And So It Begins…

The onslaught of radio and television advertising for grass seed and riding mowers. I suppose if I was a responsible homeowner, given the time of the year: spring/April, I might have an interest in such timely offerings. However, since I’m not and since I’m still unable to manage the two acres that I own, affectionately referred to as “Belly Acres,” going on 25 years dating back to May ‘92 when we initially took ownership, the best I can do is borrow my neighbor’s riding mower and spend a couple of hours every two weeks or so trying to keep the grass below my knees. Cancer issues not totally withstanding.

Actually, aside from having little interest, minimal experience and multiple home/tool maintenance issues/pre-existing conditions, I am the perfect target: a homeowner who can’t do anything on his own and needs help all the time for everything. Specifically as it involves my yard; I have grass, trees, bushes, shrubs, daffodils, flower beds, wild flowers, weeds and more weeds. If I were so inclined and wanted to confide to someone in a Lawn & Garden store, I would have to admit that a novice looks experienced compared to me. I need to be taken by the hand — literally — and instructed as if the words being spoken to me were a foreign language. Which of course, they are.

This previous paragraph presumes however that I have a budget and even a passing notion to attempt to improve upon the randomness that characterizes “Belly Acres.” I can still remember a conversation I had with a local lawn and garden consultant when we first moved in. A gentlemen came by and together we walked around the property. After ending up back at the house, he asked me what I wanted to do. I said something like, “I don’t know, you tell me.” He responded with words I could semi understand but mostly it was unintelligible — to me, so I asked for a clarification.

After grasping the obvious, finally, I asked: “Is what you’re telling me that I could hire someone to work full time for the rest of his life and still the work wouldn’t get done?”

“Yes,” he said.

That’s when I fully understood the problem. I then thanked him for his time and haven’t revisited the issue since. Talk about pointless. And so, all these years later, the property remains nearly as it was. Oh sure, tress have fallen down, branches, limbs, sticks and stones have hit the ground — and house, and together have cluttered up the general appearance. However, any effort beyond paying people to clean up the miscellaneous yard debris has been lost in the passage of time and in my lack of initiative. Throw in a “terminal” cancer diagnosis and at least for me, pulling weeds, etc., became a fairly low priority.

Still, it doesn’t mean that I don’t pay attention to advertising aimed at homeowners, especially the ones promoting grass seed and riding mowers. Many of which are quite funny and clever. Not quite clever enough to get me off the couch and into a store to spend money on a project, especially on one whose timeline might not match mine. That’s not to say that I’m living like I’m dying so why bother? No. it’s more about common sense and gratification. I don’t need to wait for — anything. Oh sure, I need to plan for tomorrow but not at the expense (pun intended) of today. It’s not exactly akin to a fool and his money but when you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, priorities change, as do budget/time allowances; in fact/feeling, everything changes.

I don’t mean to imply that I’m a closed book, unable to get out of my own way or incapable of taking the good with the bad. As you regular readers know, I’m really pretty flexible when it comes to my less-than-ideal circumstances. Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean that I don’t have my moments. Hearing/seeing these lawn and garden promotions has given me pause though. Not enough to change my mind but enough to motivate me — to write a column.

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Credit The Card

I’m not a big spender, maybe a medium spender — on my best day. My brother is a big spender, my father was, too. My mother, probably who I most likely take after: ‘medium’ and judicious, again, like me (or is it me like her?). Nevertheless, the money got spent and if there was more of it, it likely would have got spent, too. It’s not as if I was deprived growing up, I got the things that mattered — in the long run. I just didn’t get everything money could buy.

But that was before credit cards. Well, before Visa, MasterCard, Discover and Capital One. Sure, there were department store cards: Filene’s, Jordon Marsh, Kennedy’s — in Boston, and off course there were gas cards: Esso, Amoco and Arco, and I suppose I recall knowing about American Express and Diner’s Club, but they weren’t used by everybody everywhere, certainly not by the Louries. Now, plastic is the currency by which many of us pay to play, and some of us use to merely stay in the game.

And for me, it sort of is a game: how long can I go without charging something and how much can I charge and still be able to pay the balance off when the next monthly credit card bill arrives? As I contemplate my daily/weekly/ bi-weekly/monthly inflow and outgo, I associate my efforts at restraint and attempted control with that of a levee, if I understand their function correctly — which I might not: bend and not break? Like some NFL team defenses are often described.

The problem arises — for both me and the levee, when the levee/spending restraint breaks (quite the opposite of brakes/stops). That’s when the damage occurs. That’s when the balance overflows. That’s when good, bad and indifferent money follows. In for a dime, in for dollars, some of which don’t make sense. Once that resolve is weakened, and once that wallet is opened and that credit card is handed over, I feel very much the addict. Once I’ve started — and stopped denying myself the pleasure of the purchase, I find it extremely difficult to get off the spending bus. Invariably, it’s taken me awhile to get on so whether it’s sensory deprivation, deferred gratification or premature escalation, there are no more skid marks on that slippery slope. The race is on, so to speak and until I hit my imaginary financial wall, my credit card balance is going onward and upward.

Sure it feels good to spend money I don’t have without considering the pay-back consequences. Presumably, the benefits derived from the purchase will help soothe the savage, impoverished beast as he jiggles and then juggles the dollars in order to find some cents. I imagine that’s what makes the world go ‘round: short term pain for long term gain. Still, it doesn’t feel much like progress and progress is what feels good to me. Although, these new Rockport leather slip-ons with the “cushiony” soles and orthotic inserts are improving my disposition and lessening the pain in my feet and fatigue in my legs, it still costs me money not in my wallet.

I admit, I am enjoying the support and comfort my new shoes are providing. But I’m also keenly aware that I haven’t received the credit card bill yet reflecting there and other slipperyslope purchases made that same weekend. And when the piper has to be paid, I may not like my new shoes — among other items, nearly as much as I do right now. Right now, the shoes are free. Soon they won’t be.

Further complicating this spending-not spending dilemma is the fact that I’m a 62-yearold cancer patient; how do I deprive myself of any creature comforts when I have recurring highly stressful situations that give me, and my life-expectancy, pause. Naturally, I’d rather pay my way — and my share, but at what cost? I suppose cash in hand is still worth two in the bush, but if a credit card is all I have … ? Either I use it or lose it. The pain and/or pleasure will likely follow regardless.

Exercising A Demon

Last night, between 9:30 p.m. and 10:15 p.m., I traveled back in time — without leaving my bedroom and without the use of a Time Machine. I went back approximately 41 years to the fall of ‘73, to my sophomore year in college at The University of Maryland. A group of us decided to go see one of the most talked about movies of the year: “The Exorcist.” Talked about because it was filmed locally here in Georgetown and because it was said to be scary as h—.

I believe we saw the movie at the old KB Cinema located on Wisconsin Ave., NW, adjacent to Rodmans. I could be wrong but there’s no one to ask, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. I remember little else about the evening, other than my return back to my dorm room, #103, at Cumberland Hall in College Park. Though I had a roommate, he had gone home for the weekend so I was all alone. And that is what I remember most, closing the door, shutting off the lights, sitting on my bed and staring into the darkness and seeing Linda Blair’s face (from the movie) and being extremely uncomfortable being by myself so soon after having seen the movie. I had a difficult night. I don’t remember if I had any nightmares however, but, it was a miserable experience trying to fall asleep. I have not seen “The Exorcist” a second time, in its entirety or in any pieces until last night, despite it being a movie readily available on cable, especially around Halloween.

I would say I saw the last 45 minutes. I saw Linda Blair tied up in her bed. I saw Linda Blair turn her head completely around. I saw projectile vomiting from her mouth. I saw her fiery, yellow eyes and her face all torn up with scars and scabs. I saw her bed shake. I saw her bed levitate. I heard the demon inside her growl, screech, curse and speak backwards and verbally attack all the priests held sacred. I heard the bells chiming in the movie score. I saw plenty but not enough to justify the fear that engulfed me all those many years ago. Having watched the move again (and having slept peacefully through the evening), it almost feels as if I’ve survived a rite of passage somehow, faced off against my past and come out reasonably healthy — all things not considered.

Nevertheless, I have no interest in seeing “scary” movies. I guess I don’t see the point or rather the point pales in comparison to the fact that I’ve been diagnosed with cancer: now that’s scary. Moreover, having lived over 40 years since having seen “The Exorcist,” a few other scary things have happened in life which places a movie in context; it’s only celluloid (sort of), it’s not real. So I’ve learned a few things and probably unlearned a lot more. I wouldn’t say watching the movie tonight was an epiphany-type moment when the light came on and I realized what I had been missing or perhaps realized what I’ve been getting. Granted, it’s only a movie, and one that’s over 40 years old, but it’s a movie/experience/ affect that had stuck with me for a long time, and now I’m free of its tentacles.

It reminds of another movie I saw as a young boy, when I was under 10 years old, it scared the h— out of me and did give me nightmares: “Invaders From Mars,” released in 1953. The Martians landed in a field just within view from a little boy’s bedroom window in his family’s farmhouse. I remember his wide eyes at seeing the light off in the distance. I remember the music. I remember the Martians having a device that made the ground disappear and then reform. I remember the Martian leader’s head being carried around in a goldfish-type bowl of something. I don’t remember the plot. I just remember being frightened. It wasn’t until “The Exorcist” 15 or so years later that I had been similarly scared. And it wasn’t until 35 years after seeing “The Exorcist” when I was once again so scared that I had trouble sleeping, and had nightmares, and experienced everything else associated with fear that your life may actually be coming to an end: my non-small cell lung cancer diagnosis in late February 2009. Having survived more than a few years now past my original “13 month to two-year” prognosis, maybe I am ready to go see another scary movie? After all, I could probably use the diversion.

Sick & Tired

Man o’ man was I sick last weekend (that was not a question). It began as a runny nose, followed by an annoying hacking cough, compounded by sneezing and watery eyes, an occasional headache, with zero interest in food and hardly any energy to get myself out of bed where I spent practically the entire two days. I haven’t been that sick/incapacitated since, I don’t know when. Thankfully, there was no temperature, sore throat or nausea to further complicate my inability to move off the bed. And most thankfully, there was no urgency to visit the bathroom (I don’t know if I would have had the wherewithal to even get there). Otherwise, I mighty have actually had to call/email the doctor and/or make an appointment at the Emergency Room. After all, I do have cancer so I really shouldn’t ignore — totally — the times when I’m feeling uncharacteristically bad. This past weekend, had I gone from bad to worse, I would have called.

However, my symptoms, as miserable as they were, especially for two days, didn’t meet the this-is-it threshold as set forth by my oncologist. Though the symptoms were new and different versus the everyday norm, they certainly weren’t uniquely different (lung cancer related) for a seasonal-type cold. Moreover, the pain/discomfort/cough wasn’t coming from my lungs, and the symptoms had only lasted a few days, not a few weeks. I therefore determined that unlike Babe Ruth who felt “just as bad” as he sounded in his famous Babe Ruth Day farewell speech at Yankee Stadium on April 27, 1947, I wasn’t dying. I was just sick with a bad cold, one that was worse than any I remember (although maybe I’ve forgotten. See column titled “I Can’t Forget What I Don’t Remember” published 3/22/17).

Nevertheless, since I’m not a doctor, just a patient, presumably I should know what my body is telling me. However, I may not be so inclined to listen (fear mostly). Though my life may occasionally be at stake, I still struggle with the facts of my case. I delude myself into thinking that if I don’t give in to the pain and suffering — as rare as they usually are, then I won’t suffer the consequences: dying before my time. I don’t want to believe the worst so I don’t. I wouldn’t attribute my above-average life “unexpectancy” since diagnosis (eight years — AND ALWAYS COUNTING) as the power of positive thinking since I never read the book written by Norman Vincent Peale. But I try not focus too much on my diagnostic reality.

I mean, it’s not as if I laugh in the face of death; heck, I cry more than ever, especially while watching programs on television when heartstrings are pulled. Somehow though, I try not to take my cancer personally, if that makes any sense? I try to take it the same way Curly Howard of The Three Stooges took his many slapstick pratfalls: “I’m a victim of soycumstance.”

But when I get sick, whether or not I feel anything in my chest/lungs, I cross over into an entirely new realm. No more am I able to talk/humor myself into or out of things, no more am I able to deny my cancer reality and no more am I able to pretend that all is right in my world. It’s during these situations when the metaphorical/proverbial you know what hits my emotional fan that I suffer the most. Unfortunately, there’s not a shut-off button. I just have to ride it out, as bumpy as it typically is, and hope I come out the other end in better shape than when I went in.

So far, so good. Although I’m still coughing a bit and blowing my nose, all the other symptoms have subsided and no more do I feel worse for the wear. I don’t suppose it’s cancer-related, but of course, what do I know? What I do know is this: if the remaining symptoms linger, I’ll worry, and on Wednesday, April 19 — and for the following week, I’ll worry even more awaiting the results from the CT Scan and lower abdomen MRI I have scheduled that day (it’s a special: two for one). Granted, these tests are not any newer than catching a cold, but still, I can’t help wondering: since I was diagnosed as “terminal,” this can’t keep going on forever, can it?