As published in The Huffington Post
The scene reminded me of the 1971 experiment on authority which suggested why Nazis conformed, only instead of cells with prisoners there was an IMAX movie theater full of Star Wars nerds.
My numbered wristband revealed when I could enter the IMAX theater at the National Air and Space Museum the night Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened. I would be the 362nd nerd in the theater because I arrived only 90 minutes before the showing instead of 630 minutes like the luckiest nerd, Number 1.
Screw this. I cut through the pack, weaving between ropes, to stand with my friend Griffin who had arrived 150 minutes early.
"Do not cut in line or stand out of order!" a uniformed man who was standing outside the roped area screamed to the moviegoers. "You will enter the theater single-file! We will check your wristband! If you are out of order we will remove you! There will be no saving seats!"
Nerds began chattering, asking other nerds "What number are you?" to ensure they lined properly. When nerds asked about my number, I said, "I'm just standing with my friend," and pocketed my right hand.
"Good luck, I hope you make it," nerds said patting me on the back.
The line began moving and solemn nerds shuffled towards the leader, the man checking wristbands, in front of the theater. I quickly considered what to say to that man justifying my disorder in as few words as possible. Keep reading My Stanford Prison Experiment While Waiting in Line for 'Star Wars'.
Monday, December 28, 2015
As published in The Huffington Post
Friday, December 4, 2015
Creed snuck up on us like a left hook from 27-year-old Rocky Balboa. Creed is the latest film in the Rocky franchise and hit us all in the face for doubting Sylvester Stallone (yes, I know he didn’t write the screenplay this time, but come on). It has a 93 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an 8.7 on IMDB. “Five star movie of the year best actor best supporting actor top 25 movies I've ever seen,” I emailed JD when it ended.
I still smiled hours after seeing the movie in the theater on Thanksgiving, thinking of the character I grew up with, loved, and considered my last line of defense against cancer; of the music that inspired my stem cells to flourish during my transplant; and of hitting something. Thankfully I have an 80-pound heavy bag for that.
The original Rocky released in November 1976 and won three Oscars including Best Picture. In 1982, when Stallone was 36, Philly placed a statue of Rocky at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the site of the “Rocky Steps.” Not even Tom Brady, 38, has a statue (yet). Rocky will remain part of Philadelphia's, and America’s, culture. I celebrate, instead of tease (yes, Rocky V stunk but they can’t all be winners), the people who have made Rocky special for 39 years.
Small Spoiler Below Related to Rocky’s Health, Hinted at in the Trailer. Stop Reading If You Wish.
|Climbing the Rocky Steps and seeing Rocky's statue at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in September 2012|
It is not cheap or forced for Rocky to develop cancer and continue training Creed as best he can. It is reasonable that he could be one of the 1.6 million diagnosed who continue living and striving to succeed. I commend Creed for sharing a small piece of the cancer world in a way that doesn’t dominate the plot and isn’t over the top.
Thursday, November 26, 2015
Listerine ‒ the oral cancer-causing mouthwash ‒ meant something else two weeks ago when I cruised to celebrate my friend Infinicuralier’s wedding, which took place mid-cruise in Grand Cayman. Cruises are expensive to begin with. And they are extravagant if you don’t smuggle “Listerine” on board.
|Infinicuralier and me carefully pouring lowest-shelf Colonel's Pride whiskey ($10 for a liter) into an empty Listerine bottle, which I placed in my checked bag and smuggled onto the cruise ship|
Twenty, from the wedding party, had told me she was scared of sharks and wanted to walk around the cruise ship deck, so to isolate Twenty away from the group one night I said to her, “Let’s go search for sharks,” and we left. I was just being witty and awesome. When I later returned to my stateroom and joined Crabcakes on the balcony I realized the amazing trend I had started.
Crabcakes: When you said “Let’s go search for sharks,” nobody thought much of it. Then Infinicuralier said, “Does that pickup line actually work?” I said, “Hell no it doesn’t work!” Then Infinicuralier’s dad got on the dance floor and placed his hand perpendicular on his forehead and waved it from side to side, like a shark fin. I thought I was going to die laughing. Then a random woman from North Carolina came over to Infinicuralier’s dad and asked about “the shark fin” dance move, and she started doing it! Soon enough, everybody on the dance floor started doing “the shark fin.”
The next time you go clubbing and see “the shark fin,” now you know.
|Shark fin foam hat from Margaritaville that Infinicuralier's dad bought me.|
|Our Holland America ship, the Eurodam, docked at its own private island, Half Moon Cay, in Bahamas.|
|Our stateroom attendant ruled and made us towel creatures. He made this lazy bunny (left), and Crabcakes and I transformed it into this degenerate bunny (right).|
Some from our group hadn’t expected aggressive sellers and were caught off guard. While walking around Falmouth, their urge to return to the port complex – along with dwindling tourists and increasing drug sellers as we got further from the port – led us to the real treasure of the trip: Jamaican rum. (Besides my close friend from childhood’s wedding, obviously, in case he or his new wife reads this.)
Crabcakes, BakedAlaska and I drank Jamaica’s own Appleton Estate rum at a small bar near the ship. Our bartender, a guy in his early-to-mid twenties who moonlights as a DJ, talked with us all afternoon about his culture and lifestyle, and in exchange we convinced passersby to buy his drinks. I later bumped into several others from the cruise who had apparently joined us at the bar and knew my name. I remembered the pretty German’s name. The rest, I didn’t recall ever having met.
“This is a good job, mon. Better than being out there [outside the port complex]. It’s tough getting this job. Very competitive. You have to know someone. Once you get it, you don’t give it up. Plus I can drink rum every day.
“How many people on your ship? You have lots of old people. I like the Carnival ships. They’re big and full of pretty young women. Last week these girls were doing body shots off the bar. First from their belly buttons and then from their. . .”
I tired of delicious fruity drinks and switched to drinking rum neat. “You want to try ‘white lightning’?” our bartender said.
“That’s white rum,” BakedAlaska said. “It doesn’t even list its proof. It’s considered ‘overproof.’ I bet it is 80 percent alcohol.”
“Pour it!” I said.
Ever since I developed an obsession with reaching and maintaining ultra-low body fat I have sacrificed sugar- and calorie-dense substances in favor of plainer ones, including alcoholic beverages. I switched from beer to vodka sodas to whiskey on the rocks to whiskey neat. I now tolerate drinking anything straight.
Everyone tried some of my white lightning. “It tastes like rubbing alcohol!” the pretty German said.
When I finished white lightning I slammed the empty cup down, proud in my accomplishment and thrilled to never have to drink another white lightning.
It was almost time for us to return to the ship. BakedAlaska explained which type of Appleton rum I wouldn’t find in the States and should buy from the duty-free shop across the complex. I entered the shop, forgot the reason I was there and grabbed the less expensive type that U.S. stores also sell.
I brought my rum to the cashier, a Jamaican woman in her forties. “Do you like Jamaicans?” she said. “I’m looking for a husband. I like the shawties.”
The other cashier said, “Yes she does. You’re built strong and shawt and perfect for her. Have you been with a larger Jamaican woman? She’ll do things nobody else will.”
My first marriage proposal: the highlight of my trip including the wedding, even if Infinicuralier or his wife reads this.
I returned to the small bar. “You didn’t get the 12-year-aged rum like I told you!” BakedAlaska said.
Fucking white lightning.
I returned to the duty-free shop and explained that BakedAlaska told me I purchased the wrong one. The store manager wanted to meet my advisor, so she followed me back to BakedAlaska who explained what I never would have remembered. “He wants to exchange this for your 12-year-aged rum.”
I succeeded and returned to my friends, and we said goodbye to our bartender. We were the last ones back on the ship. We later learned that the captain announced, “We’re just waiting for the last few to arrive,” as Mrs. BakedAlaska flipped us off for many consecutive minutes.
I bet she didn’t want to search for sharks that night.
I made a video from my trip, which you can view on YouTube or below if your Web browser allows. Enjoy it, mon!
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
You are a “nice guy” and never get girls. What do they want and what are they looking for in a guy? The New England Patriots are more likely to lose to Boston College’s football team than you deciphering the key to a woman’s heart.
Now you meet an intelligent, bubbly, funny and beautiful girl in class. You talk and joke a little. Class ends and you vow to woo her at next week’s class. These are the steps you must take over the next seven days to win her over.
You’re too old to grow and one week isn’t long enough to increase your body mass or attain a v-shaped torso – the three physical features that have attracted women across time. Instead, buy new clothes and have them tailored to create the perception of those features, unless you are taller than 6’5”, in which case you should walk barefoot.
Practice smiling which improves mood and makes others feel comfortable around you. If a man hits on you then you smiled well.
Practice displaying confidence, a behavior so attractive it could even make up for skipping Day 1’s step and allow you to continue wearing capri cargo pants. If a man hits on you again then look him in the eye and say, “You have a crumb on your lip. Cheers!” You just pointed out something embarrassing he can correct. You’re his g-damn hero.
Practice being outgoing and charismatic, which make people around you feel special. Talk to strangers. Don’t ask generic questions such as, “What’s the weather like?,” and instead speak in statements, which is more revealing and inviting. “My dog and I are going to roll around in the muddy leaves. Now I finally have a reason to wear my capri cargo pants.”
Practice assertiveness, which may increase your leadership skills even more than your mate value. When friends ask you where to eat lunch, say, “We’re going to Waffle House,” instead of offering options.
Practice progressive and light touching, which has the power to not just arouse but also reduce pain and fight illness. Just never touch service dogs or random children.
Day 7 – Your Next Class
You squeeze your Reebok Pumps four times each, take two quick shots of Fireball and head out the door. You sit beside you dream girl and implement what you learned the past week. She laughs, touches your arm, makes fun of your professor for being boring – classic indications of interest.
You leave class together. “I bet Professor heard me and is going to kill me in my sleep,” she says.
“Even sooner if your homework submission tonight contains passive voice,” you say. “I really like spending time with you. Let’s get coffee next week.”
“Yeah! I could use more friends,” she says.
Friends it is…
Author Neil Strauss, a “nice guy” turned “Master Pick Up Artist,” wrote in his book The Game that parents and friends failed him and other unsuccessful men by never teaching how to become fully effective social beings. He has it backwards – the lessons have always been out there and it is up to us to grab them.
They say it takes 10,000 hours of repetition before one becomes an expert at anything. We “nice guys” dedicate our lives to playing instruments and athletics, studying and working; reading about how to acquire wealth, be more efficient, and be better people. We can even improve ourselves greatly by spending a week learning how to be attractive but we can’t learn how to woo women in a week because it involves positively affecting another’s mindset. Attracting women is a delicate skill that, as opposed to the piano, for example, which only a small percentage of people play, half the world wants and competes for.
The good news is that life is long unless you drive a Yugo. The goal of our genes may be to reproduce but the goal of our intellect is to improve ourselves a little bit every day. So keep learning and practicing and maybe next semester she will entertain the idea that you have more to offer than friendship.
Friday, November 6, 2015
"Let's take a weekend trip to Colorado," my friend Greek said to me on October 3. "There are some breweries I want to see."
"Colorado is my second favorite state. I'm in," I said.
We targeted a weekend in December.
Days later Greek texted me, "It's cold in December. How about we go in two weeks."
"Sure, why not."
Kayak for flight + Priceline for rental car = booked.
We stayed in between Boulder and Denver. We planned specific breweries to visit each of our three days in Colorado and otherwise went wherever our rental minivan took us. Town & Country led us high in elevation in hippie-town Nederland and to McDonald's for three straight breakfasts even though McDonald's now serves breakfast all day. Though, the main purpose of the trip turned out to be logging beers in the app Untappd.
We had great fun and learned a life lesson: we're too old for this shit.
Some photos from our trip are below. I also recorded parts of our trip and published a video, which you can watch on YouTube or directly below if your browser supports it. Cheers!
|Avery brewery built a stunning new facility. It's awesome. Avery's Rumpkin beer has 18 percent alcohol by volume. It's not awesome.|
|Feeling on top of the world many thousand feet above sea level in Nederland, Colorado . . . until my thalassemia trait (low hemoglobin) revolted against the limited oxygen.|
|I rated this Titan IPA from Great Divide Brewery four stars on Untappd. Greek liked this rating. I later gave the Yetti beer two stars, which Greek gave a double negative toast.|
|Greek weighed his suitcase before leaving so he knew exactly how much weight in beers he could take back home. He over-purchased, including this pack of six beers at Oskar Blues for nearly $80, and had to leave some for the maids at the hotel.|
|It would take me a while to get used to seeing this.|
Sunday, October 11, 2015
I apologize to you, my awesome readers, for writing infrequently the past two months. This is why I have slacked, with some added fiction because, well, it fits.
July 23: I tell JD I’m considering becoming a part-time barista so I have more time to write.
Over the last decade I authored two books. I have spent my time writing, marketing, taking marketing classes, speaking, receiving training in public speaking, starting a company, and creating a super-sweet spreadsheet to track my inventory and expenses. In exchange I have sacrificed or neglected undergraduate grades, video games, television and pop culture, dating, probably friends, and definitely the news besides staying updated on everything related to Miley Cyrus. After my dedication to my health and fitness and current full-time job, and unless I experiment with polyphasic sleep, I have limited time for my true passion.
JD says, “I'd be happy to sit down and discuss your future plans. For what it's worth, I think it's something that would make you happy and help you to focus on what means the most.”
July 25: I meet with the Whiskeys over some whiskey to pick their brains on how to accelerate my writing skills. Mr. Whiskey is also a writer and even attended Viable Paradise, a prestigious writing workshop. Mrs. Whiskey is currently working towards her MBA. They know shit.
I take notes as we discuss and compare a master’s in literature, writing classes and workshops like those offered at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, and a master’s of fine arts in creative writing. I tire of taking notes and Mrs. Whiskey continues for me. She also writes all the books I should read, and draws pictures.
Our brainstorming leads me to conclude that a two-year low residency MFA program is perfect for me. This would allow me to rapidly learn and improve my writing, work towards a goal (a master’s degree), and stay in the Washington, D.C., area, except during the two-week residency each semester which is either on the university campus or in Europe. And in D.C., there’s always a new Starbucks that is hiring part-time workers.
July 29: I spend hours at Starbucks to study baristas and low residency MFA programs. I create a new super-sweet spreadsheet to track programs and their rankings, costs, requirements and application deadlines. I filter out any program that requires applicants to submit GRE scores. I don’t have time or intelligence for that shit.
Stonecoast’s website, faculty, and nearby breweries are so welcoming. That is my number one choice with everywhere else a distant second. The application deadline is September 15. I have seven weeks to write a super-sweet 15+-page short story. Ready, set, go!
Have you ever begun doing something without having learned the proper way how, and you continued doing it and improving? That is how I became a writer. When I was 20 the idea to write a book flew into my head and like a bird stuck in a chimney, it wouldn’t leave.
I’ve been writing for 11 years and will continue writing forever but I can’t describe how; I don’t know the basic writing techniques that all graduate-level writing students probably learned when they were small children.
I don’t believe I will get into Stonecoast, a top four ranked low residency program in the country.
Sept. 14: I complete my short story after days of back and forth with Mr. Whiskey. I really owe him lots of whiskey. I also complete my two shorter essays and online application. Just before Rosh Hashanah dinner, at 6:01 p.m., I email my materials to Stonecoast’s admissions department. “Thank you for your consideration. I can't wait to be a student at the University of Southern Maine,” I write.
Sept. 25: I list other programs to apply to that all have an application deadline of September 30. My literary agent is leaving the country and won’t be able to submit her letter of recommendation through the schools’ online systems. Ahhh!
My phone beeps. I have an email which I open and read. “After reviewing your application, the Stonecoast faculty believes you have the talent and drive necessary to succeed as a writer. We feel strongly about your work and about your ability to take advantage of the unique opportunities offered by a Stonecoast education. We look forward to the possibility of welcoming you to our community of writers.”
I temporarily black out from excitement and shock and when I revive, I scream non-English sounds at my dad who is next to me driving.
I begin at the Stonecoast master’s of fine arts in creative writing program, in fiction, at the University of Southern Maine on January 8. Over two years that will include five residencies in Portland, Maine, and possibly Ireland, I will probably get kicked out of many coffeeshops for “camping,” especially if I camp on the job when I become a barista. I am MFA bound. Ready, set, go!
Friday, September 25, 2015
As published on Gather the Jews
It is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. In synagogue I recited one of the most important prayers Jews read each year called viddui, or the confession. Al chet she-cha-tanu l’fanecha. For the sin we have committed against you.
There are many sins. One stood out to me.
“. . .The sin we have committed against You by our arrogance. . .
For all these sins, O God of mercy, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement!”
I stood at my Cancerslayer table at CureFest on the National Mall and talked about my Cancer-Slaying Super Man books, which I displayed along with information on how to purchase them. “My memoirs are about how I survived childhood cancer twice by believing I was superhuman,” I said to interested visitors.
My table was wedged between two nonprofits that raise awareness and research money for childhood cancer. The two nonprofits’ founders were present to represent their organizations. The three of us talked to each other and also to cancer victims and their family members who attended CureFest and visited our tables. Each nonprofit founder sat and listened to me repeatedly share a concept that I have embraced since my first diagnosis almost exactly 15 years ago: Cancerslayer is the attitude that has helped me survive and thrive. Keep reading I’ve Been Arrogant for 15 Years and Now I Atone.
Friday, August 14, 2015
As published on The Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults
Crutching is a great way to help injuries heal and bypass the lines at Disney World, and able-bodied individuals may treat crutchers with kindness. If you use crutches and think people are nice to you only because they consider you weak, and you must prove your strength until your death by always taking the challenging path through life, then follow these steps.
On the Washington, D.C., Metro, people will ask, “Do you want my seat?” Don’t let them snatch your completely irrational pride. You need to stand on one leg while holding crutches with one hand and the pole with the other as the train jerks and halts. There are several ways to respond to this offer:
The polite way: “No, thanks.”
The jerk way: “I’M NOT TAKING YOUR SEAT!”
The 16-year-old boy way: “I only sit for lap dances.”
When you reach the sidewalk you must speed-crutch so people think you’re crazy and intimidating instead of weak. Your loud crutch tips and long, quick, repetitive strides will make you sound like a galloping horse. You will quickly pass pedestrians walking in the same direction, though they will hear your approach for hundreds of steps. Here, you should politely say, “ON YOUR LEFT!” when you are 50 feet behind them, as a warning. For individuals who are hard of hearing, you should scream directly into their left ears when you are next to them. Since you won’t know who is and isn’t impaired, do both every time. Keep reading I Hope They Allow Crutches in Hell
Tom Coccagna interviewed me on his "Living With…" podcast. You can hear our awesome hour-long discussion (also available on iTunes, Soundcloud and Stitcher).
Monday, July 13, 2015
As published on Gather the Jews
Please sit so you don’t keel when you read this, and remember to inhale and then exhale, in that order: I got another tattoo.
I know you thought my final would be the survivor tumor tattoo I received three years ago, or even the tattoo dots I received before my radiation 14 years ago. I know that you, Dad, and ten percent of women like me exactly how I am. Please let me explain my tattoo and then you will love it like I do.
In Judaism, we use trees to celebrate holidays, weddings and births. I love
consuming food and booze on holidays, and Mom, your other son just got married and maybe he’ll have a child. (No pressure, JD.)
We attain wisdom by learning intellectually or through life experience. I hate myself when I make a mistake: make the wrong decision, say the wrong thing, fail to approach a woman because I fear rejection, eat a single chocolate when I hadn’t planned to. The fig tree symbolizes that I can make a mistake and bounce back and grow from it. Very few mistakes cannot be reversed (besides getting a bad tattoo). Keep reading Hi Mom, I Got a Tattoo!
I built a new online store within this blog that makes it simple to buy all my products including my books and stickers of Cancerslayer. The stickers are two inches wide by three inches tall on a white background with gloss paper.
Monday, June 22, 2015
I first wrote about my amazing friend Rachel "Lings" Yingling three years ago, and today likely won't be the last time. She was among the best and my favorite people I have met. Besides her inexplicably odd-shaped feet which she didn't mind showing off, we could all benefit from acquiring her characteristics: passionate, positive, resilient, adventurous, alive. Fiercely alive.
This is for Rachel.
As published on The Huffington Post
I hit 11 of 25 skeets. My friend Rachel, who I'm sure shot guns growing up based on my generalization of people from Arkansas and who say things like, "My drinking water had tadpoles," only shot two. She hit her first, missed the next 23, and ended with a bang. Rachel sat against a rock and watched others in our group shoot. She smiled and now said things like, "I have not spent time outside in days. It is beautiful."
There was not a cloud above us and Rachel, a Fulbright scholar, began telling me a story about the sky. If people had never been told the sky was blue then they may see it as white, another color, or simply a void. Those people may have as much trouble wrapping their heads around the blue sky as I have around not seeing it as blue.
I can't see Rachel in a different light, either. When I met her 2.5 years ago I saw a radiant and beautiful 27-year-old whose attitude matched her use of exclamation points. She told me stories back then, too, like the meaning of interrobang, which is a combination of an exclamation point and a question mark, and how she was diagnosed at 26 with stage 3 colon cancer that would later spread to her ovaries and omentum, "upgrading" the cancer to stage 4. Rachel would stay on treatment forever, in a concept that is new to me and the way I had "finished" cancer treatment when I was a teen: Rachel was living with cancer. Keep reading I Remember Rachel for Her Ferocity for Life, Not Cancer.
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
I didn’t dance with that pretty girl nearly enough. I missed seeing the bouquet toss, cake cutting, mother-son and father-daughter dances, and my dad hopping on the drums to “Sweet Caroline.”
I accept all these failings because NoCommonSense and I crushed our best men speech that included Hulk Hogan’s theme song.
I have spoken many times to audiences as large as a few hundred about cancer stealing my physical abilities and chunks of my adolescence. Unlike those speeches, the attempted humor-to-sentiment ratio for our best men speech was a whopping 95 to 5 percent. And unlike all those others, this best men speech weighed on me for days because I had thought I might cry, a terrifying and previously unfathomable possibility.
Thankfully adrenaline ensured I didn’t. I was so relieved when we finished our speech. I said, “Shots!” and a few of us left the banquet room for the bar in the lobby. The bartender said she wasn’t allowed to serve shots.
“But we’re the best men!” I said.
I dont give a fuuuck, I saw her thinking.
We settled with drinks on the rocks.
My relief that we gave a good speech and that I didn’t mewl led to me mostly staying in the lobby for the next three hours of the biggest, baddest and raddest wedding I’ve ever attended. That’s why I missed seeing most of the traditional wedding activities.
JD and I grew up playing the same sports, listening to the same music, and enjoying the same TV shows and movies. Almost everything he enjoyed, I did, too, in part because I envied everything about my big brother and followed his lead.
There is some nature on top of all that nurture, though. Different people consider different types of foods their kryptonite, but for both of us it is candy and only candy. We are both organized and hyper-productive, often speeding through life in order to accomplish what we desire during our short waking hours. Lolo, my new sister-in-law, once noticed that we each stood holding our drinks in identical positions and had condensation spots on our shirts in identical places from where our glasses touched.
We are different in ways, too. He has always been more outgoing, quick on his feet and magnetic. I always had a sense that he was my big brother, no matter that as time goes on our three-year difference in age becomes a smaller percentage of the total. I look back to six years ago when we visited NoCommonSense in Hawaii. I am three years older than JD was then, yet it feels like the opposite. I look back further to my bone marrow transplant when JD was 22, and I still see him then as older than I am now.
We also differed in our ability to retain autobiographical memories. Until a few years ago, my memory was among my best assets. I could recall most every event and detail. I miss that ability, and blame its disappearance on the accumulation of memories, alcohol, restricting my calories (and energy for my brain), and especially cancer treatment.
Now I use tricks to recall and retain memories, which involve all the senses and not just sight and hearing. When I write about cancer treatment, I first think about how the big blue chemo chair felt to the touch. On my road trip last month I listened to the new Mumford & Sons album on repeat, and now when I hear “Believe,” visions of the Million Dollar Highway enter my mind.
I forgot to connect my brother's wedding to a feeling or song, but I know I’ll never forget how happy JD was. I’m one proud younger brother as my family is now greater. Lolo is also a Redskins fan. That doesn’t add to the greatness; rather, it was a requirement to begin with.
Wednesday, June 3, 2015
Read this first: Remembering That One Memorable Trip
I miss the 11 a.m. tour of Balcony House at Mesa Verde National Park by six minutes, resulting in possible catastrophe: after the noon tour, Garmin estimates I will reach the South Rim of the Grand Canyon at sunset instead of with a time cushion. I roar down the two-lane US-160 West with its broken yellow center line, passing all the cars.
I stop for my afternoon coffee, a requirement for this addict. Garmin says I just lost five minutes. Now I pass cars that any other time I would consider too risky. My accelerator pedal lives on or near the floor. This rental Chrysler 200 was built to get me to one of the seven natural wonders of the world while it is still bright enough outside to see.
Then I cross into Arizona and the time changes because the state doesn't observe daylight savings time. Garmin can go ahead and steal a minute here and there because I just gained a virtual hour.
Grand Canyon: too spectacular for adjectives. In this moment I am certain that seeing this is life's purpose and this is why humans have sight and there is nothing else that matters.
Sharknel! was and is always right. I listened.
I couldn't drive 1,400 miles and not take tons of photos and video from the car. It was only weird when I angled the camera diagonally—when I looked at the screen it appeared like Garmin and I were driving off the side of cliffs. So here are some of the best moments of my road trip, with me, a Chrysler 200, and many new albums for which I won't share how I acquired though Verizon sent me a letter if that helps you figure it out.
I got through a short tunnel on my way from Fort Collins to Vail and a snow-capped mountain greeted me. My heart just about sank down to my penis.
I couldn't drive the Million Dollar Highway from Telluride to Durango, with its breathtaking views and sheer cliffs, without stopping at one of the overlooks for the most scenic pee of my life.
One of so many vehicles that Garmin and I would pass on US-160 West.
I sat at the Canyon for an hour with my quadsteppers and the rat that I saw scurry by. The rat declined to race me to the bottom.
Instead of paying $38 to sleep near Zion National Park, I paid $200 to stay overnight in Page, Arizona, to first see Antelope Canyon. Warning to potential travelers: Antelope is just a 1.5-hour photo shoot and if you're not into photography, don't visit. Instead, just ask me for the photos of the super cool rock formation.
Do not skip Zion National Park in Utah. It is one of my favorite places: vast and gorgeous like the Grand Canyon, user friendly and simple like a Nicolas Cage film. I completed the second most challenging hike which requires you to hold onto chains to prevent death, though next time I'll do the Angel's Landing trail that several have actually died trying to hike.
I joined fellow hikers at Red Rock Canyon in Las Vegas, though I did not follow them up this currently dry waterfall. He who goes up must eventually come down.
If you research and know ahead of time the few cities with high hotel costs and how to avoid them, and if you have a smartphone to book cheap accommodations on the fly, then road tripping out west can be less expensive than just about any other vacation. That part of our country is special and I had an amazing time exploring. I even recorded my first video on YouTube: The Road Trip Song: Denver to Las Vegas in a Chrysler 200. Hopefully Verizon doesn't send me another letter. Enjoy this video and stay tuned next year for The Road Trip Song: San Diego to Seattle in a Batmobile.
I'll be speaking at the Gala for Action on Saturday benefiting The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for the Man & Woman of the Year fundraising campaign.
Saturday, June 6, at 6 p.m.
Asia DC, 1720 I Street NW, Washington, DC
Friday, May 15, 2015
Whenever I fly I recall my first trip to Minneapolis with my parents in March 2003 when I was 19 years old. My life was stalled, I had dropped out of college and cancer was rapidly invading my bone marrow. Though, physically I felt fine. I felt great. I loved that trip and I had life-or-death purpose, or maybe I loved it because I had life-or-death purpose.
We traveled across the country to spend a day at the University of Minnesota Medical Center and speak with Dr. Andre Million. It was one of the top children’s transplant centers and he was one of its rock star transplant oncologists. Minneapolis symbolized hope.
My mom and I teased my dad for his fear of flying. He stared out the window wondering why the wing was slightly bouncing. “That wing is flapping because it’s going to fall off!” he said. Mom and I introduced him to Benadryl after that. I smile thinking of his quizzical expression.
Right now I’m sitting in the airport to begin a ten-day vacation. I’m flying to Denver, renting a car and driving to Vegas, stopping all along the way. My smile has faded as I realize how much time has passed since that 2003 trip. Did I accomplish what my 19-year-old self envisioned?
|Road trippin' from Denver to Las Vegas in a Chrysler 200|
But none of those would have been as meaningful as searching for the transplant center we hoped would save me. It did. Minneapolis now symbolizes a clean slate, my cleanser, and my ultimate achievement.
I remind myself every day how fortunate I am. I must never forget: the Holocaust, what it is like to suffer with cancer, and what it is like to live with the clarity of life-or-death purpose. I ache for that purpose which is a losing battle. I never want to experience significant illness again, but without it I cannot experience that same purpose.
This vacation has a less meaningful purpose, of course. I just want to see the world and connect with people—some new people, and some old friends. Snooki and I will debate kale versus holy water in Vail. Colossus and I will catch up on the last decade while getting rich on Vegas blackjack tables. And Scooter and I will climb rocks in Durango.
It would take a lot more than Bendaryl to convince my dad to climb mountains with us. Mom and Dad can sit this one out.
Keep reading: Road Trippin' from Denver to Las Vegas in a Chrysler 200: A Picture Story
Sunday, May 10, 2015
Read the short story below, or skip it and immediately donate to LLS through my Circle of Hope page here.
Campaigning was exhilarating, rewarding and, I thought, my one chance to give back. It also required a time commitment akin to a second job, which is why I’ll likely never do it again.
Just like Kristen Stewart after cheating on that dude from Twilight, I have a second chance.
I love LLS and its mission and passionate supporters, so I joined its leadership team. I mentor a wonderful and upbeat fellow survivor as she campaigns for this year’s Man & Woman of the Year. I also raise money for the Leadership Team Circle of Hope.
As a whole leadership team we are trying to raise $100,000. I will not sit at a diner table until my computer battery dies like last year and text, Facebook-message, and email friends asking for donations. I will not put $6,000 on the line, determined to reach my fundraising target no matter what.
I am asking if you’ll help me fight blood cancers. I’m not asking out of desire for personal recognition or a title. I just want to fight fire with fire and you can help us build one gigantic match. Watch this four-minute video with LLS-funded researcher Carl June to see what that match can do.
Together let’s light cancer’s ass up by donating to the Leadership Team Circle of Hope.
Thursday, April 23, 2015
As published on The Huffington Post
I am the "father" to my nearly-12-year-old bone marrow "daughter." Twelve years ago, I received a bone marrow transplant to treat myelodysplastic syndrome. My bone marrow donor was an anonymous baby girl, whose umbilical cord stem cells had been collected and stored and were then transplanted into me because they closely matched my cells. That baby girl's cells repopulated in my body and I now have her healthy, disease-free and totally female blood. I think of these new cells of mine collectively as my daughter, and I named her Bone Marrow.
Bone Marrow is a young woman now. I knew this day would come. I even tried slowing her white breast cell and other physical developments by taking tamoxifen, so that the boy bone marrows wouldn't get frisky. I stopped that after they caused my erotic dreams with Glenn Beck. Keep reading How Not to Raise Your Tween Daughter.
Monday, April 13, 2015
Now that March Madness is over I am allowed to be busy.
I will be on HuffPost Live today, Tuesday, April 14, at 3 p.m. ET. Don't judge when my makeup isn't up to the standard of Kim Kardashian. HuffPost Live is a live-streaming network that attempts to create the most social video experience possible.
My first work published in 1994, in the Anthology of Poetry by Young Americans. My poem, titled Washing Dishes, began "Washing dishes is not fun." Nothing has ever been more true.
Then I wrote two books about surviving two cancers when I was a teenager—Twice and Secrets of the Cancer-Slaying Super Man. And now this: my article To My Next 30 Cancer-Free Years published in the lovely book I Am with You: Love Letters to Cancer Patients.
I Am with You includes 46 short essays compiled by Nancy Novack and published last month. Nancy's goal is to make I Am with You available "to the patients who need us the most when they need our support. . . . to place the books in the patients' hands, the waiting rooms, the infusion and radiation centers, the gift and supply stores, survivor conferences and retreats, the libraries, medical schools."
I am honored to be part of this book. Read more about I Am with You on Amazon. You can also read To My Next 30 Cancer-Free Years on The Huffington Post.
I'm speaking at Young Adult Cancer Connection's Cancervention event on April 18 in Philadelphia, as a survivor panelist. You can read my interview with YACC. If you live around Philadelphia then join us on Saturday by registering for Cancervention.
Monday, March 30, 2015
I speak at George Mason University every semester. Professor K invites me to share my story with students in her men’s health and human sexuality classes. My memoir is now part of the curriculum for the men’s health class, and Professor K’s students were required to read it and submit questions for when I visited two weeks ago.
Are you still friends with your friends from the book, like Worm?
Absolutely! Though Worm moved to Leesburg which is an hour away and may as well be in a different state.
Is your left ball still big?
Yep! I have a hydrocele that doesn’t affect me. It’s just there.
How do you feel about cancer now?
Cancer has killed some of my friends and recurred in others. Some friends are living with it forever. For some, there is no treatment. These friends despise every aspect of cancer.
I am nearly 12 years cancer-free from my second cancer. Despite the odds against this, I am very healthy and don’t have debilitating late effects that require daily attention. I am free to spend my time however I want. I feel fortunate for this. Every morning I look at my tattoo in the mirror and say a prayer giving thanks. Cancer has given me a different perspective and I can’t imagine not having that.
Do you think your parents played a role in your survival?
Yes. So did the amazing doctors and nurses, who are so good at their jobs because they have to be, because their margin for error is sometimes zero. And so did the people who paved the way for the treatments I received.
I read the Pulitzer-Prize-winning book The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer three years ago. Emperor tracks the history of cancer in people since the Egyptians first recorded it thousands of years ago. Cancer has always developed in people.
Emperor explains the beginning of modern cancer treatment including when scientists discovered that radiation kills cancer cells but they didn’t understand that healthy tissue could only tolerate so much radiation. This led to total destruction. Emperor details the beginning of treatment for children with leukemia. Since all the kids would die anyway—by bleeding out through orifices or other horrific ways—doctors could try different treatments on them. Those doctors and patients and their families sacrificed lives to reach viable and successful treatment we see today, including five-year survival rates at about 90 percent for some forms of leukemia.
Emperor taught me about the chemotherapy drugs I received and how they were discovered, and about my cancers and how the cells evaded my immune system. Cancer cells are so remarkable that I wonder how anyone can be healthy and cancer-free 12 years later.
One of my favorite organizations is the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I am proud to participate with LLS, which I started doing last year through Man & Woman of the Year and will continue indefinitely. I even love its motto Someday is Today, a hopeful statement that together we can find a cure soon.
I’ll keep hoping with LLS because hopefulness is one of humanity’s greatest assets. I’ll also keep consuming pounds of vegetables, eating foods with a low glycemic index, and restricting my calories because these are supposedly among my best assets for preventing cancer. Even if part of me thinks cancer will never go away in people and the difference between having cancer and not having it is almost entirely random.
Last week I was invited to the sneak peak of Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies, a film spanning three nights based on the book, on PBS beginning tonight at 9 p.m. ET. The sneak peak began with the narrator saying, “More will die from cancer over the next two years than died in combat in all the wars the United States has ever fought, combined.”
Cancer is the supreme king of disease as millions of people fight to escape its rule, and The Emperor of All Maladies tells this story. The book is among the best I’ve read and the film, presented by Ken Burns, promises to be eye-opening.
Do you worry about getting cancer again?
No. I live a healthy lifestyle and am forever striving to better myself. If something catastrophic were to happen then I’d know I did everything that I could. I live without regrets.
Friday, March 20, 2015
|Hamburgers' friends, Hamburgers and me at 2014 March Madness |
in Raleigh, NC, to see University of Virginia crush Memphis
As I aged and became more professional, productive and ambitious, my inner child faded. I completed my bracket using strictly analytics and economic principles and not any gut instincts. My fading inner child reached a frightening level the year I worked through the first Thursday and Friday of the tournament.
And then I read The Little Prince in which its little character reminded me that adults are odd and far too focused on numbers and goals; too focused on small things and not the big picture; too unwilling to adventure. It was time to take back the child in me.
During this pay period prior to today, I worked extra hours, including all day yesterday when I also took time to visit George Mason University to speak to students. That was my sacrifice for today, when I am off work and absolve myself from being an adult. I have even corrupted friends who will join me, and from 12:30 p.m. onward we will be March Madnessing at Crystal City Sports Pub.
Maybe I am both an irresponsible child and sucky adult. I accept that. Besides, if the University of Virginia wins the Final Four then my adult will take my child to the bar and dance the Horah. That is not creepy coming from me because my bone marrow is only 11 years old, though you probably shouldn’t say it in public.
Here’s to being a kid again. Wahoowa.
Thursday, March 5, 2015
My friends dropped their Irish cream and whiskey shots into Guinness and gulped as quickly as they could before their drinks curdled. Most succeeded, but Downtown wasn’t so lucky. I laughed at him, disgusted at the thought of Downtown’s drink. My decade-long allergy to milk—one of my genetic acquisitions from my bone marrow donor—saved me from having to try Irish Car Bombs and offending my palate (and the Irish).
My immune system isn’t quite a teenager, and it outgrew my milk and peanut allergies like the child it is. Last year I self-experimented on my milk allergy and called victory after chugging 26 ounces without reacting. Months ago I duplicated that experiment with peanuts until I ate 66, which has the same number of calories as I’ve consumed this whole day as of 3 p.m. (Kiddies, don’t try this at home. Leave it to the professional idiots like me.)
I assumed I would make up for my lost milk years with so many enormous milkshakes, and bowls of banana pudding and ice cream that I would cause a new milk allergy. At the least I would finish each of my cheat meals with a milk product.
I love that I no longer have food restrictions and I indulge sometimes, but it turns out that I mostly drink milk just as a weight training supplement. And I can’t imagine ending my cheat meals on anything besides candy, for which just writing the word spikes my glucose. Looking through my photo gallery, I realize I photograph new candies at supermarkets and share them with my other candy-loving friends and brother. I nearly cried when I couldn't find these the evening of my last cheat meal:
I overconsume coffee, a calorie-free beverage, which was inevitable due to my addictive personality and obsession with shedding body fat. During the last snow day, CantSleepWontSleep and I couldn’t find a single open coffee shop in our Crystal City neighborhood. We searched everywhere within a 600-foot radius, for at least 12 minutes. We were tired, snowy and thirsty. When we found Bar Louis open, we were so relieved. But with the snow accumulating an inch an hour and our poor bartender itching to leave, we couldn’t simply order $2 coffees. “What is Irish coffee?” I asked our bartender.
The hot, freshly brewed coffee had that classic aroma and mouthfeel I was accustomed to. The brown sugar and Baileys added a sweet, creamy flavor. The Irish coffee soothed my soul, and if not for its $12 price tag and nearly 200 calories I would have drunk until my heart arrested from caffeine overload.
Now I really may make up for those lost milkless years with Irish coffees: in the mornings after exercising (not on workdays, obvi J); to complement my candy during cheat meals; and at home on the next snow day which is today, now at 3:45 p.m.
I will not catch up on all those lost Irish Car Bombs, however. If my friends never know I can now drink them then they won’t pressure me, so shh, don’t tell them. Especially not Downtown.
Saturday, February 7, 2015
Weeks ago I wrote about the sequence of events leading up to, and directly after, my dad's admittance to the hospital with pneumonia. Today I share what it was like to live with him for the bulk of 17 days in the hospital including 15 days in the emergency room and intermediate care unit. You can watch the video on YouTube or by clicking the play button below (if your Web browser allows that).
Friday, January 23, 2015
As published on The Huffington Post
The first message arrived midday on a Sunday, picking up the latest in the long paper and electronic trail that chronicles our family's health.
Mom, Jan. 4, 12:49 p.m.: Yesterday morning Dad woke up very sick. He has a terrible cough.
Mom, Jan. 5, 2:52 p.m.: Dad has the flu.
Mom, Jan. 6, 3:40 p.m.: Doc said Dad has to get down fluid. He spit up water twice. If he can't, I have to take him to an urgent care clinic. Don't come home! This is highly contagious.
Dad, Jan. 7, 2:15 p.m.: I will be visiting the doctor again today. I had a very bad night last night and I am very weak. You must stay away from the house.
When I was 4 years old, my dad lived on red meat and his total cholesterol reached 300. His doctor began him on Lipitor -- a cholesterol-reducing medication -- and told him he must change his lifestyle through diet and exercise or else he'd have a heart attack.
When my dad played music with his band on Saturday nights, my mom would take my older brother, JD, and me to Pizza Hut. This was our only chance to eat pizza. My dad quit eating most everything besides poultry and broccoli. My dad hasn't eaten steak in 27 years.
Mom, Jan. 7, 4:40 p.m.: Dad lost 6 lbs from not eating. He keeps wanting to go to the hospital. Yesterday the doc told him he didn't need it.
Me, Jan. 7, 5:00 p.m.: Holy crap. I've never seen him want to be admitted to a hospital before.
Dad, Jan. 7, 6:11 p.m.: The doctor has added a strong antibiotic to calm the cough. I hope that it works. She was confident that it would work. I also had a chest X-ray to determine if I had pneumonia.
Dad, Jan. 8, 9:02 a.m.: The X-ray led to a pneumonia diagnosis.
JD, Jan. 8, 9:12 a.m.: Man this is scary. Anything we can do? Keep reading, here.
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
My dad has been at Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center since Friday, January 9, 2015, with the flu and pneumonia. Many of his wonderful family, coworkers and friends have been reaching out to us to wish him a complete and speedy recovery. I decided to collect these messages in one place so please post a comment here for my dad if you wish (by clicking the "comment" link below). You are not required to include a Sly reference in your comment, but it can't hurt. If you and my dad share mutual friends then please share this with them.
I will not update this blog like a CaringBridge. There is nothing wrong with CaringBridge but since I pretend that all my blog posts are of high quality, I'll forgo quantity updates. I also do not know if my dad would appreciate public updates. We are thrilled that so many people care about my dad and want updates, but we can't keep up with the number of inquiries. For groups (for example, his coworkers and his Sylvester Stallone fan club members [joke, I think]): please designate one point of contact to obtain updates from me, my brother or my mom.
-the Rubenstein family