The radio at the bank I worked at last December only got reception for one station, which played Christmas music nonstop. I couldn’t take it, and brought CDs to listen to, instead. Even the dirty looks I received after playing gangster rap couldn’t pressure back to A Holly Jolly Christmas.
Contrary to popular belief about Jews, I really like the secular holiday Christmas. The candy is great and the cheerful atmosphere is unrivaled throughout the year. I am most envious of the Christmas lights. JD and I used to have competitions to see who could count the most houses with lights. I couldn’t understand why every home didn’t participate.
One positive thing the shitty economy has brought is a less-hyped Christmas. The percentage of commercials related to the holiday has dropped from 100% to 97%—the perfect amount. Christmas is hyped as the biggest event of the year for one to two months, and then it’s over within a matter of hours. That seems like such a letdown, like crack cocaine. On the other hand, Hanukah lasts eight days. If only I could see more commercials with dreidels and potato latkes.
The Twelve Days of Christmas was created to outdo Hanukah. Around 95% of Americans celebrate Christmas and 2% celebrate Hanukah, but that isn’t enough, is it?
I know it is tradition, but how can parents in good conscience lie to their kids about Santa Claus? If we very conservatively assume there are .25 billion children around the world celebrating Christmas, and one day for Santa to slide his fat ass down all those chimneys, that’s 173,611 houses per minute and God knows how many cookies.
Today I’ll be at the movie theater with all the other Jews in Northern Virginia. Tonight I’ll eat a fantastic second Thanksgiving meal my mom prepares. JD and I joke that it’s our Christmas dinner, but my mom doesn't like that terminology. "It’s our special end-of-the-year meal,” she says, or, “Since everyone else is having a nice meal, we should, too.”
Zeke invites me to his family’s Christmas lunch every year. He used to make a delicious banana pudding for desert until the year I had an allergic reaction to it. I thanked his family for assuring I wasn’t the lone Jew on Christmas, and then rushed home for my trusty Benadryl.
As if Barbara Streisand didn’t already suck enough, she sold out and made a Christmas album. She’s not the only Jew to be so greedy—Neil Diamond and Kenny G made one, as well. Jesus may have been Jewish, but he couldn’t touch G on the sax. We’ll pay your religion to take Streisand. Better yet, we’ll trade you Streisand for Megan Fox, straight up.
My Aunt Flojo went to high school with Streisand.
Aunt Flojo’s daughter went to school with Chelsea Clinton. I went to school with The Stumbler.
Aunt Flojo bought me Brooks Brothers shirts and ties for Hanukah and my birthday. Those stingy old-timers in the government are blinded by my fancy New York stitching.
The top five holiday movies are as follows:
Honorable Mention: Jack Frost. Michael Keaton is great. Snowmen are even better. Michael Keaton as a snowman…forget about it.
5. Love Actually. Though I thoroughly enjoyed this, it made the list mostly so I look diversified. I wanted to use Definitely, Maybe instead, but as it turns out, that’s not even a holiday movie. It was just a better chick flick.
4. Meet the Parents. This is more of a feel-bad flick than a feel-good one. Nevertheless, I laughed to the point where I couldn’t breathe.
3. Die Hard. The perfect holiday movie, the perfect Mos Def look-alike, the perfect action movie, and an absolute classic. The only reason it isn’t higher on the list is the next two movies.
2. Bad Santa. One of the funniest first-viewings in my life. I laughed every minute of Bad Santa to the point of tears, stomach pain, and wishing I could stop laughing. I let Mr. Mountain Dew borrow the DVD, and when he said he didn’t like the movie I was ashamed to be his friend.
1. Home Alone. I’ve probably seen it over 100 times and still love it. I watched it in the clinic with JD five years ago and my nurse thought I simply had nothing else to watch. “Home Alone is timeless,” I told her. When I saw it in the theater at six years old, I laughed so hard I fell out of my seat. I had strep throat, and had trouble catching my breath, and went to an urgent clinic for a penicillin script right afterwards, but it was worth it.
Palin pardoned a turkey. Will she also pardon a caribou?
My friend at work told me the holiday gift exchange was fun last year, so the morning of our party I bought a gift and wrapped it in four pieces of white paper. It was on the gift table, though most people didn’t realize it was a valid present. I likened it to the Holy Grail from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
When my name was chosen, I stole chocolates from someone else instead of taking an unwrapped gift. I merely played the percentages: most gifts I had no use for, and in all likelihood I’d be stuck with something unusable. It turns out the chocolates were International flavors and contained crème. I was allergic.
I flossed the chocolates to everybody when their turn came up in hopes they’d take them, and I’d get to choose a different gift. I was looked over until the very last turn. One guy took someone else’s gift, who took another person’s, who then took my chocolates.
The maximum allowed number of trades was three, so I was forced to choose a wrapped gift from the table. There were two left: my ageless wonder and a long, skinny item. My curiosity led me to that one until a woman told me it was reserved for Lovely Suzie who wasn’t there, but surely wouldn’t want the item wrapped in white paper with hand-drawn pictures of a snowflake, menorah and stick figure Rudolph. I had to take my very own gift that I bought and wrapped that day that nobody else wanted or even realized was an option, on the final pick after finally getting my allergy-ridden International crème-filled chocolates off my hands, and not by choice.
Why am I complaining? It was the best gift there.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
The radio at the bank I worked at last December only got reception for one station, which played Christmas music nonstop. I couldn’t take it, and brought CDs to listen to, instead. Even the dirty looks I received after playing gangster rap couldn’t pressure back to A Holly Jolly Christmas.
Friday, December 12, 2008
SHOW US YOUR TITS! read PepperoniNip’s sign. It was his idea to display it against the window when we passed girls on the highway. Some laughed, some slowed down to get away, and none of them flashed us.
We were on our way to Charlotte, North Carolina, to visit a couple friends. SHOW US YOUR TITS! seemed like the proper way to begin. We hoped the girls were of legal age, but nowadays there’s no way to tell. On that note, PepperoniNip should probably be in jail.
After arriving, the alcohol quickly accumulated in HollaAtYoBoy’s veins, though he wasn’t the only one. WassupMuhfucka got kicked out of the bar for lying down (passing out) on the booth. Three 40s in three hours just as a pre-game will do that.
HollaAtYoBoy showed early signs of disaster. He spoke to a homeless man in loud, random noises before telling him to “scoot.” He ate half a pizza with his eyes closed. He repeatedly called PepperoniNip a “Ja Rule soft bitch,” and serenaded him with, “Where would I be without my baby?”
HollaAtYoBoy’s 30-hour rise in BAC peaked our second night in the Queen City. WassupMuhfucka woke up to the stream of HollaAtYoBoy’s urine flowing into WassupMuhfucka’s bag of clothes, at which point WassupMuhfucka said, “What the fuck!”
I was asleep on the air mattress several feet away, but not for long. HollaAtYoBoy collapsed on me and rolled onto his back. I looked over at my sleeping (passed-out) friend, only to see his one-eyed monster staring back. After peeing in his “toilet” he took three steps and fell on his “bed,” without zipping or even tucking it in.
WassupMuhfucka was furious. I was nauseous. The image burned into my retinas and still randomly appears. I may need electroconvulsive therapy.
The following morning we went to Bojangles’ for breakfast. We made puns with the restaurant name.
“This employee is bojanglin’.”
“This jangle’s the jam.”
“His dingle was danglin’,” I said. I wasn’t much in the mood for Famous Chicken ‘n’ Biscuits. I saw far few tits and one too many dingles to have an appetite.
Monday, December 8, 2008
An individual named Dani repeatedly bugged me over the last several weeks. She wanted me to blog about Survivor Corps, a seemingly good organization that is dedicated to eliminating anti-personnel landmines around the world. On her first request I politely declined, citing that there are hundreds of good organizations, and since I can’t possibly blog about all of them, I won’t single hers out. On her last request to date I told her, “I can’t help you. Please stop emailing me.” I was impolite, and now, Dani, we’re even.
Seeing as how this is a cancer blog, there is one cause I will promote: more funding for cancer research. It is projected that 1.4 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in 2008; more than 500,000 will die.
Last week ESPN raised funds for the V Foundation for Cancer Research, a reputable non-profit organization that has raised over $80 million for cancer research. It is named after Jim Valvano, former N.C. State basketball coach who, against enormous odds, led his team to the 1993 NCAA National Basketball Championship.
In 1992 Jim Valvano was diagnosed with cancer, and died less than a year later. At the 1993 inaugural ESPY awards, Jimmy V gave one of the better speeches I’ve heard, along with Al Pacino’s “The inches we need are everywhere” speech from Any Given Sunday.
Jimmy V stared death in the eye and saw life. He died less than two months after his speech, but that didn’t stop him from finding joy, no doubt while suffering tremendously. He said, “If you laugh, you think and you cry, that’s a full day, that’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”
I’m not big on crying (or thinking). Personally, I’d go with laugh, spend some time outdoors, and watch an old Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. Now that’s a day.
Jimmy V also said, “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” I think he was referring to more than just surviving. He knew he was going to die. “Cancer can take away all my physical abilities; it cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul, and those three things will carry on forever,” he said. I think he meant that we shouldn’t give up on living, and we shouldn’t give up on hope—hope for a cure, if not now then in the future. That is his legacy.
For years Lance Armstrong has been saying that we need not millions of dollars for research, but rather billions. He is right. It is estimated to cost $1 billion for a single drug to pass through research and development. It is also said to cost $1 million for a single person to be treated for cancer. The V Foundation has raised a remarkable amount of money, but it’s not enough—it’ll never be enough until cancer is KO’d. (I’m not opposed to using the majority of resources strictly for breast or lung cancer research. If scientists learn how to make one of the biggest killers obsolete, then maybe they can learn how to nullify them all.)
The V Foundation gives 100% of all new direct cash donations to cancer research and related programs. Like Jim Valvano said: donate money, not for him, or for me, but for you, for someone you love, and for our kids.
Maybe Jimmy V's speech will change your mind...
Friday, December 5, 2008
Read this first:
Hardest Hitting Safety in the Land
Sean Taylor was beloved by Washington Redskin fans in a way most people outside the DC area wouldn't understand. We believe he had the physical ability and desire to be a Hall-of-Famer and the best free safety to ever play. We wanted to get to know Sean, and he wouldn't let us as he hid from cameras and the media, so we thought about what kind of person he was, and likened him to ourselves, and were drawn to him. We talked about how he could knock anyone out cold, and how he could jump 40 inches straight up, and how he could outrun any receiver.
We finally got to know Sean when he was murdered last year, which makes it even more sad. We learned about his growth as a teammate, son and father, how his daughter made him want to be a better person, and how much his spirit influenced others around him. We saw that his defensive coach, Gregg Williams, loved him like a son and openly admits Sean was the best and favorite player he ever coached.
We think about what could have been—the records, championships, trophies—and the young man just barely older than me who changed his life and found peace, only to have it stolen. Redskins fans continue to mourn him and cherish his memory.
During the first home game following his death, there was a video tribute to Sean at FedEx Field, which was later posted on the Redskins website. It is only fitting that the background music in the video is from Gladiator. My friend, Vodka/Benadryl, used to cry when he watched it—a grown man, shedding a tear from a video he'd already seen dozens of times.
Sean Taylor, a Redskin forever...
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
When I explain my lack of leisure time to friends, they say, "It's called having a job," or, "Welcome to the real world," or, "At least you're not selling your body." I'll leave him anonymous.
My job is not 40 hours a week like my paycheck says. I must add my two and a half hour daily commute to L'Enfant Plaza in Washington, DC. Workweek: 52.5 hours.
I add my thirty minute lunch each day, not because I didn't eat before I got a job, but because it becomes part of my "total time away from home" calculation. Workweek: 55 hours.
I go to the gym on average five hours after work throughout the workweek. I actually spent more time exercising before I got a job, but since that defeats my purpose here, I will disregard it. Workweek: 61 hours.
My "time away from home" isn't the only way my new job affects me. I have to compute the total disruption to my previous workweek. I now go to sleep 2.5 hours and wake up 3.5 hours earlier, respectively. Over five days that adds 30 more hours. Workweek: 91.
There's one more variable that rounds out my calculation—the less time I can watch sports and TV. I'll make this a nice, even, conservative number: 100. Workweek: 191.
The fact that the workweek only has 120 total hours means nothing.
Call Me Hollywood
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Barack Obama will not be America's first black president because we already had one: President David Palmer.Palmer was such a good president that he was assassinated, and then came back to life in the form of Sergeant Major Jonas Blane on CBS' The Unit.
Well, maybe Palmer was only the president on 24, but I'm certain that my beloved series, which first aired in November, 2001, not only warmed people to the idea of a black president, but was also the single biggest factor in Obama's decision to run.
I'm normally complacent when a new President-elect is chosen, but today I am excited. Obama uplifts and inspires people more so than any political leader of my generation. The reason is simple: his voice sounds very similar to The Rock, who also spent some of his childhood in Hawaii. If Obama learned some of The Rock's slogans, he'd truly be electrifying.
"Hey Palin, when are the Russians coming? It doesn't matter when the Russians are coming! Know your role and shut your mouth. Don't make me lay the smack down, jabroni. You can take your $150,000 wardrobe, turn it sideways, and stick it straight up your candy ass! If you smell what The Obama's cooking!"
Sunday, November 2, 2008
PepperoniNip and I visited Hamburgers, who is in the UVA hospital with an infection and we think (and hope) he is improving on antibiotic treatment. Being there felt uncomfortable. It's the all-too-familiar odor that bothers me the most. Walking freely and not being tied down by IV tubing made me feel strong and healthy, like I was on the other side of the window, looking in as opposed to looking out. Historically, that is unfamiliar territory for me.
I made innumerable mental mistakes on our trip. Here is a condensed list:
- I forgot that I told PepperoniNip not to eat breakfast before picking me up so that we could go out for waffles, and I ate Cheerios, orange juice and egg whites.
- I forgot to bring my handicap parking permit so we could park for free.
- I forgot to contact friends to make sure we had shelter last night.
- I left my glasses case (for the hundredth time) at Buffalo Wild Wings, and had to go back later to retrieve them from the lost and found.
- I forgot to bring Hamburgers a hamburger.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
I gathered fallen leaves and spread them on the porch. I positioned a green spotlight on the dogwood in the front yard. I chalked an outline of a dead Frankenstein on my driveway. I played The Undertaker’s theme song on repeat, the bells tolling, signaling the annual night of ghosts and ghouls.
Halloween was one of my favorite holidays. I loved the cold, the darkness, the tricks, the pranks, the festive atmosphere and neighborly spirit, and above all, the candy. Many of my friends gave up trick-or-treating in high school in favor of parties, but I didn’t. Like many traditions, especially those revolving around fond holidays, I couldn’t let go no matter my age.
One year I trick-or-treated in two neighborhoods with two different groups of people, steadfast in my wish for a long, continuous sugar high. Unlike my brother, JD, who devoured his candy (he once ate 50 Starburst in 8 minutes), I was a saver. I ate my final Snickers well into the winter. My candy would’ve lasted until the summer if JD hadn’t stolen some. I should’ve made him eat the Almond Joys for punishment.
At sixteen I wouldn’t let cancer ruin my fun. I got released from the hospital on Halloween morning. I went to Best Buy in the afternoon to buy Outkast’s newly released Stankonia, where the employees were dressed in ‘70s costumes. I ate McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets afterward for my first solid food in two days.
My lack of energy and inability to transport adequate oxygen throughout my body didn’t stop me from trick-or-treating. My friend, Robo-Lax, joined me. I wore my Undertaker mask like I did the previous three years. Robo-Lax and I traded candy afterwards. I gave him the Almond Joys for free.
The three Halloweens prior to cancer I couldn’t wait to take off my Undertaker mask because I got so hot. Looking like the Sick Kid made me wish I had a mask. On that Halloween night with Robo-Lax, behind Undertaker, I felt like myself for a brief few hours.
I went trick-or-treating at nineteen, and again at twenty-three purely on a joke/dare/“Are we seriously doing this?” basis. Facing embarrassment, that’s how I justified it.
Age has taken away the excitement of Halloween, something I once vowed to never let happen. I have passed the torch to a younger generation of kids. It is their holiday, their candy, their chance to be The Undertaker.
Someday the excitement will return and I'll answer the door in my Undertaker mask with his signature phrase, "Rest in peace!" My desire to accumulate loads of candy will be replaced with a desire to scare the shit out of children.
Friday, October 17, 2008
Read these first:
So Far Away (Part I of III)
So Far Away (Part II of III)
The hospital I left behind had successfully treated me for my first cancer, and without hesitation, took me in when I got home from Minnesota. The hospital was directly associated with my cancer, one of the most important events of my life, making it an equally important location to me, both materially and ideally. It consumed my time, and not just hours or days, but months. And not just a dot on the life span of the universe, or on one of the life spans of one of the universes, but the aging of my self. The hospital brought me closer to life in the form of cancer freedom and closer to death by taking a portion of my aggregate heartbeats. The hospital was like a living organism, not a friend or enemy, but a life-form containing elements of each.
The hospital’s friendly employees welcomed me, whereas its dreadful food turned me away. So many cancer people spent their time at the hospital. They were Sick unlike me even though we shared the same kind of illness and appearance. The hospital made them that way, or at least that’s how it seemed. The hallways and elevators escorted us from one inhuman place to another with the ultimate intention of freeing us from disease, all the while mercilessly punishing us. The machines beeped and buzzed in a foreign language I grew to understand. The rooms, structures, and some of the staff lacked human traits like empathy and transposed them onto some of us cancer people. That helped me feel like Superman, or be Superman, or which is it again?
The hospital helped make me that way by fostering an atmosphere where that feeling could grow, which created a code that I lived by, like “the Code of Harry” in one of my favorite shows, Dexter:
- Don’t cry
- Don’t complain
- Don’t show pain
- Don’t question your ability to survive
- Don’t question your superiority
- Think of cancer as normal
- Don’t let cancer make you sad or jealous
I didn’t leave on bad terms. Some of the people there are special to me. Favorable or not, I will always remember the hospital as vividly as anything else. Of course, Arrogance I can do without.
Leaving the hospital didn’t make me well because it wasn’t the hospital that broke me. While lying on the couch I felt acute pain in my abdomen, near my liver. The pain spread to my back, pulsing. If nothing else it gave me good reason to take my favorite medicine, oxycodone.
The pain was from my gallbladder, which was full of stones and sludge. Gallstone attacks like I had commonly occur about 12 hours after eating fatty food. If I ate a Cinnabon I’d probably die. Cinnabon can kill a healthy person in less than a day.
My doctor from the new cancer clinic, Dr. P, remembers well the first day we met. She insisted I lie down while my parents and I spoke to her for about an hour. “We should’ve taken a picture of you to compare,” Dr. P says whenever I see her nowadays. “You looked like a different person.” Now, I’m somewhere between a prepubescent girl and Andre Carter.
When every organ seemed to be deteriorating, and every muscle atrophying, and my life generally slipping away, I got well. It wasn’t oxycodone or valium, or an experimental treatment, or an invasive procedure, but the simple steroid, prednisone, that gave me my life force back.
I wasn’t supposed to get into that much trouble. Sixteen-year-old Ben would’ve gotten well after his transplant months before nineteen-year-old Ben did. It would seem that Superman was dead and gone, leaving simple Ben, capeless. That thought was as sad as my physical appearance.
I didn’t use the term “Superman” as a joke or to brag or describe my strengths. It was my strengths that led me to believe I was Superman because there was no other term worthy. I used it to describe what was extraordinary about me, the superhuman Ben, or maybe the inhuman Ben. Unlike my cancer-ridden left ilium, Superman was my one thing that couldn’t be taken away.
Like the code I continue to uphold, my faith in Superman remained. My invisible cape is still tied around my neck. Until I die, no matter how it seems I should feel about Superman, it will be a part of me, if nothing other than a remnant, like a single cancer cell that can’t be killed, waiting for its time to flourish again.
Continue reading "My Cancer Story": I Am a Cancer Survivor (Part I of IV)
Monday, October 13, 2008
Read this first: So Far Away (Part I of III)
I had looked down on other patients throughout my first cancer, either thinking they were inferior humans or I was superhuman. For self-serving reasons I had normally chosen the latter. Now, five months after my transplant, 16-year-old Ben could look down on 19-year-old Ben with contempt. I was pathetic, barely able to eat or drink.
It was difficult looking in the mirror after showering. The people I most looked up to were professional athletes, often with large, well-defined muscles, like 6'4", 250-pound Redskins defensive end Andre Carter who supposedly has 4% body fat. I looked closer to a prepubescent girl.
My salivary glands stopped working. I ate slowly before, but now I broke records. I chewed each bite until the food was mush in order to swallow. I tried gum, mouthwash and spray, but none helped. I should’ve gargled with triamcinolone.
At the dental clinic where I expected to receive a lip biopsy, the dentist just looked in my mouth and said I had oral damage due to chemotherapy which “may go away.” My doctor later told me I didn’t get a lip biopsy because I “refused for fear of too much pain.” Hey Doc: How about I saw off your left hip, poison you with chemo and radiation, make you vomit over 100 times, biopsy your bone marrow 13 times, and then see if you’re too scared for a cut lip. He must’ve misheard me.
If I swallowed food or a pill incorrectly, I puked. I would know I erred as soon as it went down and would rush for a bucket. I was too weak and the nausea came on too fast to reach the toilet.
I received a brain MRI, lying motionless with my head secured, trapped in a loud, tight cylinder for 45 minutes. A tiny mirror displayed the room outside the cylinder. If it had been an fMRI then the radiologist would’ve seen significant left-brained activity in the form of “get me the fuck out of here.”
I developed the shingles. At least this time the rash wasn’t down south. I saved the body cavity searches for later.
My brain turned to “mush” as Arrogance called it. I’m just glad my one online class was from community college and not my alma mater, the University of Virginia. I struggled enough at UVA with a working brain.
My eyes watered all day long, pooling in the bottom of my eyelids until overflowing, first saturating my unnaturally long eyelashes until finally streaming down my cheeks. As a non-crier I felt the need to prove the salty discharge was not on my accord, like I was guilty until proven innocent.
I saw an ophthalmologist at the hospital’s eye clinic. After JD and I waited three hours to see him, the rushed doctor said I had pink eye, a cop-out. Days later, Arrogance called and said I needed to come back and see the ophthalmologist again. Instead I chose to see a local ophthalmologist, who gave the same bullshit answer, but saved over four hours of my and JD’s time.
Arrogance lectured me on how big a mistake it was, that my health was not something to screw around with. Well, I was tired of screwing around with her and her colleagues, and left that hospital for a closer cancer clinic.
Keep reading: So Far Away (Part III of III)
Friday, October 10, 2008
Continued from “My Cancer Story": Fix Me (Part IV of IV)
Read "My Cancer Story" from the beginning: The Golden Age (Part I of III)
I was frigid, shaking and terrified. The six blankets, a couple straight out of the hospital’s blanket incubator, weren’t effective. I wished I had my own giant hen to sit on me. Or I could set myself on fire. I felt chilled at 100, cold at 101, freezing at 102, and at 103 there was no worthy adjective.
Every ten minutes I buzzed the doctor. “What happens if my temperature rises? Will I have to take a cold bath? Can I go into a seizure?”
My skin was irritated, inflamed, dry, red, flaky—you name it and I had it. I was supposed to slather myself with triamcinolone ointment, a topical steroid. Using the ointment would trap my skin’s heat and warm me. But in order to use it I had to get out of bed and away from the minimal warmth I’d collected. I was in the arctic and could either dive into the frozen river to reach the bear hide, or stay by the fire and hope that would suffice. It was one of my most difficult short-term decisions.
Among other things, I developed a staph infection in my central line that caused my temperature to rise five degrees in just as many hours. It was not my healthiest year. I had just returned home from four months in Minneapolis, halfway across the country, where I received a stem cell transplant. Minneapolis was a difficult journey, and I thought being home meant I was on the path to wellness. Somehow I was worse off.
At 103.3 my temperature started declining. I did use the triamcinolone. I thought my bones would shiver themselves shattered before I reached the bathroom. The infection went away with the help of vancomycin, a powerful, broad-spectrum, “last resort” antibiotic I’ve received countless times over the years.
Nobody could diagnose my skin, the largest and most underrated organ. I visited the dermatology clinic and stripped naked so doctors, nurses and even medical students could peek. That wasn’t unusual for me, but facing the wall, spreading my legs and bending down was. I was in a different kind of prison, but the body cavity search remained.
While waiting for blood results one day, my brother, JD, brought me a pulled chicken sandwich, coleslaw and potato salad from the cafeteria. My nurse practitioner, Arrogance, said, “I bet that’s 800 calories.” I ate an eighth before feeling full.
If my meal is 800 calories then I just consumed 100. How can I continue surviving? Without the help of Boost and chocolate milk, my daily caloric intake would’ve been under 500.
JD drove me to many of my doctor appointments. That morning on the radio we heard So Far Away by Staind. I’m not good at understanding lyrical meanings, but to me the title said it all. I couldn’t have been further away from my goal, with the exception of being dead, and I was trending that way.
I was so far away from my beautiful university that Thomas Jefferson founded, and from the college life I was supposed to be living. I was so far away from my friends, who were accelerating past me not just in credit hours but also in social experiences, maturity, and new friends, the tangible college credits. During my battle with my first cancer there had been so many positives, but now I was so far away from even them.
Keep reading: So Far Away (Part II of III)
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
I called over our very attractive waitress. I shouldn’t have, but I couldn’t help myself. My roommates T-Unit, Mr. Mountain Dew, and I were at Chili’s during happy hour for—what else?—the free chicken wings. Mr. Mountain Dew liked spicy food, but his body rejected it like mine rejected etoposide. He was sweating like it was the desert.
I couldn’t let him get away with it. “What can I do for you?” our waitress asked.
“I have a question for you…look at my friend here. Do you see the sweat beads dripping down his face? Have you ever seen that before?”
She stared at Mr. Mountain Dew eating his chicken wing, blushing equally as much as he was sweating. “No, I’ve never seen that.”
Mr. Mountain Dew had interesting eating habits. He wasn’t passionate about food like I am. He rarely put effort into what he was eating. If he got hungry he didn’t want to wait to eat, even if we were supposed to go out for dinner (unless our dinner would be free, such as at Chili’s). This, I couldn’t understand. “Mr. Mountain Dew, I went an entire month without eating anything except grapes and Ritz crackers. I think you can wait an hour.”
That line works every time.
Wednesday night begins the 24-hour Yom Kippur fast. When I was younger the fast seemed impossible, but now it’s easy, almost too easy. Not eating for a month gave me a unique appreciation for food and the ability to eat. As much as I don’t want to take that for granted, I do. Yom Kippur renews that appreciation, at least a little bit.
For the break-fast Thursday evening, I should take Mr. Mountain Dew to Buffalo Wing Factory for Flatliners. I hope he doesn’t drown.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Meet Link, the ferocious dog of my friend, Formula-6.
Link stays in Formula-6's office during the day. The women who come in for appointments go ape shit over this dog. They talk to Link like they would talk to a baby human, which I've always found odd. "How's my little Linky Linkster doing today? Taking a nap, huh? I bet you're glad I just woke you so I could talk like this! Yes you are you tiny little white-haired cutey pie!"
I wish Link would bite them. If it was socially acceptable and Formula-6 allowed me to, I would bite them.
Link's hair got very tangled, so Formula-6 took Link to get a buzz cut. Except for on his ears and tail, all of his hair was trimmed, including above his eyes. Link was ecstatic when he first felt the peculiar sensation known as sight.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
I remember what my adolescent brain understood on my first visit to my soon-to-be cancer hospital, and the rest is a blur. The main floor was enormous. It had an auditorium, a coffee bar, countless waiting rooms and at least three sets of elevators. The floor was granite tile.
Then there was the other half of the main floor with standard hospital flooring and countless corridors where the sick people came and went. I stayed in the former half.
The strange thing is this: of all the things I could remember, my clearest memories involved me pooping. Pooping is a constant, an action we must perform forever, which makes it easy to understand. If it was a clean poop then it must’ve been a good experience. If I ate Long John Silver’s and it was messy, then that might mean I needed to find a different hospital. Our minds like to find neat causes and effects, and though the quality of the poop and the quality of the hospital may be completely unrelated, I didn’t perceive it that way.
Fortunately, the facility was sparkling with more granite tiles, relative privacy, and the excrement itself was well-bound. It was the perfect start to my relationship with my hospital.
Dr. Dunks took me and my parents to the blood bank and said I’d need transfusions. He told me what side effects to expect from chemotherapy. But I can barely remember, because I didn’t understand. Maybe if he had told me in the john I could’ve produced a transcript.
It wouldn’t be long until I became familiar with both halves of the main floor and many more restrooms. Within weeks I would be able to walk from the parking garage to the pediatric cancer clinic, from the pediatric hospital wing to X-rays, with my eyes closed. I would learn the fastest route from nuclear medicine to cardiac imaging.
Seven years ago today, after too many poops in too many public restrooms, I became cancer-free. I have two of these “born free” days—September 14 and April 24—which are about half a year apart, and are two too many, or maybe just right. These days and years are piling up, and I’m now at the point when I must double-check how long it has actually been. I do this by subtracting 2001 (or 2003) from the current year, leaving me my years of freedom. It has come down to subtraction, just as I subtracted my cycles of chemo that I finished from the total I would receive. As much as things change—like my old hospital has been replaced by a newly constructed one—things stay the same.
I’m not used to the kind of long-term great health like I’ve had over the last couple years. It’s another new beginning for me, another freedom. It’s no longer necessary to count down to my next cancer anniversary. Now I can count up and take pride in being a seven-year cancer survivor, or even better, not worry about counting at all until it’s time to celebrate my next one.
Maybe I should count down to 100 years as a cancer survivor. I can live to 117 years old, right? Seven down. Ninety-three left.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
American track stars were on the TV, but I didn’t watch. The 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney symbolized the end of summer and the peak of human performance. The best summer of my life was ending catastrophically and I was in a waiting room about to get a CAT scan of my lungs to determine, effectively, if I would live or die. I didn’t care that Maurice Greene and Michael Johnson were about to win gold medals. I just wanted my enormous dose of Valium to make it all go away before the needle biopsy I was also about to receive.
I always enjoyed watching the Olympics as a kid. I took pride in the accomplishments of the American athletes. I rooted against the “bad guys.” I went berserk when Michael Johnson won the 200 and 400 meter sprints in his gold Nike shoes. I mimicked Jordan on my indoor basketball hoop when the Dream Team crushed everyone. My heart sank when the Jamaicans carried their bobsled across the finish line. Wait. That was Cool Runnings.
After Sydney, my aversion to the Olympics didn’t last long. I saw more of the 2002 Winter Olympics in St. Lake City than anyone should have. With all-day coverage on NBC’s numerous channels, how could I resist? Ironically, it was a new illness that got me back into it.
This past Olympics in Beijing was fantastic; the best produced we’ll likely ever see considering how many resources the Chinese government poured into it. The Georgia Dome doesn’t compare to the Bird’s Nest or the Water Cube.
My favorite event to watch was swimming, of all sports. I wish I looked like 41-year-old Dara Torres, minus the female reproductive organs.
I got into female gymnastics, which is only slightly less weird than liking figure skating. I thought many of the girls were hot until I saw that they were 18, or 17, or my God, 16! I’m just glad I didn’t feel the same way about China’s trolls. I felt much less weird being attracted to poor, sweet, 20-year-old Alicia Sacramone who fucked up in the team all-around competition.
China will likely dominate every Olympics in the future, taking much of the fun out of it. Some would say the same for the United States in the past, but hey, we’re the “good guys.”
Saturday, September 6, 2008
The Virginia Cavalier football team lost last week
I was there
They played maybe the best team in the country, USC
So I didn't care
I expected them to lose by 40 points
Keeping it to within 20 would've been a moral victory
They lost by 45
This may be the worst UVA team in history
Maybe I'm speaking too soon
I like the quarterback, who looks like a boy
I like the runningbacks, too
If Hamburgers and I suited up then we'd destroy
We'd still need to put on 100 pounds
And drop about 15 seconds in the 40-yard dash
And be able to bench press a bear
But that's neither here nor there
The Virginia Tech Hokies also lost last week
To a solid ECU team
They had less than 250 yards of total offense
Not a good performance
My brother was a Hokie, I used to love Tech
Michael Vick was spectacular to watch
An amazing athlete and oh so cool
He brought recognition and glory to his entire school
Then Tech joined the ACC and immediately won the conference title
The next year they crushed UVA in Charlottesville, I was there
And the fans gloat and talk Ohio State-caliber shit
Now I despise them as much as Vick hates Pits
Tech's quarterback, Glennon, isn't very good
They expect the backup, Tyrod Taylor, to be the savior
News flash: he has terrible accuracy, can't get the ball to his peers
Prediction: Tech will be on a downturn for the next three years
The Southeastern Conference is too strong for its own good
The teams will clobber each other and will all lose at least once
USC will beat Oklahoma in the National Championship
Unless Hamburgers and I had played the whole season, Coach Groh is such a dunce
Friday, August 29, 2008
It's about that time when people argue which presidential candidate is better. They may feel strongly one way or the other, and if passionate (crazy) enough, volunteer their time or money to the cause.
Take my parents, for example. My mom is on the Obama train and my dad is on the Geezer train. She wants the government to dig everyone out of trouble and he wants to blow shit up. It's a classic Democrat/Republican dispute. Couldn't the parties just plug someone into their system and get the same results, much like the Denver Broncos running game?
I vote for efficiency*. Fueling our cars with ethanol, which requires more energy to be converted into gasoline than it saves in oil, not to mention the effects on food prices and the moral issue of wasting food, isn’t efficient. Neither is refusing to talk to foreign government leaders. Is that pride or arrogance, or childishness? Since when was talking dangerous?
Subsidizing jobs to stay in America when the same work could be done elsewhere for cheaper isn't efficient. Messing with free trade (i.e. the North American Free Trade Agreement), which we all know aggregately has more benefits than detriments, isn't efficient.
More inefficiencies in policy or thinking: Complaining about gas prices when you drive a motorized whale. Blaming oil companies for providing a product the world needs. Not educating our kids so they have the necessary tools in this increasingly global and competitive economy. Spending government funding for bridges that lead to nowhere. Sentencing crack possession exponentially more than cocaine possession. I could keep going.
In 1996, Nike ran a "Ken Griffey, Jr. for President" ad campaign. PepperoniNip and I voted for him in our mock middle school election. Our history teacher got pissed. How is that different than voting for Ross Perot? Fortunately the vote was anonymous.
If anyone can fix the country, it's Griffey. He's got my vote. "Griffey for efficiency." Spread the word.
*Some externalities must be taken into account, as in the case of pollution where we need to embrace inefficiency because of the environmental effects it poses. If we let the market for carbon dioxide emissions regulate itself, then companies would choose the cheapest, and thus dirtiest, form of energy. The future effects of atmospheric carbon dioxide at its current trend are scary as hell.
Politicians are full of shit. They play a game to get elected or reelected. They do not what’s best for the country, but what’s best for them. How they really feel about issues means nothing. They say what they think people want to hear. Not only that, but in this silly two-party system candidates are bound by party laws to feel certain ways about many issues, like abortion, war, and taxes.
Even the running mates were chosen to help McCain and Obama get elected, not because Biden and Palin are best fit to be Vice-President. (Isn’t it easy to tell that back in the day Palin was hot?)
I will probably end up voting for Obama. I don’t fear what some politicians would like me to. Instead I fear the increasingly negative view of our country from around the world. It’s just a matter of time before all that hatred boils over in the form of big countries with big weapons doing something drastic. Even though I agree with McCain’s economic policies more so than Obama’s, I think Obama is viewed as more likeable and can better alter the perception of the United States.
What we really need is global marketing to show how generous and accepting our country is. I can head the campaign with my specialty flyers. I promise they won’t have anything to do with nuts.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
You know, I am feeling a bit more Messiah-like.
The label says it was "Concieved in San Francisco." That must be the new Holy Land. Spread the word.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Five years ago, while watching TV in my basement, I felt something fall on me after opening my glasses case. I looked down at my chest and saw a tiny ringneck snake crawling on my sweatshirt. I did the only sensible thing—shriek like the Wicked Witch of the West, scurry out of the room, close the door and wait for my dad to come home. There were two flaws:
- Closing the door would not prevent him from crawling underneath if he wanted to.
- If he hid in a crevice and my dad couldn’t find him, then I’d never again step foot in my basement, and would likely be forced to move out of the house.
Like the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, I have developed extraordinary courage. Yesterday I saw another ringneck snake in my basement, and instead of waiting for my dad, I took off my sandal and bashed his skull in. “Where you going, Snake? I’ll tell you where. You ain’t goin’ nowhere. Next time don’t fuck with The Benjy.”
So what if I just tough-talked a tiny dead baby ringneck snake?
Monday, August 18, 2008
Read this first:
Road Trippin': A Picture Story
Two months ago, my friend T2theZ and I went on a road trip to Minnesota. We had goals we wanted to achieve, like eating at Giordano’s in Chicago. We accomplished that one. We also wanted to eat a “Roethlis-burger,” named after Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. I’m sure there are countless variations of this sandwich in the city and some of them must be good. The particular one we declined to eat, however, did not look appealing. It was basically a cheesesteak with several distinctly different ingredients added, like marinara sauce and fries. “Also known as the Heart Attack Special, this succulent sandwich will both harden your arteries and literally put hair on your ass, and you’ll be a better person for it.”
Our complimentary seats for the Pirates game were very close to the field—around 15 rows behind the first base dugout. We joked that if a foul ball was ripped toward us it would be nearly unavoidable. An inning later, an old man two rows ahead with a far worse reaction time than us got pelted on the shoulder. “OUCH!” he screamed an entire second later. He was so old that even his vocal cords had slow reactions. At first I thought how much that had to hurt. Then I wondered, who the hell actually says the word “ouch?”
We were supposed to leave from Pittsburgh to Minneapolis at 3:30 AM with a solid three hours of sleep. The problem was I couldn’t fall asleep, so I got us out earlier instead of wasting my time staring at the ceiling. My only reward, aside from getting hopped up on the energy drink, Nos, was watching my favorite movie, Dumb & Dumber, in the car on T2theZ’s laptop. Of course T2theZ forgot his car adaptor and it shut off with 20 minutes left in the movie. My disappointment was overshadowed by nausea from drinking too much Nos.
We ate dinner at a restaurant where some girls were playing Photo Hunt Erotic and were awful at it. Yet, somehow they had all the top point records. I think that was their MO: suck at Photo Hunt so strapping young men lead them to victory. When T2theZ and I assisted them to the new highest score, I wouldn’t allow them to input their initials like they wanted. We needed our place in history.
We changed our speech to prepare ourselves for Minneapolis. Different pitches of “Ya,” “Oh ya,” and “Ya ya” were common, as well as “Don’t ya know.” We said these phrases so often they became natural. When the lab technician at my clinic said, “It’s a long trip here from Virginia,” I instinctively responded with a very enthusiastic, “Oh yaaa!”
We were told that a message with our names would briefly flash on the jumbo screen in the Metrodome in between the third and fourth innings. We thought we missed it when the birthday and anniversary messages came and went. Luckily we continued to look at the screen in between innings, just in case, and in the sixth it showed it for a full half minute. I really need to meet this Ben Rubenstsein guy.
We stayed with my friend in Chicago, where just blocks from his apartment, crews were preparing to film Public Enemies with Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. Universal Pictures paid stores and restaurants to close so they could transform the street to look like the 1930s. I bumped into Depp and asked if he wanted to get a few beers. He agreed, we got tanked, and he told me all kinds of crazy shit that I’m not supposed to say, although I must share that he called Bale a “Welsh prick who couldn’t fight a pirate even with his bat costume.” But first Depp asked for my autograph. He reads my blog all the time. He loves it.
It was already dark when we got on line at Cedar Point for Top Thrill Dragster, the roller coaster that shoots you off 120 mph and 420 feet in the air. There were visibly a lot of bugs out, though not as many as Joba Chamberlain saw in the postseason in Cleveland last year. The ride employee kept saying, “Keep your eyes and mouth closed because it’s really buggy up there.” I would eat a swarm of giant cicadas to go on that ride again.
We spent entire segments of the trip searching for specific songs on my XM Radio. By the end of the trip we practically had all the words memorized to Bleeding Love, Pocketful of Sunshine (Remix), and Miley’s See You Again. If you were on the road in late May and saw two 24-year-old males screaming and dancing to Hannah Montana, that was us.
Monday, August 11, 2008
After getting my radiation tattoos seven years ago—six blue dots—I considered getting a more fashionable one. Many cancer patients receive tattoos before radiotherapy to make sure the invisible beams strike only where they need to, and not where they don't, like my nuts, for example. I’d rather not have to change the title of this blog or my book.
I thought about connecting the dots to make a constellation-like figure spanning my lower back and ass. Even I'm not cool enough to get that.
Years later the topic came up with my friend Hamburgers, and I once again considered a new tattoo. A roaring lion or a crouching tiger? A colorful depiction of Rick Astley miming "Never Gonna Give You Up?" The rule is you can only get a tattoo if it's symbolic to you. Although Rick Astley has the greatest music video of all time, that doesn't really count.
It's fairly common for breast cancer survivors to get a tattoo like a pink ribbon or a flower, a symbol of their strength and courage. I, too, could get a tattoo to show I'm part of the survivor club. Of course, no gushy shit for me. I'd go with a flaming, bloody tumor and a giant Rambo knife sticking out of it. Maybe "Survivor" in Hebrew would be more fitting.
Then I thought of how some Holocaust survivors had numbers tattooed for identification purposes. I've always hated wearing medical bracelets. I rip them off as soon as possible. How could I get inked voluntarily when those ultimate survivors were branded permanently without a choice? My 20+ inches of medical scarring is proof enough that I'm a survivor.
…Unless a singer comes along who is more breathtaking than Rick Astley.
Related Story: Survivor Tumor Tattoo
Sunday, August 3, 2008
When Heath Ledger passed away in January, my friend said, “I sure hope it doesn’t affect the new Batman movie.” Her insensitive comment had nothing to do with distaste for the late Ledger, but rather her anticipation for The Dark Knight, which is poised to be one of the highest-grossing blockbusters in years.
I was certainly part of the hype, proudly predicting on my blog that it would be one of the 20 best movies of all-time (in other words: that I’ve seen). My family and I got to the IMAX Theater an hour early just to make sure we had the best seats. I bought my popcorn and Coke shortly before entering the auditorium and wouldn’t touch the kernels until I was situated properly. I was ready for the extravaganza.
It started with intensity that never once let up, with the opening scene and a couple others taking advantage of the six-story-tall screen. Of course, Ledger, as the joker, stole the show with as brilliant an acting performance as I’ve seen since Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow in the original Pirates. His body language alone was creepy: his eyes, accentuated by the makeup, seemed to display what he was thinking without his head moving. And his tongue moved obsessively, as if he needed taste to stimulate his senses to keep sane.
If you add his voice, Ledger was downright scary. He gave two different accounts of how he got his facial scars, making you wonder if either was true, each time delivering the line “Why so serious?” His voice was nothing like how I remembered it from 10 Things I Hate About You. I kept trying to visualize Ledger underneath the makeup, but I couldn’t do it. If I hadn’t known it was him, I wouldn’t have believed it. He was a sociopath, and a fairly likeable one that you almost feel sorry for.
The rest of the star-studded cast wasn’t bad either, including Maggie Gyllenhaal who replaced Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes. I presume Warner Bros. didn’t want anything to do with Tom Cruise’s negative publicity.
The action scenes were superb, with car chases, explosions, exploding car chases, and one very long free fall, but the twists and turns at the end of the movie were even better. I found myself forgetting I still had some popcorn left to eat. It was a darkly written and perplexing plot that has you wondering who to root for. It didn’t follow the traditional guidelines for most movies—namely a singular climax with fairly transparent characters—but ultimately that didn’t matter much. The film kept building on itself until it ends and you’re left with a buttery hand and a not-yet-full stomach. You certainly don’t realize 2.5 hours have passed, and you’d rather the movie not end.
I suggest eating your popcorn quickly because at some point you’ll be afraid your chomping will make you miss something. The Dark Knight is a can’t-miss; the best movie of the summer and probably the year. Although I can’t name 20 movies I enjoyed more, I won’t claim it to be one of my all-time favorites. However, after I see it a second time, maybe I will.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Last year, soon after I created this blog, I promoted it at my school, the University of Virginia. It began with an article I wrote for The Cavalier Daily. Then there were the flyers.
If I had it my way I would’ve hired The Martin Agency—the advertising firm that created the GEICO caveman ads—to market my blog. I imagine a Jewish fellow frolicking through cyberspace minding his own business playing with cashews, almonds, or his own testicles. “So entertaining you’ll even visit on the Sabbath.”
But that would cost loads of money, a resource I didn’t have. I had time. One day I created four flyers, each with a different catchphrase and picture. I wrote my blog URL on tear away slips at the bottom. One flyer said “ONE HIP WONDER,” two had something to do with Superman, and the fourth looked something like this:
I printed over 50 of them, many in color, purchased with my Cavalier Advantage account that my parents paid for. Then I posted them in different locations around campus on bulletin boards, telephone poles and pillars. By the evening, after six grueling hours on a Sunday in April, my job was complete. I went home exhausted, proud of my accomplishment and hopeful that my StatCounter would explode from overuse.
Sadly, I watched that week as my StatCounter showed the same pathetically low numbers as before—the same numbers that I continue to see. Nothing changed. How could that be? The flyers were placed in multiple locations, they were diverse and catchy, and had convenient tear away strips. I had the most perfect, brilliant, genius plan, except…
Sunday nights were when old flyers were trashed to make space for new ones. I guess I missed that flyer.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
These are my new mirrored, polarized, aviator sunglasses.
I request that I now be referred to as Maverick.
I am currently accepting applications from anyone who wants to be my Goose. And my hot teacher-girlfriend.
“I think I’ll go embarrass myself with Goose.”
“Goose, even you could get laid in a place like this.”
“Sorry Goose, but it’s time to buzz a tower.”
“Goose: the need for speed!”
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
When I was younger I’d get frustrated at myself for playing poorly in games like putt-putt or bowling. And I sucked. My average putt-putt score was 20 over par and I never broke 100 in bowling.
Fortunately, it no longer bothers me when I stink, which isn’t to say I’m not competitive. I want to win and I want to do well, but I know that win or lose, I’ll still have both my nuts in the end.
My skills, as well as my mindset, have improved. On my last putt-putt outing I beat my friend, Hamburgers, by one stroke. I got three hole-in-ones and finished one under par. Hamburgers got upset for losing, just like I used to get. I’m assuming that he, too, still has both his testicles, although, unlike him, I’m not going to ask for proof.*
The last time I bowled, I stuffed it. I gobbled. I buttered it up. I got a turkey—three strikes in a row. With 3 strikes and a spare in the first 5 frames, I was on pace for a score of 200. I slowed down, ending with 150, still my personal best. If only everyone could’ve seen my turkey dance.
I should take my newfound skills to the assisted living homes and play the residents in Nintendo Wii Bowling. I’ll take those old-timers to school. I’ll show them what it’s like to have two working testicles. Wait. No. Mine work less than theirs do. Damn chemotherapy.
If things get too rowdy then I’ll retrieve my former cane from my closet and cane-fight them. I’m sure Hamburgers and his excessive anger would want in on that action. He’s a sick fuck.*
*Hamburgers’ comment from Angelina Jolie, Will You Marry Me?
When are we going to get visual proof that you still have both your nuts? How do we know this isn't some 'Million Little Pieces of Bullshit' sham? I'm just saying I want a few pics, high resolution. I want to see the nut sweat.
Monday, June 30, 2008
Read this first:
Summertime (Part I of II)
This is the first year when the excitement of another school year ending, of my summer break beginning, isn’t there. I can no longer section the calendar year based on my school status, like which semester I’m in, which makes each day flow into the next like a continuum. The last day of spring has turned into the first day of summer without me even realizing it. Maybe even because of that lack of separation, time seems to go faster.
When I hear Summertime or Boys of Summer, or even How Bizarre, I can’t help but smile. The music must trigger neural pathways in my brain that lead to happiness. The same thing happens when I think of summer activities of my youth, like when Big Easy came up with his rapper name Da Bones, or when I played tennis with Zeke and his parents. “Not in my house!” his dad said every time he spiked the ball.
I won’t be riding my bike around Infincuralier’s hilly yard, or swimming in PepperoniNip’s pool at the houses neither of them live at anymore. Age has caught up with me, at least a little bit, as I search for a job (if anyone knows of environmental or energy analyst positions in Virginia or DC, please let me know).
In January I saw one of my surgeons for my annual checkup. He had forgotten whether he took part in my surgery. “Of course you did,” I said. Dr. Phil was a fellow at the time and has probably done hundreds of surgeries since. I was saddened that he forgot. He’s one of my favorite doctors and I like to think I’m one of his favorite patients. It’s a testament to how far I’ve come. It’s been so long since I’ve had cancer that I’m becoming less classified as a cancer survivor and more as a young adult.
I’ve always had an extraordinary episodic memory, which makes me more prone to miss the old times and probably think of them as better than they actually were. As an example, I still remember the first time I saw a trailer for Independence Day. It was on Mother’s Day, after eating dinner at Romano’s Macaroni Grill and before seeing Broken Arrow. I ordered a pepperoni pizza (what a shocker) and loved the movie (what a shocker). I saw Independence Day while on vacation at Disney World. On the way to our auditorium, located on the far right, we passed a poster for High School High.
My memory is one reason I have not gotten my book published. I remember so many details, maybe even more than normal because of the heightened mental awareness cancer provides. I remember, and therefore to me the details are important. But most people will see them as pointless. The problem is I have trouble deciphering which are important and which aren’t, so I write them all down.
My book is beginning to lose its relevance. I’m no longer twenty-one looking back on cancer like it was yesterday. The way the story was written three years ago, just like my yearning for a summer of old, doesn’t agree with my current age. Even after 13 drafts and an estimated 1,500 hours working on it, some parts are still juvenile. If I can’t get it published soon I may have to go the disgraceful route of self-publishing. I can always rewrite the story, the next time under the tutelage of my friend, author of The Woman Who Never Cooked.
I think I’ll go listen to some Fresh Prince and Don Henley.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
The new movie Wanted made me rethink the one thing in this world I knew to be true. I’m not talking about the secret to life, or the purpose of human existence in the universe, or how to survive cancer.
Is Angelina Jolie, and not someone else who goes by the name of Jessica, the sexiest woman alive?
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
It was more exciting than the gorgeous Orange talking to me, or sitting down with my own pepperoni pizza. I stepped off the bus and for the next 12 weeks I was on summer break.
I didn’t see time the way I see it now. There was the school year and then there were the summers when suddenly I was defined by the next grade level. “Isn’t it crazy that now we’re seventh graders?” I said to Colossus. At least we had three months to wrap our minds around that truly outrageous idea.
I wanted to be the first to hear the “summer song,” like Biggie’s Mo Money Mo Problems or OMC’s How Bizarre of the late 90s. I watched SportsCenter more than once each morning, back when it actually showed game highlights and wasn’t just an advertisement for Gatorade and Budweiser.
I played traditional sports and made-up ones, both outside and inside, hopefully without breaking much of the house. My older brother, JD, and I shot penalty kicks with a Nerf ball against the back of the couch. The trusty window blinds gave us the rebounds if we missed.
After he got home from work, my dad threw the baseball with me and JD to prepare us to be Major League infielders. No matter what, my dad always found the time to play with us.
We did things based on tradition. Several weeks each year JD and I went to an indoor sports camp where I was the king of dodgeball. The camp director was from England, so we played crazy shit like cricket and badminton. We had some fierce games with that shuttlecock.
The four of us drove to Carol Stream, Illinois, for a family reunion. When JD turned sixteen we joked that we should go in a separate car than our parents to see how much earlier we’d arrive. “We may get there before they even reach the Pennsylvania Turnpike.” We also took a trip to New York where my dad suddenly found his Brooklyn accent that had been hiding for 20 years.
In late July we went on our summer vacation, usually to a couple amusement parks, some boring museums and Virginia Beach. It wasn’t my mom’s ideal vacation, but sadly she had little hope of changing it. I used to look forward to it 11.5 months in advance. We stayed at the same hotels as always, ate at the same restaurants, did the same activities. I think it was nostalgia that kept us coming back; keeps us going to an extent.
At the amusement parks, with the exception of one or two shows they made us see, my parents waited for me and my brother on all the kitty rides. When we got older they waited for us on the roller coasters where very long waits weren’t uncommon. They still seemed to enjoy it, maybe because of how much fun JD and I were having.
The nights before we went to Busch Gardens or Kings Dominion I could barely sleep, I was so excited. This past Sunday I went to Kings Dominion and it was sad how different the experience was than it used to be. Riding in the front row of Volcano—one of my all-time favorite coasters—was enjoyable, but when I was in middle or high school it was earthshaking fun.
When Volcano opened in 1998, JD and I waited 3.5 hours to ride it. It was worth the wait. On Sunday, Kings Dominion was virtually empty. The park was cutting back costs, like fewer waterfalls on White Water Canyon and an absence of shows at the theater. One of my childhood loves is deteriorating.
My days were carefree as I pushed my summer reading back until the last weeks before the new school year. My biggest concern was which friend I’d hang out with, or whether we’d play Monopoly or American Gladiators with Nerf guns. Decisions life depended on. One year I broke a window playing baseball and Zeke’s parents caught us watching the stripper scene from True Lies. I didn’t get in much trouble for either.
My mom often took JD and me to lunch or the mall on a rainy day where I was guaranteed a stop in the candy store. At night I could stay up late and have sleepovers. Zeke and I would go through the yearbook and select the girl we’d most like to do from each row. If the row had only dudes then we still had to choose. I picked the goofiest looking guys so I could feel less gay.
Aside from a little boredom—okay, a fair amount of boredom—life was great. We were in our youth, innocent kids with the simple goal of having fun. As I aged, that goal, as well as summer traditions, didn’t change much. When I was 16 I think I saw 12 movies in the theater. If it wasn’t for me hanging on to my traditional summer I would’ve gotten a job with Regal. Then they would’ve paid me to watch the movies.
Most of my friends had no problem moving on, playing the part of their age. That left me with fewer people to spend time with. I wasn’t about to let go of my summer break, the same one I had since my mom was still picking me up at the bus stop.
I had my summer break in college. The activities changed and there were even fewer friends to hang with, not to mention that it wasn’t cool unless there was a group or alcohol was involved. But I clung to my summer breaks the way a cancer woman clings to her last wisps of hair before chemo takes it all.
Summertime (Part II of II)
Monday, June 16, 2008
Like any good statistician, I looked for the numbers that would prove Kobe Bryant is better than LeBron James and I would disregard the rest. It turns out Bron Bron is a statistical freak. He was even better on efficiency ratings like assists to turnovers and points per shot attempted.
I try to like LeBron James. After all, he and I share the same birthday. It’s not his incessant whining or the way he plays the victim role when he’s fouled that makes me dislike him. He is 250 pounds and built like a truck, and I don’t think he needs to check for blood every time he hits the floor.
The reason I can’t embrace LeBron is not his fault. It’s that some people legitimately feel he’s better at basketball than Kobe. Every knowledgeable analyst calls Kobe the best basketball player on the planet. Hubie Brown said he’ll end up one of the five best guards ever. Phil Jackson said he’s one of the two best guards he’s ever seen. We all know who the other one is.
I could make an argument that Kobe is a more polished offensive player than Michael Jordan, that he’s an artist with the ball and can create whatever shot he wants. I could refer to his higher three-point and free-throw percentages to show that he’s a better shooter than Jordan. Of course I won’t say that. That would be un-American. I’d be deported to Canada.
Three-point shooting and free-throw shooting are also the two stats I’d use to show that Kobe is better than LeBron will ever be. This past season Kobe’s three-point percentage was 5 points higher and his free-throw percentage was 13 points higher. LeBron’s field-goal percentage was slightly higher because of the kind of shots he takes, not because he’s a better shooter.
LeBron’s only offensive weapon, with the exception of some streaky shooting nights, is to get in the lane for a layup or dunk. I expect over time opposing defenses will adapt to his style and force him to shoot more jumpers. LeBron’s jump shot can improve, but it still won’t be close to as good as Kobe’s.
Just as a reminder, Kobe once scored 81 points in a single game, the second most in NBA history. In 2003 he scored 40+ points in 9 consecutive games. In 2006 he scored 45+ points in 4 consecutive games, and a year later Kobe scored 50+ in 4 consecutive games.
Eight years ago I made the claim that Kobe is the next Mike, in the sense that he’ll be as close to Jordan as anyone can be. I may have been correct. Or, maybe I’ve just had a man crush on Kobe Bryant for eight years.
Postscript #1: I also have a man crush on Will Smith.
And Leonardo DiCaprio.
And Ken Griffey, Jr.
And Brad Pitt.
And Tom Brady.
And Josh Holloway.
And Adrian Grenier.
And of course William Hung.
Postscript #2: I’m not gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
I was the overwhelming favorite to beat Nookie, curb stomp him and leave him for the vultures and other various scavengers. Nookie was massive, a defensive end at a local high school, and I was just a little old Jew, three years older than him, but in this case size and age and religious views meant nothing.
Everyone was staring at us, and even the Hollywood Video customers—technically called our “guests”—knew that what we were doing was not in our job descriptions. Nookie and I were Guest Service Representatives having a race at the cashier counter to see who could unlock twenty DVDs the fastest.
If it wasn’t an official race for a coveted prize then I would’ve unlocked 100 DVDs before Nookie got to 20. I had Chad Johnson caliber arrogance, but I also had Randy Moss speed. My hands were fast as fuck.
But not on this day. My normally calm hands quivered under the hot lights and menacing customer eyes, unable to get a strong hold on those tricky 2004 summer DVD blockbusters like Mystic River and Paycheck. Yes, as hard as it is to believe, a Ben Affleck movie was one of our most rented.
My expectations, like for Big Brown, were too high. Instead of a slaughter, Nookie and I were tied after unlocking our first five DVDs. How is it possible that this big dude with his thick fingers is able to keep up with me, who took piano lessons for half my life and can type 100 words per minute with no errors?
When I unlocked my tenth, Nookie was already at his fifteenth. When I got to thirteen he was done, looking over at me with the grin of a champion. I angrily paid him his earnings, the coveted candy money. He used it to buy Zours, which was my favorite, just to rub it in.
“Rematch tomorrow,” I said.
When I lost that contest and one more two days later, I quit playing. If it were a video game my Speed rating would’ve been a 99, but my Clutch rating would’ve been a 5. I was the Alex Rodriguez of video store DVD-unlocking competitions.
Freezing sales so we could have our races wasn’t the only reason I was a stellar Hollywood Video employee. Once I forgot to give back the customer’s driver’s license and she left without it, only to come back hours later fairly upset. Several times I played a non-cartoon movie on the TVs that was not only frowned upon, but was blatantly against the rules. “But Top Gun is rated PG,” I said. “I even fast forwarded the sex scene.”
Apparently there were anonymous complaints. I don’t know what the problem was. Top Gun only uses the word “shit” 21 times.
Messing with customers was the most fun part of the job. I dabbled with a fake accent, especially of the British variety. I used a lot of “bloodies,” “chaps,” and “jolly hos.” I was checking out a couple, probably in their 30s, when I turned to the back counter to answer the phone and heard the man whisper “fake British accent.” I couldn’t switch in the middle of the transaction so I continued using my terrible Brit voice, giggling all the way through.
I got several odd requests, one from two middle school boys. “So, um, where are your adult movies?”
“You mean rated R? They’re sort of spread out around the store.”
“What about, like, uh, naked movies. Don’t you have a side room or something?”
I couldn’t tell if they wanted to rent porn or whack it in my store, and either way I felt bad ruining their plans. “We don’t carry that. Sorry.”
Another time a small, Indian man in his fifties said he wanted to ask me something. He then walked around the counter to the employee side, unbuckled the red rope that was meant to prevent these very incidents, and got very close to me, so close that I could smell his breath. He whispered, “Where’s your porn, I know you got porn.”
I was afraid to let him down out of a legitimate fear of being stabbed for our store not carrying porno. “We don’t have that here, but you might want to try Manassas Video Club. I’ve seen commercials.”
He left the store, but not before kindly buckling the red rope. He should’ve just bought Zours. They’re orgasmic.