Cancerland Cookery

Delicate Beef in the Okugawa Manner


  • 2 ripe apricots, washed in spring water, gently patted dry, then pitted and cut into paper-thin slices
  • 1 cup of goat’s milk, fresh if you can find it
  • 1 medium-sized (preferably organic) avocado
  • 1 pound of aged, well-marbled Kobe beef.  If you are on good terms with your butcher, ask for the “Emperor’s Cut.”     If he doesn’t know what you are talking about, get yourself another butcher.
  • 1 handful each of baby arugula,  baby spinach,  and Italian parsley.


The charm of this dish is that is doesn’t matter what you do with the ingredients.  Combine ’em, or not.  Cook ’em, or not.  Simmer ’em, saute ’em, bake ’em, boil ’em.  Layer them in a hub cap.  Blend them in a Cuisinart and mold the resulting mush into a decorative shape.  Do what you will, because, in the last step, you will cover whatever you’ve got with a half-cup mixture of calamine lotion and WD-40.  And then you’ve got to force yourself — force yourself — to chew and swallow at least four mouthsful.

Ah, the authentic down-home taste of Cancerland.

Just like Momma used to make, when Momma locked herself in the lab at the Niels Bohr Institute to mix up a batch of num-nums.

Other recipes to come soon:

Bluepoint Oysters on a Bed of Truffle  Fettucine and Soap Shavings

Translucent Chicken with Quail Feces

Also: The Experts Weigh In.  Which Wine is Best with Chalk-Braised Veal?

Published in: on October 21, 2010 at 2:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

Something I’d like You All to Know

I guess this amounts to a blanket apology — no, a blanket explanation — to all of you readers of these dispatches who have been kind enough to send me responses and comments.

Know, first, that not a one of you has ever heard back from me directly.  That was a decision I made, for good or ill, when I first set out, on a whim, to make this little scrapbook of my travels in Cancerland.  I resolved not to enter into private conversations with anyone who, heaven only knew how, might happen to stumble upon the little stack of notes I was leaving on a spike in an out-of-the-way corner of the great galaxy of the blogosphere.  It was not my purpose (to the extent I had a conscious purpose at all) to initiate a dialog.

Don’t misunderstand: I believe in dialog.  I believe deeply in dialog.  And I engage in it — in other places, in other ways, at other times — eagerly and happily and always with a great sense of satisfaction…always…even when, as is so often the case with dialog, it doesn’t actually go very well.

But these Fables were to be something else.  I’m quite sure I didn’t realize it at the time, but thinking about it now, I have come to understand that what I wanted was somehow to do the equivalent of what so many of us do when we sing in the shower.  That may seem a silly analogy, but it is actually very close.  I wanted to be naked, by myself, comforted and lulled by streams of warm water, so comforted and lulled as to feel almost on the point of being dissolved…all so that I could, obliviously and unselfconsciously, let out whatever inside me wanted to be let out — bleat, blather, croak, the odd lovely note that comes as a complete surprise, lyrics that had not been thought into existence but that simply popped out like bubbles.   Surely you understand that imagining you can be heard while doing such a preposterous thing — let alone knowing you can be heard — completely changes the enterprise.  Doesn’t make it worse, mind, nor yet does it make it better.   It’s just different then, that’s all.

Now then. To be completely honest about this, I am (pretty obviously, I guess) an egotist, at least as much as the next guy and probably more, because writers tend to that.  So, being an egotist, I have of course allowed myself from time to time very fleetingly to think, while being blessed by the warm shower water and singing with soap on my lips: Wouldn’t it be something if people were gathering outside the bathroom window…gathering with their heads cocked…listening…smiling now and again, and nodding their heads, and tapping their feet?   And wouldn’t it be something if, on finally stepping out of the tub, I heard, or thought I could hear, the sound of very distant applause?  Yeah, that would be something all right.  I’d have these  thoughts, smile, shake my head — and then go back to just plain singing  my fool head off.

Until there came a comment — you will find it appended below — from Lisa, which, had I actually been in the shower, would certainly have knocked me flat on my bony arse.  I cannot tell you how moved I was, how amazed, how warmed.  No human being has any right to feel as gratified as I felt.  And I thought at once, well, this one time, I have to reply, I  have to offer thanks, I have to say how touched I am.  And I nearly did that too, nearly did just write back.

But struggled with the idea and decided to do this instead.

These dispatches all have been open letters, and so I resolved to have my response be an open letter too.

However extraordinarily wonderful the note that’s just been slipped under my bathroom door,  I can’t simply pop out to acknowledge receipt.

After all, I am starkers, being dissolved by dozens of streams of steaming water, and croaking away to beat the band.

Egotist I may be, but not enough of one to make a public appearance in that condition.


We read because you write. As long as you do we are here.
Do you find in putting together your words comforting in a third person sense or comfort in knowing we are reading? I  guess that’s up to you.
I listen amazed that you have the ability to describe and pull together your words. I don’t think you need to apologise for them.
It’s vivid, stark and threatening, and the days you miss, are the days people who don’t really know you any other way, worry about your words.


Published in: on October 20, 2010 at 12:22 pm  Comments (3)  

Use Your Imaginations…At Your Own Peril

Regular readers of these dispatches will know — and perhaps bemoan the fact — that I don’t draw the veil over much.  But here I do.  I draw the veil.  I draw the veil, douse the lights, bar and nail shut the door.

What am I talking about?

It doesn’t sound so bad when you use the medical term.

You disimpacted yourself?  the doctor asked
Um.  Yeah.  I disimpacted myself.

There you are.  If it’s in the dictionary, it must just be a thing a guy’s got to do from time to time.

But it isn’t.  It is a thing you must pray you never have to do, not ever, not once in your entire life.

And here, I am ashamed to say, I quaver a little in my resolve to draw the veil.  This because I am so pathologically addicted to painting word-pictures, and the word-pictures I might paint, were I to draw the veil aside, would be worthy of Dante.  Indeed, I am surprised that he did not make this, um, procedure a feature of the lowest and foulest circle of hell, as the ultimate punishment for the most heinous sinners of all.  It would have been absolutely fitting — absolutely — to condemn the shade of Adolf Hitler, say (had he been a contemporary of Dante’s) to eternal self-disimpaction.  Had Dante done that, the relevant pages of all subsequent editions of the Inferno, down to the present day, would be sealed with cellophane, with a bold warning printed on them: Read No Further If Ye Be Weak.

I can only guess that such a thing did not occur to Dante because (lucky man) he had never known the necessity himself, and, even given how supremely imaginative he was, especially where grisly tortures were concerned, this is one he could not dream up.
Speaking of which, if you are damned well determined to know in a more specific way just what bush I am beating about here, go ahead and use your imagination.  But, as I said at the outset, you do so at your own peril.    By way of guidance, I will say this much, and no more:  Look that bland word up — disimpaction — and then think about it for a little bit.  While using your imagination (though I still recommend against it) include a bathtub and a naked, crouching figure close to tears.    Do not include any implements of any kind.  Think only in terms of what would be available to that crouching figure anyway, ready to hand, you might say, however much the part in question might tremble to be put to such a use.
That’s it.  I will go no further.

Do you know seppuku, the ancient Japanese suicide ritual required of those who feel they have been dishonored?  It is an unspeakably horrendous business, calling for the practitioner to sit, quiet and still, on the floor, while piercing himself at the waist on one side of his body with a very sharp dagger, then pulling the dagger, without rushing, clear across his torso.  And then, to do the thing right  (this awful act is not finished yet) the wielder of the knife must pull the blade up far enough to be sure that he has completely cut through his intestines.  Said proof is provided when his guts begin to spill out, at which point the trusted confederate who has been standing by ends the ritual by decapitating the dishonored party.  The Japanese writer Yukio Mishima, often mentioned as a contender for the Nobel Prize, committed seppuku in 1970, because he felt his country had dishonored itself by allowing its military to be, well, disemboweled.

Crazy, huh?

Well, if ever again (which the heavens forfend) I am faced with the need to disimpact myself, I will choose seppuku instead, with a light laugh and a hey-nonny-nonny.

Now, whether you have figured all this out or not, let us repair to  a stone sink to wash for a good long time with scalding water and carbolic soap.  And for those of you who did indeed use your imaginations — better go boil those too.

As for why I brought this up at all…

A man can’t go through such a thing by himself.

I hope some day you can find it in your hearts to forgive me.

Published in: on October 19, 2010 at 3:34 pm  Comments (2)  

Esoph’s Fables first-ever Video Dispatch

Having subjected you good readers to so many of the low points of his current life in Cancerland, the author of the dispatches collectively called Esoph’s Fables felt it incumbent on him to share with you a high point of his life as it was.

This souvenir was found in the sock drawer of an old hard drive.

Click and clap or click and cluck, it’s all water under the burned bridge now.


Published in: on October 18, 2010 at 9:49 am  Comments (1)  

By tomorrow, I guess I meant soon

I promised a dispatch (Please see title) on the peculiar nature of Hope in Cancerland.

Not that hope is a simple matter back home either, in the United States of  Lookin’ Good,  Feelin’ Good, What’s for Dinner.  The word has all sorts of meanings, and no meaning at all.  Hope to see you soon; hope all is well; one would hope; hope’s the thing with feathers; Jeeze, I certainly hope not; hope springs eternal, etc., etc.  (There will be more on the negative version — as in, Man, that guy is absolutely hopeless — in a future dispatch on Things Which Simply Aren’t Said in Cancerland.)

Here, though, whether on the shores of Lake Chemo or in the Radiation Archipelago, the whole business of hope is much more complicated even than that.

For starters, you need to understand that there are two unspoken rules in Cancerland, which (though they are unspoken, as I say) nonetheless have the full force of commandments.  Indeed, they are in fact what you might call the Whole of the Law, in the sense that Moses brought the law down from Sinai.

These are the Commandments:

One, Thou Shalt Not Take Hope Away.

Two, Thou Shalt Not Allow False Hope.

If you don’t stop to think about these injunctions, there doesn’t seem to be much of a problem.  Well, yeah, sure.  We all need hope (that’s Number One) but mustn’t be allowed (Number Two) to invest ourselves in notions that really aren’t hopes at all but just wisps of wishful impossibility.  So fine.  Where’s the difficulty?

The difficulty, buckeroos, is in telling the two apart.   For this reason, there is a very great deal of what you might call hope appraisal in Cancerland: sniffing, studying, holding up to the light with tweezers, testing with logic, liquids, flame.  Is this a bona fide hope, which (because bona fide) is sacrosanct and must not be touched?  Or is this a counterfeit hope, which (because counterfeit) must be stripped away instantly and the planter of which severely and summarily punished?
We Cancerlanders are forced to become astonishingly acute connoisseurs of hope.  Almost without realizing it at all, and usually in a very short time, we actually do turn ourselves into amazing experts in the hope appraisal process.

We don’t call it hope appraisal, of course.  For most purposes, we call it the Solicitation of Second Opinions.

The delivery of these Second Opinions falls, as does everything else here in Cancerland, to the ruling class, the Fizzishuns.  They constitute the entire government of the country:  They make the laws, administer them, act as courts of appeal in cases of dispute, are first and final arbiters of all important and many entirely unimportant matters.  They might properly be called benevolent tyrants if they seized the powers they have, but they don’t: They are simply accorded those powers, ceded them by all and sundry, as a matter of respect for their years in school, their credentials, their white coats, and their fine automobiles.  They are the Ones Who Know, to which exalted position there can be no election.  And indeed, there are no elections in Cancerland.  There are no parties, no campaigns, no politics, no legislature, not a scrap of the apparatus that passes for government in the other nations of the earth.  (By the way, I am not making light of the title, One Who Knows:  It is an amazing, extraordinary and wonderful title, and can only be had in one of two ways, by humbuggery – such Fizzishuns are known, once they are exposed, as quacks; fortunately, there are very few of them – or by dint of years and years and years of diligent digestion of everything there is to know on the workings of the human body, and the myriad afflictions to which it is prone.  Imagine that: Everything there is to know.  Okay, sure, some Fizzishuns know more than others; some know better than others; some know things that aren’t true; some don’t know things that are true.  Our executive branch is no better than yours, in the end.  Believe you’ve had some punk presidents from time to time, no?)

Anyway, back to hope.  You can see right off that the Cancerland system would seem to require every Fizzishun to be a born Solomon, able carefully, carefully, carefully, to tread his or her way between Commandments One and Two.  Of course, that isn’t possible: Hell, Solomon wasn’t a born Solomon.  You develop amazing wisdom or you don’t, and the vast majority of us don’t.  This, of course, includes Fizzishuns.

Luckily, however, to go with the Two Commandments, there are the Two Loopholes.  (Lest you think it odd that so few commandments come with so relatively many loopholes, please note: Thou Shalt Not Kill is absolute and airtight on its face, but now has volumes of loopholes appended to it.  Look at the headlines any day of the year.)

Here’s how our loopholes work.

When Mrs Bronson asks Good Doctor Furbelow whether, as her shaman Lochinvar tells her, she will be rendered cancer-free after eating a banana a day for thirty-three days, Furbelow is permitted to say (this is Loophole Number One)….

It wouldn’t hurt.

Of course, Good Doctor Furbelow has to be absolutely certain that poor Mrs Bronson doesn’t have some bizarre potassium imbalance such that eating a banana every day for thirty-three days actually might hurt.  If he knows that for diddly damn sure, then saying It wouldn’t hurt nicely eases him between Commandment One and Commandment Two, and keeps things copasetic with Mrs Bronson, God love her.  Let her have her bananas, y’know?

On a more serious level, should Mrs Bronson ask Good Doctor Furbelow whether the torturous treatments to which she is being subjected will rid her of her disease, the Good Doctor, at his discretion, may answer (and this is Loophole Number Two)….

It is to be hoped so.


I should hope.

Published in: on October 7, 2010 at 1:39 pm  Comments (1)  

Geiger, But Who’s Counting?

I suppose I ought to be proud to have had my very own personal Bocks Car training its bombsight on me every afternoon at one PM these past several weeks, making a miniature Nagasaki of me, joining me in history with Hiroshima, Eniwetok, Bikini, and only a few other scattered targets on the face of the earth chosen for molecular rearrangement.  Not that my dedicated version of the aircraft carrying Fat Man looks much like the original.  It doesn’t fly very far, or high, or fast, has no wings, no jaunty cartoon painted on its nose, no brave crew in leather jackets with shearling collars.  Indeed, the thing is more UFO than B-29, a frosted-glass disk about the size of a manhole cover, mounted on an articulated arm of flesh-colored metal.  (NB: By flesh-colored I mean, as all Anglo European manufacturers do, caucasian flesh, the sad, wan, chewing-gum pinkish beige of Band-Aids.  Does that pass for flesh-colored in Hong Kong too, and Nairobi, and Ulan Bator?  Does no one notice the dreadful presumption?)

Anyway, my Bocks Car hovers above me — I am lying on my back, in a fitted trough, so that I cannot throw the all-important aim off by so much as a centimeter in any direction — banks to the left, sinks out of my peripheral sight on that side, then returns to high-noon position to perform the same maneuvers on the right, making a not-unfriendly mechanical bumble-bee sound every time it moves.  As I say, it is unmanned, or, rather, in the best modern mode, remotely operated, drone-style, by an off-site pilot, a technician in an anteroom cockpit clogged with computers.  Whenever it is in the right position (signaled by a cessation of the bumble-bee sound) it seems to go more still than still, profoundly still, reverently still, beatifically still like a little god about to bestow a blessing, and then, for eight or nine or ten seconds at a time, makes a sort of angry wind-up toy sound, a zzzirrr, after which, just before it is nudged along to its next stop, it does one last little thing it cannot actually be doing, given how clamped and confined and totally controlled it is: It seems to shiver, as if recovering from a very great effort.  And, hell, it is a great effort: To turn a death-dealing blast into a life-giving nudge requires unbloodybelieveable self-control.

Consider.  There is no mushroom cloud, no flesh-peeling atomic wind, no eardrum- and eyeball-melting furnace blast, no sheet-lightning transformation of day into night back into day all in a millisecond’s time, no world-deafening whirlwind scream.  There is only zzzirrrr, five times ten seconds of it, fifty seconds of zzzirrr.

Talk about sharpshooting.  Imagine a howitzer powerful enough, enormous enough, to fire a diesel-locomotive-sized shell across a continent, but able so to be constrained, so to be focused, that it can tune that power down and down and down and down into a stab of energy fine enough to drill a bitty hole in a caraway seed, without doing any damage (or so it is hoped) to the rest of the seed itself.  Unthinkable.  Unimaginable.  Perhaps also impossible.  That remains to be seen.

Of course you know the famous Sistine Ceiling panel in which big, beefy, bearded God ever-so-lightly and carefully touches the tip of one finger to the outstretched finger of an awestruck Adam.  I used to think that this was a very good illustration of Michelangelo’s idea of the power of the deity:  All it takes is just one little divine dab to animate a human being.  And it is that, sure. But I see now that it is more.  It represents also an amazing understanding that there could not possibly be any more contact than that.  What would a hearty handshake from God do to a man, or a clap on the back, or a slap of a heavenly locker-room towel?  Anything more than the merest feathery brush, anything almost undetectably beyond an actual touch at all, anything more than not-quite-a kiss, would fry a guy instantly, would turn him into a black wire wisp of smoke that may never have been there in the first place.  This is the case also with my hovering glass manhole cover of a B29:  Anything more than zzzirrr, zzzirrr, zzzirr, zzzirrr, zzzirrr, and I’d be a never-was.

I am glad to report that, though I am barechested through this process, I am permitted to wear pants, shoes and socks.  Glad to report this because I know that conventional and x-ray pictures are taken too, from above, and the thought of what I’d look like, so stretched out in bony supplication, is too much for me.  A stick-figure version of Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man, is what I’d look like, a praying mantiss splayed on a slide, more a topographical map than a satellite photo.

And as for the cost: So what if I am left with the locomotive power of a stain on the floor?  Small price to pay (and temporary, too, I am assured) for being invited to be part of such an enterprise.

I thought, back in the months I was billeted in Chemo County, that the doings there were amazingly fine-tuned.  I see now how coarse it all was.  Holy crap: Tubes an ant could comfortably crawl through, visible drops of liquid, potions set loose on their own recognizance to wander my systems at will, in completely undirected and unsupervised search of villainous cells, crude mercenaries on a shoot-at-will mission taking down the innocent as well as the guilty.  A bleedin’ Atari video game, is what is was, Pac Man with a one-button joystick.  Laughable!   Laughable!

Here, in Geiger Gulch, among the roentgens, rads and rems, I understand at last what fine tuning really is.  I am permanently marked about my person with black targeting smudges, on which green lasers are trained before Bocks Car is deployed, so that the screwing-down of its payload to a microns-wide point is always exact and always exactly the same, rendering the villainy inside me (however tiny in reality it may actually be) big as a barndoor by comparison, and a turkey-shoot therefore.  Those fat, stupid, misshapen olives of malignancy, such a great challenge to the Chemo Pac Men Marauders, are child’s-play for the Atomic Avengers released by Bocks Car.

Or so we all hope.

Tomrrow: Cancerland Notions of Hope

Published in: on October 5, 2010 at 5:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

In-country Travel

Have been to the Cancerland Outback, from which there is no dispatch-writing.  Hell, for many there is no return either, much less staying in touch while they are away.  Dingoes eat their babies, and then eat them.  They are next seen, if seen at all, stretched out, rouged, with beatific expressions on their faces, in narrow, high-sided boxes on the tops of sturdy tables in the front rooms of local funeral parlors, with weeping relatives and friends processing by and looking down on them, remembering the last time they spoke.  I am lucky to be back in my digs, with pen in hand, to recount how it all happened.

Travel to the Outback is by ambulance, at first to a rough-and-tumble town on the border known only by the initials ICU.  One finds immediately on arrival that the name is a kind of Cancerland joke, in that this ICU place ought properly to be called I Can’t C U.  It is a man-made jungle of chrome and clear plastic vines, tubes, tendrils and terrarium-like glass boxes of one kind or another which contain pumps, bladders that expand and contract, or glowing screens that show either numbers in large and little digital displays or moving pictures of what seem to be fences, the pickets of which constantly change size from tall to short and back again.  Hidden in this wild tangle of wall to wall and roof to ceiling growth, there are in fact human beings — many of the tubes and tendrils actually terminate in their arms, and sides, and noses — but they are as hard to spot as green parrots in the trees of the Amazon, so ICU as an appellation is entirely facetious.

I should tell you at this point that although there may be the very rare Lawrence of Arabia-like Cancerlander nutjob who voluntarily schedules his or her own visit to the Outback, in the main, being transported there requires Something Bad to Happen.  In my case, this Something Bad was a matter of feeling queasy enough one day to think I had better go kneel on the bathroom tile before the traditional receptacle for the outcome of queasiness.  When I had made the wretched retching sounds, and pulled the puking faces, and caught my breath, I looked down to see, not bits and pieces of semi-digested food, but liquid as clear as consomme, only bright red.  The sight would have been beautiful under some circumstances but, in my circumstances, was not.  The reddening agent was blood, clearly, and the water of the bowl was as completely transformed by it as was the Nile that time the Great Prankster of the Old Testament decided to teach the ‘Gyptians a lesson.

I got on the horn right away, of course, to confer with a Fizzishun.  The Fizzishuns are the nabobs of Cancerland, the top authorities, the Deciders (to use the Bushism).  My Fizzishun told me I had better come down and see him, toot sweet and lickity-split.  My plan was to hop a Cancerland jitney when, on my way to put on something respectable for the trip, the floor precipitously rose up just where I was standing, so that my head came to be where my feet had been.  I had been standing up, in other words, and then, just like that, was sprawled out, presto change-o, without any recollection of how the trick had been done.  Light-headed is the wrong term entirely, I am now in a position to tell you.  What happens instead is that the head suddenly grows as heavy as a bowling ball, and the body turns to vapor, so that there is nothing to hold the head aloft, and it does what gravity says it must.

There wasn’t going to be any changing of clothes, or strolling to the corner to hail a jitney.  The only course of action was to Dial the Dreaded Digits, Nine One One.  This I did, and waited, crumpled on the mat outside my door, with (as the EMTs later told me) lips as white as paper.  Blood loss will do that to you, as it will do some other things too, like put the fear of God into you.

As I’ve said, the beginning of the trip to the Outback was by ambulance, through the rollicking frontier at ICU, where (this being the weekend) all that happened was that my vital signs where checked, every few minutes it seemed and especially frequently in the middle of the night, and I was treated to the sight of other wayfarers far more wretched than I: Poor old Mister Woo, tube-a-nose, tube-a-side, tube-a-neck, so heavy-lidded his eyes weren’t visible at all, permitted neither to stretch out properly nor properly to sit, but relegated to being propped in a position uncomfortably between the two, with oven mitts on his hands to keep him from pulling his various tubes out and trying to climb out of bed, which is all that he wanted in the world but which, of course, he could not be allowed to do…and a nameless man (nameless to me, anyway) missing one leg, with hands too swollen to clench and a belly bloated into hemispherical shape, who angrily summoned help in pure Brooklynese, yelling, Noyse…and, beside me, flat as a corpse, never moving or speaking, a fellow who looked like an emaciated Santa Clause, with wild milk-white hair spread every which-a-way around his pillow.

Came, finally, Monday morning, and the test to determine why I had turned the water of the toilet as red as Tydee Bowl turns it blue.  The culprit was my throat, troubled by the tumor therein, which had grown slightly larger.  This meant that the chemotherapy I had been having had ceased to be effective, and so I would need to go, on the Cancerland moving sidewalk, from Chemoville to Radiation City.  This I did two weeks ago, having been zapped daily about ten times now.  So I currently have something in common with your upper-shelf supermarket fruits and vegetables: I too have been, am being, irradiated.  Alas, however, I do not look as red, robust, and juicy as the apples so treated.  Rather the opposite, I’m afraid: Kind pale and peaked, y’know.

For the rest of it, I have to tell you several things.  Whereas initial travel to Cancerland’s Outback is by ambulance, as I have said, other travel, once you have passed through the portal at ICU and are actually Out There, is by pill and potion, Alice-in-Wonderland-style.  You take this, that or the other, close your eyes, and find yourself in a new landscape every time.

And, oh yeah: There are spirits in the Outback.  They are neither visible nor audible but make their existence known by pilfering things from you, strange things, things it would never dawn on you to put a guard on because who in hell would take them?  Pilfered, for instance, has been the feeling in my right forefinger, the tip of which might just as well now be made of wood.  What the devil do these leprechauns want with such as oddment as that?

Also, they stole my voice.  For a long time, I could produce only a hoarse, croaking whisper,  making Don Corleone sound like James Earl Jones.  Nor did the blasted sprites return my voice.  One of them is still playing with it somewhere.  Luckily, however, there was a fix.  A plastic wedge has been inserted into my throat, to nudge my paralyzed right vocal cord over towards the middle of my larynx, so that, between them, the working left and the now near-enough-by right, have the correct gap to produce my old voice again.  (In FDA labeling terms, this means I am 99.9 percent organic, and .1 percent post-consumer recycled plastic.)

Gotta say one more thing.  I honestly thought (honestly and stupidly, it now seems) that I was growing accustomed to Cancerland.  But I realize now that was because I had only been in its Civilized Parts till then.  This is like visiting Morocco and spending time exclusively in Casablanca, which is a city enough like Miami Beach to gull you into thinking that you’ve got North Africa licked.  But travel to where the dunes are, where there is nothing but wind and sand and sky, where you can be bleached and buried at any time, and where all ways forward look exactly the same, and you understand that you don’t know a blessed thing about the place to which you’ve come.

I have been faithless to you readers of these dispatches in the recent past, frittering away my time sanding wood and hanging pictures instead of writing the travelogue I promised at the outset.  But that is not what happened in this long gap, as you now know.  What happened was that I was on a forced march to the Outback, from which I am lucky to be returned.

I mean that literally.

I am lucky to be.

Published in: on September 10, 2010 at 11:17 am  Comments (5)  


Enfin.  At last.  Slap of the forehead and Big Duh.   I must be a fool indeed for it to have taken me so long to see what it is I have been doing, am still doing, mean to continue to do.  Some of you must long since have sussed it for yourselves, but it was only just at the end of this long day that I myself saw it properly: I am banishing…purging…exorcising all ugliness from my surroundings…because I cannot purge the ugliness I am carrying around, which ugliness boarded me, pirate-style, these many months ago, and caused me to be abducted here to Cancerland.

Yes, pirate-style.  All sly, quiet, come alongside without a sound at all, no telling when exactly because, well, no sound at all.  But then what a ruckus, when the floating murderers judged the time was right.  And what a crew it was that came aboard, feet first on swinging ropes: Black-toothed, crusty-lipped, wildly scarred (X across the face), forehead all but cleft, chin and nose half gone, one-eyed, one-legged, one-armed, and of one mind too, which One Mind had only One Thought  – Take over.  Commandeer.  Make what was mine, theirs, and slash and drown me to boot, so there will be no question about ownership…or ship’s owner, if you will.

It was these pirates raised my hook and set sail for Cancerland, with yours truly limp below decks, bound and gagged and drugged inside my own body.  And pirates (lean closer now, to hear the heart of the thing)…pirates never give up what they have taken.  Never.  It is theirs forever, unless taken from them in turn, by others worse even than they, or by the Admiralty.  But if that doesn’t happen, if what they have stolen is not wrested from them, then they cackle over their prize forever, finger and polish it, suck on it as if it were the rarest sweet, sleep atop it, roll it in muslin and bury it, if need be, to keep it out of other hands.

These snot-dripping all-maw marauders are the ugliness I cannot banish – or not entirely, anyway.  I can only, with the Admiralty’s help, hold them somewhat at bay, keep them (I hope) from slashing my throat in the middle of the night, by striking bargains with them, new ones all the time, because their hunger for what is still mine is extreme.  It will not let them rest, and so they will not let me rest, unless (this is the bargaining)  I parcel out trinkets enough to keep them busy, and to keep them from simply taking me whole, all at once, the way a starving lion would.

About the ugliness that possesses me, literally possesses me, I can do very little.  In reaction, therefore,  I seem to have declared war on the kind of ugliness I can do something about…on external ugliness, of whatever sort my eye falls upon in these my Cancerland digs, on cracks in the wall, scratches in the wood of the floor, imperfectly hanging pictures, all that which is torn, frayed, rumpled, stained.

Listen.  It is what I can do.  And so I do it.  All day, and sometimes all night.

It’s late now, for instance.  Most Cancerlanders are trimming their wicks.  But I have just finishing applying the fifth coat of glossy varnish to a raw, ancient slab of wood, which (though still quite raw-looking) now gleams in the moonlight under my little propane grill.  I plan to fire the grill up in a few minutes, not so much to cook upon as to see its jets of flame reflected, maybe, in a surface that was just this morning brutally ugly because weather-pocked and blackened, like the bones of a wrecked boat, but is now smooth and bright as glass.

I still am at the mercy of the pirates, of course, in the place to which they brought me, willy-nilly.

But I am no longer bound and gagged.  I am free, within a certain compass, to move about and do as I wish.

And so, I make gleam.

And, sometimes, I write.

On the very best days, there is almost no difference between the two.

Published in: on August 13, 2010 at 9:28 pm  Comments (1)  

And so, shaking myself awake…

I resume.

In my quarter of Cancerland, late at night, people walk their dogs,  just as they do, of course, late at night, back in the States.  Here, however, the dogs are all laughably small, malformed, reminiscent but not of any particular breed.  And they are all, in some way or another, afflicted: A white thing, seemingly made of soggy cotton batting twisted inexpertly into more-or-less canine shape, is all red in the rear, and has a chafed gait therefore; something like a Yorkshire terrier limps along, favoring first one then the other hind leg; a spindly-legged what? chihuahua? red apfenpinscher? Chinese crested/Mexican hairless/schipperke cross drags its bottom for ten or twenty yards while the balloon of a woman attached to it by a light chain looks on solicitously, nervously awaiting, um, developments.

This is not how I meant to begin.  I meant to begin with an apology for and an explanation of my long silence.  I have reason to know that I’ve worried some of you by that silence.  You’ve assumed, not without reason, some incapacitating Cancerland development, some other stage in the course of things, and I should not have let that happen.  Should, if I could do no better, at least have sent minimal dispatches saying M’Okay, All’s Well, Tutto Bene, Worry Not, More Soon.

But, see, I couldn’t do even that much because, well, I believe I have been sleepwalking.  Yes, sleepwalking.  For weeks.

I come to this conclusion because I look around my quarters now and see that things have been done here — many things, some of them big things — and it must be the case that I did these things because there is no one else in residence here but my home-from-college son, who reads all day and does who knows what all night, but has never been known to do anything around the house, even when asked.

The thing is, though, I have no proper recollection of having done any of the things that I can see with own eyes certainly have been done.  I remember, the way one remembers dreams, twisting wire, toting a basket of power tools here and there, sawing wood, drilling very many holes of very many sizes in very many walls…I remember, in other words, doing the things one needs to do in order to accomplish what’s been accomplished hereabouts, but I don’t remember the accomplishing part, or the setting out to accomplish, or the moving on from one accomplishment to another.

Which is what leads me to conclude that I have been sleepwalking…or sleep-puttering, if you will.  And it is evidently the case that the idea of writing dispatches does not occur to a sleep-putterer.  In my zombie-like state, I apparently have had no interest in any of my beloved fountain pens, nor in any higher-tech writing apparatus, nor even in a frigging pencil stub, except to use for marking where to cut with the sawzall.  My poor sleeping brain has cared only for combination and ratchet wrenches, for rotary tools, for star-nosed screwdrivers, nail sets, hook-and-loop sandpaper, for angle irons, mending plates, shims, a certain very beautiful slim red glass cutter that is as wonderfully heavy and balanced in the hand as…well…as a fountain pen.

What else can I say?  I have been in an unconscious froth, making perfect my little digs here in Cancerland because…er…I’m not at all sure why.  All I know is that I was overtaken, entirely overtaken, by the need to do so, and that is what, however imperfectly I may remember any of it, I seem to have been doing.

Of course, there’s something else.   I have been tired.  Very, very tired.  To be blunt, I have been Dragging Ass.  Now that is an expression — dragging ass — in current use back in the healthy states, but I am here to tell you that it does not mean, back in the healthy states, anything like what it means here in Cancerland.  Here,  Dragging Ass is something very close to a literal proposition, in which one’s ass (however little it weighs) becomes as formidable a thing to pull around as a bit of yer physicist’s dark matter, miniscule maybe but incomprehensibly dense.  All right, never mind the dark matter: In real world terms, Dragging Ass is like being lashed to a full-up shopping cart with three broken wheels.  It is Hard Traveling, in the words of the Woody Guthrie song: uphill, on a  narrow, twisting, rutted and rubble-strewn path.  With bad knees.  And asthma.  And a dinky ticker.

I have been wobbly-tired, is what I am trying to say, and apparently the thing my under-brain devised to deal with that kind of fatigue was to keep me moving at all times, for fear that any sitting still at all — any sitting still — would result in the Sleep of the Ages, a spate of Rip Van Winkle-itis, a Crossing of the River Lethe, such that there’d be nothing left of me but a mound of matter on the seat of some chair.  And writing dispatches — writing anything — requires a body to sit still.  So…no writing…because no sitting still…because too alarmingly exhausted to sit still.

In Cancerland, this makes sense.

I think, however, I am finding my ass a little less burdensome to drag about, so anticipate the chance (I hope) just simply to sit upon it with something like my happy old frequency.

As a token of good faith, I herewith promise to write dispatches soon to tell you about Cancerland’s Magic Portals, through which you can peek at the life you once had…about the Great Forgetting…about Cancerlanders as Peerers at one and the same time into the Void and the Toilet…and several other topics I believe will be of interest.

Again, my apologies to any I may have worried.

Published in: on July 30, 2010 at 1:49 am  Comments (2)  

The Reason I Am Writing Less

I am writing less (this dawned on me the other hot night) because writing is finding yourself and I am wholeheartedly trying to do just the opposite these days, am trying to lose myself, I think on the theory that if I can’t find myself, then neither can the cancer.

I lose myself in sanding wood (crude wood, two by fours, not caramel-colored golden oak or teak or planks of cherry with gorgeous swirling grain). I lose myself in trying to replace the tiny finicky parts of the wonderful old typewriters I have too many of lying about. My 1895 Blickensderfer (not making this up; there is such a machine) is made of solid bomb-proof metal parts, except for the thread-thin wires that connect its great hammer keys to its type cylinder. The wires are the things that fell off when I bumped into my typewriter tower and sent the Blickensderfer ass over tea-kettle onto the floor.

Ought to have a photo here of the look on my son’s face as he watched me sitting on the couch with the Blickensderfer overturned in my lap — the thing looks for all the world, and endearingly so, like a great metal insect in rigor mortis — with a long tweezer in my hand, trying to sew the machine together, as it were, with two-inch-long bits of stiff  thread). Nick’s look clearly said, Poor Dad’s gone round the bend. And he is on the money too: I have gone round the bend, and down the path I found there, and through the hedgerow in which the path ended, and on through the rocky field on the other side of the hedgerow. And why not, I ask you?  If I stay where I am, I make myself a sitting duck for fate, no?

Seems to me my plan is working tolerably well so far: I am not yet irretrievably lost, but I certainly am thoroughly confused about just exactly where the hell I am.

I lose myself too in righting old mechanical wrongs. The car’s cigarette lighter has been dead and useless for years now, ever since some fixture got stuck in it and I tried to horse the thing out with a pair of medieval-size pliers. I let that be for a decade, putting up with the absurdity of not being able to plug in an mp3 player or any other portable marvel because, essentially, the car was off the grid: no access to electricity in caravan-world. So the other night (more like morning, actually; it was coming light by the time I took it into my head to do what I am about to tell you I did), I squirmed under the dashboard with tin snips, to cut the old dead socket out and make things ready there for a new one.  Had a cop come by in the gloaming and seen a shadowy figure with its head stuffed up where the ignition wires are, I would almost certainly be writing this dispatch from the hoosegow.  I had no papers with me, so could not have proved that the vehicle I seemed to be stealing was in fact my own.  Maybe the pokey is a good place to lose yourself, but I’d just as soon not go that route.

And then I lose myself on my silly circus-clown folding bike. The thing has 16 inch wheels, fercrissake.  There are places in Chicago make bagels bigger than that. My son’s bike is a stunning thing that looks to be made of elegant black walking sticks. It is a racehorse. My bike is a burro. But then burros are better for venturing into strange territory. I went out on Chiquita the other day, along the path beside the Cancerland river (Rio Quimo, it’s called), in  bright and breezy weather, with tugs and barges and grand don-corleone cruisers plying the waters, and joggers on the path with me, with asthmatic pug dogs trailing them, and got so lost I barely found my way back. By the end of the day, I could hardly feel the bullseye tatooed on my back.

There was a time, I guess I should say, that I lost myself in martinis, cold as surgical steel, drinks like liquid razor blades. Couple, three of those, and put some music on, and I’d be lost for a good long time. Trouble is the way you find yourself again after that kind of slipping out the back. You return to your skin shocked and sorry and sore, and feel yourself twice the target that you were before you left. Wouldn’t do in my current circumstances, given the cunning and persistence of what’s stalking me.

So, to keep my tracker guessing and off-balance, I go places even a hunter as mad-for-the-kill as he is wouldn’t think to look for any prey. What drooling red-lipped sumbitch with a bow and arrow expects to find a deer kneeling over a tiny electric train, or making a kind of music with a sanding block? On the other hand, however, with a computer on my lap,  I am low-lying fruit.

Surely you can see that.

Published in: on July 1, 2010 at 2:22 pm  Leave a Comment