Monthly Archives: May 2012

it won’t be long



May 2008

I don’t think many families have mastered the art of the Video Chat for Video Chat’s Sake like we have – pretty much since the day it came standard on a Mac laptop, we’ve been yapping at each other with terrible lighting and dubious sound quality for an average of 15 minutes too long each time.


Lucy, especially, has grown up with the video chat being de rigeur when either Tessa or I happen to be away, which is a fair amount. I like to take a screenshot when we do them, which means a lot of pictures like the ones attached to this blog entry.


January 2010

The very idea of seeing the person you’re talking to – while considered “magic” to those of us raised on rotary landlines – is so second-nature to Lucy that she will leave the room for minutes at a time, abandoning me to a still life of her carpet, with the goddamn dog passing through every once in a while.

But this casualness belies her strong desire to have us all together… and when I got waylaid by this lower GI nightmare and had to stay in NYC, she was Not Happy™. And if you know her, you know she rarely has, um, unexpressed emotions.

Lucy occasionally goes on these kicks when she calls various extended family members at all hours, eyes lit up like a teenager with car keys. As I’ve spent the last few nights recovering, I’ve been the recipient of a few choice ones. Because they are so unbelievably sweet, Tessa thought I should post the last three voicemails Lucy has left me.

1st Voicemail from Lucy 5-30-12.mp3

2nd Voicemail from Lucy 5-31-12.mp3

3rd Voicemail from Lucy 5-31-12.mp3

Oh, my, god. It’s almost painful what it does to my heart. And my “butt boo-boo”. What could anyone possibly say to that? Boarding pass… take me to my daughter! NOW!


and I do appreciate you being ’round


The time has come for a personal reckoning, and since I have this little slice of the internet to bleat on, you – the reader – are going to be my witness to my testimony.

After this weekend of another health emergency, I’ve had it. I’m drawing a line. I am putting myself back together after a year of falling apart.

Just so it is in one place, I’m going to indulge in a laundry list of what has occurred over the last eighteen months. Feel free to turn away at any point; this will be the blog equivalent of a burning car on the freeway by which you are both compelled and repulsed.

• In February 2011, I get the worst kidney stone of my life, taking a week of my life away while we were moving, and going beyond pain into psychological terror.

• I get strep throat for my birthday. In all, I get strep throat four times.

• In addition to strep, I test positive for both flus despite having the shot, leading to four sinus infections. My otolaryngologist looks at the chart: I’ve been on 18 antibiotics in four years.

• In September, random metal dust from a Dremel embeds in my forehead, giving me a staph infection that bloats up my face like an alien.

• After Christmas, I get a stomach flu while also having strep.

• In Hawaii, we are tortured on a boat for three hours and then I follow it up by ruining my own vacation.

• I finally have deviated septum surgery that turns out to be far more dreadful than I imagined.

• With a slight spring in my step, we come to New York for my birthday last weekend, and without going into any details, I end up in the hospital getting emergency colonorectal surgery.


my amazing surgeon today: “tell your wife you impressed us, and we’re never impressed.”

Bored yet? Oh god, so am I. I’m worse than bored; I’m demoralized, scared and numb mixed together in a froth of unending tedium.

Every single event above was a MOTHERFUCKING TEST OF MY ENDURANCE. During all of them, I kept saying to myself “just another five minutes, anything is bearable for five minutes” before spiraling off into delirium. But that shit stops NOW.

I am not content with merely surviving. I am not “thrilled just to be here.” I want my fucking life back. Like Greg H. sang, “I want to love and hate and kiss and kill” and I just don’t want to think about this shit anymore.

Yes, there are people suffering through much worse, and many of our close friends are going through things I can’t imagine. But this is my only vessel, and it has long since gone past ridiculous.

The worst part is the lack of self-sufficiency, the lack of manhood, the feeling that you would disintegrate were it not for the kindness of the world around you. I need to thank you. I need to thank Lars Lucier, and Monica Nordhaus, and Jamie Block. I need to thank my brother Sean, and my sister Melissa, and my mom. But most of all, I need to thank the Lulubeans for being such a stalwart little soul, and of course, my wife Tessa – no words can capture her spirit, her patience, nor the size of her heart.

How did I get to be among such people? How do y’all put up with this crap? Perhaps Julie Andrews got it when she sang the second-worst song from “The Sound of Music”: “maybe in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good.”

I need some sort of silent, fundamental shift. I will point in a slightly better direction.

I will not fall apart.

I will not fall apart.

what happens when you’re not looking


A huge hearty THANK YOU to all the birthday wishes out there – it was really awesome. The farm was brilliant, and to celebrate the true hot beginning of summer, allow me to present…


That’s right – I stuck my little camera on a ledge looking westward from our barn on January 3rd this year, where it took a picture every day at 2:30PM and cobbled it into a movie. I was hoping to catch the usual insane 6-foot white-out blizzards… and of course, we have the least interesting winter on record.

Feast your eyes on all 15 seconds of this true measure of nature’s spectacle. Feel the cold sweep of one (1) light snowstorm. View it full screen for the true magic!

take your hat off boy when you’re talking to me


Yes, I get it – the blog I’m about to write is a tremendous cliché, worn thin by years of parents going through the same motions, but it doesn’t make it any less of a bummer that our sweet, long-lived goldfish Hank has died.

In 2007, I wanted to teach Lucy about “taking care of other beings”, hopefully leading to “empathy”, since she was 2 years old, and therefore completely insane. On a blazing hot day when she was quite sick, we shook things up a bit by going to an aquarium.

On my shoulders, she was psyched but delirious (and probably febrile) as we roamed the selection of fish. Without hesitation, she pointed to a gold fantail and a telescope-eyed black moor and announced their names were Hank & Ankle.

the fish in October 2007

I like to do the research when it comes to these things, so I took very good care of them, and Lucy followed my example. Ankle was a little too delicate for Hank’s rough-and-tumble ways, and so was Ankle II – so by 2009, Hank was a solo goldfish.

For five years, he relaxed my thoughts late at night, and during the day, he was a source of constant fascination for all of Lucy’s playdates. Bringing a crying 18-month-old to the tank usually resulted in a kid with wide-eyed wonder.

He’d had a rougher time of it since this winter, often retreating to the bottom of the aquarium, listing to one side, and getting some of the old ick, but he still recognized me when I came into the room, bolting skyward for food.

A few weeks ago, when Tessa had just returned from caretaking over a good friend’s death, dealing with the news that one of Lucy’s closest friends had a possible tumor, with me away and Lucy herself running a fever of 101, our helper Laura came into the room and said, “Señora, yo estaba pensando que Hank esta muerto” (“Ma’am, I’m thinking Hank has died”.)

At the end of her tether, Tessa looked up from Lucy’s thermometer and half-barked “Tell Hank he is NOT ALLOWED to die today!” Apparently the three of them went to his aquarium, where he was lying crooked face-down in the gravel. They spoke to him, starting to say goodbye, when suddenly, he twitched, righted himself, and swam over to see what was wrong. For this alone, I know Tessa will always be thankful.

Hank was suffering from something, but showed more will to keep going than most creatures I’ve seen from the animal kingdom. While it’s true goldfish can live for 20 years, 90% of them don’t make it to a year in people’s homes. Hank may now join our family’s Cadre of Ridiculously-Long-Lived Pets, from the sedentary puffball doorstop Zooey to the sexually-ambiguous Chopin.

When Lucy got home from school today, she found out what I’d known for hours: good ol’ Hank had swum off his mortal coil for good. Dolefully, but with the intensity that comes from any of her art projects, she made a coffin out of a printer ink box, and acted as sole pallbearer outside.



I dug a spot next to our peach tree, currently being guarded from lascivious squirrels, and we said a few choice words, then sprinkled dirt on top, and closed the grass over him. We chose that spot because now Hank will feed the tree, and we can always think of him when we pick the fruit for years.


By the time we got in, Tessa had come home, and Lucy handed each of us a piece of paper. “All three of us have to write a poem about him,” she said, “because I’m writing his biography.” And all three of us did. It was her first animal; she’d known him from age 2 to 7, what else could we do? As I thought of rhymes, I also realized Hank, as a goldfish – that most quotidian and simple of pets – had done what I asked him. He taught empathy, whose natural offspring is poetry.


Lucy, Tessa and I write a one-minute poem – click for bigger if you dare

and love will guide the stars


As I have been lying around feeling sorry for myself, getting my brain occasionally sucked out by a straw (courtesy of my otolaryngologist every few days), I have to remember the vibrant, shimmering world that existed before, and exists now, with an unpleasant week stuck in the middle.

So for our friends and family – and for myself – here are a few images taken over the last 14 days, skipping the part in the middle. First, a “1971 Party” celebrating Lucy’s school’s 40th graduating class:


I was going for “Failed AMC Gremlin and Pacer Salesman”

Another yearly tradition: the pinkie planting of the seedlings for the summer garden, something we’ve done together since she was two:


This year, we’ve got 12 different varieties of heirloom tomatoes, from the ostentatious Large Pink Bulgarian to the fitful Zogola and the schemin’ Dr. Carolyn. Last year’s experiment ended poorly, so this year we’re going with a heat mat/thermostat and treating ’em like royalty:


Put any song on the sound system, and our daughter will appear from whatever project she is doing, dressed in something insane, to quickly redo the room with dance. I put on Ayesha’s Dance from Khachaturian’s Gayene ballet (listen to it!) and we got this:


Not all of Lucy’s projects require extensive pre-production. She noticed the bubbles from her bubble bath drained into a vaguely-familiar shape, so she made sure it did not go unnoticed:


Using the ol’ Solar Eclipse Viewer technique perfected by years of shoeboxes and decades of virginity, I taught La Luce how to make a pinhole projector to watch the much-anticipated solar eclipse due Sunday evening before sunset. We made three sizes: Small, Better, and Monstrous!


They worked pretty well – this pic makes it look small, but it was taken over Tessa’s shoulder into the viewer:


One of my favorite memories in Chapel Hill was the day we got a partial eclipse in 1994. I was walking all over town, and noticed the sun piercing through the leaves was making millions of these tiny pinhole projectors, leaving the campus awash in tiny, wooshing crescent shadows. It might be one of the most wondrous things I’ve ever seen.

I was hoping we’d have a little of that here, but the sun was so low in the sky… then, for a few minutes, I saw the hundreds of crescents projected on our neighbor’s house:


We had to go to Lucy’s children’s chorus show, so we packed up our eclipse gear, got her dressed, and hopped in the car. And when we pulled out, I saw the mist moving in for the evening, and remembered my third grade science teacher saying “some people want a cloudless sky, but when you get a good layer of fog over an eclipse and can look straight at it, then you’re the luckiest astronomer in the world.”

The entire city suddenly got very dark and eerie, like the green and purple air you get in Iowa before a tornado. And this is what we saw:


click for bigger

A little closer in:


We made it to Lucy’s concert, and as I watched her sing “Seagull, Seagull” with her eyes wide open at the conductor, I realized I was already the luckiest astronomer in the world.


Lucy (middle) believes someone should probably get back in line

i’ll take common poisonous houseplants for $800, alex


A quick thank you to everyone who has helped me out this week – I even got flowers! I haven’t received plants since my last surgery at the age of 5:


that ceramic dog on the bedside table holds a philodendron I was quite proud of

What’s supercool is that I can actually smell the flowers, which I haven’t done with that intensity since, well, the age of 5. Another odd thing: I can hear the sound of air going through the right side of my head. Those passages have been closed lo so many years that the sensation is jarring (but awesomeballs).

While I’ve been boring everyone to tears with my ruminations on sinuses and backrubs, the debate is still raging in the comments section from last week about gay marriage. I get so angry so quickly that I’ve let cooler heads argue better than I would, so take a look (unless you’re The Budster, whom my spam filter loathes for some reason… Bud, can you post as “Blanche” or something?)

It’s been a week since they cut me open, and it’s time to be a real human again. The strength of my strength lies in my wife Tessa, whose superwoman powers never fail to render me mute with tears. And of course, the little girl who wanted diagrams of my septum, nanometer inspections of my IV stent, and watched with awe as I did the neti pot. I love you both so, so, so much.


it’s so confusing choosing sides in the heat of the moment



I would like to sing the praises of THE BACKRUB. No, not the massage, and in fact, I’m sick of the whole idea of massages. Because of my precious, petal-like delicacy this week, I splurged and hired a very nice lady to come to our house in Venice to fix my horribly-aching body. After doing the usual deep-tissue massage bit, leaving me again wondering why I keep signing up for such misery, I stopped everything.

I just told her that I’d had surgery, I was sick of feeling like shit, and to just give me a stupid backrub. And she did, and it was awesome.

The BACKRUB is what you get, for free, from the people that love you. It’s what you gave to girls in the dorm, the ones you were contemplating kissing while watching VHS tapes of Wim Wenders movies. The backrub does not seek to purify, or to heal, or to “isolate pressure points”. You give the backrub with only the vague rule of “if I were on the receiving end, what would feel good next?”

I don’t mean to suggest back rubs as a gateway drug to sex, although my brother Sean spent half my wedding roast (nominally called “our rehearsal dinner”) speaking of my apparent proclivities in that direction. And it’s true, I was a big aficionado of the backrub as means of non-verbal communication; I learned my craft from the best in Hinton James (she knows who she is – Hi Special K!) and coming from my repressed childhood, touching other human beings retained its sense of the magical.

The same thing happened later with the oral arts, having learned those from an equally gifted tutor (Hey Lizard darling!) but I digress. The point is this: why do spas, hotels, and body therapists offer only the “massage”, and then further balkanize it, all the way from the boring and twiddly Swedish and Shiatsu, to the muscle-screaming madness of “deep tissue” and Rolfing?

God forbid you get poured into the world of aromatherapy, which leaves you sluicing around in a stew of cold oil, like a tossed vinaigrette salad. Massage music is terrible. And they hardly ever touch your scalp, which is where your HEAD is, as in HEAD-ACHES.

I’m tired of that shit. I want what Tessa does to my arm or neck during a long road trip. I want what I used to do with crushes on the second floor of Spencer Dorm. Quelle dommage, le massage. My apology, reflexology. No thankie, Reike! Nothing’s pending on happy endings! BRING BACK THE BACKRUB!

i can smell for miles and miles


Here you go, A Few Things To Know About Surgery for a Deviated Septum, or The Worst Week You Didn’t Actually Know How Much You Needed. Or, in the original German, Nasennebenhöhlenchirurgie.

• I have oft-bemoaned Facebook for a number of reasons, the most central of which is “they shouldn’t get to have everything.” I’ve seen the toll FB has taken on some of my favorite things on the internet, and I’m happy to keep fighting that fight as long as I still have the pissin’ vinegar for it.

But somehow, in a post-op haze, I blindly groped for my phone and half-saw a picture Tessa took of me after the operation. Through sheer muscle memory, I posted it on Facebook, and then forgot I did so.


to quote Sean, I “look like the mom from ‘Brazil’.”

Around 3am that night, waking up from an awful dehydration migraine, I clicked on the phone and saw some of the comments coming in – and in that desperate moment, I was actually removed from pain, removed from that bed, and felt so, so much better. Some were from people who I last broke bread with in 1989, but it didn’t matter; I knew exactly who they were, I retained the little memories of their peccadilloes, that sort of “paradoxical intimacy” we had of each other back then, when we knew birthdays but not last names.

In short, it does work especially well for these experiences, and it was tremendously meaningful to hear from you there, and on here.

• I got a few emails from folks who said that picture made them reconsider getting the surgery, even though they were told they needed it. Let me add fuel to the fire: this shit was WAY more serious than either Tessa or I fathomed, and it’s made worse by being SO IN YOUR MOTHERFUCKING FACE.

I mean, with an appendectomy or a colonoscopy, you have some sense of perspective; those problems are “down there” or “over on that side”, but when you get surgery between your eyes it’s hard not to take personally.

However, I hold faith that everyone else is telling the truth: that it will be a night-and-day difference when it’s over. I still have the plastic stint in my head, but already, I can smell the irises downstairs, three rooms away. If it means not going to Hawaii to get strep throat, it will have been worth it. Actually, screw the future imperfect: it will be worth it.

• I remember my 5th year at Carolina, auditing one of Vic Randolph’s 1st-year med school classes, where the professor went on at some length about the serious design flaws in the human sinuses. The passages are too small, they run parallel to the same nerve pathways as our “fight or flight” hormones, and they’re prone to bullshit.

As such, getting them fixed is tricky… far too tricky to be sent straight home afterwards, as mandated by your insurance company. I was lucky and could afford to stay in an after-care hotel (which was really just a hospital with better carpeting) but if you don’t have the extra cash or an excellent caregiver at home, you are shit out of luck.

Often, you need an IV for fluids and pain meds, and if you can’t keep anything down, your options thin to the obvious: the otolaryngologist said that patients who don’t stay at the after-care center usually end up in the ER. How does that make any goddamn fiscal sense for anybody?

• This whole week has not been painful, really, at all. It has, however, been tremendously and unrelentingly uncomfortable, which takes its own toll. I opted out of the Vicodin very early on, because it was just making me confused, and I thought I’d rather be annoyed than confused. Having done it, my advice is to definitely opt for confusion.

After sleeping in some forbidden Vinyāsa position (you need a mountain range of pillows to slumber propped up) I woke up with one side throbbing and useless like a medieval churchbell ringer, and Tessa made me crack open the Vikes, which is currently allowing me to write this blog.

• At least it was, until…

…….*snurk* ZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzz…..