Most of us find ourselves in Cancerland blinking and scratching our heads, without the foggiest notion how we came to the place. We are snatched, as I’ve been saying all along, and to be snatched is by definition to be taken by surprise; hell, that’s what abduction is, isn’t it?
Still, it does happen once in a blue moon that the abducting powers-that-be tip their hands a little. We usually ignore these foreshadowings — you know them: change in a wart or mole, troubling signs in the toilet, etc., etc. — but when we look back from the far side of the Cancerland chainlink fence, we realize that, well, y’know, we guess maybe we mighta hadda oughta seen it coming.
Now I am most definitely not saying that anyone out there in the hale and healthy States ought to expect to be shanghaied to the Republic of Cancer. Not saying that at all. That would be a wretched way to live. On the other hand, without sweating this thing too very much, it might not be a bad idea to have a few things put aside in a duffel by the door, a kind of hobo’s bindle your hand would go out for automatically by itself, even were you coshed on the head and rolled in a rug for transport, which is pretty much what will happen if the abductors come a-calling one day.
Think of what follows therefore as a ghoulish public service, a little like the packing lists travel agents slip in among the brochures and rate sheets. Or something like the nitty-gritty practical advice after a colorful travel piece in The Times. You know, the column headlined If You Go….
Here’s what I’d keep in that bandanna on a stick:
Wun dem books of crosswords or sudoku. This because the Cancerland national pastime, as I’m sure I’ve told you already, is waiting. There is no moving from one space to another without a period (and often a very long period) of heel-cooling. Indeed, the Cancerland equivalent of Bonjour, or Buenos Dias, or Guten Tag is Take a seat.
Wun dem inflatable u-shaped neck pillows of the kind used on long airplane trips, for the same reason as the puzzles and the sudoku. Sooner or later, the waiting will become a pain in the neck (literally) and these pillows help a little. You’d think they’d be available over the counter at Cancerland ports-of-entry but they tend not to be.
Wun dem trash novels. I say trash because if you risk bringing a serious work with you, you are very likely to bumble upon themes you really don’t want to be reading about: life and death, uncertainty, struggle, fate, all the sort of thing beloved of your better writers. Best therefore to bring along a bodice-ripper, or something sci-fi in the cheesiest possible vein (beware serious sci-fi, which may be worse even than other forms of serious story-telling) or a hard-boiled gumshoe tale. A page-turner, in other words. Nothing that is going to make you take long pauses while looking off into the middle distance, to contemplate the profundity you’ve just been offered. Spy novels are good too, except LeCarre. Too serious.
Wun dem MP3 machines, but not (most definitely not) with music on it. We have already discussed why there is only instrumental music piped into the many, many Cancerland waiting-rooms. This is because lyrics are dangerous. You do not want to have buds in your ears spewing Je ne regrette rien or even Streets of Laredo. (Sing it to yourself; you’ll soon discover why it disqualifies itself as a soothing Cancerland song.)
So what can you have on your MP3 player? I favor an audio language course. For one thing, you will be improving yourself. Even more important, there is absolutely no chance whatsoever of your being ambushed in the course of your listening by anything in the least bit upsetting. The odd phrases and sentences offered to students of a new language are just the ticket for someone traveling into the dark interior of Cancerland.
Where in this district might I purchase a colorful native scarf of the kind a grandmother would favor?
Is it permitted to touch the dog of the young lady at the next table?
Come this evening, I am fervently of the opinion that I shall be dining on sweatbreads in the Alsatian manner.
Now that’s passing the time.
Oh, yes, one more thing to have in the bag.
Wun dem strands of worry-beads, or something else obsessively to rub between thumb and fingers.