Cancerland Departures

A blizzard of literary proportions blanketed Manhattan with snow the Sunday after Christmas, wind playing the city in whirls and eddies, like yarn at the paws of my cat.  Subway service was suspended, and the city’s three airports closed to flights while they chipped away at the drifts around the planes.  But your scribe – and my father – had already departed Cancerland.  He did not travel back to these “robust and healthy United States.”   Barely a year from his removal to the provinces, this leavetaking came sooner than family and friends expected; his writings indicate an intention to stay a while longer himself.   No doubt there were missives in mind, still to be shared with you who have traveled with him through these dispatches at Esoph’s Fables.

Cancerland felt far away in some respects, to me, the elder child of one of its most brilliant and eloquent abductees. But in the early months of Peter’s travels, it cost him little to keep in touch, with us and with you: broadband internet passed for postage. He hopped in the car to visit me on the glorious coast of Maine, and gladly traded sleep for talks with my brother, long into the night, again and again. He tinkered and tampered. He put things on wheels, and what wouldn’t take wheels got hung on the walls. E.B. White saw “nothing in space as promising as the view from a Ferris wheel,” and I imagine my father felt himself to be at the top.

Then in September, there was the relocation from Chemoville to Radiation City.   This latter proved to be a province more remote, and it became difficult for him to keep us apprised of things.   Postage costs were exorbitant from the backcountry: an hour or three awake at the keys, seatbones stark against a chair, and all with scant provisions to fortify for the journey. His wit was agile as ever, but physically speaking, the man had no reserves – through the progressively narrow, rugged Passage of Esophagus, little could get by near the end.  Still, at least while Peter dwelt there, my brother and I knew his contact information. It was possible to sit beside him in the flesh, even if his flesh was dramatically reduced; to share a meal, even if swallowing had become a trial. Although it was never the same after the tumor staked a partial claim to his vocal chords, we could hear his voice.

So, where to next? Would that we could track Peter’s flight, but the last I saw, the snow had done a far better job of burying our father than we ever could.   Still half expecting to be notified of another dispatch, awaiting a hoarse phone call — we’ve been fumbling around for scraps of comfort, and finding a few here and there.   The very book on Kierkegaard my brother wrote about half a world away in Copenhagen this December had been pulled from the ranks of Dad’s bookshelves, and laid on top.  Nick never mentioned he was reading it.   A silver-clad Hebrew prayer book sat nestled in a stack of files on the windowsill in Dad’s bedroom; the laminate card poking out marked the prayer for the passing of a father.

Another shard of solace bears a little explanation: perhaps you’ll remember reading this summer of the lengths Peter went to keep his cat Tigerlily safely off the patio.   He wrote, “I have been through six iterations of the screen curtain already, and even when I myself have trouble opening it, Houdini does not. I can be sitting outside working on something or another, and there she is, at my feet, with the screen curtain taut, lovely, and apparently undisturbed in the distance behind her.” Well, my father died at home, in the custom comforts of his apartment; we like to think these were his own terms. He was alone, which we care much less to think about.   The door to the pavement garden was wide open when he died, no screen or anything.  And the cat stayed in with him – his face taut, lovely, and apparently undisturbed in the distance behind her.

Don’t unsubscribe yourselves from Esoph’s Fables just yet. We’ll let you know when next we hear from him.


Published in: on January 19, 2011 at 12:02 am  Comments (18)  

All Better Now

Please chalk up the despair of the last dispatch to the routine misery of morning.  I had spent much of the night sleeping upright in my fine big leather easy chair, which has been beautifully distressed by the cat, and was reasonably comfortable too, between my bony-ass pad, my self-inflating lumbar support, my neck roll, and extra pillows under my left and my right arms.  Still, came day, and I arose, but my spirits did not.

Which is why I thought I had better have a change of venue.  Yes, you’re right.  There is no actual change of venue in Cancerland, which abductees cannot leave.  But one learns tricks.

There is not far from my digs a Cancerland frontier with the Old World, long enough for a good walk.  Best of all, the barrier between the two lands is some cunning kind of berm, all but invisible, of the kind one finds at the best zoos, where visitors can feel for all the world that they are actually walking with the lions.  Why, nothing at all separates me, the visitor is conned into thinking, from those great wild snarling beasts only a few yards away.  Something does separate them, of course.  But fine engineering and a willing suspension of disbelief do the trick.

The frontier I walked was of that kind, letting me feel for all the world that I myself was actually in the park I was really just strolling beside, was myself just another man taking the air, along with all the very many others doing the same.

Anyway, I walked along the berm, and thought at first that it was some kind of holiday I had forgotten about, or perhaps a newly instituted one, the Feast of the Fit, or some such thing, along the lines of Italian-American or Puerto Rican Day.  But then the truth came to me: It was just another nice Sunday.  Barely a year since my abduction,  and I had put the sights and sounds out of my mind already, joggers, bikers, strollers, rollerbladers,  disc- and ball-throwers, parents and children cavorting on the grass, dogs being walked, carried, groomed.  It was — I recalled with a terrible sad shock — ordinary, a day of leisure like any other, unremarkable once, much less treasured.

Heard the things people were saying.  A man’s voice (I couldn’t yet see who he was talking to) saying, I’m sick and tired of having every single one of my decisions questioned. This sounded like a pretty serious husband-wife spat, but it turned out the man was addressing a boy (his son, I hope) of about eight or nine.  Good Lord, what a weight of understanding the father was imposing on a little kid.  What the devil had the boy said?  Why do we have to go to the park?  And this became questioning the father’s decisions.  Yike.

Saw folks snoozing on benches, sometimes a woman’s head in a man’s lap, sometimes the other way round.  There were noses in newspapers, in magazines, in books. There were earbud-wearers bobbing their heads, there were gaggles of girls in soccer gear, goofy boys in enormous baseball caps,  old folk pivoting arm-in-arm down the promenade, laughing people taking pictures of one another with their cellphones.  There were solitary cross-legged figures on the grass, and groups with picnic coolers.  It was, as I say, just plain US of Healthy A ordinary, the kind of day about which, when asked what they had done on Sunday, people would say, Nothing much.  That is what it was, Nothing Much, and piercingly beautiful therefore.

I took away as conclusion from this stroll very nearly back in the Old World something I find I haven’t mentioned at all, namely: Sunlight is a blessing.  I accept, but don’t really understand, that so many of our brilliant ancestors chose to worship statues of giant men and women they deemed gods.  I don’t really know what to say about that, except to guess that there was probably as much lip-service then as there is now.

My point for the moment, however, is that there were some who chose to worship the sun.  That, it seems to me, was not at all unwise…and not only because it was the best choice at the time.
So, though I meant every word of the last grim dispatch, I mean every word of this one too.  It isn’t that I contradict myself, as Whitman proudly said he did.  It is that life contradicts me, showing itself terrible and wonderful all at once.

Published in: on November 22, 2010 at 12:55 pm  Comments (14)  

That Thieving Bastard Time

What’s time want with the all the shit
It steals?  Eyes already dim, ears
Already dull, rotten teeth, hair
Just barely rooted, knees ready to quit,
Transparent skin, knotted guts, hearts
About to stop?  Why not swipe ’em
At the peak, when there’s value still
In these and other stolen parts?
But no.  Time bides itself, so to speak,
Until the dim and dull and weak
Cannot afford even one more theft
And then swoops down to take what’s left.

Nothing it might fence, you understand.
Just what’s clutched in some bony hand.

Published in: on November 21, 2010 at 9:28 am  Leave a Comment  

The Yablonsky Ruin

I know I have mentioned before that tourists are not permitted in the Republic of Cancer, which is a country locked down as tight as Albania ever was.  In many ways, this is a pity, because there are sights here that would quickly become destinations for travelers from all over the world, and the money generated by such traffic could be put towards, you know, extra free saltines and apple juice for Cancerlanders, and even more of the fascinating pamphlets and flyers that are available free of charge here on almost every table: What You Need to Know about Cancer of the KneecapDealing with Your Pet’s CancerCancer in Story and Song, Sew Your Own Cancer-wear, all that sort of thing.

At any rate, the potential attractions are many.  Take the ruins that are to be seen here at every turn.  These are not the ruins of temples or viaducts or pyramids.  These are human ruins, ambulatory statues, as it were, that come and go at a stately pace, themselves moving by the viewer rather than the viewer moving by them, as is the case in conventional museums.  The whole process is much more interesting for this reason, if you ask me.  Imagine sitting on a bench while the Venus de Milo ambles by, or one of Michelangelo’s unfinished slaves.

There is, to single out one of the most amazing of these moving statues, the Yablonsky ruin, so- called (by me, at any rate) because it responds to that name when a nurse calls it aloud in a waiting room we sometimes share.

The Yablonsky ruin has a face, certainly (all God’s chillun got faces) but it is invisible.  Somewhere along the line, the chin of Yablonsky fell forward onto his chest, and he has not been able to lift it since.  Thus he presents the top of his head to the world at all times, whether sitting, standing, or moving forward.  The only way to see his face would be to get down on your back between his shoes to look up at him.  This would be extraordinarily rude, even for Cancerland.  And then anyone seen on his or her back hereabouts would immediately be surrounded by minders and carted off for some sort of treatment.  All of which is to say that what your features are to you — your eyes, your nose, your mouth — Yablonsky’s cranium is to him.  His wispy steel-wool-like hair and the mottled skin of his skull are how the world knows him.

It may very well be that Yablonsky was a colorful creature once — we know that the now severe Parthenon was as gaudy as a lawn-jockey in its heyday —  but that mottling (very pale blue in some places, very pale gray in others) is all that’s left of his original paint. He is pale as old plaster otherwise.

The most animated thing about Yablonsky — indeed, for long periods of time the only animated thing about him — is his wonderful ivory-handled cane, which attends him at every moment like a faithful dog.  Yablonsky’s hand is ever atop the head of the cane, which sits upright and alert at his side, turning smartly now left, now right, leaning in, leaning away, even sometimes making tail-tapping sounds by jumping slightly up and down in place.  It is devoted, well-trained, eager to serve, but still sometimes seems about to dash off, out of pure enthusiasm, to go and sniff at someone else in the waiting room.  And it responds first, when the Yablonsky name is called: It leaps toward the doorway in the which stands the nurse who has called out, and then, at the end of its leash (meaning the thin white arm of the ruin it serves) braces itself to take the weight it knows will follow, slowly and with difficulty, as its master rises and turns.  At this point, it is not so much that the ruin walks as that the cane, still straining forward, somehow reels him in from behind until the slack of the man’s arm is gone, and the cane can leap forward again, to repeat this process.  It takes a very long time for the cane finally to pull Yablonsky out of sight.

I believe many would come just to see this one amazing thing — and the Yablonsky ruin is very far from being the greatest oddity Cancerland has to offer.

Published in: on November 17, 2010 at 12:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

Miles of Vials

Once upon a very long time ago, back in the hale, hearty and (in my case) callow USA, I remember thinking that medicine cabinet was a silly thing to call that cupboard we all have in the bathroom.  Beyond some aspirin, perhaps, there really weren’t any medicines in it.  Mine, and those of my contemporaries, contained other things entirely: Sunscreen, ace bandages in case of tennis injuries, birth control supplies, aftershave, cosmetics, hairbrushes, nail clippers, all that sort of kit.   Miscellaneous body-related items, you might say.  After all, where else to put bobby pins and condoms?

Then my parents grew old.  One day, sent off to fetch my father something from his bathroom cupboard, I understood: There was nothing in it — nothing — but medicine.  From top to bottom and side to side, it was as full of pill bottles as a picture frame is full of its picture.    And these were not of the store-bought, over the counter variety, in jaunty, colorful packaging.  These were prescription medicines, in sobering transparent beige plastic, with printed labels all bearing my father’s name, and haiku-short directions for use:  Twice daily after meals, for pain as needed every six hours,  by mouth at bedtime.  Poor guy, I remember thinking to myself, to need all these things.

My father was twenty years older at that point in his life than I am now, but look here: I am catching up in the vial area.

Yes, I have quite the collection here in Cancerland.

Mostly the medicines in my many bottles are of that popular modem submarine-like shape, capsules, rounded at both ends. The capsules are almost all bi-colored.  They consist of two halves, filled at the pharma farm and then pushed together, and I guess some capsule designer must have decided at some point that they’d be more interesting, and more attractive, if the halves were of different colors.  So I have, let’s see — yellow/browns, lilac/grays, dove/greens, eggshell/blues, bone/reds.  Some of the capsules are half colored and half clear, so that you can see the pinhead-small balls packed inside them.  These, I think, are the slow-release boys:  You swallow the capsule, the outside of which dissolves, and then, little by little over the course of the day, the minuscule ping-pong balls dispense additional tiny dosages of whatever the capsule as a whole is said to contain.

Of course, I have many, many round white pills — tiny white round, medium white round, large white round — and then some rogue shapes too, long polygons, like capsules but with edges where the others have smooth curves.  There are also some robin’s-egg blue octagons, like old-fashioned bathroom tiles for a dollhouse.

I am pretty well covered, all told, in the corrective, problem-solving, and pain-relieving areas.  I’ve got things to raise my mood, lower my pressure, stabilize my heartbeat, boost my energy, quiet my stomach, soften my stool and harden my resolve.   Frankly, I have forgotten what perhaps a dozen or so of the pills in the cabinet are supposed to be for.  I got them on doctor’s orders, in anticipation of a side-effect, or a difficulty, or a complication that never developed.  I suppose I could throw those bottle away, but, well…you never know.    I can always look them up by their unpronounceable, and therefore impossible to remember, names to find out what they do, and then (should I ever need them) I won’t have to go out and get yet another batch of…Omprocalozendol, or Celicorhomdizone.

No, it does not feel good visibly to be reminded, every time I open the medicine cabinet to get one of the things I do take regularly, of how many problems I have:  All those soldiers at attention, shoulder to shoulder, and every one of them assigned to a different part of me, with a separate mission.

But where would I be without them?

I would almost continuously be unhappy, uncomfortable, and in one kind of pain or another.

Or visited by sober-faced relatives with stones in their hands.

Published in: on November 4, 2010 at 5:53 pm  Comments (1)  

Important News

Indeed, two pieces of important news.

First, part three of How I Hate to See that Evening Sun Go Down has been cancelled.  Who needs it?  Sleepless nights are all the same, but for what the brain gets up to while it is supposed to be sleeping, and I see no reason to put any of us through another account of what my brain gets up to.

But the second bit of important news is much bigger than that.

I was recently allowed a rare, very rare, brief foray outside Cancerland.  Here’s the proof.

The smiling photo of me you see above was taken by the oral surgeon I got my day-pass to go see.  I was being troubled by something very nasty going on in my mouth, and when I finally complained of it to the Cancerland  fizzishuns, one of them took a gander and said it had nothing to do with them, I needed to visit a dentist.  The authorities drew up the papers, made the necessary arrangements, and put me on the paddywagon-like shuttle-bus that takes Cancerlanders through one or two of the country’s selected checkpoints.  I had armed white-coated escorts, of course.  The powers-that-be are always concerned that a Cancerlander, allowed out, may make a run for it, in the old East Berlin manner.

The trip was unremarkable, and then there I was at the oral surgeon’s office.

I have, he told me, a badly infected wisdom tooth, which has got to be removed.  Couldn’t be done right then and there, though.  I had to have an antibiotic for some days first, to bring down the swelling.    The pulling would happen after that.  Of course, the oral surgeon said, if he found any soft tissue behind the tooth after it was out, he would send the tissue off to be biopsied.

Well, duh.  What isn’t biopsied anymore?  I personally biopsy my laundry before I send it out, with my store-bought Uncle Ned’s Biopsy Kit.  And I won’t eat a bite of any meal until I have it in writing that all its components have been biopsied.  Hell, the bodega across the street has on its awning: Cold Soda, Cigarettes, Sandwiches, Biopsies.

Sure, because The Cancer may be anywhere.  It floats and lurks and lays in waiting and is as ubiquitous as cat dander.

And was I shook up by the (I hope) very distant possibility that I might be attacked on two fronts?

You’re kidding, right?  Me?  With my aplomb, my sang-froid, my equilibrium?

In the paddywagon on the way back, I had an idea.


Gather round closer, please.  The writer of these dispatches believes he has an extraordinary business opportunity to offer any friends of Esoph’s Fables who may have a little extra money to invest.  This is an absolutely sure-fire proposition, for the manufacture and sale of a simple, extremely inexpensive appliance that every single one of the millions of Cancerlanders will want the instant it is made available.

It can be made for pennies, in all likelihood, and, even if sold for, say, one dollar, will therefore net those behind it a very decent profit, which, multiplied by the millions who will need and want it, will come to a nice piece of change.  In other words, the business does a very great deal of good, at practically no cost at all to those who buy the appliance being offered, all while returning substantial sums to those who invest in it.

Okay, okay, you are saying.  Enough hype.  What exactly is this miracle product?  Trust it is not some sort of snake-oil, some nostrum put on the market to take advantage of people desperately in need of any sort of help they can get?

It most certainly is not.

Consider.  What a Cancerlander currently can never do is get away, not even for a few moments.  And, o, they would like to.  Just for a little tiny time to be able to forget where they are, and what is happening, that would be a very great boon.
But at the moment, there is no way at all for them to put their heads in the sand, ostrich-style, even for a second.

Put their heads in the sand.

That is what is needed.

And that is what Sac O’Blivion will allow them to do.

Sac O’Blivion is a small, ultralight apparatus of ripstop nylon, filled not with sand, which would be heavy to carry around, and unsanitary, and inconvenient, but with packing peanuts, weightless, clean, hypoallergenic, and easily replaceable should any be lost.  The whole business, ripstop nylon helmet-like container included, would weigh ounces.  Yes, helmet-like.  The thing would be constructed with a suitable opening in its bottom, fitted with a drawstring closure so that the packing peanuts are kept inside when the Sac wasn’t being used, which closure could then be opened and the helmet clapped on the head and snugged up, all in a trice.

Wait, you are saying.  There is a serious flaw here.  The idea is based on the ostrich’s stupid assumption that it cannot be seen because, with its head in the sand, it cannot see.

But the Sac O’Blivion, though inspired by the ostrich, is not actually based on that principle at all.  No.  It is based instead on the market-tested and proven fact — fact, mind you — that no one will talk to a human being whose head is entirely obscured inside a lumpy box-shaped nylon construction.  That person will be left alone, guaranteed, for a minimum of half an hour, and probably for a lot longer than that.  Imagine the relief of having overwhelming reality held at bay for even thirty minutes.  What a boon, what a blessing, what a good turn the marketers of Sac O’Blivion would be doing millions of abductees to Cancerland, at almost no cost to them, but still while turning a nice buck.

Investments are available at every level, from Sure, I’ll Take a Slice to Wow.  I Want My Name on the Door.

This is not an offering.  Offering is by prospectus only.  Prospectus available by mail from:
Goolagong, Goolagong & Molnar
Francis Farmer Towers
Sophagus City
New Southwest Cancerland EC10D5
Please write Sac O’Blivion on the outside of your envelope.

Published in: on November 1, 2010 at 11:46 am  Leave a Comment  

Hate 2 See, or Do Not Go Groggy Into That Good Night

A good night, by the way, if I recall correctly (it’s been quite a long time) is one during which sleep stalks me.  These nights, inevitably, I stalk it.

I go from bed to chair to couch to bowl and back to bed, round and round and round again, and am just as likely to see the sun come up from one of those stops on the circuit as another.  Especially bad nights become out-of-body experiences, with the floating other me looking down on the shell it has left behind, struggling to be comfortable even in a sitting position.  Odd to say, my non-corporeal other self has a voice too, and speaks to me (this is how I recognize it) in italics.

Oh oh. I see what’s happening here.  Man, you’ve gone and done it now, wide-eyed in front of the flat screen set.  You’ve overdosed on documentaries, haven’t you?  Jeeze, you dope.  That is the insomniac’s equivalent of the glutton’s Big Feed, and now you have mental indigestion, as it were.  Who knows how long it may be before you crap out whatever you’ve taken in.  How many of these things have you watched?


I said, how many documentaries have you watched?  Let’s crunch some numbers.  I’m trying to figure out how serious the problem is.  Hello?  How many documentaries have you watched?

Um.  Not that many, I don’t think.

Tell me.

Well.  Let’s see.  There was the four-part one about the Greeks.  That was pretty good.  Did you know…

Four parts?  A part was an hour?

Yeah.  You know.  More or less.  A television hour doesn’t necessarily….

Fine, fine.  I’ll give you a break.  I’ll put it down as three hours.  Yeah, and what else…

What else…what else.  A couple, three hours on the Medici family in Renaissance Florence.  Man, what a…

Again, I’ll cut you some slack, put it down for two hours.  Keep going.

Oh, wait, yeah: Six hours on was there really a Trojan War or did Homer…

Six hours?  Six hours on was there really a Trojan War.  Jeeze.  Is that it now?

No.  There was some Ken Burns, of course — but just, like, y’now, bonbon size Ken Burns, not one of his epic…


An hour on Huey Long.  A really good hour on the guy made the very first motorcar trip across the country, had a bulldog named Bud who wore goggles. Nineteen-Three, think it was.  There were just cow paths and village lanes and…

That it for Ken Burns?

I think maybe.  No…no.  An hour on the coming of radio.  Marconi, DeForest, Armstrong, David Sarnoff.  Boy, did Armstrong get a raw…

I don’t think I have ever floated out of bigger schmuck than you are, you know?  Lemme run this up, just for now.  Maybe it’s a total, maybe it’s not.  Believe we’re at thirteen hours, with the discounts I’m giving you.  That it, I hope?

Well…no.  There was a long series on the development of the British monarchy, from the fall of the Roman Empire to, oh, couple centuries after the Norman Conquest.

By long you mean?

Six hours.


It was fascinating.  Alfred the Great of Winchester was kinda…

Please tell me you’re done.

Biography of the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Just an hour.  The Sword of Constantine, a brilliant but terrible, sad and sobering account…

How long?

One hour.

All right, come on, let’s finish this up.

Petra: Lost City of the Nabataens.  The Gospel of Judas.  Mysteries of King Tut. The Shakers.  Islam.  The Amish….

Holy crap.  I’m not even going to ask, I’ll just account those as an hour each, what the hell difference does it make anymore anyway?  And you can stop.  I don’t give a shit if there are any more.  As it is, you are up to….I’m pretty sure…twenty eight hours.  Twenty eight hours.  This has been in what period of time?

I don’t know.  Three nights, four maybe.

Okay, give you the benefit again, four nights.  96 hours in four days, right?   Now, you did sleep some, whatever you may think.  Let’s say, and I’m low-balling this too, to be kind to you, three hours a night, in fits and starts.  It was probably more than that, but what the hell. 96 less 3 times 4 is 84.  You took some meal breaks, did some shopping, took care of business, though not as much as you should have.  Spent considerable time where you are now, on the couch, only with the TV off and your eyes closed, tracing rectangles on your forehead with your right fingertip.  Beats me, man, I haven’t been running a stopwatch on you.  Let’s knock off, say, what the hell, 20 hours, nah, make it 24  — that’s six hours a day, gotta be more than fair — for this all-else category.  So now we’re down to, um, 84 less 24, give or take,  60 waking hours…of which 60 waking hours, you’ve spent 28, about half, in other words — half! — taking in genuine experts, bogus experts, actors, announcers with sonorous voices reading bullshit aloud as reverentially as it were the Bible…being subjected to computer graphics, recreations, slo-mo pans of still photographs, filmed dioramas…endless unnecessary questions asked only to introduce the next chapter:  But would Moses be able to enter the Promised Land he was about to see?  Was it a chariot accident that killed King Tut, or was it…murder?

Four hours on the Jews.

You are screwed, pal.  Totally screwed.  It’s going to take…hey…you listening?  Look at this: Asshole’s asleep, on the couch, elbows on knees and head in hands.  My lord, the bodies I have to float out of sometimes.

Not asleep.  Did you know that Sophocles was butt-ugly, with pop eyes and a huge nose, and walked around Athens in a filthy robe, trying to engage anyone he met in some kind of philosophical wrangle.

Tell you what.  I ain’t getting back in your body.  Not right now.

Michelangelo worked day and night, and took his boots off so seldom that, when he did, patches of skin came off his feet with them.

I may be disembodied, but I’m going out.  To Starbucks, maybe.  They been open an hour already.

The early church fathers banished the Gospel of Judas because the version told in that account shakes the very foundations…

And he’s surprised — surprised! — he can’t sleep, stretched out on a bed of knowledge-bits, information, misinformation, disinformation.  He’s bony, he says.  Bone-headed, more like.  Good luck, putz.

Homer COULD have recited from memory for all those hours upon hours.  In parts of Ireland to this day, Amish Conquistadors still…yeah, wait, there was something about the Inca Empire.  Inka dinka doo kadinka dee.  Prolly ought to be reading something, huh?  Here’s a volume, Narc, featuring Sleepy Jack Sazerac, the narcoleptic private eye introduced in the best-selling Put Down That.  I gotta be making this up now.  Making it up or…dreaming it?  Am I asleep?  Sure, could be.  Maybe Cancerland is nothing but a dream too, all in my head.  NO!  Not in my head.  People get it in their heads.  Two more hours.  Tumor ours.  Arrgh.  Someone drag me behind a bus, would ya please.

Hey, I’m…O Lord, you’re till there, on the couch.   I tried and tried and tried to get a grande cappuccino but clearly they can’t hear a disembodied italic voice.  For me, it’s no good without you, for you it’s no good without me.  I’m getting back in, straighten up.  C’mon.  Let’s lie down.

Let us go then, you and I…

O shut up.

Published in: on October 30, 2010 at 9:20 am  Leave a Comment  

Evening Sun, Part Two, Tomorrow. First, Important News

I am standing here, in one of the myriad waiting rooms of Cancerland, which often seems nothing more than an archipelago of them, suddenly feeling almost human again.  And I can tell you exactly why that is.  It is because I am wearing pants that fit.

Big deal, is what you’re thinking.  Pants that fit are nothing to write home about — and that  is literally what I am doing at the moment,  writing home about pants that fit.  But you simply do not understand.  You have to know, first of all, that really I ought to be using a watch strap as a belt.  Yes, yes, I am exaggerating.  But not by as much as you might think.  I will use no numbers here; my waist size would make us both feel bad, even quoted in centimeters.  Just bear the watch strap-as-belt idea in mind as we go along, and the problem will begin to take on the appropriate gravity.

Of course, I buy pants I think will fit.  Finding a rare XXS, I snap them up and rush them back to my quarters, only to find that I have to do with them what I always have to do: I have to cinch them tight with the smallest belt I have (in which, of course, I have already made extra holes)  and then cinch them some more, and then some more, until they are gathered at the waist like the top of a highwayman’s loot bag.  From a short distance away, I look to be wearing an Elizabethan collar around my middle.

Worse than that, if I try to walk in this sack-race sort of thing,  the vast and complex gathering at the waist begins to undo itself.  And, in five minutes, or ten, or fifteen, the pants start to droop, lower and lower and lower, until they threaten any minute literally to become a puddle of fabric around my shoes.  I am forced to mince down the street, in short, Geisha-like steps.  Then, in the final indignity, when the trousers have worked their way down below my jutting hip bones, I have to resort to the Gypsy-girl business of actually holding my waistband in one hand.  That is all right for a Gypsy girl.  It is allows her to flounce her skirt about in a lovely show, and makes her confident that, when she breaks into her tarantella, there will not be one of those, you know, wardrobe malfunctions.  But I am not a Gypsy girl, or a Gypsy guy either, and I do not dance the tarantella, so I should not be making my way down the street doing a dainty dairy maid impression.

There is a solution, of course, and I have happily made use of it.  I have invested (and I do mean invested; paid a pretty price for the things) in a few pairs of very beautiful suspenders.  They come from a venerable firm in the UK, supplier of fine furnishings to discerning gentlemen since 1802, and they really are spectacular.  I have a pair of shockingly yellow wool felt braces from this firm (mentioned by name by James Bond in one of the 007 books, I read somewhere) which, when I flash them by opening my jacket, inevitably cause whoever is standing in front of me to stumble back a step, as if pushed in the chest.  The things are, in a word, glorious.  And then I have a second pair with sky-blue straps — the straps are sky blue because they are in fact supposed to be the sky, in which, in bright, beautiful stitchery, RAF Spitfires are shown doing aerial combat with German Messerschmidts.  The pattern is called Dogfight.  They’re swell, is what they are — perfectly balanced between gaudy and elegant — and wearing them gives me great pleasure.

They do their job, too.  No chance of my pants coming down when I am wearing my astonishing ‘spenders.  There is, though, a problem: I am about as substantial in the shoulder area as a wire coat hanger.  And so, sad to say, after a time, even the very light straps of the braces begin to be a burden, begin to dig into me, as if I had stones in my pockets.   I love them still, and I do wear them, but, dearly wanting an alternative sometimes, I continue to search for — pants that fit!  That don’t need to be knotted about me like a towel.  That don’t need to be hung from my shoulders, as if I were wearing a barrel.  And now, glory be, I have some.
They took so long to arrive that I had forgotten ordering them.  May have come from Ulan Bator by yak, for all I know.  But a puffy gray envelope came in the mail today.  I ripped it open, pulled out the pants, and slipped them on.

They fit!  There is no chance they will droop.  They have good, snug elastic at the waist, and a drawstring inside, just in case.

Yes, I know: They sound like maternity pants.  But they look okay.  They really do.  A nice olive color, in a substantial but comfy corduroy.  Even if I tuck my shirt in, so that the elastic at the waist is visible, I think they are quite nice.  And they didn’t cost all that much either.  I could trade one of my pairs of suspenders (not that I ever would) for two pair of these pants, and be owed a bit of change too.

So here I stand in Cancerland, where the indignities are so ceaseless that one almost — I said almost — stops noticing them, but now with one of those indignities conquered:  I will not go about anymore looking like a beer bottle with a paper sack twisted around its neck.  I will not have to do the dainty dairy maid mince.  I can stretch for something overhead with both arms, and not have to fear that the saggy boxer shorts in which I have bagged my bony arse will be on display for the world to see before I can do a damn thing about it.  And, when my wonderful gaudy braces become a burden, I will have a choice…a good choice.

I am going to mark this date on the calendar, in bold block letters: ARRIVED TODAY, BY MAIL…PANTS THAT FIT!

There are so few victories in this place, so much is loss, the changes are so relentlessly for the worst.
Something that is an improvement, a real improvement, is enough, for a time, to make a Cancerlander glow.

I think I will sashay up the street, to let the crowds take in the jaunty, confident, manly stride that comes of wearing pants that fit.

Published in: on October 28, 2010 at 7:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down, Part One

Sleep is hard work here in Cancerland, at least the way I do it.

First of all, there is the long, long, almost always ultimately fruitless search for some position, any position, in which most of me,  or a lot of me, or some of me, or — hell — any of me at all can be comfortable.

The problem is that I am now (I know I’ve said this before, and probably too often) a bedknob-and-broomstick contraption. I cannot lie down — just, you know, lie down — without thinking that there must be a corkscrew in the bed under me somewhere, but that I cannot for the life of me find…a corkscrew, or a nailclipper, or some other damn thing that I know for damn sure I never brought with me, so what the hell are such things doing where they are anyway?  And where are the bastards?  Why  I can’t I find them?

And so begins a business very like the process of trying to put some complicated gizmo — a disassembled bicycle, say, or a cuckoo clock that has been shipped flat –back in its original packaging.  I mean that really complicated original packaging, consisting of many, many fitted and cut-out pieces of styrofoam.  You know how this goes.  You get things almost squared away, and then have a piece or two left over with no space for them in the packaging at all, and there is nothing for it but to start over, because clearly you need to begin with some other piece than the one you tried first.  So you unpack it all, and try again, with the same result.  And again.  And again.

So it happens also with me in bed.  I fold and unfold and refold myself over and over and over — maybe if I put my leg here, and my arm here, and then have a pillow here — I can avoid that damn invisible corkscrew, and I will be able to sleep.  I think, for quarters and halves of an hour, that I’ve done it.  But I haven’t.  Goddamn it to hell, I still am lying on something.  And then…unfold, refold…unfold, refold.  Some awful nights, I begin to become dimly aware that there is light outside.  The sun is up.  Shall I keep at this stupid process, or just get up, exhausted though I am?  Often enough, that is what I do.  Seize the day, and all that.  Yeah.  Before it seizes you.

As if this folding and unfolding weren’t enough, I am also having to deal the whole time with urgent telegrams sent back to headquarters by my hand.

This requires a little explanation.  It is in the evolutionary development of the hand to go off on its own when nothing else is required of it.  Night-crawling, is what it does — to take inventory, to take comfort, to give comfort, to assess, caress, and all that.  This is a good thing, you understand.  Watch a mother’s hand on her infant.  Whether the mother knows what she is doing or not, whether she means to be doing it or not, her hand goes, light and gentle as a moving shadow, all over the baby, belly, bum, thighs, neck, top of head, cheeks.  The baby loves this, needs this, and so does the mother.  And, most especially, the hand loves and needs this.  It is one of the things, one of the most important things, it was made to do.  What in hell is all that cupping complexity for if not for this?

So fine.  Our babies grow up, they leave home, the hand isn’t going to stop.  It goes off at night round our bedmates, and that is good  too  And then, when we have no bedmates…well, what else is the hand going to do but go night-crawling around our own bodies.  This is still a good thing, especially when we don’t know it’s happening because we are asleep.  But when we are not asleep — fold, unfold, refold — and therefore know it is happening, it leads to complications.

See, as I say, my hand keeps sending back these telegrams of alarm, because it is not finding what it has always found before, and expects still to find, even after all this time in Cancerland.  It is not finding the nice old sand-dune contours it found back home in the Healthy States.  It finds itself not on the beach at Cape Cod but in some kind of rock quarry, or a junkyard.  And, poor beast, it is alarmed, confused, puzzled, and sends — as I say — these telegrams of warning.

Alert.  Alert.  Handle of large samovar at three o’clock!  Handle of large samovar at three o’clock!

No, Manny.  That’s our hip bone.  Not to worry.

Woop, woop, woop: Bulb-handled cane, bulb-handled cane, bulb-handled…

Manny, it’s okay.  That’s just the end of the thigh-bone, where it goes into the pelvis.

Please advise.  Please advise.  Some kind of broken crockery is lodged where it ought not to be.

O God.  That’s just the old sit-upon.  Or what’s left of it.  Please stop, Manny.  Get  a grip.  No!  Don’t get a grip.  Turn over on your back, like a good spider, and just be quiet for a while, okay?

Fold, unfold, refold.

It is a punishing business, trying to get some rest.

Published in: on October 25, 2010 at 9:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

And Now, Ladies and Gentlemen…

Let’s give a big welcome…Y’all signed those waivers, right?…let’s give a big Cisco Blahnik’s Cisplatin Club welcome to the King of Cancerland comedy himself…Mister Metastasis…that walking radiation treatment…Shecky…Carcinoma…Carson.
Come on out, Shecky!

Hey, hey, hey.  Thank you, Bobby.   Bobby Balloo, folks.  He’s as cute as a basal cell, ain’t he?  You’re lookin’ good there, Bob.  Like something one of my grandkids made with soda straws and a hairball.  Nah, c’mon.  I only say that cause I love ya.  And cause it’s true.  Waddaya weigh now, fifty, sixty?  Is it too late to get your money back?  Lemme know what kinda treatment you’re getting, huh — so I can decline it.

And how are you folks doin’?   Me, I’m good.  No, really.  Slept like a baby last night…in my own shit.  You too, huh?   Come on, I can see it in your face.  Nothin’ to be ashamed of.  Ya gotta have a sense of humor, right?  Too bad you left yours home.

Man, I’m dying’ out here.  But so are the rest of you, right?  Huh?  Huh?  That a laugh, lady, or you havin’ an attack?  We got nurses standing by, just shake your IV bags if you need ’em.

Yo, you, Sporty.  With the arms like chopsticks.  How come you got your iPod in your nose?  Oh, wait, no, that’s an oxygen line, huh.  How am I to know?  Everybody’s walking around now with the EmPeeThrees and the Bluetooth phones and all that other kind of digital crap.   Your player could be green metal and shaped like a torpedo, right?   Like maybe it’s an iSmell you put in your nose, you know?  Other people listen to music, you’re sniffin’ the flowers.  Why not, right?  Age a miracles and all that.

Doctor says to me, says, Shecky, I think you better put your affairs in order. I says, Sure, Doc.  No biggie.  First was Linda Grabstein, tenth grade, under the boardwalk at Coney Island.  Second was Rose Fugazi in a back room of her father’s funeral parlor in Bensonhurst.  There was an extra stiff there that day, if ya catch my drift.  Third was a tall chick I met at party, didn’t get her name but I did get the clap.  Fourth…

Wow, you’re a tough crowd, even for hulks and husks.  Most places they’re laughin’ to beat the band before I get to number two.  But that could be because they get it.  And you guys don’t.  Doctor says, put your affairs in order.

All right, never mind.  We got some hearing loss here tonight.  Hey, lady: You know when they say keep it under your hat, they’re not talking about your dead tabby, right?  Wuzzat?  Oh, it’s a wig. No kidding.  You coulda fooled me.  Yeah, cause it looks so natural.  You see a lot of women with calico-colored hair now, wearin’  it in  that jaunty off-center way.   Yeah, it’s real popular.

Yo, buddy, you know the guy right next to you at your table?  He always like that?  We’re talking fixed and dilated here.  You want I should call for a gurney or what?

Anyway, waddaya gonna do, huh?  Into each life, some rain must fall.  And it looks like you’ve had more than your share, bub.   Acid rain.  Wind-driven.  You on chemo or radiation?  Say what?  Both?  God love ya, pal.

So this Cancerlander walks into a bar….

Published in: on October 22, 2010 at 1:25 pm  Comments (1)