it is a cancer center, which makes some things about it peculiar.

For one thing, after you enter the atrium (where you now queue at a polite distance to have your temperature assessed with a hi-tech ray gun), you have to go up an escalator to reach the elevator lobby. I have to assume that there is something like a lift from underground parking for really frail people. A docent of some sort with a badge and pinafore was directing people the day I arrived for a follow-up, one customer per lift, and as I waved to her I deftly flung my sun visor (without which I am never seen in public) half way across the floor.

Accustomed to people beat-up by surgery and chemotherapy, she moved to retrieve it for me just as I winkled the tip of my walking stick under the strap, spun it up into the air and caught it.

“I am a seventh degree master of Cane Fu,” I explained as I restored it to my head. You have to cherish the little things.

So everything looked good, the nurse practitioner answered all my carefully nuanced and technically phrased medical questions in sentences that a two year old would have found condescending, and I come back at three month intervals because, well, it was a space alien and that is the rule book.

I am kind of on my own with workouts. The best Nurse Nancy could come up with was “Listen to your body.” No! Really? “Now it’s not only about the amount you can load the muscles after surgery, but when we haven’t exercised for a while, we experience a certain amount of deconditioning…” No, really? “Start with about a quarter of what you usually lift…”

“Okay, so a hundred and twenty five pounds on the sled press?”

You see the problem. I sent an e-mail to my Olympic Lifting Masters Champion who also trains elderly people and rehab patients. He might have something a bit more helpful to say.

There is always vulgar slapstick. The aide was run off her feet and puffed in just as Nurse Nancy was spelunking in the parts that are usually covered by black boxes in censored pictures, apologizing for lateness.

“It’s okay,” said Nurse Nancy, “I just started without you. I didn’t think you were going to come.”

“That’s what he said,” I commented from my supine, paper-draped position.

With luck they may decide not to let me back in there.

Now it’s just about building back up. I broke two and a half miles of hills this week, just in time for the godawful Virginia heat to settle over the landscape like the breath of six hung-over dragons. Send a truckload of crushed ice and a couple of industrial fans.

Blow Dried

So here I am on the day of Trump’s Masque Of The Orange Death rally, reclining on my bed attired solely in a burgundy-colored terrycloth spa robe, blow-drying my bush.

I suppose I should back up and explain.

I have been a very patchy blogger since the Orange F ck was elected — it’s like fighting your way through a massive depression just to keep going, I live right outside DC, the waves of evil and stupid pulsing out of the government district are like gouts of poison gas — and even more absent lately. See, what happened was, here I am almost all the way back from getting both hips Borged February was a year ago, blowing up a 500 pound sled, four miles of hills daily, and then thank you very much I start going through shall we say a repeat of puberty. The ladies can sort this out. I had been up on the rack for the customary fourteen-point check and oil change in January so this was weird. A month, an MRI and a bravura effort later, from an ultrasound technician who went medieval on my stomach with a — well, you remember the big foofaraw about states wanting women to get ultrasounds before ending a pregnancy because looks like a baby something something? The whole violation element involved? Think of someone using that dingus like a tire lever.

Actually, it looked like a water balloon.

Actually, it kind of was a water balloon, attached to my girl bits, only, not to drop a spoiler, it was more or less filled with (sorry) snot. This phenomenon shall henceforth be known as the “Ephraim McDowell Special,” or Phred for short. It is a young woman’s neoplasm, and I have no idea why it decided to set up shop in an actual Medicare subscriber. Curiously, the riveting tale of the first successful excision of one of these was a chapter in the History of Surgery that I read to tatters at age 10 before I realized I would make a shitty doctor because I actually like taking care of people.

I realize this verges on what my Albino Ex used to call “the organ recital” (he had a friend with an unfortunate habit of sharing the minute details of an annual “Millennium Scan,” before we tied him to a chair and beat him with feather pillows, until he promised to stop before he glowed in the dark). But, well, long silence bears explanation.

Apparently when you are toned and ruthless, you can plow hills with a ten-inch-across oblate thingy inside you and only notice feeling a little as if you’ve been going heavy on the beans. Well, vegetarian.

Anyway, fast forward to the local teaching hospital, a surgeon who looks about twelve, masks everywhere, temperature checkpoints, and a chirpy, excited nursing staff who didn’t even wait for me to wake up all the way before telling me on the trip back to my room: “Everyone’s saying they took like a whole turkey out of you! Wanna see the pictures?”

Bedside manner.

Really most of them were nice. There was the one who would never shut the bathroom door after herding me in there (house rules, no one walks to the can unsupervised). And then there was the Night Of The Long Blood Pressure Cuffs, when all my chitlins coming back online after a double transabdominal nerve block hurt so frickin much that my pressure unsurprisingly skyrocketed. The medical solution to this problem is to wake up the victim prisoner patient EVERY GODDAM HOUR ON THE HOUR ALL NIGHT LONG to check it again. By five a.m. I was screaming fornicatory maledictions and threatening to break the fourth floor window and go out of it.

Does not work and play well with others.

Anyway, they sprung me about 36 hours after that, and I have been chilling at home trying to decide what tattoo to get over the 44-staple zipper they had to open up to get at Phred, who apparently was not an especially hostile alien but just wanted a place to be, kind of like when  you find a raccoon has given birth in your attic. Meanwhile, now that the staples are out and it’s just got tape on it, I am supposed to ALWAYS KEEP IT DRY. Including the part where they clearly realized they were going to have to cut further than anyone expected, leaving the last three staples in an area that ought properly to have been baldicated. Phred was ambitious.

Hence the hair dryer. I like to shower a lot. Also, walking. Supposed to help. I am in the Tidewater and it’s summer. No health club in the area has a steam room because all you have to do is walk outside, never mind walking a mile, which is the current stage. Working up.

Oh, they took my appendix just while they were in there. Thieves. I have no idea what the black market price is for an intact appendix but I’m checking eBay.

The blessed Engineer saved my life with oatmeal cookies (hospital food never changes), the divine Azahar, who’s weathered a lot worse, has been my spirit guide, and I manage to have only one hysterical meltdown a day. I want a thirty pound dumbbell so bad I can taste it (currently limited to ten, which is barely worth picking up), and threw arm shots at the mandated home physical and occupational therapists (“Why did they send us here?”), after explaining that those poles were not “mobility aids,” they were Alpine walking equipment. The OT was from the Indian subcontinent, saw my “Namaste” plaque, greeted me accordingly, and settled in to talk about pranayama and daal recipes. Shame he has no need to come back.

It takes my mind off our national creeping crisis, but only intermittently.

Send animal and garden and art pictures.

 

Foxes 2020

So the foxes are back. Last year we were diverted by a litter of five kits cavorting in the neighbor’s yard, probably actually living on the next property over, where a rambling, industrial-sized garden shed the length of the lot was erected, probably against code, by the previous owner. The current resident hasn’t taken it down and doesn’t use it. If I were a fox I’d consider it a luxury condo.

Banged up inside as we are it’s quite a treat to watch the present litter mature. Mamma Fox exceeded her commission and produced seven kits. Sometimes her thought balloon appears to say “God rot ’em,” and we aren’t sure if she goes up on the shed roof to watch them all conveniently or to get the feck away. They’re big enough to eat squirrel now (one averts one’s eyes from some of the truths of Nature) but for a long time, as last year, they pursued her relentlessly in search of milk.

Seven is a lot of customers. I don’t blame her for going up there.

Sorry, Josh

Sooner or later I was going to start melting down. Yesterday I lost it and started screeching until I couldn’t get my breath after the third try attempting to sign into my bank’s phone app so I could deposit checks that I’m afraid to take into the bank — I’ve never done this before, I can’t see, I’m not a natural techy person, did I mention I can’t see?, I spent my whole life in school being shamed to the point of abuse for what I now realize is a genuine sort of dyslexia only with numbers (I can look straight at a simple string of digits and add them the same wrong way three times), and I haven’t made it work yet.

And that was before Josh called again.

Josh has been calling a lot. He works for a company whose business model, if you read between the lines of their bullshit boilerplate, appears to be sieving up self–published authors and trying to sell them extortionate marketing schemes for books that aren’t going to sell any more with their services than without them. I’ve been through this several times since enjoying my joke back in the early oughts with a couple of silly mystery novels featuring all our local political dorks and their tender egos. I made enough on sales to pay for my fun, there were hilarious aftershocks for a couple of years, and that should have been that, but self-publishing has always been a fertile ground for entrepeneurs with a knack for emptying the wallets of people who harbor excessive ideas of their own talents. (“You just need a good PR company! Our marketing packages start at only five thousand dollars, but for ten we can make a Hollywood quality trailer of your novel.” Yeah right.)

So this is the third or fourth company to buy my original publisher’s contact list, but unarguably the most persistent. It doesn’t help that Josh sounds like the Cosmic Nasal Dweeb that even the most charitable soul wants to bitch-slap. This morning, calling from a “Name Unavailable” ID, he started to leave his rote message for the tenth time in two months: “You’ve been recommended to us as an author and we’d like very much to talk about your book…”

I snatched up the phone. “JOSH PLEASE STOP CALLING ME I AM NOT INTERESTED IN OVERPRICED MARKETING SCHEMES DO BETTER WITH YOUR LIFE HAVE A GOOD DAY!!!!” I am morally certain that actual flames emerged from the earpiece at the other end and that Josh is even now in the men’s room, smelling of scorched hair and vaporized styling mousse,  with a cold compress held against his ear and clutching a tube of  Neosporin.

I feel a little bad now — really, everything is shit and people are just trying to stay afloat — but only a little. At least the avalanches of e-mails I get from frantic retail companies are only trying to sell me clothes, patio furniture and household gadgets, not false hope. There’s already too much of that around.

 

 

Escapism

I keep telling people that I can’t handle anything right now except completely escapist reading and miniseries — the sci-fi I teethed on, the fantasies and Sherlock Holmes pastiches and Marvel action movies.

Except. I’m not at all sure it’s escapism. Sometimes it seems like reframing.

There’s a monologue written by J. Michael Straczynski, spoken at the end of the third season of the shoestring-budget, turned-showrunner’s-hair-white cable series Babylon 5. Prosthetic aliens, space station, plywood star-fighter ships, all of that.

Straczynski grew up in a horror show like you read about. Superhero comics were his only escape; if you want a hair-raising read, pick up his memoir Becoming Superman. There was not a sound mind or a moral compass anywhere in his birth family (I could relate). Superman became his role model instead — someone who always used his power to help, did the right things, saved the desperate, thwarted the cruel and destructive. Full circle, JMS went on to write for the comic in the 80s and 90s, after writing for more TV shows than I can count, and eventually came up with Babylon 5, which at heart is a parable about how much individual choices matter. Some other guy isn’t always going to fix it. Apt in any time, critical in times like these. It’s been pointed out a good many times that J. K\. Rowling was doing something similar with her Potter books.

Here’s the Narn ambassador G’Kar, a complex character (brought to life by the amazing character actor Andreas Katsulas, of blessed memory) who evolves from hedonistic buffoon to prophet, speaking over the end credits of the pivotal third season:

“G’Quon wrote, There is a greater darkness than the one we fight. It is the darkness of the soul that has lost its way.

The war we fight is not against powers and principalities – it is against chaos and despair. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender.

The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation.

No one knows the shape of that future, or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain.”

Here we are, I think. This is going to hurt for a long while. for the rest of our lives really, and I only hope that the world learns something about the important of choices.

I recommend the whole series. The writers of space opera and comics and invented-world fantasies and children’s books have gifts for us.

 

 

 

Coronastan (II)

The stay-at-home order has been issued for Virginia. I was a little afraid it would mean “don’t go clock mileage even on deserted streets where you are further from other people than two apartment residents standing on their respective balconies,” but apparently exercise is deemed okay. It’s about no sitting down in restaurants, no going to stores except groceries and pharmacies, we know the drill by now.

I’m glad. See, I had this nightmare. Back in the Great War, commanders would reputedly rotate their troops away from the front, whenever possible, if they started to dream about the trenches. That meant their nerves were close to snapping and they might shut down in a crisis. Supposedly it took about six months.

Well, in one of the safest and calmest parts of Coronastan — at least for now; we don’t have financial worries at this point, we don’t know anyone sick, we can get grub by no-contact delivery — it took two weeks. Last night I woke in the emotional equivalent of a cold sweat, having dreamed that:

1. I needed a car part replaced, and apparently this was to be accomplished by summoning an artisan to the house who would create it on the spot with the equivalent of a glass blowing apparatus, which also made sonorous musical noises as he worked.

2. Said artisan had groupies who would go anywhere to listen to the music he made while practicing his craft.

3. Said groupies crammed my basement to the walls, bringing their kids, chatting, catching up with each other, passing the popcorn, until I realized in horror what could happen and began screaming “GET OUT OF MY HOUSE! YOU ALL KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON! GET OUT OF MY HOUSE NOW!” And of course they all diddled, and dawdled, and chatted, and reduced me to tears with their indifference.

And then I dreamed that my clients started to show up and wanted not only to get massages, but chat with each other.

And then I dreamed that mean, cruel people like the girls I knew in high school simply walked into my house and made fun of me for yelling at them to get out.

I tell you, I was fucking exhausted by four o’clock in the morning. I can’t imagine what doctors and first responders and people with ill relatives are going through.

When this horror is over, if it ever is, where do we as a nation send the therapy bill?

 

Coronastan

It sucks that this is going on, and that there are no adults minding the store at the national level (thank Goddess for the governors, mayors, local boards of supervisors and whoever is mandating closures and health policy). But as many have noted, there is a silver lining for some of us, however awful the situation that got us there.

If I don’t go into public spaces and don’t talk to anyone, I’m performing a public service. America has suddenly, for the first time in history, become a country for people like me.

I can handle a conversation with ONE person without getting twitchy. I need breaks in between people. Every workplace in my life, except my own home, has been torture. On the 1 – 10 scale of introversion I am a 17. Even the Engineer, a citation nerd who can spend wordless hours staring at a complex sim game like Civilization, can be too chummy for me sometimes. Just give me space inside my own head.

Now when I go out for walks — and I still do, because the streets of suburbia are virtually deserted — no one approaches or tries to talk to me (it’s allergy season with a vengeance, and I sneeze a lot). If a rare person does, I smile broadly and yell “Social distancing!” before they get within ten feet.

God, I love it. If only it didn’t come at the price of all the suffering and stupidity.

We’re about out of beer, but the wine cellar is full and both refrigerators (for reasons too weird to explain, I have two refrigerators) are jammed. We could keep this up for a while.

Better Than A Fork In Your Eye (III)

Don’t think it’s gonna happen.

I clearly remember the reasoning behind picking the date for eye surgery 1/4. I saw the surgeon in November. December, January, February in the DC area? Prime time for the notorious “wintry mix,” an isothermic phenomenon in which zones of rain, snow, freezing rain and frank sleet waver back and forth over a region, turning the roads into an unpredictable rink full of out-of-state idiots who think nothing of going out in only a little rain don’t be a sissy I’m not staying home just for this. You see them wiped out on bridges and shoulders in their hundreds. Wait till mid March, you won’t be hiking to a surgery centre across town through the middle of DC Ice Capades.

No fear. Now we have Coronavirus. And I am not here for it.

Oh, not yet. No lock down, no surge in reported cases. Yet. But since our nation is governed by a tangerine wankmaggot who only cares about his golf properties, and policy is managed by a dead-eyed kapo who thinks all foreigners and brown people have cooties, there are hardly any tests, supplies like masks and hand sanitizer have been bought up by crisis profiteers, and the airports are jammed with people returning from overseas to get ahead of he travel ban, perfect incubators for explosive spread of the fucking thing in another week or two. Right when it would be time for my follow up appointments. Has anyone been reading the fucking social media out of fucking Italy?

Under normal conditions I would suck up the way my surgeon’s (and I’m starting to say my very tentatively) group practice is managed. There are four other doctors. I don’t know who decided to run it this way. But you come in the door, you’re in a packed waiting room full of the cheapest armless chairs, jammed in hip to hip with 1001 geezers, and they want you to sign in on a touchscreen situated right in the glare of the full-glass front wall that I can’t even see and I don’t remember seeing any hand sanitizer.

Then you sit there for two hours, punctuated by three or four ten-minute “encounters” with the staff and, finally, the surgeon, who’s always in a rush.

I hear Dulles, the nearest international hub to me — the office is half way between my house and the airport — is dirty and chaotic, and has no provisions in place to mitigate contagion.

Not on.

I’ll have to eat a fee. Maybe a hefty one, but I’m already rehearsing my speech to the office staff:

I want to live. I don’t want to have complications right when the local hospitals might be overwhelmed, and maybe lose the sight in that eye permanently. I don’t want to have to stop half way through four surgeries because the surgeon or her assistants are sick or quarantined, and walk around cockeyed for God knows how many weeks.

That’s reasonable, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, I ordered a battlerope (I’m not going back in the gym either, which is how you know I’m serious) and I’m enjoying the one upside of this: introvert paradise. The door is shut and locked and no one on my hill route wants to stop me to chat and I’m keeping the week I took off. Large stack of books by my chair, topped off by the Kindle, even if I have to read it with a jeweler’s magnifier. Updates at 11.

 

Duwayne

So I still think of Lua-Vanessa Aspasia Himmelblau as the new car, despite the fact she’s old enough to be in fourth grade (fifth, if like me she were a precocious little shit). It should not have come as a surprise when I walked out into the driveway, turned the key in the ignition and got nothing but a solenoid click, given that she’s still equipped with the original battery.

This is how I met Duwayne.

Dead batteries were pretty high on my list of Things I Don’t Need. I go across town in less than a week to get a fork stuck in my eye, my accountant is working on my taxes and will ask me lots of questions I can’t answer, the washing machine has just started dumping water on the floor the way the last repairman said it eventually would.

But you know, Duwayne was real.

He pulled up in front of the house in a truck gay with the purple and turquoise livery of my dealership’s preferred towing company, making light of the task of getting Lua backed out of a downsloping driveway at an hour when I’m usually not even coherent. This is craftsmanship. I learned to appreciate it when I got becalmed with my Albino Ex in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire on what should have been a pleasant May weekend and found myself (1) facing into a raw, damp gale (2) with a rental car too big for me to drive (3) with a cold that owed something to that February’s Taiwanese flu (4) on the scene of a regional tow truck convention. I gained a respect for people who drive those mo’fos, and explained to him.

This made Duwayne my friend. We bonded even more quickly when I remarked that Siri had been smoking something and that the traffic evasion pattern she recommended to the dealership, weaving preposterously through twisty side streets, was bullshit and I could get him there with a single 90-degree right hand turn.

‘Preciated it, he said. Didn’t enjoy having to torque his rig through a hamster Habitrail. “Had a guy with a Jeep Cherokee, down in one of those underground lots, I asked if he could crawl it out and he said no, it was all tore up, and I thought it’d be a wreck and he just had the front bumper stove in…”

“Fuck,” I said, “I drove this baby to a body shop with the whole bumper cover in the hatch…”

“And I had this guy with a Tesla, so freaked out it might get a scratch, and he gets in the cab and its seventy five degrees out in the middle of November and he’s brrr brrr brr close the window and I shouldntna but I asked You got a girlfriend? and he says hah? no and I say figures, son, you got issues — “

“Metrosexual,” I said. “Also, lots of entitled people around here. Dad was a Master Sergeant, I didn’t get that gene.”

We were now drinking buddies and it was barely eight-thirty in the morning. I was carrying my Alpine walking poles, so I could hoof it back from the dealership, now that I can (“Three miles?” he goggled. I don’t know why that surprises people). Explained about the year-old, almost-broken-in titanium hips and being a gym rat. Found out that he came close to boxing Golden Gloves, had to change course when his dad got sick and he needed to run the family business, but it came in handy when his girlfriend’s abusive ex came calling. “He was one a those big steroid guys with the swole up arms, you know?” (Maneuvering the truck, and Lua, onto the dealer’s lot down a ticklish slope, with a guy in coveralls practically breakdancing to show us where to go.) “Went down on the second punch. I ast her ‘You teach him that position? Face down, butt up?’ ”

Duwayne is just my kind of guy.

The car needed a new battery, a brake line flush, tire rotation and fuel injector cleaning. My wallet feels very clean, too. At least she had the grace to swoon before I face the fork.

Le Fiasco, or, Eff You, Disney

Warning: Spoilers.

So, Tristan and Isolde, much?

Goddammit.

Geek, me. Old enough to remember the FIRST release of Star Wars, me. Old enough to notice that Lucas was going a bit Wagnerian (Jedi = Knights of the Grail, Darth Vader = Klingsor [sort of], Luke very much Parsifal). But also, because Lucas just winged it and decided in between the first and second film to make Vader Luke’s father (fight me), you get that implicit tension between Leia and Luke (think of the cable-swinging rescue scene) which, uh, runs up against the wall of she’s his sister, largely, I understand, because fans liked the bitchy attraction that Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford brought to the screen. So you could also say that this was almost Die Walkure, where Siegmund the Volsung boinks his host Hunding’s wife on his own hearthrug and figures out that they’re brother and sister, leading eventually to the millions of butts that have been numbed by the six hours of Gotterdammerung.

But no. We got Tristan. Without even the bang on the boat.

Yeah, it is what it says on the can. You get the CGI space battles and the brave resistance (Kelly Marie Tran, they underused you) and God love her phantom Carrie Fisher (voiced by the incredible mimic Meryl Streep), and it’s all dazzling for what it is (that score still makes the heart batter the ribs in a way that whole-hogging schlock should not), but goddammit, I have been waiting through three long movies for Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren and Daisy Ridley’s Rey to cap one of their repeated lightsaber battles with whatever equivalent of a Force-infused hate fuck you can get away with in PG-13, and I get… the chaste, dying kiss?

Bugger me sideways. With a cactus.

Is something wrong with me? (Don’t answer that.) You tease this relationship, more intimate than anything in the whole saga (they can just appear in each other’s space, linked by the Force, to the point that she asks him to kindly put on a shirt — I was saying, no, fine, leave it off, old letch that I am); he explicitly wants her to take his hand, rule beside him, more or less be his Empress, and the chemistry is double-distilled, plus the pathos of that scarred face telegraphing naked yearning even in the middle of pitched lightsaber battles (nuanced facial expression is the way for an actor to win my heart), and you get… one moment of redemptive and rather didactic Beatrice-and-Dante love, and then, curtains?

Maybe it’s a vice of the whole entertainment-franchise concept. Darth Vader’s demise itself was a head-clutching example of “and they all go to the seashore” (Never on Sunday, q.v.; Melina Mercouri’s Ilya retells every tragic Greek myth with a happy resolution after which, forex, Oedipus and his family all go to the seashore). This is kind of another. Stephen Moffat’s brilliant Sherlock series shat the bed in exactly the same way; three seasons of tension, internal conflict, characters finding their way to one another in the middle of wicked, fast-patter dialogue, satire and brilliant Conan Doyle callbacks, and it all gets “resolved” by introducing a diabolus ex machina in the next to last episode (really only explaining who she is in the last) and then making everything okay even if she’s sociopathically killed countless people just because she can and that explains why Sherlock is the way he is (the script has him refer to himself as a “high functioning sociopath,” but he looks autistic as hell to me, and please understand that’s a compliment).

Everything doesn’t have to crash and go to hell for a story to be a good story. Redemption is possible. Moral reflection happens. But if you tease a situation until the audience has narrative blueballs and then just give it a cold hip bath, that is malpractice.

Who do I sue?