Leaving Las Vegas

Leaving Las Vegas

The following is from the last great motorcycle trip I took, alone, down the West Coast, across the desert and back up the spine of the Sierras. It was, unbeknownst to me at the time, my farewell to biking altogether, I sold my bike a year later. Someday we’ll talk about changes like that but for now, this is a nice reflection on a place and a period in time that had formative value if not lasting pleasure.

Leaving Las Vegas……..or something remotely akin to it on a smaller and more withered yet sickeningly sparkling scale; Palm Springs, CA.

Up and out of the resort bed of choice and off to Bit O’ Country, the default locals breakfast spot for at least the 35 years I’ve been going there. Eggs, great sausage, GRITS and biscuits and gravy. Had to!

The road from Palm Springs to Death Valley is known as one of the loneliest stretches in the country, no exaggeration.   But before you get to the “lonely”, you need to go through a couple less than noteworthy but notable none-the-less, blots on the map.

Yucca Valley………….I really don’t need to say a whole lot more than the name implies. It does have Joshua Tree Monument but frankly, they Joshua Trees have always left me less than whelmed. I blew past them and into….

29 Palms. Okay, I debated counting the damn palm trees since there doesn’t seem to be anything else worth doing in this hell hole of an outpost. The Marines use this as their workhorse of a training ground to simulate the Mideast. More? Hideous, ugly, depressing…..that’s enough. Out the other side into……..

Wonder Valley…….. It really does make you wonder……..Who? What? When? Why? As desolate and impoverished a piece of land as can be found and yet, still, the government saw fit in the heyday of the post war “boom” to promote WONDER VALLEY as………what?…..farm land? Nah……..A good place to raise up younungs? Nah…….A place to breed isolationist psychopathic serial killers? Maybe! I really want to know what official or agency of the U.S. Gov’t sanctioned the Homestead Act that fostered this swath of blight and ruin. Oh……the same one that insisted tilling up all the topsoil on the Great Plains for wheat was a good idea in the 20’ and 30’s. And we all know where that got us…can we say “Dust Bowl”?

An aside: Read a great account of the Dust Bowl: http://www.google.com/products/catalog?hl=en&q=dust+bowl+book&um=1&ie=UTF-8&cid=3599132492237380667&ei=1fWwTI6cCIGBlAeg_LzlDw&sa=X&oi=product_catalog_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CD0Q8wIwAg#

It’s also a documentary on PBS well worth seeking out.

Back to WONDER Valley. So, along the highway, splotched every ½ mile or so, are truly pathetic, one room cinder block “houses”, all but about 3 on a 50 mile stretch deserted since the 40’s, with only the haunting, sacred, sinisterism that long abandoned dwellings can conjure in the deepest recesses of our paranoid inner selves. What were these people like? What were their lives like that they seriously thought THIS would be better. Did they have children? Where was the Walmart? Good god, where was the water? This was such a bad idea that were it common knowledge it was a government-sponsored program there would be less faith in the system than there already is. And why in heaven’s name haven’t they TORN THESE SHACKS DOWN in the last 60 years and returned the desert to some semblance of its own serene, stark beauty?

Every mile or so there remains a “home” that’s been “fixed up”, a chain link fence to keep the kids from wandering out onto the highway that only solo bikers and the too-tan tourists tripping from Las Vegas to Palm Springs traverse at breakneck speeds. The spur “streets” (this term used loosely) tell the story with sad and grotesque eloquence. Barbara Lane, Henry Road, Buster’s End; each, a sandy path leading back 50 yards or so into the scrub and ending in one of these long ago homesteaded hovels, once owned by Barbara, Henry, or Buster.

I’ve passed here often….and I’ve “Wonder”ed.

Then there’s Amboy. Once upon a time it was the center for Chloride mining and transport. Today, they’ve managed to resurrect a diner that appears to be serving something but that’s about it. In 1988 I was navigating this stretch in August, alone, in a little pickup on the way to a New Age conference in Sedona, AZ. 125 degrees. This was before internet, The Google, Mapquest….nada. The map showed a town. Named Amboy. I assumed towns had gas stations. I have a picture somewhere of the terminally shuttered gas station (Gulf springs to mind) that left me wanting, swweat-nervous, and stupidly alone in the Mojave Desert in the dead of summer without gas, water, food or a CELL PHONE! We live today but for the grace of supreme beings. I remember these things fondly and with amazing grace but a strong sense of “WTF Was I Thinking?” to have ever been here, alone, in the first place.

Which leads me back to the Kalifornia Closure Tour, Chapter…I don’t remember what anymore and who cares?

In my 30’s I was arrogant enough to think I “needed” my solitude and a more visible grandeur (the desert representing these in spades) and so, Palm Springs seemed like the 80’s hedonistic answer to the wayfarer’s prayer. I honor those that choose this path still, but offer up a suggestion. Rent….don’t own. You’ll live to thank me for it.

Glitz, glamor, gold chains, and gilt fixtures aside, there is little there even now, 35 years on, to tempt a sentient mind. There is plenty to trap a somnolent being, though.

The ultimate in an escapist’s paradise. Trash with Flash.

Sun-burnished bodies housing sun-burned brains.

It’s a place where conspicuous consumption still carries it’s own zip code and all who acquiesce to its quickly-cracked charms will eventually succumb. Fit in or fall short of the ideal.

The Aqua Caliente Indians had the correct idea.

They wintered in the Valley amid a few choice, stunningly beautific, palm canyons; replete with snow-chilled water running down from the high peaks of the looming San Jacinto Mountains. As winter’s warmth gave in to the summer’s sear, they elevated themselves back into the hills and moderated their temperate lives according to the laws of the nature within which they lived.

Smart folks, these Cahuilla, these Aqua Caliente.

It was Hollywood’s fault.

Hollywood, or at least the few mega-moguls who controlled and contorted it in the 20’ and 30’s, needed  their property, their Stars, to be close at hand. Beck and Call. When the Studios beckoned, their stars must come calling, quickly.

With more money than sense, they pooled, grassed, treed, gardened, and even air-conditioned their way into a force that propelled it’s own interest above all else, subverted the will of the land, and power-played their hands into a game that many times over the years would become a house of cards.

When the nation’s economy suffered setbacks, Palm Springs suffered disasters.

As the Springs continued to grow, full of reprobates, retirees, and Real World wannabes, they, along with all the rest of Southern California, sucked so much of the water out of the Colorado River that the majestic, ever-flowing, tumble now fails to reach the Mexican border at all.

Shameless beauty.

I don’t regret my time there; then as an escapist from some inner demons and outer dogmas, or now, as an itinerant traveler, passing through it’s molten midst.

But I doubt I’ll return.

There are too many stunning spots yet to be spied, why waste another day seeing the worst of what man has done to nature and wondering why?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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AARP ADHD

AARP ADHD

Is it a symptom of an aging brain or are we all in need of medication?

Or is it simply the fact that, after a certain point, we have obtained and hopefully retained, so much information that our minds are scattered full of holes like a buckshot wild carcass and we seek, perpetually, to categorize and reference the myriad bytes and bits we have managed to collect in our sub consciousness.

Is it when we wish to expand and expound upon these treasured bits of flotsam that we feel in need of Ritalin? Or do we, like our Macs and our PCs, simply need a better filing system?

It used to be, we all carried around calculators. Who does “math” anymore?

It used to be we all carried around “Day Planners”.  There’s an app for that.

It used to be we had phones on our desks and at home. We all know how well that worked out.

So we’re mobile. So we’re connected. So we’re constantly current.

So why do we feel as if we’re about to fling out of control like a Tilt-a-Whirl gone off it’s track?

I wonder if it’s because we don’t trust in our connectivity…….our devices….our screens. Or is it because we don’t trust that what we have input into our devices because it is subject to our own limitations and foibles and errors and therefore suspect; hinged to our imperfect memories and modalities and hanging from our well-used but slightly shoddy memory banks.

I doubt younger people are plagued by these shadows and slights of mind. They were weaned on their devices and pacified with their pads. Their comfort has always been contingent on their connectivity.

I write notes to remember to write notes.

I send myself emails to remind me to write notes.

I forget to look at my “Notes” file on my phone for so long that when I do get back to it, the scribble-scrawled, hasty pudding of parlance stares back at me in a fontish taunt, challenging me to read my own past-mind and regurgitate even the slightest faint of familiarity that might help glue this string of unstrung pearls of wisdom back together.

The delete key is my friend…..…and my salvation. I accede to the rule of the adroitly aging; “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”

Click………gone………maybe I’ll recall it again, someday……..mostly not.

My obeisance to this faltering frailty does not frighten as much as frustrate. It provokes a challenge in me, a gauntlet to be taken up; how to better capture the ephemera that, bird-like, flit across my frontal lobe and vanish into the mass of minutia-gathering matter that constitutes my brain.

I know I have one……..a brain.

I know it works, mostly.

My body clock is quite regular. The functions I perform daily are not only rote and routine but also thoughtful and clearly formed. Errands, shopping, driving…..I can do these with aplomb……….but not necessarily well…..without lists.

It’s the fog of war that confounds me. The war with the words that formed so adroitly in my mind and now scatter elusively around the periphery, hiding from clear view like cockroaches when the light is turned on; you know they’re there, you just can’t pin them down and it makes you want to squash them all the more. But I loved those words, those phrases, those inspirations, when I had them. They seemed radiant, alive, evocative of more to come and more to say. That is why I took the time to write the notes……..the remnant reminders of nascent ideas yet to be fleshed.

But now the notes must be longer, the construction and definition of the thoughts more carefully and completely framed. The single word thought triggers must morph into more worthy word phrases if they are to become more than piles of pixels to be moved to the trash.

The notes need notes if they are to be worthy of future thought and evocation.

And so we search, we Google, we ferret, we fret; looking for the perfect “system” to catalog our minds and annihilate the anarchy that daily mounts a determined defense against our every effort to remember.

Our Finder files grow like seedling in spring soil. Our Dropboxes, once singular in their function, now flash their fullness and beg, no demand, that we upgrade and purchase more memory.

If only.

I do want to purchase more memory. Really.

But there is no Memory Store wedged between the Best Buy and the Apple Store.

And don’t even start to ask me about my photo library. For that, I do need drugs, or at least a stiff drink.

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1000/500

1,000/500

or

Get Him to the Home on Time

 

This tale begins in my office in the Emerald Shapery Tower in San Diego.

The father was in and out of the hospital and the nursing home back in Maryland.  Medicare, in its infinite wisdom, had opted for a pacemaker on this failing, falling, fragile, old man and with any sign of a minor improvement, they booted him out of the hospital and next door into a nursing home where, without fail, he failed…over and over again. 

On a readmission they would pay for three days, just enough time to get him “stabile” and then…poof…out the door.  So it had been back and forth for weeks now with the tight-fisted mother counting every cent that was headed out of her accounts and into the hands of the medical zealots intent on….well…..whatever it is they are intent upon as they push and prod dying people into greater and greater expense and trauma.

It was looking like a long-term nursing home was in the cards.

The sister, having determined that nursing homes in Maryland were the equivalent of the institution portrayed in The Snake Pit (1948 Olivia de Havilland), decided that a facility in Appalachia (her home of choice) was a far better (and in the mother’s mind, far more economically sound not to mention far, far, away from her immediate care zone) choice.  She would spirit the ailing father away from the pseudo-murderous clutches of the mother (see blog “A Half Century of Hell”) and elevate herself to the Christian Saviour she always aspired to be.

The Medicare clock was ticking.  This was a Friday. The nursing home meter would start running again on Saturday, this time on the mother’s dime, Medicare having exhausted itself but the father…not quite yet.

I placed a call to the hospital just to check on him.  The nurse’s station answered.

“Oh, honey…….Yo daddy ain’t here no more.”

Knowing that there was a road trip scheduled for the father for Monday for points Appalachian, I was mildly surprised.  I queried as to a more precise definition of “ain’t here”.

“Well, yo momma and auntie and uncle checked him out and headed him offun to Ohiaaa.”

It was 2pm in Maryland on a November afternoon.

It was at least a 7 hour drive to Ohio.

It was November.

On the off chance that plans had been made without my knowledge, a not uncommon occurrence as I made a habit of plausible deniability in all things family, I called the sister.

“Do you know where the father is?”

“He’s in the hospital, they are coming here on Monday and I have it all set up with Shady Pines (not the real name but you get the idea).  It’s a really super nice place with really super nice ladies to take super good care of him and it’s not far from me so I can visit all the time”

Super.

“Well, not to burst your super nice bubble but he be gone.  It seems that the aunt and uncle figures, in collusion with the mother, have whisked him off the ward and are on the way to you as we speak.”

“They can’t DO that!”

“Well, as a matter of fact that can.”

After a few more judicious calls on my part, I found out that they had rented a panel van, took out all the rear seats, tossed in all the plastic covered patio cushions they could lay hands on (he was incontinent and could not sit up at this point), packed a picnic lunch (after all, it was about 25 degrees out and they couldn’t, in good conscience, stop at Cracker Barrel with the father stretched out in the panel van so….you get the picture) and headed for the turnpike.

“They can’t DO that!”

This was going to be a long haul, in more ways than one.

“The home isn’t expecting to check him in until Monday!  It’s after 2pm!  They won’t get here until 10 o’clock!  What am I going to feed them?  Where am I going to put the father???  We can’t get him up the stairs out of the garage without a wheelchair!! Etc. Etc. Etc.

No mention was made about the chances of his overall survival on this Bataan-like forced march.

I was much more concerned with whether we should alert the Highway Patrols along the route that there were 4 octogenarians loose in a panel van in the dead of winter on the Pennsylvania Turnpike with a collective blood pressure approaching 1000/500.  A stroke or two was more than a remote possibility, after all, these siblings (the mother and aunt were sisters, the father and uncle were brothers…you do the math) were not exactly placid, peaceful, people on a good day and this, most definitely, was not gonna be a good day.

Growing weary of the woe-is-me from the sister, I condensed her choices down to a concise, manageable, few.

“They’re all over 21, we can’t stop them. (this was pre-mobile phone dark ages).  They ARE on the way.  You WILL have to deal with them.  There’s a KFC on the way into town, grab a bucket.”

Now here’s where it gets weird.

In brainstorming what to do with the father, I came up with a concept piece, mind you I was in sunny San Diego not the winter-scaped Appalachians, that might just have to do.

Haul out a spare bed from the guest room into the garage.  Set up space heaters all around the bed.  Bundle him up with a comforter or two and let the dogs pile on and cuddle (he loved animals). 

She was actually buying into it.

My secretary and the rest of my staff had all gathered in my office by now, stifling roars of laughter as I placed frantic call after call, talked the sister off the ledge more than once, and finally landed on what I thought was a fittingly frenetic plan of action.

Dad, the Deepfreeze and the Dogs.

It had a consonance that appealed to me and the sister, overwrought with put-upon panic, had little choice.

And now we waited.

What would come first? My staff and I were wagering, heavily, on the call from the Highway Patrol.  Not being a gambler, I liked those odds.

Meanwhile, the weather had moved in and snow was falling all along the route.  In Snoopy parlance “It was a dark and stormy night….”

The next call was the sister.  Contact had been made. They were at a pay phone (remember them?) on the snowy verge of the highway, lost, trying to find the Home at 10:30 at night…….with no Google Maps.

The sister sprang into action, called the Home, arranged a late check in (like at the Ritz only much less classy, the amenities running to bedpans and emesis basins), and told the vanagains to stop at KFC because she certainly wasn’t cooking “at THIS hour”.

The sister bundled up her three sleeping cherubs (evil spawn, really, but the image works in the case), packed them into the Buick Roadmaster and headed out into the bluster and blow to find them and guide them to the Home.

Two hours later.

Nothing. No van, no relations, no nada.

More phone calls, increasingly angry phone calls, screw their well being, how could they BE this inconsiderate phone calls?

And then the sister got smart (well it’s all relative) and called the Home.

“Why honey, you’re daddy’s here and all tucked into bed already.  They got here an hour ago.”

What? How? Why? Huh?

It seems that the mother, ever the practical traveler (I inherited this gene, at least) flagged down a patrol car, explained their situation, and the nice officer led them to the Home himself. 

Now truth be told, he most likely shined his flashlight into the van, saw the emaciated, dehydrated, father, thought “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane” and with no more than a “But ch’are, Blanche”, imagined the pile-o-paperwork he’d spend his weekend filling out if he simply left them there to die and opted for the slightly off-the–record but highly more practical and led them onward into the night.

By the time the sister got home, the adults (loosely used) were contentedly patting themselves on the back for a Mission Accomplished with KFC greased fingers (yes, they had found it all on their own) and without so much as a word of explanation, toddled off to bed.

In the morning, still fuming, the now sleep deprived sister arose to tackle the day and the parents………..only to find…….they were gone.

Not one to waste another day’s wages on a rented panel van, they had hopped aboard for the return flight, no note, no call, no WAY!

I believe I heard the religiously tinged expletives all the way in California. I know my phone line was seared soon thereafter.

The father never went home again.

The mother redecorated his room into a studio.

She almost never went to Ohio again, either.

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Happy Birthday To Me

Happy Birthday To Me

Or

As Gomer Pyle would say “SurPRIZE, SurPRIZE, Surprize”

I’ve only had a surprise party once.  My 21st birthday.  I was living in a commune in my hometown, shocking, 1973; moral bankruptcy abounded, drugs were cheap, life was good.

Yet I was having a pity party of one, drinking alone in some dive bar watching a friend’s band practice, bemoaning my miserable, solitary, life.

Two friends intervened, literally abducted me home, put me on a chair (I like to think: Throne), placed a brown bag covered book with the title “This Is Your Life” emblazoned on it in my lap. (Google it, TV show, 1950’s, you’ll see).  From behind a curtained screen disembodied voices began to recount tales of my thus-far misspent youth in which they played ancillary parts as well.

It was fabulous.

It was my yearbook under that brown bag.

I still have it, faded brown bag covering in tact.

Time moved on, decades began to pass, life got infinitely more interesting and full of surprises and unexpected delights.

My 40th was not unexpected, I knew how to count. I would not consider it a delight either, not because of the standard age-phobic annoyance attributed to these arbitrary passages but rather to the surprise I was inadvertently “gifted’ with.

A bit of background to assist in the global navigation as this tale covers a multitude of states and a variety of players.

I was living in Atlanta, recently relocated from Southern California because, well, if you’ve ever been to SoCal you’ll understand that even Georgia looked more promising.

The mother, alone and irascibly aging, was ensconced in the family home in Maryland.

The father, grudgingly failing, was imprisoned in a nursing facility somewhere in the Appalachian hellhole of Ohio.

The sister was holding court, high above the Ohio River in the New England Cape Cod Castle of her own, tchotchke-filled creation.

At this point in life, I was miles and millennia away from the stresses of my youth and the dysfunction of my family but, thanks to one A.G. Bell, still filamentally connected to the drama that only they could perpetuate.

And so, on my birthday, did I mention my 40th birthday, the sister, out of a toxic brew of sibling duty and festering guilt, felt compelled to at least call and fulfill her big-sisterly duties.  Simmering underneath, like the sub-context in a who-done-it movie, was a tremendous reservoir of anger and resentment which she had been stoking for years; anger at the mother for foisting the failing father on her,  resentment at me for escaping the responsibilities and care of these aging anger-phobes we shared DNA with.

In another chapter we will discuss exactly how the father came to be where he was but that is for another day.  Medicine, money and mayhem require more than a passing mention.

After the pleasantries were proffered, the sister got down to the real reason behind the call.  The teapot of her temper was steaming to the point of boiling over and the whistle coming from her spout was insistently annoying and a lava dome venting was immanent.

It seems that the mother, hundreds of miles away, was still puppeteering the strings of the father’s life and hence, her own.  As always, money was the crux of the matter.  The father had none, no retirement, no real savings, just his Social Security.  The mother on the other hand had a bit more and being a child of the Depression she held tightly to what she had.  Doling out the monthly nut to the nursing home was bitter pill enough for her and so the concept of an allowance, spending money for the cumbersome companion that she was now destined to carry, was even harder for her penurious personality to absorb.

The sister had had enough.

I was informed that a cousin of dubious stature (a hillbilly attorney) had been hired to sue the mother for divorce on behalf of the hapless father with papers being readied to be served on the coming Monday.  The house would have to be sold, the money divided, and the sister would gain control of the father’s half and become the benevolent dictator to the mother’s miserly potentate.

I was shocked I tell you, shocked and appalled!

Well.  Not really.

A tad surprised at the sheer audacity but having lived this long with these players, shocked I was not.  I was irritated enough though at the treatment of the mother here (talk about shocked? imagine THAT process server when he delivered those papers!) that I felt somewhat of an obligation to throw up a flare and forewarn the mother that there were “incoming” on the way to the battlefront.

This was before call waiting, caller ID, mobile phones….the dim ages.

I placed a call home and said, gently, we have to talk; “The sister has hired an attorney on the father’s behalf and you are being served with divorce papers on Monday.  You will have to sell the house, move into an apartment, liquidate the antiques and….oh…..give half the money to the sister.”

Without a moment’s hesitation, as if she had had this salvo all loaded into the armaments and was just waiting for the white’s of their eyes to fire it, she replied; “There’s a few things you need to know about your father………..”

And then, the great….big…..gift-wrapped…….birthday bash-me-over-the-head bombshell.  No preamble.  No sugar coating.  Not even a cake.

“You inherited your problem from your father.”

There were other raucous ravings in rapid succession but I was stuck back on “your problem”, unable to move fully into the rest of the rant without backtracking and addressing this little blip of information.

“Wait a stunned second here woman, I don’t have a “problem”.  If you’re inference is that the father, too, is gay, and that I somehow “inherited” this from him, then where the fuck have you two been all my life with this sparking gem of information?”

I revved up, now.

“Where the hell were you when I was a suicidal teenager, convinced I was going to end my life rather than live in torture with this dreadful secret?  Where was this salient factoid when you admonished me to ‘walk like a man and quit swishing your arms’?  This must be exactly what you meant all those years when, after a fight with the father, you vehemently demanded that I ‘not grow up to be like your father, real men don’t act that way’”

I calmed down.

To the mother: “Here’s the plan, I am hanging up.  You are having a glass of wine, maybe two, and calling me back when you’re regained some equilibrium….and some tact….and we will formulate a plan for you”

Click…………..dialtone.

I decided to take my own advice and popped a cork.

The phone rings.

“I called your sister and told her few things.”

So much for my attempt at battlefield advantage and double-agent strategy, my cover was blown.

Says the mother: “I told her that if she, indeed, tried to take MY house away, I’d tell everyone in the family, everyone in town AND take out an ad in HER local telling everyone in HER town just what the father was that she was so busy tending to. Let all her religious magpie friends feast on that for a meal or two”

Well.

Happy      Birthday     to       Me.

In the end there was no divorce (match point, the mother), no scandal, and barely a whiff of gossip. Pity, I love a good public meltdown.

And in the very end, decades later, I find that I received the greatest gift of all on that, my 40th  birthday; a priceless tale of family foible and dynastic dysfunction that I get to savor, along with yet another glass of good wine, while the rest are left with the bitter taste of animus and recrimination.

The only worrisome fact is that the most colorful carriers of carrion are long gone and so what am I to look forward to on my 65th?

 

 

 

 

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Marriage, It Ain’t all That

A Half-Century of Hell

Or

Marriage, It Ain’t All That

 

In the spring of 1989 my parents, (The Naturals vs The Chosens) were preparing to mark a milestone, the 50th anniversary of the date they were married,  in normal families; a cause for celebration, family togetherness, some wine, some stories, a cake.  Some families go even further and throw a really big bash, invite ALL their friends perhaps with the vague, haunted, idea that flaunting the longevity of their union in a very public manner gives it more merit than it may in fact warrant or actually possess.

But I digress, cynical, most likely a projection from my vantage point as the final and late-in-life child of this misfit union

In all my years in this family, I never saw anything resembling a partnership no less a loving, cohesive, nurturing, pairing of the minds no less bodies.  As the mother once so succinctly put it to me; “I lived a 55 year loveless marriage, it’s a miracle you’re even here.” More on that in a following chapter: “My 40th Birthday Surprise!”

Instead, they picked and pecked and verbally jousted their way through life making all around them if not at least uncomfortable then definitely cowed and battered and emotionally bruised.  I can’t begin to quantify the times I hid behind the furnace, fingers plugged into my 10yo ears, desperate to blot out the sobbing accusations and screamed retorts.  I believe this was the impetus for my beginning my quest into out of body experiences, both metaphysical and chemical, in the years to come.  I desperately wanted to levitate out of my life more than I wanted to remain in my home.

But back to the party.

I was living in California, ecstatically, and working in a career I loved, travelling, accomplishing, partying…being 30 something in every sense of the 80’s version of Thirtysomething.  I had a tenuous connection to the parents by now, having escaped to the West Coast the day I graduated from college and never returned.  The thought of donning the masque of merriment required for this, in my mind, somber occasion, was just too daunting and fraught with potential Jack Daniels and cocaine fueled meltdowns to even be considered

Add to the already toxic mess was my hideously uber-religious sister and her family, fresh from their Appalachia-tent-revival of a town and, frighteningly, in charge of the whole affair.  It is no small coincidence that they had been married twenty-five years earlier at almost the same moment so the stakes were now raised even higher on the Hideous Scale (in my family, The Hideous Scale equates to the Richter Scale in that the greater the import of the occasion, the great the magnitude of the explosive power that lies beneath).

I would not be in attendance.

The sister decided that this fabulous fete would be held at the very same establishment that hosted her rehearsal dinner before their wedding, a rambling, multi-storied, old plantation home out in the countryside.

Multi-storied is key here.

The lack of an elevator also has a star turn in this drama.

My father was 6’6”, #250………and in a wheelchair. (another supporting appliance nomination for the wheelchair).

What part of this plan was a good one?

The part where I would not be in attendance.

Well, according to sources that were there, the denouement went something like this:

After dinner (there was no mention in the after-story of how they got the father UP to their private dining room), the guests, all family (Hideous Factor = Red Alert), were winding their way down the graciously proportioned plantation-style staircase to their cars for the hour long drive through the darkened countryside to their respective homes

The mother, impatient, no doubt, to serve as a receiving line of one at the end of the night and be awarded her share of the night’s attention (read: ALL the attention); in her mind all completely deserved for having put up with the bastard in the chair all these years, was in her normal rush to be the first, and the father/chair were an unnecessary impediment in the way of her awaiting accolades.  Think Blood Red Carpet runway.

Now the sister and the mother have always had a relationship that can only be described as a contentious at best; a daddy’s girl, first born, and now as an adult, a female of “standing” in a family where the mother’s own femininity was always an issue (again, see “My 40th Birthday Surprise”) The brother-in-law, another voluble, whipped, impotent, male in a family of women-of-strength (a kind turn of phrase), seized upon every opportunity to insert his own diminished maleness, at top volume, into any family contretemps he could, if only to measure his true effect in the feminine whirling dervish-ness that was his world.

Return; the cameo by that steely co-star, the wheelchair.

The brother-in-law being the only able bodied male large enough to hoist the father down the curving, elegant, staircase, took charge (allegedly, again, this is all hearsay from my vantage, 3,000 miles away).  What happened next, fortunately, both for the legal and the moral implications, took place before the era of security cams so we rely here on the sister’s recanting of the tale over the phone the next day.

The mother, toe-tapping her impatience at the top of the stairs and unable to swoop past the offending father in the more offensive wheelchair (and the Oscar goes to…….) as he was being bumpily thumped, step by ungainly step, downward, tried to push past and get to the front of that red carpet-worthy crowd awaiting her descension.

A kerfuffle ensued.

The brother-in-law, the mother, the sister, the chair….no mention was EVER made of the father in all of the re-tellings, a bit player at best, yet, like the ersatz wife of the loony tune  on Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, the motive to the motion.

Allegedly, perception and perspective and point of view being keys here, according to the sister’s frantic and frenetic recounting the next day, the mother tried to intentionally push the father down the stairs in the, by now Co-Starring, wheelchair!

Alors!

Murder She Wrote!

Allegedly.

So incensed was the sister that in the hour it took the feckless brother-in-law to drive the sister and their three hideous young female spawn back to the parent’s house, she had managed to foment a hurricane of righteous indignation so large that the storm surge had it’s own Fujitsu-scale numeration and the sirens were screaming for all to get out of the path of the oncoming Tsunami.

The bags were hastily thrown into the family station wagon at the parents.  Angry glares, sullen silences, veiled threats were thrown.  (No china though, they all coveted to antique pattern too much). A quick screech down the lane to the aunt’s where the hideous spawn were housed.  Another hurricane of haste to toss the sleep-deprived children into a pile in the car and off they fled into the night for the 8-hour drive back to the safety of their own Appalachian Appomattox.

Like all great tales, this one took on a life of it’s own in the recounting.

The sister likened it to Attempted Murder; long suspected in its genesis and exactly what the mother had always wished would come about.

The aunts would only frown and allude to something of an unpleasant nature happening; “you know your mother………and your sister”.

The Pollyanna cousins would not comment, even with an offer of witness protection.

The uncles would only roll their eyes, sigh at the mention of the father and snarl at the mention of the mother, and choke on their words at the mention of the sister.

3,000 miles away, my eyebrows arched, briefly, before I resumed my sunny days in California, safe in the knowledge that I would not be called to testify and confident that no one involved would ask me to even be a character witness, for either side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Literature of the Littoral

DSC_0010 DSC_0012The Literature of the Littoral

 

The Littoral Zone is the space between the high water mark on the beach and the actual water’s edge.  Literally, the life on the edge.

Here in the Keys, there is an abundance, almost a consuming gradient of the littoral that surrounds, encompasses, and encapsulates the human experience.  Surrounding every key, every hammock, every sandy bar, is a 360 degree line of littoral.  It’s everywhere, ringing you like a fishing net, snared but alive, struggling to free yourself but unable and mostly unwilling to let yourself be unleashed from its saline pull.

Writers throughout the ages have pilgrimaged to this archipelago of art. From it’s earliest inception they were perhaps drawn by the tenuous balance of tiny tidal pulls that gently tug at the thoughts and musings buried beneath their consciousness, unaware of their motivations, but inexorably reeled in like the Tarpon that teem beyond the surf-line of the littoral.

The list is storied, impressive, daunting:

Hemingway, Williams, Corcoran……..

It would seem that to be a writer worth ones, excuse the expression, salt, one must have a continued connection to, or have done an extended stint in, Key West. There is something here, just out of the mind’s reach, that beckons the wordsmith in men to try and put it to paper if only to clarify it in their own mind.

It lies in the littoral.  That narrow band of eddying change, seasoned by salt water and seaweed, decorated with starfish and human detritus; the living melding seamlessly with the dead and dying, all forming an intoxicating, briny brew of thought and inaction.  Changing but ever unchanged.

It is a soothing place…….the littoral.  A rough reflecting pool with no image.

Humans seek it out instinctually, strolling the defining line of beaches everywhere, not knowing why or really where they are but drawn to it, compelled, compulsed, completed by it in a primal, soul-satisfying, meal-like manner.  Some gather shells and stars, hoping to maintain their connection to that nebulosity upon their return to normal; placing them on shelves and gazing upon them with a desire to return to the feeling they had at their capturing moment.  Others dig deeper, like metal detectors questing for gold, they mine their minds for meanings, messages, motives that would explain their longing and their lingering in this in space between time and tide.

Hemingway wrote of the sea; that would seem a natural extension beyond the littoral, tales of drama and conquest and apparent courage.

Tennessee tended towards the shore side of the littoral; intricate, intensely personal images of human demons and land-locked inner anchors.

Tom Corcoran wrote life; lived in its messy, mysterious, methodology yet definitely land-based and somehow sea-surrounded.  Literarely, littoral.

As I settle into my life on their island I wonder about them, often.  I wonder at their personal sources of inspiration and intrigue.  I read their words, stroll their streets, and align myself in the alleys of their world, still here, still haunted, still stories to be ferreted out; and I imagine their lives.

Dissolute or Dissolution.

A drunk or an aqueous solution?

Most, if not all, of the writers who made Key West their home were dissolute.

Drunk. Definitive partakers. Devoid of governors that could tamp their inhibitions and intakes.  Its what makes their writing compelling.  We can immerse our selves in a reality we rarely, if ever, partake in but become the vicarious voyeurs we all love to inhabit.

But in their specific dissolute distractions, did they become dissolutions?  Did the hard, tangible, chemical essence of their core dissolve so completely in the alcoholic solution that was their medium that they became the chemistry equivalent of a lab experiment and their work, the treatises that we, their sartorial professors in absentia, grade and re-grade with every reading.

Are the great novels of the Greats simply the original Hangovers I through III merely in wait of screen treatments and Hollywoodizationalism?

Are there greater truths to be winnowed from the littoral, this space of minimal tides and maximal living?

If so, where does one look? Under the rotting sea kelp?  Between the grains of sand? Beneath the blown-out flip-flops of Buffet-blasting bacchanals?

The great stories are somehow, from this timely vantage, easy to see.  Large. Bold. Manly, if you will. Obvious, if you choose.

I wonder about the smaller stories yet to be written. More delicate in detail, more intricate and intense in essence.  Hidden, for now, like DNA was in the time of the writers before, waiting to be magnified into magnificence.

A new breed of literal……..from the Littoral.

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PTSD Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD

Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder

 PhotoDynamic Therapy

For those of you who stumbled on this blog thinking it’s about POST Traumatic Stress Disorder………. Move along.  That is a subject I’m neither qualified nor inclined to tackle.

This involves a pre-cancerous skin treatment called PDT (PhotoDynamic Therapy) or in my more nuanced and fearful adaptation of it; PTSD….Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I’m going to be running a month long series leading up to and through my treatment using this oddly medieval sounding treatment, complete with ghastly photos, just to inform those other blond/red/fair skinned souls what they have in store as they get to my advanced age.  Be forewarned, I have never approached a therapy where no matter who the clinician, or physician, or fellow traveler on this journey who has preceded me, have so bluntly stressed how painful this is going to be.  Every one.  To a person.

It gives one pause…and stress….and trepidation, hence the nomenclature of PTSD.  I am pre-stressed, pre-treatment, and thought it best to document it both as a cautionary tale to others who will follow and as a purgative for some of my own demons regarding the upcoming ordeal.

As a flaming red person of Nordic decent, I am candidate number one for skin cancers of all sorts.

Been there, had them.

Basal Cell, Squamous Cell, Actinic Keratoses, everything but Melanoma at this point and many times over.

After the last go ‘round with several Basal cells and the requisite surgeries, the doctor looked at the rest of my speckled face and announced that I really should be having a course, maybe two, of PDT since I am riddled with AK’s which, left untreated, will develop into other, more virulent forms of cancer.

Fry them all at once.  Be done with it….for the moment.

And so, pre-treatment ointments in hand, I approach the day with not a small amount of jitters and jolts, morphine and valium at the ready, and a good friend who just had this done before me after a bout of Melanoma.

This will be graphic.

This intended to instruct.

This is not meant to shock or elicit sympathy or move to the morose.

As a redhead born in the 1950’s, pre-sunscreen, I, like all the kids of my generation, worshipped the sun.  Unfortunately, my family of choice was of Greek extraction and their melanin quotient was never to be caught up with no matter how I tried.

And I tried.

When they laid out at the beach or by the pool, slathering on baby oil mixed with iodine, so did I.

When they formed reflectors out of cardboard boxed wrapped in tin foil to ensure that under the chin was as tan and even as the rest of their Mediterranean selves, so did I.

The sunburns were awe-inspiring.

Driving home from a month on the Chesapeake Bay in the summer, the game was to see how big a patch of skin we could peel off of each other in one piece.

Gross, but factual.

And so, the dye was cast.

Fast forward 40 years or so and the science has caught up with our aged skin and NOW they tell us that those hard-fought, crispy coronas we basted on were the setup for the skin cancers we fair ones were all experiencing now.

Damage done.

Damage control is the only option.

That, and a very close personal relationship with your dermatologist.

And so, in the coming weeks, look forward, or not, to a litany of medical miracles and if you have the stomach for it, the photos to demonstrate the steps along the way, both pre and post.

I will begin a week before the actual PDT when I begin to apply the topical chemo every evening before bed to rough up the skin and help those pesky AK’s absorb the real chemo that they will apply before they zap the face with a targeted laser light to really get the ball rolling.  About a half hour of intense light directed on the face while it is coated with a stronger type of smeared on chemo.  The laser activates the chemo.

I have been told it hurts like hell.

I have been told that the sound of the skin cells popping is hideous.

I have been told if I have drugs, take them.

I do….and I will.

After the in-office treatment, you go home to watch and wait as your face reddens like a lobster boiling in a stew pot, more each hour….just wait until tomorrow.

Speaking of the day after….

I have been told I must avoid all light for several days.  Even the light from a lamp will re-activate the chemo effect and burn…and burn…I feel a Vampiric period coming on fast.

And then, in the words of those who have preceded me; “…my face fell off”

Oh joy.

Now lest you think this is all therapy and no gain…..

I have also been told that when the healing is complete, I will have the skin of my childhood once more (minus the problematic acne but then laser burn is problematic in itself, I suppose).

So dear reader, stay tuned.

PTSD awaits.

Be afraid

Be very afraid.

Oh.

One more thing.

Just to ensure that I really, REALLY, need this….

I am currently spending two weeks in Key West, yes, you guessed it, soaking up the sun and getting one last really good tan before they “take may T Bird Away” to mix a 60’s Beach Boy metaphor in for laughs.

No judgement!

Remember……the damage was done 40 years ago and so if this holds true, then I only really have to worry about THIS sunny spell when I’m past 100.

Day One

Carac = this is the pretreatment chemo cream, akin to the many topical acne creams that redden the face and cause general discomfort in the name of clear skin.  The doctor’s instructions are to smear on this treatment at bedtime, avoiding eyes, etc., wash your hands thoroughly and go to bed, washing your face in the morning as usual.

It has an immediate tingling effect, the fumes even make your eyes water briefly but it’s not really painful.

In the morning, your face is slightly pink but nothing more than you’d get while watching a polo match with no sunscreen facing the sun.  Totally tolerable.

A word about the pictures.  I started with a before, eyes closed, close up……..and scared the shit out of myself.  It looked like a death mask!!! I had a clear image of what the coroner will someday see when I’m tagged and bagged….truly frightening…but I suppose that this is what I’m doing this for, to prolong THAT day as long as possible by warding off the possibility of melanoma.

So before we dive into the “morgue modem” I thought I at least deserved a semi close up to prove that to the naked and public eye, I’m not quite that frightening!

Before the Onslaught

And now, day one…Pre-Treatment

My 62yo Redhead skin, sun damage and all

My 62yo Redhead skin, sun damage and all

Day Two

A slight bit more blushed in the morning, the skin feels taught and tingly but, again, nothing more than a day in the sun.

DSC_0011 DSC_0009 DSC_0012Days Three-Seven

No real change until Day 6 when I suddenly noticed the appearance of some distinctly red, damaged spots on the cheeks.  I suppose this means that the chemo ointment is doing its thing and I will be curious to see what they look like after the real deal treatment tomorrow.  My skin is still slightly taught, tingling, reddish (more than its usual tint) but I have a feeling that all this will ramp up considerably.

The Aftermath

The Aftermath

And so we arrive at:

The Day Of

A word here about internet research.  I had the good fortune of having a good friend undergo this procedure a month before me so I got to follow him. There is wisdom and caution involved in any of these forms of study and research.  As humans, we can talk ourselves out of and INTO trouble and dark places.  This in one of those times where it is very, VERY, easy to go down the rabbit warren of often over-hyped and misinformed information paths that exists out there.

As I ate my breakfast (and more on that in a bit) I was busy, finally, Googling this procedure I was about to undergo and reading the comments from past patients with as much relish as I could muster at 5am.

Mistake?  Maybe.

It all depends on your ability to sort through the cyber-hype and realize that each of these opinions comes from a person with vastly different medical experiences,  prejudices, and phobias than you may, or may not have.

That said, I put aside my reservations along with the online reviews and went ahead to my appointment.  Having had the benefit of my friend’s experience, I armed myself with the 2mg of Valium that the Dr. had prescribed plus, an additional oxycontin that I happened to have on hand from a previous hip surgery.

No pain, no gain.

The last couple days a few damaged red spots on my cheeks, nose and forehead had appeared but nothing painful or really ugly.  My technician commented that some who have been on Carac for a week, like myself, come in looking already like raw hamburger…they tend to have a stronger reaction to the actual treatment as well.

Here I am pre-procedure, post Carac

DayOf

Cautious optimism.

And so to the procedure itself.

First a good scrub with basically pure alcohol, nothing more than an antiseptic sting on a scrape, then, speaking of scrapes, a light scalpel scraping of the obvious AK’s and areas that need the most attention.  This opens them up for the absorption of the next phase.

Roughingitup

Levulon in my case, one of a series of chemo treatments that they will utilize here, that  penetrate into the lesions and react to the light that is to come.

Paintingit

And now the wait, bring a book, music, ipad, whatever. You will sit and stew for almost 2 hours while the chemo soaks in and gets ready to do it’s job.  Nothing to do but mentally prepare yourself and practice whatever form of calming mantras you have at your disposal.  Oh, and let your kindly Sherpa go and fetch your post-treatment potions and a muffin and latte which will greatly, I DO mean greatly, help you relax!

TheSherpa

After the appropriate amount or marinade, you are made comfortable on a table, fitted with the light panel, and told about the available fans to cool your face during the treatment.  As my macho friend had admonished me, I said use to them immediately, as he had not and he squealed like a girl until he got his in play.  The technician even says “There will be no warming up period after the light goes on, it IS hot…immediately”

FansBigGunAnd now, ready, Set, GO

ReadySetGo

And she was correct.

Now a word about pain and tolerance.

I have had four hip replacements, countless surgeries and procedures and so have developed a rather more nuanced relationship to pain than the average person.  I actually speak to all in coming hip replacement patients at my local hospital and I always tell them to adhere to the pain med schedule that their Dr. has put forth for them. Never try to chase your pain because once it’s in front of you, you will never catch it.

I was way in front of this pain.  The meds definitely helped.

So did earbuds, Bon Jovi….LOUD…and the constant ministrations of the lady with the fans.

I put into play all the meditation techniques I  had at my disposal, I breathed slowly and deeply and let the pain wash over me.  It takes some will power to let pain seep into your core in order to assess just how bad it’s going to be.  This was painful but tolerable.  After a couple of minutes I realized that this was as bad as it was going to get and that I could tolerate it for the 15 minutes it would take.

It is also a lot about setting expectations; how long IS 15 minutes?  How long is 15 minutes when experiences this amount of discomfort?  And a further observation.  With your eyes covered and your bare face exposed to this laser it is akin to laying on the beach with your bare face exposed to a super hot sun. A sun that you KNOW is frying your face and that you KNOW you should NOT be doing.  But this one you are powerless to stop because you also know that this is curing a lot of ills and saving you a lot of future misery.  It’s a form of cognitive dissonance where something you know is awful is, in the end, good.

Go with the good.

Before I really knew it, the light went off and it was over….for now.  I was lightly basted with cream, given my list of ointments and washes and sent on my way.

We went to lunch!

After1After2

I came home and napped (the drugs), stayed in the dark as instructed, and waited.

5hourenergy

This is me after waking up from my nap.  It was definitely what I had expected.  Not really painful, slightly tight, and getting redder.  Watched some TV, greased up with Aquaphor and went to bed.

The morning after.

dayafter

Dry, tight, slightly irritated but really nothing more than a long day in the sun at the beach.

Showered, washed, 60FPF sunscreen and I was good to go…….to Costco…..I needed a few things.

Now I had expected it to be a cloudy grey day here in Portland but someone changed things up and it was brilliantly sunny.  Hmmmmmm  Once again, they were correct. even through the car glass and the quick sprint across the lot I could feel the sun activate the treatment and there was a good uptick in tingling, prickly, pain.

Once indoors and out of the direct sun, it stopped quite quickly.

Lesson learned.

So at the end of day two, I am ruddy looking, in no pain and feel passably non-ugly enough to go out to dinner with friends.

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