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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Fringeville #103, April 20 2014


...listen carefully; the Universe may be whispering in your ear




It is a poorly kept secret that often my bedtime reading is something related to astronomy or quantum physics. Not the down and dirty math and hard core science found in the trenches, but the high level stuff. Astronomy is my usual bedtime poison. I can read about expanding Universes, black holes and old riverbeds on Mars until I fall asleep with the book laying open on my face.

But some nights, I find myself reading about string theory, multiverses and the crazy world of quantum physics where particles don't have one history but every possible history. Where the aroma of your morning java may not have taken its usual more or less direct journey from the pot to your nose, but perhaps made a quick tour of the Andromeda galaxy first. Or was maybe here and on Pluto at the very same instant.

As I waited for the phone to ring, my arms trembling almost imperceptibly, my face draining of color, I found myself thinking about the quantum stuff because the name Cornelius Ryan popped into my head. Ryan was a World War II correspondent famous for writing The Longest Day: 6 June 1944 D-Day, as well as The Last Battle and A Bridge Too Far.

But the book I remember him most for was A Private Battle, written from secret notes he kept during his struggle with prostate cancer, a war he eventually lost. His wife, Kathryn Morgan Ryan, discovered the notes after his death. She journaled his war against cancer as well, and from what I have read, neither was aware of what the other was doing. Kathryn turned their journals into A Private Battle. It was an extraordinary piece of work that pulled readers into Ryan's long fight with a devastating disease.

I read that book decades ago, and I am not entirely sure how it came into my possession. It is almost as if it simply appeared one day on my nightstand. A gift from the Universe. An absurd thought, of course. More likely, I bought it at my church's annual summer Festival flea market. I had a habit of doing that each summer; I would just pick out a bunch of books that looked interesting, buy them, and bring them home in a small pile. Yet I don't remember picking that one out, and it was certainly an odd choice. I was in my late twenties or perhaps early thirties at the time, not an age group where prostate cancer is common. Also, as far as I know, there is no history of prostate cancer in my family.

I'd had one episode of prostate inflammation when I was in my thirties. It resolved itself on its own not long after a visit to a urologist. The doctor's prescription was: "You're a young married man. Just have lots of sex. Keep the pipes clean." (You can't make stuff like this up.)

He wasn't amused when I shot back a Rodney Dangerfield reply of: "But Doc, sex scares me. It's dark. I'm alone."

So anyway yes, logically, it was probably the flea market that brought the book into my life.


Probably.

Or maybe, just maybe, the threads of the multiverse crossed for a second, and the book fell out a parallel Universe and quite literally, it seems now, into my lap. If that had been the only message the Universe sent to me about prostate cancer, I'd likely have forgotten about it.


But there was more.

In June of 2008 I began writing Water's Edge. The short story is about a man terminally ill with prostate cancer who decides to meet death on his own terms. I was drawn deeper and deeper into that story with every clickety-clack of my keyboard. If one is allowed to have favorites among their own works, this was one of mine. When I finally finished it, I remember thinking: "Well, where the hell did THAT come from?"


The phone rang. The biopsy results. The call I dreaded.

When I'd had my biopsy a few days earlier, I'd asked my urologist when the results would be in.

"It will probably be Friday, but there's a chance they'll have them on Thursday afternoon. Just call the office."

"They'll give me the report over the phone?"

"Anyone in the office can give you the report if it's benign."

"So," I said flatly, "My tipoff is if you have to call me back."

He paused a bried second and says, "Yes, that's your tipoff."

The biopsy itself was a piece of cake. That was because I was smart enough to research it and ask to be sedated, which required it being done at an ambulatory center. The other option was simply having it done in the urologist's office while wide awake. The biopsy would involve an ultrasound probe delivered up the rear entrance and then a dozen jabs through the wall of the rectum to withdraw thin cores of prostate tissue. In my reading, the best thing anyone had to say about the procedure was that it was like having a rubber band snapped. In your butt. Over and over. No thanks. When I was a kid I didn't like a towel snapped against my butt in the showers after gym class. I certainly didn't want anyone snapping anything IN my butt with me conscious at the time.

I was with the nurse when she called to set up the appointment. "Thank you," I said after she finished the scheduling call. "I have no intention of being awake when I have telephone pole shoved up my backside to harpoon my prostate a dozen times."

"It's not a telephone pole," she laughed softly.

"Maybe not. But what do you think a urologist would do if he was in my shoes?"

"Exactly what you're doing. Any of them would."

The day before the biopsy I started taking a particulary gnarly antibiotic called levaquin, which has a bunch of interesting possible side-effects, including tendon ruptures. It was only a three-day course, but among my other genetic blessings is osteogenesis imperfecta (OI). OI affects bones and connective tissues. Fractures are common, and I've had a number of them. But I've also blown out the patellar tendon in my right knee as well as partially tearing an achilles tendon. The powerful antiobiotic was necessary because of the path the urologist would take to do the biopsy. (See the note above about telephone poles and harpoons.)

The biopsy went well. I had no pain, but for about week I would have the distinct feeling I was constantly sitting on a softball. An odd, odd feeling indeed.

I picked up the phone and the doctor greeted me. I immediately fired off a list of questions:

What was the Gleason score? ...7
How many cores were positive? ...9 of 12
In one side of the prostate or both?  ...both
What is next?  ...you're going to need treatment 


At that point I babbled a bit. I can't recall what else I asked or what he said. The call ended after I asked him if he believed in prescience. He paused, and I said I'd written a story about a man who had terminal prostate cancer and that I had no idea where the inspiration came from. Perhaps the Universe was sending me a message. He paused again, and said the office would be calling Friday to schedule me for a CAT scan and bone scan and the call ended abruptly.

My face reddened with embarrassment. I could only imagine what he was thinking! I must have sounded like a nut case. And then I realized he had probably experienced a wide range of reactions from folks who'd just been told they won the cancer lottery.

But I am relatively certain no other patient will ever tell him the Universe lent him a book and then sent an early prostate cancer warning through a fiction project. It is these weird little quirks in the way I think that set me apart (and probably explain why I didn't have my first date until I was twenty-two).

* * *

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Fringeville #102, April 12 2014

It's yours, free, if you just take it and leave!


What do I know about PSA? That's a teacher's union, right Doc?

Sometimes it's the phone calls you make, sometimes it's the phone calls you take. This time it was both.

Let's start with the call I made.

The woman who answered the phone at the doctor's office had a very, very pleasant voice. Cheerful, in fact. The perfect voice for answering incoming calls.

"How can I help you?"

"I'm calling for my biopsy results."

"Your name?"

"James O'Meara."

"Your date of birth?"

I gave it to her.

"Do you mind holding? I'll see if they came in."

I waited, and as I did so my mind wandered back to the things I had left to do that day and over the coming weeks. For the day, I was on my lunch and had a pile of work to get back to after the phone call. For the immediate future, there was a political campaign ahead. I had filed my petitions to run for Republican State Committee earlier in the week (the day before my biopsy, in fact). I was anxious to see what ballot position I would draw later in the month for the Primary Election.

Then my mind focused on the following day, one I was looking forward to. It was one of my days to pick up my grandson at daycare and drive him to school. We would have a half hour in the car together, and I would use every moment to the fullest. I would recite the name of every street we passed and we would play our "lunch game." The game works like this:

"What did you eat for lunch, James?" I ask. (My grandson is the third in a line of James O'Meara's ...I started a dynasty.)

No answer.

"Did you have elephant soup?"

"No."

"Alligator toes?"

"No."

"Snail soup?"

"NO."

"Zebra gizzards?"

"NO!"

On and on we go until he has a grin the size of Oklahoma.

These half-hour trips are precious to me. On this particular Thursday afternoon, March 13 2014, I was also thinking about the route to take on Friday when I drove my grandson to school. He likes me to change things up, and always asks to go "a different way." It was becoming a challenge because there are only so many ways to go from one end of Pittston to the other.

"Mr. O'Meara?"

Oh, but her tone had changed. Softer, almost a whisper.

"What number can doctor call to reach you?"

That was it. Bang. Zoom. My life had just changed, and I knew it.

I gave her my mobile number and sat at my dining room table, waiting for his call.

"Well," I sighed to myself, "You finally get yourself in a race you might win and then you go and get cancer."

* * *


The first indication something was amiss started the previous autumn. I was working two part-time jobs. One of those jobs was for a national retail chain, where I was a home improvement sales consultant. That's a fancy way of saying I sold hardware, lawn and garden goods, and a host of other items. I applied for the job strictly for the challenge. I was a middle-aged deaf man with bilateral cochlear implants which restored my hearing. I wanted to see if I could walk up to total strangers, engage them, and learn to sell. I wasn't a great sales consultant as far as numbers go, but in the time I was there I began building a core of customers who would come looking for me when they needed something. It didn't pay well, but I had a blast. It was a job requiring me to be on my feet all the time. I liked that aspect of it, once I got used to it, because it kept my butt from growing so large it needed its own zip code.

I started the job in August of 2012, and for the first year things were fine. Then, as the seasons changed and the colors of autumn emerged in 2013, something odd began to happen as I worked. One minute I'd be fine, and the next I'd get an urgent call from Mother Nature that the dam in my bladder was going to burst. I would zip off to the men's room, answer her call, then zip back to the sales floor. At first this happened maybe once a shift. As time went on it happened more often. Usually it wasn't a big deal because frankly we weren't all that busy. But occasionally a scenario like this would play out:

"Hello, and thanks for coming in to visit us today. I'm Jimbo. I see you're thinking about a lawnmower,sir."

"Maybe."

"Can you tell me a little about your yard?"

The customer would start talking about the size, terrain, etc. and suddenly an urgent message would be sent from my bladder to my brain: "Jimbo, wrap this up. The tank's full."

But of course, I couldn't wrap it up. I was just getting started.

"How does this electric start thingymabob work?"

I would start answering the question, and the others that followed, and a new message would arrive from below my belt line: "Jimbo. It's me. Your bladder. Maybe you missed my last call. Remember the movie 'A River Runs Through It?'  Well, in about 30 seconds that's gonna be your pants."

Panic!!!

"Let me go see if we have these in stock in our warehouse!" I would blurt out, then hurry off.

Of course, we had a ton of mowers in stock, but once I was in the warehouse I could make a dash to the men's room, tap the kidneys, and go back to my sale.

Occasionally, though, it was difficult to peel away. When I said I wanted to check stock, my customer would stop me and ask even more questions. Usually it was just one or two, but occasionally someone put me through the retail version of the Spanish Inquisition. I would stand there, cross-legged and spit out the answers. On a couple of occasions I came within seconds of saying: "Buddy it's yours, free, if you just take it and leave right this second."

Sure, I'd have been fired. But I'd get to pee, and at those particular moments in time all that mattered to me in the entire Universe was peeing.

I suppose I should have been alarmed, but I simply put it down to getting older. I felt great otherwise. My bladder was just a little excitable.

When my other part-time job became full-time with benefits in December of 2013, I left my retail job. I also made a mental note to see my primary physician sometime after the holidays. I hadn't been to the doctor in more than two years, largely because for much of that time I'd had no health care benefits. When I finally got limited healthcare benefits in January 2013 from my retail employer, my schedules were insane and I put off scheduling an appointment. The full-time job as "the office guy" for a local shoe store offered a lot of flexibility. I could finally make an appointment and get a good once-over. I had routine blood work done in early February 2014 and on the 13th of that month I finally found myself in my doctor's office waiting to be scolded over my cholesterol levels and for putting on a few pounds.

"Well," he said, "You're due for a colonoscopy but there's something else we need to look at first. Your PSA rose from about 1.8 to over 6. I'm going to refer you to a urologist."

And with that, my happy race to heck in a handbag began.


* * *

Friday, April 11, 2014

Fringeville #101, April 11 2014

A quick note to my readers (both of  you) that I'm going to begin writing about a journey I recently began. I know where I want it to take me. I know where I hope it takes me. But there are no guarantees, just likelihoods. And I'm not sure if I have the courage to write about it, but nevertheless I'm going to try.

The first installment will post shortly. The working title is: I'll give it to you free if you just take it and leave.

It's not what you expect. Trust me on that.

Jimbo


* * *

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Fringeville #100, February 1 2014


GHOST RIDERS LCTA...

An old fogie from Plains went ridin' out one dark and windy day
An LCTA bus was city bound and it whisked him on his way
When all at once a mighty herd of senior citizens he saw
A-boarding his bus on Public Square,

Spectral pop-pops and grandmaws

Their walkers made of brass and their shopping bags tinted teal
Their bus passes were afire and their hot breath he could feel
A bolt of fear went through him as they inched on down the aisle
For he saw the Riders comin' slow and heard their mournful cry

Yippie yi aaaay
Yippie yi ohhhh,
Ghost Riders LCTA


Their faces gaunt, their eyes was blurred,

Their shirts was soaked with sweat
They're ridin' hard to go to the mall,

but they ain't got there yet
'Cause they've got to ride forever these phantoms will never die
On buses belching black smoke, as they ride on hear their cry

Yippie yi aaaay
Yippie yi ohhhh,
Ghost Riders LCTA


As the riders sat around him, he heard one call his name
"If you want to save your soul you best get off this bus today
Get off right now or straight to a grand jury you will ride
Or worse you'll be a phantom too, and sit forever at my side!"

Yippie yi aaaay
Yippie yi ohhhh,
Ghost Riders LCTA

* * *

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Fringeville #99, January 19 2014


Sticker Shock
Holy Sh*t...

My wife has been working late shifts for months. I've been doing a lot of the shopping. She's on a new shift, and gets out in the early evening. That means she's back to a normal sleep schedule, so we can actually go to the store together.

Last evening we went to Wally World in Pittston Township. As we went up and down the aisles, this was the mantra escaping my beloved's lips:

"Holy Sh*T! Look at the price on this!"

"Holy Sh*t! The cheese we buy has gone through the roof!"

"Holy Sh*t!" Look at the bacon prices! It'd be cheaper to buy the pig!" 


The only genuine bargain we found was Eight O'Clock Columbian coffee K-Cups, the elixir of the gods-too-lazy-to-grind-beans-at-six-AM.

The really bad news is that price-wise it's even worse in other stores.

So where do we shop?

Ranked by preference (meaning we actually enjoy the overall experience), we do the bulk of our shopping at Schiel's in Parsons. The service is excellent (I hate lines).
None of our other stores match Schiels on getting you through the line quickly. The prices and quality are good, and it is also closest to where I work.

Next on the preference totem pole is Weis Market on River Street in Plains. Like Schiels, good prices and quality. Schiels gets the edge because it is usually next to impossible to get out of Weiss quickly. There are just a handful of checkouts and they're not all manned.

Price Chopper would get more business from us if they were closer, but they refuse to move the store. Their selection and quality is great, it's just their location relative to our abode.

Wegmans is heaven for selection and quality ...I could live out my life in their olive bar ...but the prices are too steep and the crowds are unnerving.

Wally World is reserved for odds and ends and things we just can't get cheaper. It is always the worst possible experience. There are 60 bajillion checkouts, and maybe three or four manned at any given time. Kind of like going to the bank these days. Lotsa people, lots of lines, zero service. And Wally World either has chimpanzees stocking their eggs or they use the egg display for bazooka practice. But Wally World is generally the cheapest and they tend to save us trips out for other things totally unrelated to grocery purchases.

Now if I rank these stores by where we actually spent the most, the batting order is: Schiels (46%), Wally World (26%), Weiss (23%), Price Chopper (4%) and finally Wegmans (1%). I've got to say, that was a surprise to me, because we don't make that many trips to Wally World. But when we do, we spend. When the cheapest place, where we spend more than 1-in-4 food dollars, elicits sticker shock from my wife, this can't be good news for the overall state of the economy.

It's the inflation that isn't happening and it is the inevitable and predictable result of printing money out of thin air while vastly increasing national debt. Mix in the myriad and rising taxes at all levels of government, the falling actual wages, and we've got what some call the deliberate destruction of the American middle class.


I think it is far, far simpler: We have a vast and growing government that is utterly incompetent, hopelessly corrupt, and completely out of touch with the people they serve. A government which believes, perhaps correctly, that we serve them because we certainly vote that way.

Whatever the cause, here is the cry we're all going to hear going forward from the shoppers of America: "Holy Sh*t! Look at the price of the toilet paper. Time to stop mulching and use the leaves!"

* * *

Friday, January 17, 2014

Fringeville #98, January 17 2014


Yes, the Almighty has a sense of humor...

Recently, God pranked me.

Seriously.

He even let me know something was coming. Of course, being the Almighty and all, there was no way I'd guess what He had in store.

It happened at Mass earlier this month. I was on Eucharistic Minister duty, but it turns out I was also on His prank list because I'd missed some Masses. (One because I apparently don't know how to read a schedule, others because I'm pigheaded about some things and that's all I'll say about that.)

As I dressed in my white robe for duty, I had a sense of foreboding. Something was  going to happen, I was sure of it. 

But what?

Would I drop a host (done that before).

Would I knock something off the altar and watch in horror as it clanged, banged and bounced across the marble floor (done that twice).

Would I trip and fall flat on my face, sending Communion Hosts skittering all across the floor (not yet, but it is inevitable).

I said to one of the other Eucharistic Ministers: "...I'm due for some small catastrophe. Whatever happens, just yell out, '...yeah, I remember MY first beer.'"

But Mass went without a hitch. Flawless in fact. When I was finally back in my pew to await the recessional, I let out a deep breath. The music started. We left our pew and lined up behind Monsignor, bowed, then turned around to start the march to the back of the church.

Which is, of course, when God pranked me in front of the entire congregation.

I was about to take a step when one of my comrades tugged my elbow and pointed down.

We wear rope belts around our waists and moments before, when bowing, mine had fallen off and was tangled up in my feet.

So there I was, with everyone watching, trying to gracefully bend down and pull up my belt while hopping pathetically down the aisle. I caught the eye of a woman in a pew and stammered: "...yeah, looks like that diet is working for me."

I swear I could hear the Almighty laughing. He's good. The ultimate prankster. I mean, how else do you explain armadillos, porcupines, or Dennis Rodman?

At least He didn't let me trip ...so I did receive a small measure of mercy.

But I'm going to be on edge for a while. I don't think he's done with me...

* * *

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Fringeville #97, January 14 2014


Labor Farce

The vanishing American Worker
As bad as the trend has been since 2009, what is even more unsettling to me is how many people in that horrible number in the lower right-hand corner are working two, three or more jobs to prop up the rest of the country.

You can, if you wish, spend all kinds of time tossing blame back and forth between this President or that. If it makes you feel better.  If you think it will matter one damned bit.It won't.

Whatever the hell it is we think we're doing, it ain't working kids. I said more than once in 2010 that we were in a depression. I still believe that. Maybe it's a little baby depression, not a "great" one, but if we continue shrinking the labor force and enabling long-term dependence we are going to be toast. In fact the bread's in the toaster now, and we're fiddling with the dial: light, medium, dark, or burnt to an inedible crisp.

* * *