Night Songs

I think it is being out of pain that gives me interesting dreams. Nice ones, actually. I have experienced on more than one recent morning a desire to go live in the dream I just woke up from.

This one was especially vivid. About a week ago I was one of the first donors to a political candidate for a nearby Senate district in my state lege. I have been following this Qasim Rashid fella on Twitter for a while, because he’s articulate and handles assholes with more grace than I could ever muster. In the dream, he and one of his fellow social media activists had arranged a piano concert at a nearby conservatory showcasing two young Muslim music students, and along with some standard repertory, which the boys were running through when I arrived at the dress rehearsal, they were going to take turns playing accompaniment while I premiered a set of my own vocal compositions. We were really at the eleventh hour and hadn’t practiced together whatsoever, and I was on edge, but when I arrived it was hard to feel anxious because the very beautiful, rather intimate venue was soothing merely to exist in. The two pianos were on an only slightly raised parquet dais, and there was a glass wall around about a quarter of the high-ceilinged polygonal hall, admitting late-afternoon light from a wooded area innocent of buildings and providing a direct underwater view into the first two or three feet of a large pond, into which the building extended. Fish and other critters were swimming around, frogs were sunning on boulders outside the glass, watching us curiously, and large butterflies were living dangerously by flying in close to them.

I don’t remember which of my songs we were going to do. I composed a handful in my twenties, including settings of Donne’s “Lecture Upon The Shadow,” a pair of cantrips from Peter S. Beagle’s “Last Unicorn,” and the entirety of T. S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” for literally vindictive reasons which are too silly to go into. I still have the pipes but I’m glad the dream provided the pianists. I couldn’t stumble through the keyboard part now if you had a beanshooter to my head.



There is a commode in the middle of my living room. Because of course there is.

Complications that you never imagined occur when you do something like have both hips replaced at the same time. Not medical complications, but logistical undertakings. You can’t step over the side of the bathtub;  you have to scoot over it on your can, across a bench that is anchored half in and half out of it. To place the bench in the cramped space of a 1940s bathroom, your wingman has to remove the cumbersome riser that you have been compelled to attach to the bowl of your commode, because you also really can’t sit down to the level of a traditional crapper, at least not without experiencing the last couple of inches as a precipitous drop — not a thing to be doing with all that fresh hardware and, initially at least, two five-inch rows of staples. After you get dried off, your loyal boo puts the seat back on, something which requires a fair amount of force.

After a month and some of recovery, this amount of struggle and brutality can mean only one thing, to wit, the death rattle of the Haunted Bijoona.

Loyal readers will recall the Haunted Bijoona, a fixture installed only a few years ago after the commode provided by the original builders finally turned up its little porcelain toes. Nothing was ever right with it: it rocked on the admittedly uneven floor as its precursor never had, requiring shims; it vapor-locked twice; the flush handle sprung loose but the nut keeping it installed couldn’t be budged, the flapper wouldn’t seat, it ran every hour or so and sometimes wouldn’t stop running after you flushed it.

Four weeks of heaving and shoving finished it off: simply and sordidly, it began dumping water on the floor around the pedestal, issuing from God knows where (I’ve had leaks at the connecting wax ring, but they drip into the laundry room). There is now a bath sheet arrayed around the base of the fixture, like the little skirt on a Christmas tree.

I had a plumber name from a client, and he was pretty clear that the cost of repairs approached the cost of replacement — why is that always the verdict in our brave new century? — and while I wasn’t that intense about the idea of saving thirty additional bucks that he would charge to procure the new one himself, I wanted to pick this time. I settled on a model that claims the capacity to flush a bucket of golf balls. The Albino Ex got one in this line some years back; they make a little video, and everything.

I don’t shop at Home Depot any more, because the CEO is a big Trumpanzee, but I was going to make an exception since the nearest Lowe’s is forty minutes away. The admirable Engineer stoutly rose to make the drive: “I’d drive to the ends of the earth for a new toilet, I can drive an hour on 95.” he said.

“That serious?” He seemed unusually passionate about it.

“Well yeah,” he replied. “Every time I try to pee, the lid slams down.”

This is the least of the problems with the Bijoona, one which could be remedied without swapping it out, but I had forgotten what a bijoona means if you are a guy.

So he got on his horse and rode, and as admonished we took it out of the box and he inspected it for cracks, and there it sits in the middle of the rug.


when you gaze into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you

The plumbing team is due at one this afternoon. Not a moment too soon.





Standard Positions

When you have hip surgery, you are deluged with boiler plate from the hospital, from the surgical practice, from the physical therapists, telling you how to sit down and stand up, how to get into bed, how to walk,what position to sleep in, how to go up and down stairs, how far to lift or extend your legs, and when you can be less cautious about any of these. You get a sock wrench (it looks like a half cylinder of PVC pipe with a couple of ropes attached), a device for pulling up your underbritches, and a sort of a waldo for picking things up off the floor.

You know what activity, one which places heavy demands on the hips, barely gets discussed? Yup.

Not impressed by the single line in the prep class that said “Sexual activity can be resumed at six weeks, very carefully, with  your partner doing most of the work [work? WORK???],” I set out to pick my physical therapist’s brains earlier this week. She really didn’t want to make the call and suggested the surgeon would be the one to say. So when I went in for a follow up yesterday, I plowed ahead, asking if he considered a boink safe and in what positions.

You would expect someone who spelunks around inside people to be less prim, but he kind of swallowed hard and said “Um. Standard. Positions.” Maybe he felt abashed because the Engineer was there, but you know, we’re all adults.

“Well, I don’t even know what he means by that,” said the PT the following day. “I mean what does he consider standard?” So we just got down to anatomizing the matter. We came up with something safely supported, involving one of the hardwood cat trees. or possibly the back of the futon couch. I mean it’s just biomechanics. I am not yet allowed to do anything that would amount to “multiple deep squats,” or put my feet on the wall behind my head. I figured that.

I did not even think to ask the surgeon about treating the scars, which are still pretty sore but now getting to the point where I can endure releases and drainage massage around them. No fear, though, a nursing case manager at my insurance company called to see how I was doing and recommended an over the counter nostrum called Mederma. “Or,” he mused, “you know, the active ingredient is allicin, so you could just slice an onion in half, express some of the juice and rub that into the skin.”

I paused to reflect about the social implications of this, quite apart from the toxicity to cats of allium plants. I don’t think they are going to be licking my scars, but why take chances?

He really seemed earnest about it and repeated a couple times that it would be a cost savings over something that cost twelve dollars a tube in the drugstore. I guess this case management thing has him focused on economies of the sort.

People seem to be entirely too close to their fainting couches so I refrained from saying that I was just trying to figure out how to get my ashes hauled again and that dousing myself in onion juice seemed like a bad plan. People mean well.

Where No Zimmer Frame Has Gone Before

We are at the four week mark since they got me up on that car lift surgical table and overhauled my suspension. I have not sat still this much in the past ten years. It is not me.

I have a rotating daily team of local friends and clients who show up, usually in the early afternoon, and take me out for a walk on the rolling walker, or Zimmer frame as it is called in the UK — a term I like, since “walker” has sort of an invalid sound, or else recalls the ice world of Hoth. (I suppose that could be cool, if it could be fitted up with blasters.)

Got a Spare 400 Hours? Make Your Kid a Tri-Level Star Wars Imperial Walker Bed -Craziest Gadgets

Aside from pimping it out with a bling bicycle bell and hologram tassels, I’ve had to get new rubber feet and protective caps after simply and sordidly wearing the old tires down to the metal. I don’t feel quite steady enough yet to go out with just Alpine poles (they work indoors, sometimes) much less with nothing, but I’m up to covering about seven blocks before one of my calves starts to Charley horse. Then I come inside and slap on a couple of the big freezer gel blocks you use in a picnic cooler (back to Hoth). And have to sit.

I now have a fifteen-item list of movies that I’ve missed in the past couple years, some of which you can actually get on Netflix and the like. So far, this is my favorite, the kind of black comedy that makes you bray without ever betraying the ghastly seriousness of its subject matter:



I have no idea why this didn’t play to a wider audience. Nikita Khrushchev yelling “Fuck” every few minutes (you know he did), the incessant pulse-checking and toadying of the Party’s Central Committee, the absurdity of life in a dictatorship run by a madman… maybe it’s too much a story for our times.

But if you know me, you know I cannot go long without geeking, and here is pure gold that I had no idea was out there:


Fan films are a constant in the Star Trek universe — or were, until CBS got all grabby and halted the latest in mid-production; fortunately, these got in under the wire. Not even the theatrical movies of the 70’s and 80’s captured so well the pacing, thematic and camera-work conventions of Roddenberry’s original series. The gentleman playing Spock sounds a little campy and no one is ever going to quite get DeForrest Kelley’s indignant rasp, but the guy in the Sulu role has George Takei’s diction down cold. We’ve already seen one actor reprise a role from the original season. Also: Lou Ferrigno as a green Orion slaver — a wicked touch. This is like falling down a rabbit hole and ending up in 1967.

After playing the first episode of eleven, I turned to the Engineer and asked if he was up for another one. “Half of me wants to binge the whole thing,” he said, “and the other half wants to make it last as long as we can.”

We compromised by watching the second, and going to bed. At least this will keep me in the chair with the ice long enough for it to do some good.


Large Marble Statues - Venus of Canova 43cm Greek Garden ...

I didn’t quite look like that in the surgeon’s office today, when I got the staples taken out, it was more of a drop trou thing.

But he said something that I am still smug about.

We were comparing the two sides, the left with its multiple injuries over the years, still way more sore than the right, where he spent the extra hour scraping the bone surface smooth and shaping it for the artificial joint. “Your bones are hard,” he said in a complimentary but slightly exasperated tone. “They’re like marble.”

All those years of lifting. Pays off.

Some people like their hair or outfit complimented. I have always fantasized about listening in on my own autopsy and hearing the med students say “Wow, will you look at that.” Close as I’m going to get.


According to the surgeon, the accumulation of stalagmites in my right hip joint was so profound he had to spend an extra hour in there with instruments scaling it off, like bad dental plaque, before he could commence with the replacement process on that side. I asked him if he used a Dremel tool or what and he looked at me funny, but I  imagine it being something like that.

The whole production took four hours. They are used to doing this to old, sedentary people I think and expect their lungs to kind of close down during the anesthesia, so there was someone right at my ear coaxing me to deep-breathe the moment I came up to the surface in the recovery room. I immediately launched into Puccini. By the time they found my posse — the Engineer and his mom, who had been out eating fish tacos — I had gotten through Wagner, Brahms, Schubert, and Oscar Brand’s repertory of dirty songs.

One of the recovery room nurses reportedly stuck her head out into the surgical lounge and asked who was here for the opera singer. I think they were glad to get me off their hands.

I spent one night in outer space, most of the next evening profoundly crashed, the intervals hobbling gingerly around the orthopedic floor on the hospital’s walker,  and meal times cursing hospital kitchens. They did do a decent grilled cheese sandwich, of all things, but I was glad to get back to the Engineer’s cooking.

I am full of staples, sealed inside some kind of space age waterproof bandage, stuffed with drugs that make me conk out at random intervals, and swollen up like a toad from the bruising and the gallons of fluids they piped into me, but everything seems to have worked about as predicted so far. I am going to be yea tired of sleeping on my back by the time they get the staples out (god, that’s barbaric), but rolling onto a side full of hardware is not a promising idea.

Mr. Ferguson and Nickel’s nightly habit of performing their marital shenanigans right on top of me is problematic too. The Engineer shoves them to the floor, where they utter the feline equivalent of “oh god, oh god!” before yowling loudly and running madly off in all directions. Don’t ask me; they’re both fixed.


Keep the good vibes coming, if you have any to spare.


Being A Crip

1. Rock On


This whole “not being able to walk without leaning on something” gets fucking old at a rapid pace.

For months I’ve been using one of my Alpine poles to keep from loading my left leg wrong and making myself yip (unexpected, sharpened-screwdriver jabs of pain would erupt at any point in the region of my ass or groin); then I really felt the need of one whenever I went anywhere just to allow me to walk at a decent clip. Then I went off the painkillers (Advil and so on) because I was fairly scared of ending up like Mr. P, , the trainer at my gym who took fistfuls of the stuff dealing with residual pain from a broken pelvis after a car crash, and ended up in the hospital with a hemorrhaging ulcer. Ugh. That meant I needed two poles. Which is now how I get into the gym, looking absurd as I pole my way from one weight station to the next and then slam everything I can while working around the hot spots. Lately, around the house I’ve been using a walker a client lent me, which I blinged out with a rhinestone bell and some bike tassels.

It came in the nick of time because last week as I was snailing my way out of the gym, the old bicep tear I incurred dropping a forty pounder decided to lodge a complaint about my arm being used as a leg. A nasty pinging sensation in my right elbow made it feel more like a tricep strain but the next morning the old scar area felt swollen and I couldn’t straighten out my arm.

I only had the Minotaur to work on in about three hours so I weighed the priorities, slammed some Motrin and swathed my arm in Rock Tape, a wonderful invention which is to an Ace bandage as a pantyliner is to an old lumpy Kotex. It supports everything and helps the swelling drain by lifting the skin over the lymphatic capillaries, and the minute you put it on the pain backs off. It comes in nifty designs. The leopard lasted several days, though I just replaced it with some sassy Coco Chanel polka dots.

I now have one uninjured extremity, my left arm. This continues to suck.

2. Spanish Guys (III)

Being a crip gives you some interesting insights into human nature.

When a woman is limping painfully and unsteadily across a snowy, ice-packed parking lot or sidewalk apron using two poles, people have a spread of reactions.

Younger people, especially hot young women in Spandex, go clip-clopping by as if they don’t see you, and even if you are only a few paces behind, don’t appear to think of holding either of two sets of double doors. A lot of guys well into their thirties are the same way, whitebread guys anyway.

Older people get it. Only the older women coo and poor-thing you while offering to open the door, and I can kind of do without that.

And then there are the young Latino men, a large population at my gym location, who will trot over to a door if they see me near it, to say nothing of the almost beardless youth who saw me from several yards away and ran up (calling out in broken English) to give me his arm, like the classical Boy Scout helping the old lady cross the road. Until the last snow melted, another “Spanish guy,” as people around here tend to mass-identify any men from the Latin countries, popped out from behind the desk every day to bird-dog me out to my car, handing me down from the curb past an obstacle course of packed slush while I hung onto a credible set of solid forearm extensors. Life could be worse than being eased into your car seat by a muscular youth named something like Carlos or Ramon.

If this is what we get from immigration, open the goddam borders.

3. Tagging Along


If you think getting a little courtesy from the young and undamaged is hard try getting a crip tag.

By the time I saw the rheumatologist — the one who tested me for lupus, rheumatoid, ankylosing spondylitis and every other thing  before concluding I was just busted — I was already teetering painfully on the damn sticks. I asked if she would write me for a crip tag to hang on my mirror so I could park in disabled spots, and she said absolutely and gave directions to her staff and it all seemed excellent.

On the way out they charged me $25 to “process the forms with the doctor’s signature.”

Okay, fine, everyone has a nickel and dime racket. Whatever. Only when I got home the forms were blank.

I filled in my part and called the office back. Oh dear yes I would have to mail the forms back. Could they just send them on to the state from there? I asked. Oh no, you have to take them to the DMV in person. Well we don’t really know. Here’s an 800 number to call.

The number was not in service.

A week and some later I called the office, reminding the person who answered that I had sent back the forms and had they been sent back to me or the DMV or what?

Oh, I left you a message a few days ago to find out what we should do. she said.

The hell she did. I have caller ID and there wasn’t the trace of a call. She maintained that they could not be mailed to the state office. “Send them back here then,” I said.

When I got them back I detected some small print, the kind that often escapes my blind-four-ways eyes, stating that the forms could be immediately processed at a DMV window OR mailed to the main office in Richmond.

The damn thing just arrived yesterday, six weeks after I asked for it.

At least this is better than my client whose first surgical consult was with a Dr. Dick who declined to operate on her unless she lost thirty pounds — something that I had seen her struggling to accomplish for two years with a personal trainer and a mean, joyless diet. She asked him if he at least could give her a tag so she could spare herself the length of the Safeway lot on a bad day, and he said “No, I want you to walk so you’ll lose the weight.”

I sent her to the guy who’s doing me next month (I had already seen his work) and he didn’t blink at her weight and was brandishing forms for a tag before she could finish asking. At least some people get it right.

I always knew disabled people take a lot of shit because after all I work with hurting bodies, but you still kinda got to live it to get it.

Twelve days.