This has happened to me more than once at a party. It usually occurs right after I've told someone what I've done for a living. The whole procedure is what I like to call "The Gulp and Drift". You might recognize it, especially if you suffer from the same affliction considered in my last post. The Gulp and Drift occurs after you've traded names with a stranger, talked about the weather and the quality of the party, and then comes the obligatory "So what do you do?", which in my case is most often followed by an awkward silence, which is in turn followed by my new acquaintance exercising his right to take a healthy gulp out of his gin and tonic and drift to another corner of the party.
I don't blame people really. When someone blurts out "I treat sex offenders" in the middle of a group of normals, generally the response is to run for the exits or take out available weapons and/or medication and deal with it.
I once was on the witness stand during a probation revocation hearing and I was asked what my occupation was. And I said, "I am a certified sex offender...and then got a frog in my throat so that I had to cough in the middle of the answer, unable to croak out the rest...treatment provider." By then the damage had been done, damage in this case meaning both the defense and the prosecution, and yes, we might as well throw in the judge, had to take a moment to pick themselves up off the floor. Come to think of it, I didn't see the defendant sitting at the table anymore either. It may not be thought of as a particularly dignified profession.
But it is. I'm not here to defend sexual offenders. I'm here to defend their attempts to rehabilitate, especially teenagers. After forty years of thousands of different faces with similar stories, I may have a thing or two to say about the subject. Or write about. I am currently working on a couple of YA novels that deal with adolescent sex offenders and what we, as a society, are doing to them. Essentially ruining their retrievable lives is what we're doing, blasting them into pariah-hood for things most of us may have done more than once during our own adolescence. There was a time when talk about sex was forbidden and then there was a time when all we talked about was sex and now, it seems as though sex is a no-no again, especially with our precious adolescents who don't know anything about it. Right?
Parents, if you think your teenage children don't think, talk, participate in, or fantasize about sex on a regular basis, then you need a refresher course on your own years between 13 and 20. Come on now. We can't deny sex. It's there. We carry it around every day with us. We see it in other people. We see it on television. We read it. Oh no. Did I just say that? Can kids get hold of literature that talks about sex?
In seventh grade I went to the local Pay n Save store and purchased a paperback copy of Peyton Place. It was not enclosed in a cellophane wrapper; it was just sitting up there on the bookstand and I plucked it from its perch. I brought it home and started reading it. Voraciously. I spent so much time in one chair with the remaining parts of the book getting thinner and thinner in my hands, that my mother finally approached me and asked what it was that held my interest so well. I showed her the cover and then asked her please not to interrupt me because Rodney was just starting to get interested in his paramour. My mother, who was herself an avid reader, albeit of questionable novels, begged me to let her read it after I was finished. Peyton Place was a book that was banned fairly frequently in this country ( don't get me started on book banning), but apparently not in Longview, Washington when I was in seventh grade. I don't think it hurt me to read Peyton Place, although those of you who know me might want to chime in on that issue.
Where was I? Oh yes. Adolescent offenders. I guess my point is that this culture has enough trouble dealing with sex in general, but when you start talking about people who offend sexually, we tend to lose it pretty much completely. And maybe it should be that way with certain types of offenses/offenders. As an evaluator, I've never had much trouble making the decision that certain offenders need to spend time in prison for their offenses because they cannot be trusted out on their own. See, we're not that far apart in our thinking. But I think we shouldn't drag adolescent offenders in with the whole bunch of them just because it's easier to keep track of everybody at the same time. The truth is, adolescents have a very low re-offense rate. The vast majority of adolescents who offend sexually, do not repeat their crimes into adulthood. Adolescent sex offenses are often crimes of opportunity or of misdirected passion. Not all of them, but most.
It is a cultural disservice to lump adolescents in with all other types of offenders. It is a mistake to take away their rights to mature at their own rates and sucker punch them with circumstances such as lifelong probation or sex offender registration for the act of sexting a picture of another minor who happens to be nude or semi-nude. This happens in our country. Thinking that your children may be having oral sex as teenagers may not be something you are interested in hearing about, but I am almost certain it would get your attention if you discovered that your child could be prosecuted and placed on a sex offender list for indulging in the practice with his girlfriend who happens to be only one year younger. This is ludicrous, but this is happening.
Sex offenses are not murder. Folks can recover from being sexually offended. Murder victims obviously can't. It's because it's sex that gets us all worked up. Surely there's a middle ground somewhere on which we can have legitimate discussions about raising our children in this culture without having to worry about some legislator, fearful about losing his/her job, signing on to yet another draconian law that serves no other purpose than to help us feel that at least something is being accomplished in this interpersonal world that feels like it is running away with itself and leaving us in the lurch.
But if we must quibble on and on about sex, let's leave our adolescents out of the picture. They are adolescents for a reason. This is the time for them to learn how to grow up, not to have their lives stopped in mid-maturity, never to be the same. If this had been the case when I was an adolescent, I might not have made it this far without having suffered some serious repercussions.
I write realistic fiction that's marketed for adolescents. Sex is a big part of their reality. I do not think it's possible to write reasonable stories about and for adolescents without including this big part of their lives. I'm not going to come out and recommend Peyton Place to any 13 year-olds, but I probably don't have to. Adolescents today are just as crafty as we were back then.
I've learned though. At parties or other gatherings, when I'm asked what I do for a living, I simply say, "I'm a writer." People still Gulp and Drift, but that may be for different reasons than my occupation.
In 1995, Ecuador and Peru went to war yet again over disputed boundaries in the Amazon region that Peru was pretty certain were misplaced and denied them a good deal of land that was rightfully theirs. It was actually the last of a series of wars that began roughly at the same time as World War II and involved various styles of warfare and weaponry and produced fierce patriotism on both sides. The wars were generally supported by the local populations and apparently many Ecuadorian men signed up to give those land-grabbing Peruvians what for. There was loss of life, and, in the 1995 version, a skirmish or two involving helicopters, and it all led to the eventual signing in 1998 of a treaty that established the official boundary in this area. Big or little, justifiable or not, wars are not fun and seem to end up historically as having less substantial meaning than they did when all the young men, as it seems all young men have done for millennia, ran to sign up for them. I am reminded of the John Prine lyric from Hello In There, which goes: We lost Davy in the Korean War, and I still don't know what for, don't matter anymore."
Which brings us to the subject at hand: The war against introverts, or what I like to call The Introversia Wars. You know who you are and you know what you're trying to do, so let's just cut through it and get to the meat of the matter.
It's been brewing for a while, I can tell you that. There is a long standing feud between introverts and extraverts, which would get a lot more press if introverts weren't so damned tight-lipped about everything. And like the Ecuador-Peru series of conflicts, the Introversia Wars are about boundaries. There is nothing more pathetic than a dyed-in-the-wool extravert trying to horn in on the new introversion craze.
"Oh, I'm an introvert at heart," they can be heard to say. "Every test I've ever taken, including the Myers-Briggs, has pegged me as an introvert. And I felt shy once back in 1975." Well, first of all, if you were a true introvert, you wouldn't be broadcasting all your test results. In fact, you wouldn't even be joining in on the conversation. In fact, you wouldn't even be in the same room. A true introvert can be found in a place such as, let's say, Ecuador, where he can weather the Introversia Wars and then return when the coast is clear of extraverts. Shy once in 1975 indeed.
Introverts are deep rather than quick thinkers, reasoned rather than irrational, cerebral rather than bestial. Cute rather than dogged. Whatever that last one means. But don't worry, extraverts will not hover on that sentence long enough to realize it makes no actual sense. Don't get me wrong, some of my best friends are extraverts and much of my social life would never happen without the presence of another person who finds it impossible to keep his mouth shut. As a point of fact, this particular said extravert I am thinking of, when I announced on Twitter the upcoming blog on the Introversia Wars, had this to say, and I'm paraphrasing: "Sounds like a war with a lot of reading and long silent pauses."
Ha ha ha. What a jokester. I just cannot stop laughing at that one. The meaning and value of introversion is, of course, lost on him. Poor demented soul. He did once try to teach me to be an extravert and I was as close as I ever got to being one back in the fall of 1974. We would be in the lunch line together at college and when we approached a particularly lovely young woman, he would hide behind me and I would move my lips as he said something like: "Haven't we met somewhere before? Perhaps it was on the Riviera when I was there in '72." Of course, it was pure idiocy and hardly ever worked and taught me an important lesson. I do not have the chops to deal with the aftermath of a failing of extraversion. I'm not sure any extravert does. But the genius of their personality style is that it basically does not matter to them one way or the other. There are always other, perhaps more daunting peaks to climb.
A lot of people who were born extraverts are now calling themselves introverts, as if that is something that can actually change in one's life. There must be a run on introversion as a quality way of life because these are the same people who laughed at introverts during the formative years and now, when they can't remember what they had for breakfast, suddenly want to change horses in the middle of the stream and gallop off, well lope off (because that's what introverts do), and pretend that they've been this way all along. Well, this introvert is not standing for it. It is a hard long struggle to live a life of dedicated introversion and no, you cannot pretend you are Russia at the end of World War II and jump in at the end of the fray so you can lay claim to large parts of Germany, and let your legacy be changed to that of a lifelong introvert.
I hereby demand, and this means you as well my beloved Maria, that true extraverts retreat back inside their boundaries and quit running seek and destroy forays into the peaceful and sacrosanct lives of introverts. This madness must stop. It seems quite selfish and unreasonable to me. Just like an extravert to think only of themselves.
Have you even considered this possible outcome: If all you extras are going to jump to the other side than what am I going to do for a social life?
There. I said it. Don't be mad.
First off, why don't you pick yourselves right up out of that gutter. I have no intention of being pornographic in this post, unless you call the critical use of language the new porn. His name is Bolivar, who was, of course, the great liberator of much of South America. At least of Gran Colombia, of which Ecuador was formerly a part. He was of Spanish ancestry, but unlike those of his heritage, and his contemporaries such as Thomas Jefferson, he was not a fan of slavery, which makes him a perfect name choice for my new cock.
It apparently is not the norm to name your cock here in Ecuador but I come from a long tradition of cock-naming in my family and thus I couldn't resist. He is young and growing noticeably every day. I expect he will be quite large by the time he is fully grown. You can find a selfie of him above this post and, I must admit, it was difficult to get the angle correct for the shot because Bolivar, when he is puffed up to his finest, has a tendency not to want to hold still in the frame. Plus, I am not a photographer, but I do my best with my smart-ass phone.
A hen from next door jumped the wall yesterday (not Doris, I'm afraid), and spent some quality time here in our yard tearing up the soil. Her jumping over was a gift from heaven for Bolivar who immediately set to the task that all cocks are born to do, but he is still a little too young to achieve the deed. He's got the approach down right; he sidled right up to the hen, cooed a cluck or two, but then when she was not impressed, sort of stood and scratched his head, much like other adolescents I have known, and hoped for some sign to instruct him on procedure. As the day wore on, he began to follow her around the yard, rather than the other way around, again, which was reminiscent of some relationships I have known. And, as some males are prone to do, he then acted as if it was his idea all along to go to that particular part of the yard and tried to let her know with a crow that he had been practicing all week, but alas, still in the throes of puberty, the crow turned into some sort of garbled, high-pitched warble that again, was not impressive to the hen. Humiliated, he strode over to hang with the four chicks we now have, who are indeed impressed with both his length and girth, and helped them uncover a couple of baby spiders to munch on.
I plan to have a stern talk with him about the perils and folly of early dating but I expect to encounter the same kind of stiff resistance I have in the past. There is this thing called instinct that seems to trump intelligence in some species. Ours for one. Ask my son, now 35, who wanted to record my birds and the bees lecture so he could, I was once sure, show his friends how lucky he was to have a father schooled in both sexuality and deviance. I am now not so sure that was the case and I expect any day that it will show up on YouTube at some inopportune moment, such as when I receive the Nobel Prize for Literature or I am duly honored for my lifetime achievement award by the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. Either way, I will be humiliated in much the same manner as Bolivar, my new lamentable cock has been. So much for language. So much for instinct. I need a stiff drink. Then I can go out and see what Bolivar is doing. Certainly not liberating. Certainly not leading in any way.
Perhaps we can hang out together. Talk about being hen-pecked and less than adequate role models for our neighborhood's youth. Dream of the old days in our chickhoods when hens knew their place and there were no walls to jump. We'll toast to the memories.
And there, in a nutshell, is the story of my cock.
Oh, do grow up, won't you?
You know who you are sitting there all Donna Tartt-like and knowing you've broken my heart. As a Writer, I am completely impressed by your abilities, but as a writer, well, I can only hate the fact that you are so good. Of course, I am talking about The Goldfinch, which I downloaded after my dear daughter and her family presented me with a gift certificate for Christmas. I read the first chapter, out loud, to my wife last night and I just know she could tell by my trembling, nearly tearful voice that I was depressed. Not by the subject matter but by the sheer weight of my envy. I don't even know yet what the book's about, I only know that I've never before seen Amsterdam described in quite that way.
I now understand the angst someone like, say, Amy Adams must feel whenever she finds herself in a competitive category with the likes of, say, Meryl Streep. I've talked to myself in the way Ms. Adams must talk to herself during these times because there is always someone like Meryl Streep for Amy, and a Donna Tartt to burst the completely imaginary literary bubble I have so fastidiously fashioned for myself and which I apparently am prone to live inside of for most of my waking hours. Of course, where Donna Tartt is concerned , I didn't go to Harvard and I don't come from Mississippi, so she already has a head start on me in those credentials. I come from a small town in southwest Washington state, which lies close to other smallish towns with Native American names and deep histories of having been inundated during ancient Mt. St. Helens eruptions. Native American names like Humptulips. I've been there, by the way. And I hereby challenge Donna Tartt to either sadly admit that she's never been to a place called Humptulips, or to break my heart even further and tell the world now that Humptulips is a name she has already crossed off her bucket list.
And so the burden of such puerile envy falls on me. I'm sure Ms. Tartt is not losing much sleep over it. I guess I shouldn't worry too much. She publishes a novel about every ten years and by that time I will have written close to ten. Notice I said I will have written, not published. But we'll see. There is a silver lining to all this. For John Irving, at least. With the appearance of the latest Donna Tartt novel comes the good news that I can back off of my envy toward Mr. Irving, which is actually more of a pained adulation rather than an envy of any sort.
But, as you've probably guessed, it's all a kind of admiration for what these folks can do with the language. Folks like Tartt and Irving and Proulx. When I read The World According to Garp, I threw the paperback in the garbage on at least three different occasions, vowing never to pick it up again. But there I was, within the hour, brushing potato skins and eggshells off the cover and diving in once more. When I read The Shipping News, I threw every manuscript I was then working on into the garbage, vowing never again to sit down in front of a typewriter and attempt to rearrange letters in a sensible manner. It was simply not possible for me to have that kind of talent, the kind of breathtaking talent that these folks have.
So maybe this is a fan letter: Dear Donna, I love the first chapter of your book. Please tell me you didn't do this to me on purpose. After all, I did read The Secret History, and liked it. But I do request just one thing. Please don't sneak up on me like this. With such skill. With such concern. With such brilliance.
I am not even close to finishing The Goldfinch and already I can't wait for your next book to come out. Let's see, I'll be 73 by then, and perhaps a little more mature.
It has come to this; trying out provocative blog titles to get you to read them. Well, you're in luck. Sadly, there are no photos of this, but it is an actual quote from someone here in Ecuador and apparently it is an event that this person has witnessed.
"This is an Indian community," says Luisito who works for us in the afternoons. "There is no tolerance for this."
He was speaking of the problem of Breaking and Entering, which seems to plague some towns where there are large foreign (read European) populations but not so much in the indigenous communities. It is apparently not tolerated and the punishment is, well, read the title. I am happy to note that I am not a Breaker and Enterer and that I live in an indigenous community.
Happy 2014. Here is my first word to the wise for the New Year: Flash floods are not for the faint of heart, nor is it wise to choose your house at the foot of a 16,000 feet extinct volcano during one. Yesterday was rather raineous; curtains and curtains of the stuff fell on our house, god's way of showing us where the problems with the roof are. And also, which drains are or not working. The answer is none of the drains is working. Except the one in the kitchen where, apparently, the water flooded in during the night, drained out, and left a fine film of dried dirt on the floor. And the caida ,or incline, outside the dining room door does not keep the water from draining in because the caida was placed backwards in its original form, much like a the end of a ski jump course where the run tilts upward dramatically so the jumper can get a good lift. What we get with our dining room problem is a good wade.
Oh, and another thing. I may have to stop doing this blog. It seems that every time I mention a problem (I'm thinking of the next-door pigs now) something ominous occurs. Recently, I discussed my problems in 2010 with kidney stones. And guess what happened to me during this torrential downpour yesterday? If you guessed I was blessed with a kidney stone, well, you already know you're right. There are no words to describe the joy in my discovery that my kidney stones seem to travel well, across continents and time apparently. I am not particularly impressed with this talent.
Also, buck up, Jeff Bezos (Amazon's founder), who was recently airlifted by an Ecuadorian Navy helicopter from the Galapagos because he was stricken by a kidney stone on New Year's Day. From all reports it was one stone. One. And he gets international attention. I have been known to produce an assembly line of ten stones in a row...but enough about that. I at least want an Amazon gift card for my trouble and humiliation. Maybe they should strip Mr. Bezos naked and douse him with water and see what he thinks about that.
So, it seems that I have broken some law, or entered some law, because in spite of my admirable track record where theft is concerned(Dennis, enough already about the chicken ranch incident), I have still been stripped naked (figuratively speaking, and oh what a figure it is), and doused with water. So, I ask Luisito when the rainy season stops around here so I can get on with a drier life and all he does is smile and say:
"Eduardito, here in Ecuador, every season is the rainy season."
Because I like long titles, that's why.
In the 1970's, my sister developed complications while delivering her last child and had to have her blood transfused, or die. Placenta praevia, I believe they call it. She ended up with two things out of the precarious deal: My sweet, tough and beautiful niece, Carly, and a case of Hepatitis C, that lay dormant in her body for the better part of thirty years. She was relatively asymptomatic for a good long while, but began to show increasingly more severe symptoms, and by the time 2009 rolled around, was having to visit the emergency clinics to have pumped out of her what her failing liver could not process. I accompanied her to the University of Washington Hospital in February of 2010 in an attempt to get her on a list for a liver transplant, but it seemed clear by that time that 1) The disease was progressing exponentially and 2) The wait for a liver would take much longer than my sister had left to live. We all visited her at her house at the end of April, listened happily to the music of John Prine, and more or less pretended that she wasn't lying in her living room on a hospital bed, and those weren't Hospice instructions tacked to the sheet of green paper on the wall. Mary and I left for the Oregon Coast where I stared out at the water, watched the pelicans, and wondered about life's transitions. When we returned, Penny was in the hospital and not making much sense. We bought for her one last order of fish and chips and drove home. That was Sunday. On Wednesday, May 5th, she did not wake up. Don't talk to me about the trouble with Obamacare, or any other kind of health care snafus, because I will only slam my dead sister's case back down your throat. If the Affordable Care Act had been up and running in 2010, my sister would be alive today. You see, even though there was no test to detect Hep C in blood until 1992, it was still one of those notorious pre-existing conditions. But I don't really want to argue about insurance companies. I just want to tell you that I mourn my dear sister to this day and will probably never stop mourning her. On Facebook, there is a little doo-dad you can click on that allows you to poke a person as a means to let them know that you're thinking of them. Two weeks after she died, and for reasons inexplicable to me, my sister poked me on Facebook. As far as signs go, that's enough for me.
Have I told you abut BCG treatments? Yes, I have. Have I told you about the kidney stones that relentlessly attacked me about the time I was recovering from cancer? No. Don't judge. Kidney stones hurt like hell. I had one nurse tell me that she'd had both kidney stones and labor, and she'd choose labor over the stones any day. I asked my urologist,Dr. A., if the stones could somehow be connected to the bladder cancer and he said, "No."
"But couldn't they have irritated the bladder so much over time that they created an environment for cancer cells to grow?"
He said, "No."
Then I started noticing other symptoms in addition to the stones, such as extreme fatigue, bone pain, confusion, among others and I began to worry that maybe the cancer had returned in a different form and my days were numbered. I was writing two different novels at the time; One that started out being called, The Short Happy Life of Cameron Galloway, and then morphed into The Boy Who Sat on Eggs, which then became Hello In There, and then was finally published as Cameron and the Girls. The other novel I was working on was called Boy Unknown, the story of an adolescent who can cure people of their ailments by reading to them. This was the irony I lived through most of 2010. I read to myself a lot, but no cures. Just additional diseases. But the big one didn't appear under the guise of diagnosis until 2011, so it doesn't qualify for this post.
While I was in New York in October, back in Spokane my closest friend was walking up the stairs to his writing room with a piece of toast and a cup of coffee and fell, down the stairs, but also into a coma that he never woke up from. He lingered for a couple of days, long enough for me to think about coming home and fulfilling the promise I had made to him a year before. I told him that yes, if he was in a vegetative state with no hope for recovery, I would be willing to kill him as a favor not only to him but to those suffering around him. Perhaps kill is too harsh a word. I would be willing to put him out of his misery as only a close friend should be willing to do in such a circumstance. I was never put to that test; Bob died before I returned. I would have done it, though, and met whatever consequences faced me as a result.
By the time 2010 was drawing to a close, I was very much looking forward to 2011. I don't know why, though. An additional life threatening diagnosis and two more surgeries awaited me. But here I am. Looking at the close of another year. Still alive. Still kicking. I get maudlin at the end of a calendar year. I am a sentimentalist who has developed into a bit of a realist. But you know what? 2010 made me that way. And it's now freed me up in a way I've never felt free before. Here I now sit at the center of the world; just like me, the equator makes the earth a little rounder at the middle, and I couldn't be happier.
As I write, I hear music out my window. The people here are celebrating not only the New Year, but the opening of a new street. A new street? Yes, a new street. I hope always to be in a place that thinks a new street is worth celebrating.
Tomorrow is a new year. And even if Hell on Earth awaits me again in 2014, I will be prepared for it. I'm walking down this new street now. And I feel like celebrating.
SVD is the title of a YA novel I've written and have been trying to locate for the past three years. So, don't steal it, it's mine. I have been told that my blog posts are tending to be somewhat morose, so I thought I would liven it up a bit by talking about my near-death experiences. What better subject matter to consider as we draw close to the end of yet another calendar year and approach, in spite of the personal protests, yet another one of those godforsaken birthdays that we used to look forward to as children.
To begin with, I'd like to admit that I've always been a bit of a private person. Shy is maybe a better word, but private nonetheless. There are those who would argue with this premise but they're stupid so don't pay attention to them. I am and always have been shy. Except for that one time during my freshman year of college when I accidentally went to the wrong party. I said shy and I mean it.
In March of 2010 I was just as shy as I am now, which explains my frustration when my new urologist asked me to strip and when that was accomplished, asked my permission for two intern-types to observe the examination. I did happen to notice that the intern-types were already in the room and introducing themselves, so I said sure
As for the urologist, I don't care where you're from, I simply want to be able to understand you. Dr. A. is from Romania and I am not entirely convinced that the root of his language is a romance one. I do love this man, though; maybe because I have never been this intimate with a male before, and, perhaps most importantly, he has small knuckles. In any event, his demeanor and decision-making do not always involve the patient, which is how it came to pass that I ended up on his table, in front of an audience, with a camera jammed into my urethra.
I am not talking abut the 35mm variety, or even a camera phone, thankfully, although during the process, it seemed somewhat like one of the old Polaroid cameras as it wended its way to its destination in my bladder. Sick yet? I was. I must say, Dr. A. was quite thorough, and quick, which is the kind of skill you want in a spelunking urologist. It wasn't long before he yanked out the camera and declared, not to me, but to the intern-types, "Jes, we haf a tumor." Sorry, all of the accents of my non primary English speaking characters sound like Arnold Schwarzenneger.
Sad, I thought. I wonder what poor sap he's talking about.
"Ve vill schedool ze surgery for ten dayse."
"Nice ass," said the female intern-type when she left the examining room. Not really, but given the circumstances, I could have used a pronouncement like that.
And this, dear friends, was my introduction to having been diagnosed with a high-grade, fast growing, unfriendly, malignant tumor in March of 2010, approximately 10 days before one of my closest friends died from lung cancer.
Shy, I said.
But not for long.
I've asked several pole dancers this, and they agree that once you start stripping for strangers on a regular basis, you kind of get immune to it. Which is what happened to me. I got so used to it that I was all the way down to my boxers before I realized, or the assistant reminded me that I was, in fact, at the dentist for a teeth cleaning. They were pretty good sports about it, though.
I had surgery. Two of them actually. I have to say I enjoyed them both. There is nothing better at a time like that than total sensory deprivation and back-up drugs. The tumor was removed, and then it seemed like a different type of tumor took its place (hence the second surgery), but this turned out not to be true. The reason it looked that way was because of a little procedure I was undergoing that I like to call Hell On Earth.
Hell On Earth is a procedure that is now administered post surgery for those stricken with bladder cancer, and it is known by the acronym BCG. Which stands for Bacillus Calmette-Guerin, a vaccine developed by a French bacteriologist and a veterinarian. This last person's occupation gave me pause but it is true that sometimes people treat animals better than they do humans so I was all in. Until I found out how this vaccine is administered.
"Not again," I cried to Dr. A. who was already inviting people into the examining room. This time I think it was the practice's accountant and an uncle from Romania without a green card. I assume it is not unlike some of the more forbidden forms of Santeria in that as I lay naked on the cold table, Dr. A. and his assistant were mixing some kind of solution out of my eyesight, using a pre-Columbian volcanic mortar and pestle. Or so it seemed.
Then this happened: Dr. A. threaded, what I thought was, a rather large catheter into my screaming urethra until it hit bottom, and then utilizing a rusty funnel obviously not sterilized in the local autoclave , poured the smoking liquid into the funnel and eventually into my poor aching bladder.
"Now," he says. "You do not use ze bathroom for two hours." This followed by the by now ritualistic ripping of the catheter from my nether parts.
"You've got to practice doing that more sweetly," I say, but he, the accountant and the uncle are already long gone and I am left, naked and shivering, and alone. But I have my orders.
Let me ask a question, and it will be a harsh one: Have you ever pissed razor blades? Sorry for the language, but my God in heaven! That will make a believer out of you. Once a week for six weeks pleading to some as yet unnamed gods to stop the torture of eight, count them, eight hours of ridding the bladder of a tuberculosis virus instilled under shady conditions and unhappy not to be in its natural environment, which I believe is actually the lungs. Ouch! I'll say that again: Holy Mother of God. I begged for leeches or a blood-letting instead.
2010 couldn't get any worse, I thought. Please don't make it any worse. I'll strip professionally if I have to. I'll invite the Mormon Tabernacle Choir into the examining room. Just don't make it any worse than the razor blades. And then, in the middle of this six weeks of karmic payback, my poor sweet sister died for no good reason.
To be continued...
I just finished reading what I consider to be The Great American Novel. And I say that because this Steinbeck book, though written in 1938, still resonates today and if we're lucky, will resonate for the duration. The title was discovered by Carol Steinbeck, Mr. Steinbeck's first wife, and is taken from one of the verses of the famous Julia Ward Howe song, The Battle Hymn of the Republic: He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.
I once wrote a novel about the ashes of D. H. Lawrence and the early part of the book takes place in a TB Sanitarium in North Carolina. I wanted it, of course, to sound authentic so I researched southern dialects, mostly by speaking with friends who were either living in the South, or had been born in the South and had still retained an accent. The problem, I quickly discovered, was that there were as many different accents as there were friends and family to interview. But I did my best and my agent tried to do her best by advising me that it might be a good idea to drop the attempt at dialect and just write it in English. Liz, if you're reading this, I haven't forgotten. There will come a day...
The genius of John Steinbeck in this novel is that he did his research so well that he came up with an absolutely true accent for the folks he was writing about. It's not North or South or Midwest or West or even East; it's a working class accent that carries the book with both its complexity and simplicity. It is a stroke of genius and allows the story of good honest folk pitted against the Big Business, grammatically better speaking, wolves (sound familiar?) to capture us and wrench our hearts and souls. Just like can happen now, when The Grapes of Wrath first came out, there was a lot of blowback against Mr. Steinbeck regarding his portrayal of the big bad business guys. And just like now, the bad guys were in a position of power to control the workers both financially and politically. It was a horrific circumstance for people who were quite literally starving to death. History can and does repeat itself, or else it keeps going along the same way and we just don't pay close enough attention all the other times.
I am absolutely stunned at the grace and power that this book possesses. But some of it, I might have personalized. Like the Joads, my father was a victim of the Dust Bowl period. He was the youngest of ten, and after his mother died from tuberculosis when he was 12, he and his father worked as sharecroppers in Oklahoma. According to my father, they did not get along, and when he turned 15, his father told him he was on his own, his old man was going to California. My father reluctantly went along. It is there that his stories about the trip west stop. My Aunt Johnnie said that when my father arrived in California, he was a stick figure, and I can only imagine what he must have had to go through. He went on to join the Civilian Conservation Corps and then the Army and kept up with some of his family relationships, but not with his father, it seems. It was said by my mother, that when my father presented her to my grandfather, Grandpa said, "Welp, I see you've gone and got yourself a squaw." Maybe leaving your home on a long dusty trail to you-don't-know-where does that to a person. My father was affected by leaving Oklahoma; he was affected by World War II. I have been greatly affected by John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.
In another matter, I hope it wasn't my fault that the very day after I posted my last blog, one of the pigs was butchered next door. I think this may be the beginning of a trend where these pigs are concerned. If it is my fault, I hereby humbly apologize to my porcine neighbors and wish you the best in whatever afterlife is reserved for pigs. Don't you just love bacon?
They say that fortune favors the bold, so here goes. Over the years, I have lived next to a variety of types, some kindly, neighborly and some a little on the nutty side. But never have I been subjected to the kind of neighbors who now reside right across the concrete block fence where I first met Doris.
Pigs. There's no other way to say it. Slovenly, noisy, smelly, cantankerous pigs. The whole lot of them. Inevitably present. As if they are members of a cult called Pig Dynasty. They squeal and snort and bang against the fortress that keeps them from my side. And so do their animals.
Just kidding. I feel sorry for Doris, now having to live over there full time. Something happened. Either I came on too strong for her, or the priggish neighbors (I said priggish, not, well, you know) decided enough was enough. They seem the overly OCD type. I can visualize them up in their room, counting up the eggs at the end of a long cackling day and finding, always, that they are one oblong prize short.
They staked out a spy and her name is Guinevere, or at least that's what I've named her. She looks harmless enough what with her hoe in one hand and her GPS monitor in the other. But it's always the harmless looking ones who turn out to be the ruiners of a good time. And why, I ask you, does she not speak Spanish or Kichwa? It's either one or the other or both here. I suspect she's a plant and do you know why? Because Doris no longer comes to visit. That's why. No clumsy winged entry into my yard. No feverish search for the right bugs. No gifting me with the missing egg from the count next door. Nothing.
So here I am, without my favorite feathered visitor, without eggs, without, practically, the will to live. I do not take this sudden neighborly challenge lightly. I have friends in the business too, you know. Dennis has already asked me to go to Venezuela to work out a deal and Kirk says he's in. I am not without resources.
This just in: Forget what I said about the neighbor's 007-type hire. Apparently the reason she cannot speak Spanish or Kichwa is that she is brain-damaged after suffering a fall in her youth. I need to apologize. To her and to the pigs, who are, after all, only being themselves. Besides, I have now discovered the positive benefits of the plant called The Caballero (or gentleman, in Spanish...I don't know what it is in Kichwa, but I can tell you that while riding the bus today I did understand my first interchange in Kichwa. It was, and I quote: "Goodbye, Hernando. Goodbye, Luisa." It won't be long now until I'll be fluent in a practically extinct language.
Where was I? Oh yes. The caballero is a plant that only blooms at night, similar to the infamous Dama de Noche (or lady of the night) in Spain. When the pigs are at their quietest, but also for some strange reason, their smelliest, The Caballero, in a very gentlemanly manner blooms and produces one of the plant kingdom's most intense colognes to cancel out anything those pigs want to throw my way. So there, piggies. Be my neighbors. Be the pigs that you are. I don't care. I have The Gentleman to help me out. So I don't need to call on my undercover agents after all. But worry not, Dennis and Kirk, I'm still going to Venezuela.
I came to that conclusion while waiting for a bus on the side of the Pan American Highway, that piece of road that runs from somewhere up in Canada to the tip of South America. The bus stop is very near one of the few stoplights on the highway and when the light turns red, a group of street (or highway, I guess) performers runs out into the road and juggles, unicycles, plays Andean flutes, does backflips, or some combination of all those things. I'm standing there enjoying the show, when one of them turns to me and shouts, "Papa Noel! Papa Noel, give me a dollar!" I looked around. The other folks waiting for the bus did not in any fashion fit the description of Santa Claus, so my expert deductive skills figured out that he must have been talking about me. So, as this offender stood in the median and the traffic started moving, I shouted back, "Have you been a good boy?" He nodded his head, but I still threw him only a quarter because I knew in my heart he most likely was lying.
And that would have been the end of it all, except for that little boy outside the TIA store in Cotacachi a few days later. He was cute, as most Ecuadoran children seem to be and his eyes sparkled with mischief. He crooked his finger at me and I suspected that he would ask for a nickel or some other small denomination. But when I leaned down to find out what he wanted, he promptly pulled on my beard, squealed and ran, crying, "Papa Noel! Papa Noel!" Coincidence, you say? I think not. I feel I am now in the center of a broad South American conspiracy to profile me as the ideal Santa.
Perhaps I should be flattered. After all, to already be identified as a local after such a short time here, speaks to my ability to assimilate, doesn't it? It's just that, well, Santa? I want to tell that street performer, that little boy, and yes, later, that vendor at the Plaza de los Ponchos in Otavalo, that I have, in fact, lost about twenty pounds since coming to Ecuador, which should boot me right out of the Santa category and into, maybe, a charming sort of pudgy elf group.
But I think it's my hair. Whiter than I recall it being, and somewhat long in its present state. And my Benedict Arnold beard, that betrayed me when I was in my Thirties and has added insult to grayer injury ever since. Luis, who works for us, suggested I should go up to the top of Mt. Imbabura with my eight tiny reindeer and swoop down on Peguche with my sleigh loaded with gifts for young and old. This, of course, came on the heels of him telling me the sad story of his life and how, as a child, he waited and waited for Papa Noel to appear every Christmas night, but he never came, which I assume led Luis to believe that he had been too bad for a visit from the jolly man. He insists that his life would be better if Santa actually brought him a gift this Christmas. That mischievous twinkle, by the way, does not leave the eyes of those cute children, even when they have reached, say, the age of Luis. Incidentally, I am not climbing that mountain on Christmas Eve, reindeer or no reindeer. Alpacas or no alpacas, as the case may be.
I am avoiding red this Christmas, and sweets, of course. I will take long walks and eat less so that next year at this time, I can be better suited for the tiny elf category. "Look, it's that skinny gray American!" they will say. And I will grab my stomach, laugh, and shake it like a bowl full of low calorie jelly.