Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Nothing's working

I don't believe in the supernatural, but I've had a run of things around me not functioning right lately in strange ways.
    logitech wireless keyboard
  • I bought a Logitech wireless keyboard designed for Macs three years ago and it worked great. I never had to put it in the sun to recharge it and it never missed a beat. Then about ten days ago, the letter "e" stopped working. At all. It is, as you may know, the most commonly used letter in most languages, including English. 
  • With the Logitech out, I began using my wireless Mac keyboard. I'd stopped using it in favor of the Logitech because it had an annoying habit of having a low battery warning pop up even when the batteries were fully charged. A few days ago, after hours of searching, I found that the solution is to turn off notifications. I'm happy with it now but guess what? The "e" is a little unresponsive and I have to push it with a little more oomph sometimes. (I have, by the way, a very light touch with keyboards. People have commented on it. So I don't think you can blame the damage on my pounding of it.)
  • Sony a6300I bought a pretty fancy camera in September, a Sony A6300. I wanted something light because being on crutches gives me balance issues and my old Canon Rebel is pretty heavy, especially with the lens I have on it. I cannot take self portraits using the timer with the Sony. The entire image is blurred. Get this, though: I go to the camera shop and do exactly what I was doing at home and they're all sharp as can be. The camera guy reset everything and put it in Airplane Mode at my suggestion; I thought perhaps my household wi-fi was doing something. I took it home and tried it. First picture, great. All after it, blurred. No other camera I have under identical conditions does this.
    woman using fax machine
  • Today while getting my scans that will tell me tomorrow if I'll be dead soon or not, the MRI took twice as long as I was told it would. It took half an hour for them to burn the image to a CD, which my doctor wants. (In case you don't know this, America medical people are far behind the rest of us in interesting ways. You can download a two-hour movie in high resolution over the net but you have to mail them CDs to get double-digit megabyte images to them. Want to see a fax machine at work? Go toany hospital or doctor's office.)
  • woman pumping gasAt 2:15 a.m. today my bedside clock's screen began flashing. The flashing and a strange noise from outside woke me up. All the settings on the clock were erased, including the radio presets. That's never happened before with even long power outages, and the clock is the kind that resets itself instantly when power's been restored to it. Not this time. I had to spend several minutes figuring everything out and doing it manually. 
  • I went to fill the car up and tried entering my phone number to get a little off the gas price as a reward for shopping at a local supermarket. Every time I entered a number, there was a long beep and nothing showed up on the screen. Cancel, try again. Same. Cancel, try again. Same. Screw it. 
All this is giving me a bad feeling about getting my test results tomorrow, even though I know there's no connection.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Scan time

Tomorrow, scan of my chest and pelvis. The chest to see if I'll be dead within a year or not, the pelvis to see whether the bone cancer has come back to the amputation site. If it does, more hacking away of my body would be needed. Imagine a disappearing man, bit by bit. 
Six days later, an MRI of my prostate to see if that cancer has gotten big and aggressive enough to warrant treatment. To date, the answer to that is yes, but a few treatments of targeted radiation should be enough to kill it. But the first cancer, if there, would make treating the second cancer a waste of time.
valley forge national park
Valley Forge National Park.
They read scans fast these days. (Who reads them is unknown. I've heard some are sent overseas to cut costs.) I'm planning to join some friends for dinner the day after the scans. The question is, should I get the results before the dinner, in which case I'll either be exuberant or crushed, or put that off until the next day, in which case I'll be anxious?
Meanwhile, it's perfect fall weather here, a suburb of Philadelphia. I went crutching in the park this afternoon. Heart, lungs, muscles, all pumping away.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Last night's dream

Last night I dreamed (American English for dreamt) that I fell into caring for an older woman, though she was barely older than I am. I'm sixty. She lived alone with no help in a huge house. Not huge, enormous—a house the size you'd only find in a dream. It was like Buckingham Palace, maybe bigger. 

Anyway, she wasn't ill or infirm and hadn't been out to hire anyone. I was, for some reason, just there anyway and I started to do things for her. The practical things were easy and took no time. I made her breakfast. She didn't care what I made. I said I was making her a "farm breakfast, just like my father used to make for me, even though he grew up in West Philadelphia." The breakfast, like my father's, was just eggs, toast, and bacon with juice and coffee.
More than the day-to-day stuff, I helped her socially, kindling an interest in books, movies, and getting outside and doing things and seeing people, which she had never really done.
When I woke up I realized that the woman, who was indistinct even for someone in a dream, was a stand-in for me.
Unrelated: I voted today, perhaps for the last time (see earlier entries). The area I live in is suburban and has just around a thousand registered voters yet a man I spoke to at the poll said more had voted by noon than had by noon in 2016. (I voted at 1:15 and was the four hundredth to do so.) He figured that was because people had more of an interest in local races. He was wrong, of course, but I politely said zip.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Last words

tombstones in Pennsylvania graveyard
Tombstones in an Amityville, Pennsylvania, graveyard.
It just occurred to me that the best last words of all would be, "I bet I can stop breathing longer than you can."

Sunday, October 21, 2018


Me, 1990. After four years of teaching English as a second language in China and Japan and one year of travel, I've landed in Seattle, far from my home in a Philadelphia suburb. I'm staying with an old college friend and his life partner (to this day, they are happily unmarried parents of two daughters), who went to the same college. My stay in their one bedroom apartment is far too long, but I'm unaware of that. (Years later, that fact will hit me hard and embarrass me. Social skills and awareness of them came to me late in life, and incompletely.)

I'm thirty-two years old and I haven't visited home or even spoken on the phone with my parents or my brothers for five years. Such calls cost a fortune then and letters sufficed.
I've decided to bicycle from Seattle to Minneapolis, then fly the rest of the way home. I've bought the bike, a tent, sleeping bag, and pannier bags for the ride and take a short ferry ride to Port Townsend to practice camping and do some rides to see how things work out. While there I meet others and talk. One man I met was on a fishing trip with friends. He told me he sold coffee from a cart in Seattle for a living. He charged a dollar a cup, a high price in 1990, and said he made over $75,000 a year doing it, working hard for five hours a day. This was years before Starbucks was known to anyone outside that region, even though it had been founded in 1971. There were fewer than fifty Starbucks stores at the time, and their emphasis was still on selling bags of roasted coffee to take home. The only reason they brewed coffee in the stores was to provide samples.
I had no intention of making a career out of teaching so I thought passingly of doing something like what that man was doing when I got back to Philadelphia. 

Looking back, I regret not doing so. True, I knew nothing about how to start a business, but that can be learned. I had enough money to live on for awhile and I could have gotten loans. As it was, I pursued another career which I failed at (journalism), lacked the self confidence to pursue a second career (which I'm too embarrassed to even name) and fell into a third out of need (a low-level retail position) that, even after doing it for a dozen years, I never earned close to half of what that street vendor in Seattle was earning in 1990, even not adjusting for inflation (his earnings would be about $145,000 today). 
Speaking of coffee, this clip will make you want some, even if you usually don't drink it: Coffee. 

Friday, October 19, 2018

The Trump guy

library magazine rack
A library magazine rack.
Met an avid Trump supporter last week. The kind you see at the rallies, not the kind you see on panel discussions. In other words, a guy about as smart as I am. Our conversation was friendly and respectful, but I was surprised by how little he knew about my side compared to how much I knew about his. And while I know I'm using a wide brush in saying this, I find that true of many that I see. I wonder why that is.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Outside, early fall, 2:30 p.m., 2018

two frogs
Two frogs sit in and on the edge of a koi pond in suburban Philadelphia.
Me in the backyard, earlier today. Sitting with a magazine on the back terrace, the artificial fish pond ten feet in front of me. I've known I've had two frogs for a week now, but this is the first time I can see them both. It's warm for this time of year. I'm wearing a short-sleeved shirt. The sun is in and out of the clouds, hitting my right shoulder, the one I broke on this terrace in May, from behind. The shoulder still hurts, but the warmth feels good. The pump in the pond is going, the little waterfall it powers making the sound of a small brook. One frog is on a floating blue hyacinth, the other on one of the stones that make a little wall around the pond. They are facing each other and remain motionless. 
A dragonfly comes. A big one; about two-and-a-half inches long. It swoops back and forth over the pond and surrounding vegetation, catching and eating small flying insects as it goes. Its flight is perfect; it's hard to believe that somewhere in its tiny bug brain there aren't two neurons feeling some sort of pride in its abilities. I track it as it darts around the pond. 
Under the hyacinths, which are starting to die, the five fish living in the pond swim near the bottom, looking for food, quarreling with one another. 
This scene, to the creatures involved, is much like one from three hundred million years ago. The frogs and fish would have had some minor differences and the dragonfly might have had a two-foot wingspan (there isn't enough oxygen in the air now to support such large insects), but other than that, they did the same thing. Sat in the sun, waiting for prey, nibbling at algae, flying after insects. The sky was as blue, the sun as warm, the days, the years, about as long. 
I think about this when I look up from my magazine. For minutes at a time, I forget about the cancer that took my right leg seven months ago and will probably kill me. I forget about the crutches at my side, the upcoming treatments for another kind of cancer (prostate) and the general aches and decay that come with being sixty. I think instead about this day on this steady, spinning ball of water and dirt that we're damaging but that will recover a few million years after we're gone. 
The sun, our first god, has about five billion years left in it. Time enough for Earth to heal, for new life forms to evolve, for amphibians, fish and insects to eat and breed.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

My cancer metaphor

People love metaphors for things both good and bad. They've been a way of simplifying complex ideas for centuries, e.g., "All the world's a stage." 
The most common metaphor for cancer and other illnesses and addictions is one of war. Person A has been battling cancer for three years, Person B lost his fight with cancer last week, surrounded by family and friends ...
Fine with me, but it's not a metaphor I like. (I'm not the only one who feels this way.) If I had to choose a metaphor for any life-threatening ailment, I'd go with one that for no reason popped into my head this morning, while I was still half asleep. 

My metaphor is of a sailboat. Think of yourself, your life, as a sailboat headed toward a distant horizon. There are storms at some points and at others you're becalmed. Much of your voyage, if you're fortunate, is one of smooth sailing. The wind is at your back, and as you progress you get better at weathering the storms and using the good weather. But at some point an ill wind or current will alter your course, forcing you into a reef and your ship will sink. For some, sadly, those times come in childhood. For others, they don't come for over a century. Doctors, nurses, counselors and other professionals are your shipmates. They can often compensate for the winds and currents. They can slow your progress toward the reef and even make you avoid it completely. But there will be a time for us all when even they can't save you, and you sink.
We all have our exits and our entrances and we will all exit sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Mine eyes

Yesterday, I had an appointment with a doctor who I'm hoping will be able to zap the cancer out of my prostate gland. I've had a degree of cancer there for awhile now but I've been putting the sarcoma and the broken shoulder ahead of it.
Often these days, when seeing doctors you meet with a resident first. The resident takes some information and tells you things the doctor will tell you before going out and telling the doctor what you just told the resident. There's some redundancy there, of course, but that's probably for the best.

The resident was a woman. That's a surprise; not many women go into treating men for prostate issues. After I told her about my various problems and poor odds of survival she asked my if I was coping with it all. I shrugged and said yes. She looked genuinely concerned and a little doubtful of my answer. I didn't think anything of this until I got home and looked in the mirror.
The psoriasis around my eyes has flared up lately. I've been putting the prescription medicine I got last year on it when it first emerged as a problem for a few days but it hasn't calmed the condition much yet. Red and baggy. I looked like I'd been crying all day, and I'm guessing that's what the resident thought. That was sweet of her.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

The busy day

  • Got the car inspected. It's healthy, for a twenty-year-old Camry. I drive it so infrequently that it didn't need an emissions test.
  • Went to see the doctor who performed my total shoulder replacement three months ago. Often, when you see doctors, a physicians assistant comes in and asks you questions. The one who did so today was a striking looking woman in her early thirties. When she was done, she went out of the examining room and I could hear her tell the doctor everything I'd just said. I don't want anyone to lose a job, but this seemed like a waste of time.
    frog on blue hyacinth
    A frog rests on frog on a blue hyacinth plant.
  • Went to a liquor store to see if they had those wine stoppers you use with vacuum pumps. (My sisters-in-law threw mine out when they "organized" my house while I was having my leg amputated six months ago. They also threw away many things that had sentimental value and others that I used daily and have since had to replace.) I don't drink wine in this kind of weather—nineties and so humid you want to carry a cool damp towel with you all the time—but I thought I'd check. They didn't have them. They guy told me to check online. OK.
  • Went to a sushi place near the liquor store and got a roll using a coupon I got in the mail for a substantial discount. I feel chintzy as hell using coupons. Note to guys who date: Never use a coupon when on a date. Never. Even if she professes that such things are good.
  • Went to a pizza place and got a tomato and cucumber salad. 
  • Went to a hardware store and got a short broom. The kind that the label says is used to sweep lobbies with. 
  • Went to an ice cream place to buy ice cream. A woman in line ahead of me ordered a pint and then changed it to a quart. I already knew I wanted a quart and ordered as much. Banana. The woman ahead of me was short and rich. I could tell she was short because she was short. I could tell she was rich because she was driving a Range Rover. She was very well groomed and had beautiful skin. 
  • Fed the fish in the backyard koi pond. Looked for the frog that showed up two weeks ago but couldn't find him. It's possible he was nearby and even in sight, but he's an expert at being still, which is half of not being seen.

Monday, August 20, 2018

A stable loser

Why yes, as a matter of fact, I have been drinking. And the drinks I had were at 3:30 this afternoon. I don't usually do this. I go weeks, even months at a time without touching alcohol at all, and when I do drink, I don't drink much. I buy cases of beer that are exceptional because the beers are six ounce bottles or cans, far less than the usual, and when I'm in a drink-every-day mode I have just one a day, with dinner.
So why did I drink one of those and then a vodka martini (i.e., a glass of vodka with olives) after it? Because I wanted to celebrate getting a clear scan, that's why. 
I get, you see, scans every three months to see whether or not the bone cancer has spread to my lungs, which will ensure a lingering and unpleasant death. The scan I got two days ago has been read (they do that fast these days) and I picked up the report and the disc (for the doctor) this afternoon. 
If you're not in a situation like mine, with a sarcoma (bone cancer) that required amputation of my right leg six months ago, you won't have had the feelings I do when this happens. The anxiety is so great that you almost wish the report would start out saying something, "Uh-oh. You're history, pal," and just get it over with. Instead, mine this time kept using the word "stable," which is good. I do have a nodule in a lung, which is bad, but that showed up awhile ago and if it remains stable I'm all right. For now. 

American medicine is advanced in many ways, but one way in which it isn't is when it comes to records and distribution of them. They still use fax machines! What is this, 1997? And they put the images on CDs, which many newer computers don't even have slots for. Part of what this means is that I have to drive six miles or so to pick up the report and disc. A nerve wracking drive which, if you're ever faced with would be better off done by someone else but I've always been alone (see blog's title) so I have to do it myself. I had to focus intently on the road ahead and calm my mind so I didn't do something dumb like blank on a traffic light. 
At the imaging facility, I had to wait five minutes for the clerk to bring me my stuff. As she approached, I studied her face. Nothing there. 

What would you do if handed a manila envelope with news that was tantamount to a thumbs up or thumbs down on your life expectancy? Open it right there, wait until you got to the car, or wait until you got home? My choice was to wait until I got home. I'd cleared the table of trivial stuff (the crossword puzzle in the newspaper, mail I hadn't opened yet) before leaving the house. When I got home, I put the envelope on the table and opened a beer and poured it into a glass. If it was bad news or good, a drink would be in order.
You know the next part. Good news. 
This means I'm good until the next scan, which will be in three months. I wonder if my seventy-five to twenty-five (bad to good) odds get better each time I get good results. I must remember to ask the doctor that when I see him on Thursday.
With my luck (always bad, throughout my life) I'll probably be diagnosed with cirrhosis next week.
Incidentally, two days after the last time I got a clean reading three months ago—this is only the second one—I slipped, fell, and broke my shoulder so badly that I'm still in pain. Alcohol had nothing to do with this. Stupidity did.

Friday, August 17, 2018

The poor deer

Sometimes you can be sitting around after a meal and not be thinking about things that bring you down, which in my case include an amputated leg, a shattered shoulder and a likely terminal form of cancer, and then something intrudes on you that depresses you. 
too thin deer buck
A sadly too thin deer eats Pennsylvania foliage.
That happened to me this morning when this emaciated young buck walked in front of a window in my kitchen after I'd eaten breakfast. He was eating foliage, as you can see in this photo and this video
The comedian Louis C.K. has a routine in which he talks at some length about his hatred of deer. It's funny, but to me only funny because of the intensity of his feelings. I have nothing against deer. They were in this region long before any of my ancestors were, and this is true even if I'm found to have any American Indian blood, which I'm pretty sure I don't. Yes, they cause many car accidents and more than a few fatalities annually, but that's hardly their fault. You can't expect an animal to evolve an awareness of a machine that's only existed for a little over a century. Also, it is mice that are the primary vector for deer ticks and the Lyme disease they often carry, not deer. 
I'm guilty of anthropomorphizing animals. Many are. They don't know evil or good. They act to survive and to procreate. If they eat your prize foliage, that's your fault for leaving it accessible to them. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Track your package

I got something from Amazon the other day. When you track your package there, it shows you where it is on a map and how many delivery stops away the driver is. This reminded me of when I was a child and on Christmas Eve the local TV news would show Santa Claus's route. The broadcaster doing this was usually the weather guy (they were always men back then, the early 1960s) and he'd act very serious about it. Serious, that is, to a five-year-old.
Later the same day that I thought this my mood shifted and the tracking took on a more sinister view. I thought of it as an approaching disaster. An inescapable lava flow. A killer robot heading my way. A tsunami, a flood, a storm. Death.

Friday, August 3, 2018


mansplaining flow chart
The mansplaining flow chart.
Above is the flow chart that explains mansplaining that has, I've read, gone viral. What it doesn't include is something that applies to me, which is that I'm a slow learner who, even so, grasps things well and is good at explaining them to others but does so the way I wish things would be explained to me. Also, the majority of my time explaining things to others was when I was teaching in Asia (China, Japan) and explaining the English language. I was never guilty of "teacher talk" which, there, meant using ungrammatical sentences to focus on key words ("He open door"), but I did often slow things down a little and use simple words in favor of more advanced ones.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

The scooter girls

My neighborhood is a fairly safe one for kids to play on. Yes, there are people who barrel down the road far faster than the twenty-five mile-per-hour signs permit—UPS and FedEx trucks are prime offenders—but most people who drive here live here and drive with care.
This summer I've seen girls riding small electric scooters. The scooter I like best is the one that looks like a Vespa. The girl on it often wears a dress and looks like a miniature Parisian. 
scooter girls
Scooter girls in my neighborhood take a break.

I'm of two minds about them. (An aside. Is the phrase "of two minds" one that only geezers use? Like "lickety split" or "the cat's pajamas"?) 
First, I thought, they should be riding bicycles, exercising their legs, lungs and hearts and getting familiar with the concept of energy-free travel.
Second, and this wins, they are outside of view of a parent or any other adult supervisor. That's rare these days and heartening to see. Is there a chance that a neighborhood pervert will say something to them or flash them? It's doubtful, but it'd be awful if it happened; they're much to young to have their trust in people marred. 
The only boys I see are the one who walks the family dogs with his mother, the one next door who rides a bicycle with his father, and a teenager on a skateboard. The biking boy is too young to go out on his own, so that's fine. I suspect the dog walker is doing so under duress. My guess when it comes to other boys in the area is that they're spending their summer days inside playing Minecraft or some game in which they go around shooting people in the head. They're in dark rooms, staring at screens, eating Cheetos, alone. Not heartening.