Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Rabbit Protector

Gray rabbit in the brushEarlier this summer I spotted a cottontail rabbit nibbling in my front yard. Over the next couple weeks my parents and I saw him scurrying about, and even found that he lived in a bush next to our house. The prime conversation at home revolved around our new rabbit friend: has anyone seen him today, was he eating, did he run away?

I haven’t had a pet since I was five, so at first I wanted to cage him up and domesticate him. But, I didn’t think he’d like that. I’m sure he enjoys living each day in survival mode – scrounging for food, making his own shelter, trying not to be eaten, and desperately searching for some rabbit poonany.

My dad and I did the next best thing to caging him up – make his life easier by leaving food in his bush. I had no idea what rabbits eat, so I asked my dad. Just so you know my dad grew up in Brooklyn, where the closest thing to a wild animal is a non-kosher hot dog.

“Rabbits eat carrots,” he said. “That’s his favorite food.”

“How do you know? You only say that because Bugs Bunny eats carrots.”

“No, I’m telling you he eats carrots any chance he gets.”

“I doubt he’s ever seen a carrot in his entire life. You think he just roams through the woods and finds random carrots on the ground?”

We left one bright orange carrot next to his bush and waited, but he didn’t show up. After I went inside I checked my window every ten minutes, but still he didn’t show up. “I told you he doesn’t eat carrots,” I told my dad.

But, the next day the carrot was gone and we assumed he ate it. We continued leaving him more carrots and celery sticks. He continued to eat them. Days later, while eating lunch, my mom looked out the window and saw him squaring off with a squirrel. The rat-with-a-bushy-tail was about to pounce on my rabbit friend, so I immediately stopped eating and rushed outside ready to beat some squirrel ass. “Get out of here rodentfucker!” I screamed once I got in site.

I am The Rabbit Protector. Mess with him and pay the consequences.


Postscript: I didn’t actually call the squirrel a rodentfucker, although I wish I had.

Leia Mais…

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Haters Want to Hate, Lovers Want to Love

When I started this blog I told my friend, Hamburgers, "I can't wait to get my first hate mail. It'll be so exciting."

Yesterday I received my very first one, left as an anonymous comment on book excerpt: Forever Sweet Sixteen (Part III of III). Here it is in its entirety:
TRASH...pure vulgar trash. Your parents should be severly punished for having a son like you...an maybe, just maybe, in the after-life, if there is such a thing, you will be publically, spiritually and MORE physically punished. If not for your morals, for your lack of ethics and priniciples...you have none. May the Devil have mercy on your soul, God doesn't want you.
To whoever wrote this, I might be able to hook you up with some Xanax to help chill you out. Better yet, if I dig hard enough I may find my old 3rd grade spelling book. I know how tricky words like "severely" and "and" can be.

Leia Mais…

Friday, August 17, 2007

Anticlimax to the Maximum

Barely over six years ago I finished my final round of chemotherapy for my first cancer. I watched as the last drip made its way through the tube and into the catheter in my chest. My nurse disconnected the chemo tubing and threw it away. That’s it, no more chemotherapy ever again, I remember thinking.

When I left the hospital the following day, my nurses gave me a banner that read Congratulations Ben! The doctors and nurses all signed it, and several gave me a hug. One would think this was a hugely important accomplishment worthy of a Diddy yacht party. But actually, it was the most anticlimactic event of my life because I had to begin radiotherapy just three days later.

Three days ago I officially graduated from the University of Virginia in the second most anticlimactic event of my life. If I had graduated back in May then I would’ve participated in the ceremony, including walking The Lawn, sweating my ass off in the heat while hungover, and listening to John Grisham give the commencement speech. But UVA frowns on people like me that need more than their eight-semester allotment. There is no ceremony for me until next May, which I’ll be invited to but will likely decline out of both spite and not giving a shit.

My old first-year hallmates were so ashamed I missed the May graduation deadline that they voted to ban me from the 25-year hall reunion in 2027. Over the next 22 years I plan on making a strong appeal to relinquish the ban. If I can convince the almighty Zim, who lived across the hall and one room over, then I should be welcome.

And the question of the day…“Ben, now that you’re done with college, what are you going to do?”

Three years ago when I had my epiphany that I should write a book, I told my friend Hamburgers, “If I sell even one copy then it will all be worth it.”

Shortly after I became drunk with ambition, already pondering which car I would buy. On one hand was the Aston Martin Vanquish for a quarter-million.And on the other hand was the McLaren F1 for a cool mil.I really didn’t care all that much about the money. It was just fun thinking of all the cool shit I could buy if I sold millions of copies. My brother used to say those fantasies made buying lottery tickets worthwhile, even though he knew he’d never win.

When I got to my last year of college still with zero books sold, I began thinking rationally. Now I merely wanted to make enough money so that I didn’t have to get a real job and could write another book. Unless a significant advancement heads my way over the next couple months, that doesn’t seem likely, either.

But like Tony Montana from Scarface might say, The World Is Mine.

Leia Mais…

Monday, August 13, 2007

Nice Sunglasses, She Said

In the summer before my first year of college I got a pair of black Oakley sunglasses, complete with orange prescription lenses. They were as kickass as shades get. In fact, I rarely wore them on campus because I was afraid girls would be instantly attracted, dump their boyfriends and begin pursuing me. The angry boyfriends would then form a cult intent on destroying me and my Oakleys. A legitimate fear, I know.

I decided to take the risk one late afternoon on the way to the dining hall with my friend, PingPongGirl. I walked across the quad to wait for her in front of her dorm. I sat on the bench and stretched out my arms, looking cool as can be. A different girl in her dorm stepped out and looked at me. “Nice sunglasses,” she said with a smile, and then walked away.

Holy shit, is it really working? What if these really are a babe magnet?

PingPongGirl walked out of her dorm shortly after and looked at me funny. Oh no, not you too. She began laughing hysterically.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“Benjy, look at your sunglasses!”

“What are you talking about? Some girl just hit on me because of them.”

“Seriously, just look at them,” she said, continuing to laugh.

I took the Oakleys off my head and looked at them. Incredibly, without me noticing, one of the lenses had popped out. I was walking around campus looking like a pirate with an orange Oakley lens of an eye patch.

Leia Mais…

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Golden Age (Part III of III)

Read these first:
The Golden Age (Part I of III)
The Golden Age (Part II of III)

I got my first MRI in August and didn’t know what to expect. “It’s just a bunch of really loud noises, like a jackhammer,” my friend Hamburgers assured me. I expected a stress fracture diagnosis, and when my doctor prescribed a second MRI, I was surprised. Did you have trouble finding my hip the first time? It’s only a bigass bone. It took three weeks to schedule me for the second MRI, though the bone scan was scheduled one day after that. My doctor must’ve known.

The bone scan technician surely did: she saw my future in perfect clarity on her computer screen as a bright white spot over my left hip. After the bone scan I was instructed to drink two bottles of water because they had injected nuclear medicine for easier detection. I drank three bottles because I was scared of nuclear medicine, a minute fraction of the toxicity of chemotherapy. It’s all relative, isn’t it? A healthy person fears nuclear medicine and a cancer person fears his future amputation or cancer recurrence. They may be equal, just different.

After everyone else was too much of a coward to tell me, it came down to me and my mom at the kitchen table. “Benjamin…you have a tumor.” I understood then what the bone scan technician had already known—cancer was growing in my pelvis and I would need treatment to kill it. I didn’t know much about chemotherapy or radiation except that they made people very sick, physically and in appearance. And I only knew that from watching Charlie Salinger receive treatment on the TV show Party of Five.

I went to school the next day after telling only three friends. I had been rocked by a life-altering uppercut and was now walking around the halls listening to classmates complain about petty high school problems.

Two days later, on Sunday morning, I taught Hebrew at Temple. There was confusion regarding the teaching assignments, so I waited in the sanctuary. Mrs. R, the mother of a student I had just finished tutoring for his Bar Mitzvah, sat next to me. “Tell me what you know,” she said. I guessed my mom had told a few people.

“I don’t know much. They don’t know what it is yet, or if it’s anything.”

“Is there anything I can do for you?”

“No, I’m fine. Thanks.”

Like I said, when I turned sixteen I was no longer a kid. I didn’t need help or anyone to do anything for me. I may spend my whole life investigating why, but within the first couple months of treatment I realized I was invincible. I saw myself as a real-life Superman. Unable to be penetrated. Unable to be destroyed.

A week later I was diagnosed with bone cancer. My best friends and I went to Hamburgers’ house where I told them all that I knew. It was a typical Saturday night with our usual laughter and jokes. Before driving to Taco Bell, I walked up Hamburgers' basement stairs and said, “I can feel my cancer poking out my ass.” At the Taco Bell drive-thru, Zeke upset the employee and we’re sure she spit in our food.

Less than one week later my new life began. I am certain that the girls at school no longer saw me as the mysterious guy who cracks two jokes before taking Zeke and Big Easy home. They now saw me as the sick kid. I know this because that is how I would’ve viewed anyone else with cancer. I did everything in my power to show them otherwise. I’ve done everything I can since then, and I’ll do everything I can forever.


Last year I watched a skiing documentary with my roommate and some of the students he’d been giving skiing lessons to. When we left I asked him how old his students were. “They’re around sixteen,” my roommate said.

I couldn’t believe it. They looked so young—like kids. And that’s when I recognized that we don’t suddenly stop being kids when we turn sixteen. And I didn’t stop being a kid when I got cancer, even though Sweet Sixteen was over. I still say it was the best year of my life, perhaps never to be topped. There is something powerful about that age—maybe it’s because my life changed then. Or, maybe it had something to do with that "Super-Jew" t-shirt.

Continue reading "My Cancer Story": Teeter Totter of Life (Part I of II)

Leia Mais…

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Golden Age (Part II of III)

Read this first: The Golden Age (Part I of III)

That summer in 2000 was one of the best three-month periods of my life. We had no responsibility and the freedom to do whatever we wanted. HollaAtYoBoy and I chilled together every day and played a lot of Super Tennis on Super Nintendo. “Who else should we recruit to be in the Super Tennis Club?” we joked. Other popular activities included watching Half Baked and searching for pictures of Mandy Moore’s butt. It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it.

Life was so easy-going that when the game Perfect Dark released, my friend Infinicuralier and I played it 11 consecutive hours, with a short dinner break. I was sixteen without a care in the world, except how to seduce Orange without having to talk.

My family vacationed to Israel. Our flight from Washington, D.C., to Toronto was delayed four hours. When we took off from Toronto to Israel it was already midnight. An hour into the flight, the captain said one of the computers was down and we would turn around and dump fuel in the air. We touched back down in Toronto at 3 a.m., where we waited in chairs another three hours, and then a hotel for the next three. We were supposed to depart again at 11 a.m., but were delayed several more hours.

We sat on the plane waiting, not knowing if we were staying or going. My brother JD and I played "Survivor" by observing who from our area of the plane could stay in his seat the longest without using the restroom, returning to the terminal, or losing his mind. We arrived in Israel 21 hours late.

We met the rest of our tour group in Jerusalem, which included the goalie for the Olympic Development Program soccer team and a really hot Jewish girl. On Shabbat we went to the Western Wall and watched hundreds of Jewish men in black top hats davening. It was my most religious experience. The next night we walked up and down Ben Yehuda Street with all the shops and bars. I bought a white t-shirt with the Superman shield wearing a black top hat and Hasidic sideburns. It read “Super-Jew”.

All the kids avoided Israeli food and ate McDonald’s or Pizza Hut when we could. Israel is littered with stray cats. None of the food, even the Big Mac, tasted normal and we joked that we were eating cat burgers.

I tried alcohol for my first time. JD and the others bought a bottle of vodka and took long, eight-second swigs. It looked so easy that I didn’t use a chaser. I grabbed the bottle, gulped, then stared blankly across the room at the hot Jew for a second before coughing wildly. “That shit burns!”

My parents thought Israel's drinking water came from waste water treatment facilities, so they supplied us with two-liter bottles of water. But rebellious JD chose to drink the sewer water instead, pretending to love it.

The Dead Sea has so much salt that you float. Word of advice: after you get diarrhea, which you unquestionably will if you eat cat burgers, don’t try to sit and float in the Dead Sea.

On one of the last nights we played soccer where I, instead of the junior Olympian, played goalie because of my pain. “When we get home I’ll see the doctor and get it fixed,” I told the group. “It’s probably just a stress fracture.” I later told them through instant messenger that it was cancer.

The trip was awesome. We joked, pulled pranks and spoke in surfer lingo. The hot Jew recorded some of our adventures, though we lost touch and I never saw the video.

At the end of the summer I took an SAT prep course with SuperSoccerStar, who was my friend’s cousin. We had always snuck him onto our house soccer team as a ringer. Through the prep course we became pretty good friends, and after the last session we played video games at his house. I developed terrible cramps, probably from the cat lingering in my gut, and quickly left because I didn’t want to destroy his bathroom. That was the last time I saw him before I was well into my chemo regimen.

Keep reading: The Golden Age (Part III of III)

Leia Mais…