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.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Odd thoughts

My Nutri Ninja Pro blender started to smoke two years ago. It smelled awful. I couldn't tell where the smoke was coming from and assumed the motor was the source. Wrong. The
Bad blender.
lower part of the blade assembly was rubbing against the body and the friction heated it up. The blender wasn't so old. Scrolling through reviews of it on Amazon yesterday, I saw that at least one other owner had the identical problem. A replacement part costs $35, not too far from the cost of getting a new one, $50. I looked and found a better blender, at least based on reviews on Amazon and elsewhere, for $150. 

Then I thought, what if the next scan that I have every three months shows that the cancer, which is untreatable, has spread to my lungs, meaning I'll be dead in a year or two? Why would I need a Cuisinart blender of much better quality? I doubt I know anyone who would want it when I die.
Good blender.

Then I thought about how strange it was to think such things and how doing so would have been unimaginable to me not long ago.

Monday, July 30, 2018

More good memories: The Library

It is 2013, 14 or 15; between my parents' deaths in 2011 and now, with my leg amputation, prostate cancer, and grim prognosis. The season is spring or fall and it's fairly cold. The skies are clear and as blue as they get near sea level in Pennsylvania.
treddyfrin public library

I'm going to my local library. It's around one o'clock on a weekday. I park in the lower lot and enter through the lower level. That's the children's section and I'm going that way because it leads directly to the library's used book store. The two-story library was built in the 60s and has an unconventional structure. It's an arc. Built on a slope, both of its two levels have windows. The bookstore is small but well run. The books are in order and in excellent shape; I once bought one that still had a gift receipt in it, meaning that the gift recipient either thought too little of the book to even riffle through its pages, or already owned or had read it.
I look first at the DVDs and CDs in the racks and a bin just outside the store. I find one of each I like and take them. I go in the store. I'm in luck. I find a book I've meant to read for years. I check it to make sure no one's underlined anything in it. It's clean. Everything in the store is inexpensive: Books range from one dollar to two. CDs are a dollar, DVDs are two.
This is before my knee hurt too much to climb stairs so with my items, which I'll pay for upstairs at the checkout desk, I head for the first floor. There, I go to the display of new movies. Again, I'm in luck. There's a movie I'd missed in theaters, and it's a Blu-ray edition. Usually, the library charges two dollars for new releases but I've donated enough to not have to pay that fee. Not that I come even close to recouping what I donated, but it's nice to not have to pay.
Then it's on to the magazine and periodical section. The magazines are in racks and not clamped in those awful plastic covers. I find a new edition of a magazine I like and sit in one of the comfortable chairs to read. I'm in my mid fifties and the youngest one there. The others, if there are any, are usually retired men north of seventy. In the last decade of his life, my father went to this library often and sat where I'm sitting. My mother's health was failing and although he never said it, I suspect he enjoyed getting out of the house and getting a break from tending her. He was her primary caretaker until the week she died in a hospital. He died less than two months after she did. She was a demanding patient and my brothers and I were sad that he didn't have more time to enjoy life after she died but he was, after all, ninety-one.
I find a meaty article in a magazine and read all of it. From where I'm sitting I can see the covers of about twenty magazines. They're in alphabetical order so their topics are random. A sports magazine may be next to one on knitting. I put the magazine back and look at the newspapers. Usually, I'll pick up the latest copy of the weekly paper I was a reporter for nearly twenty years ago. I tut at its poor quality. Dull headlines, lifeless leads, grammatical mistakes. Not that I was perfect, but some of these writers have been there since I left and should know better by now.
I look at the new books that have come in. None interest me. A surprising number of the covers feature women wearing bonnets. This may be a regional thing but I'm much closer to Philadelphia than to Pennsylvania Dutch country.
My favorite librarian is at the counter. She's in her late twenties, I think, and more attractive than she knows. She greets every customer with a high-pitched, short "Hi!" which would irritate if you didn't like her. She tallies my purchases and scans the movie.
I exit through the main door and head for the car. I'm underdressed for the chilly weather. I get in the car and it's warm. It's a little stuffy, but in a nice way, like a comforter. I turn the key and put the radio on and there's an interesting segment on public radio.
My drive home is short and I look forward to having a late lunch and a cup of coffee.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Dead, dead, dead

The three koi I had in a man-made pond died last week. 
It was partly my fault. Although the leg amputation in February and shoulder replacement in May have made getting out to see the pond risky because I'm using a wheelchair and there are two tricky steps involved, I had made the trip and could have kept doing so. If I had, I'd have seen that the power to their water and air pump was out. A friend fed them on Sunday, they were dead on Wednesday. The friend says he thinks the pumps were going, but I doubt that; the fish have survived much longer power outages, even in summer, when working pumps are essential (warm water holds less oxygen than cold water). I should have specifically asked him to check to see if the little waterfall was flowing. 
empty koi pond
Other than things you can't see and some aquatic plants, this is empty.

I also blame the gardeners my brothers hired to clean up the grounds (I admit I was slow to do this, which is why they stepped in and hired people without telling me, but I had planned to make a call that week). They uncovered the outlet to the devices and didn't put the cover back. There was a short but strong storm that Sunday that may have shorted out the power. Also, there was a sheen of oil on the water, which would have blocked oxygen, and I suspect it was runoff from the mulch they used around the pond. 
One of the fish was twenty-five years old and had been around when my parents were alive. The other two I'd bought five years ago. All three had many more years ahead of them. I'd named the three after my brothers and I. It's stupid to give pets names; it makes it harder when they die.
The way the fish died would have been unpleasant. It is a precursor to the way I'll probably die when the form of cancer that required removal of my leg spreads to my lungs. 
They will be my last pets. Ever. I can't have pets because I love them too much and they always die, saddening me for years. The joy they give when alive doesn't outweigh the misery. Once the sadness I feel now ebbs a little, it will be almost nice not to have to worry about anything other than a couple of houseplants. But that ebbing won't be for years, and I probably don't have that long.

Friday, July 13, 2018

About luck

You wad up a piece of paper and throw it toward a wastepaper basket ten feet away. (You should have recycled it, but this is to make a point.)

You're not good at throwing things and in this case your throw is even farther off than usual. 
The paper hits a wall, then a book on a shelf, then the leg of a table, then the rim of the basket where it stops for a fraction of a second as if deciding on whether or not to go in the basket or on the floor.
Then it falls in the basket.
You applaud yourself for this lucky shot and wish others had been there to see it.
There was no luck involved. Everything about it was determined by physics. Biology too, considering that the signal your brain sent your throwing arm was misinterpreted, but biology at its tiniest level is physics. 
There is no such thing as luck. Why, then, do I believe that my luck is nothing but bad?

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Still hurts

During my two-week followup with the surgeon who replaced my shattered right shoulder last month, he said I could use my crutches again. (I need crutches because my right leg was amputated at the hip four months ago.)
"It'll feel strange," he said, "but you can do it."
I was skeptical but like many, I believed my doctor, who presumably has more experience with this than I do. When I got home I got the crutches, stood up from my wheelchair and got ready to take a step. 
My right arm wouldn't move. 
Smart arm. It knew that if I tried to take a step I'd fall down and, with my luck, break my left shoulder. 

"What has he been smoking?" my physical therapist said. It seems my doctor was going by the structural ability of the replaced joint and steel rods, which had knitted with the bones. He wasn't paying attention to the atrophied muscles, the damaged nerves, the traumatized tendons and ligaments. Instead of listening to him, I listened to my PT and got on the crutches and put small, then larger, amounts of weight on them. 
Two weeks later, feeling stronger, I took a small step. Bad idea. I didn't fall and the step seemed successful, but that night when I lay down to sleep my shoulder felt like it was on fire. What's worse is that now, seven days after that one step, it still feels like that and getting any real sleep has been impossible. I've tried pillows, I've tried ice.
"It feels like I fell five minutes ago!" I say to my bedroom. The best I've been able to manage is two hours or so of sleep at a time sleeping on my left side. Despite having a good mattress, after two hours my left shoulder starts hurting and I wake up. I pull myself into a sitting position until the pain subsides, wait awhile and try again to get some sleep.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Heat, crackers

It's hot here in Philadelphia's suburbs. It's hotter in the city, of course. It may hit one-hundred degrees there tomorrow, they say. A near record for July 1. Humid, too, of course.
Not that I know this first hand. I've only been outside twice since having my shoulder joint replaced, and those trips were to doctors' appointments. 
crackers new yorker magazine
Crackers on a New Yorker Magazine page.

A good thing about knowing you'll probably be dead in two years is that you don't scrimp on the air conditioning. I've always felt wasteful cooling an entire house just for me. Not anymore.
When I'm not doing my rehab therapy I'm either sitting in the wheelchair or lying in bed. Everyone I know is busy during the week and away on weekends. I'm getting low on food. The grocery shopping services in my area either have minimums that are too high or don't go to stores I like. Time to look into Task Rabbit, I guess.
Sometimes I sit at my kitchen table and eat crackers that are only slightly less bad for you than potato chips, which are awful for you, and reading something I like. That is the highlight of my day. No, it's the highlight of my week.

Sunday, June 3, 2018


There are different types of falls and in my view the worst is the slip and fall. It comes out of nowhere and body slams you to the ground. That's the kind of fall I had two-and-a-half weeks ago and I broke my right shoulder doing it. I was on a stone terrace in the rain and my left crutch hit a patch of slime and that was it. A stupid, momentary dropping of my guard. The fall seemed accelerated somehow, as though I fell faster and harder than I would have if I'd jumped from a height as tall as I am. 
park trail valley forge park
If I hadn't fallen I could be crutching down this path right now.

A new socket, rods, arm in a sling for who knows how long and pain, lots of pain. As my right leg was amputated in February in an attempt to halt the spread of bone cancer, I have to use a wheelchair to get around, which I do by dragging myself with my left leg. If you live in an oldish structure (mine's sixty-five) you realize that entry ways are small when you're on crutches and tiny when you're in a wheelchair.
Almost the worst thing about this is that the cancer scan I had two weeks before the fall blew negative. That meant I had nothing to do but eat, drink and be merry until the next one, in three months, began to loom. That would have been nice. Now? Nothing but pain and rehab.
And you wonder why this blog is called what it is.

Sunday, May 13, 2018


Me, in Nagoya, Japan, 1986. It's a warm spring afternoon, a Sunday, and I go to a park near the apartment building I live in. Japan is not noted for having much greenery in urban areas, and Nagoya, which is known for its manufacturing of cars, is not an exception. When I go to my office to pick up teaching supplies, I look out the ninth-floor window and am amazed that all I see, stretching to the horizon, is concrete and glass.
Back to the park. I'm enjoying sitting in the shade and I'm reading a book, looking up now and then to people watch. I look up and see a woman and her daughter. The daughter is around six or seven. They have a rubber ball with them and they begin to throw it back and forth, the trajectory the ball makes an invisible cord connecting the two. The girl is delighted with every catch and throw. The mother is as delighted. Both laugh with pure pleasure.
Nothing I ever saw made me want to be a parent more than this, but I never became a parent despite that, as much as I tried.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

A rare day

For the first time in at least two years a medical test didn't find anything so wrong with me that I'll need major surgery, like the two leg operations I had a year ago and the amputation of my right leg at the hip eight weeks ago.
I went to the city to meet with my surgeon. The result: Get another scan at the beginning of August. It's early May now, so I'll have two months of being relatively devil-may-care and then a month of anxiety as the date of the test nears.
women in a starbucks
Two women converse in a Philadelphia Starbucks.

Oh wait. I'm forgetting. I also have prostate cancer and the doc advised using this window to take care of that. (No, the prostate cancer I have isn't the wait and see kind that everyone seems these days to think is the only kind there is. It's the you-better-get-that-prostate-cut-out-of-you-or-nuked-before-it-spreads-and-kills-you kind.)
But compared to having an entire leg cut off, having one vile little gland removed will seem like a crutch in the park.
My doctor is a busy one because he's good and therefore in demand. My appointment was for 11:45. The receptionist said he was running an hour late. I didn't actually see him until 1:45. 
For the hour I knew he'd be late I left the building and went to a nearby Starbucks. While there, I sat near two young women. It is nice, at my age—nearly sixty—to see young people. 
Here's what I wrote while watching them:
Nine feet in front of me a fetching woman who is twenty-five is talking to her friend almost nonstop. She's wearing a black and white striped dress, sandals, and her toenail polish is ruby red. A brunette, her hair is up, sunglasses perched atop. Dark brown eyes, emphatic gestures, olive skin. Like me, she's drinking iced coffee with cream (or milk). She's talking fast, in keeping with her gestures. The conversation the two are having is covering a wide range of topics, mostly about what they and their friends are doing. Unlike when I'm out with friends my age, neither has once asked the other to repeat herself, despite the background noise and music bouncing off the hard surfaces.