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Thursday, January 27, 2005
The universe is a big place, but I'm sure Ivan Noble will have no trouble making himself at home. I just read his final entry in his 2-year-old "Tumour diary," an account of his struggle with brain cancer -- specifically Glioblastoma Multiforme, or GBM. I've followed his battle for close to two years, and after reading his closing chapter, all I feel is humble. I've been treating my old carcass like a dumpster over the past few years, and still enjoy unfairly robust health for the most part. So when someone with everything to live for -- wife, small children, challenging career -- gets the bum deal of cancer, it makes my supposed "troubles" shrink to nothing. Ivan's last sentences speak to people whose behaviours increase their cancer risk. That if reading his diary makes two or three people stop smoking, for instance, thereby preventing at least one of them from dying of a needless cancer, his "scribblings will have been worthwhile." That's greatness. Thank you, Ivan.
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
Another astoundingly great weekend in the country, haunting Jean's parents' farm, and then Jean and Tyke's place. It was about time I did something for Jean's folks, Harry and Margaret, since they've put me up for the night on several occasions. I decided to repay them by cooking dinner. So I did, and Jean came and made a salad, and all was good. Jean and I got into the red wine, but managed to avoid disaster. Although I still have no idea what "All about My Mother" is all about, since I dropped off snoring as soon as I reclined to watch it. Charming.
The next day was great fun, as Tyke was taking the new draft horses, Dusty and King, out for a spin in the snow. He and his co-pilot spent an hour or so adjusting the harnesses, and then Jean and I and the other breakfast guests climbed aboard the sled for the inaugural ride. Fun, yes! Especially when the sled would hit a snowdrift and slew violently to one side, causing much excitement among the passengers, all of whom were standing. Tyke did a grand job driving, and I think he was having as much fun as we were. I don't think he could love those horses any more if they were chickens, and that's saying a lot, considering how many chickens he has.
I Love Authors, Part 3: Last week I received a short e-mail from Jim Lewis, the author of "The King is Dead," one of the best books I've read in recent years. It said, "Glad you liked the book. Ain't technology grand?" So of course I just about broke my thumbs getting to the keyboard and hammering out a gushing reply. I'll say it again: I hope I never get tired of getting messages from the authors whose books I love.
Which reminds me, I owe Peter Oliva an apology. A couple of years back I took a strip off him for criticizing a book he hadn't read. He somehow found the related blog entry and sent me an e-mail before Christmas, saying that, in essence, he shouldn't have been so hard on the book, "Eunoia," by Christian Bok. I was quite impressed. Certainly I can't admit I'm wrong very easily. [Luckily it doesn't happen very often! Hah! Hah! HAH.] So kudos to Mr. Oliva.
Interstitial, superficial: I woke up extra early this morning to make it to my platelet donation at the Blood Clinic. All went well until the needle went in. The nurse pushed it just a shade too far, and I suddenly felt a burning pain in my bicep. This never happens. Usually I just feel the sweet, sweet bite of the needle and that's it. But this felt like a cigarette being butted out on my arm. I alerted the nurse, and she adjusted the needle, and the pain calmed down, but didn't go away entirely. I thought perhaps the needle had gone right through the opposite vein wall, which occasionally happens. The blood extraction continued, but at the first return cycle, where the saline enters the vein, the burning pain came back. Two nurses came over, examined my arm, and decided that it looked okay. [By the way, another champion platelet count for me, which must be about the only good thing about being seriously fat.] The pain gradually subsided, but it was not the usual painless interlude, and at the end, when my arm was bandaged, I had a little trouble bending my arm. Sure enough, there's interstitial swelling. It's nothing serious, just a little painful. Just goes to show, I should speak up more vehemently, even if it would have meant cancelling my donation [there's no such thing as a mulligan in plateletpheresis land]
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
Spent the weekend at the casino, which, as much as I would like it to evoke images of me rolling dice at the craps table, or swigging gin at the baccarat table, was actually me working 6 pm to 3 am in the cashier cage, two days running. Alberta casinos are rare in that they allow volunteers to work every night in the cash and count rooms, and as chip runners to the game tables. The volunteer groups get a cut of the casino profits, so everyone is happy.
But gamblers, my God. What a crew. One multimillionaire brought his sulky-looking daughter to gamble, starting her with a small stake of $10,000. He played with $15,000. As my friend Alex Rettie once famously said, "Come the revolution, first up against the wall." I was intrigued by one gambler, terribly clean-cut and well-dressed, who looked about 16. "Does your dear mother know you gamble?" I asked, knowing that he couldn't hear me. Sean, my co-volunteer, who has a lot of experience in the law, corrected me: "Does your dear parole officer know you gamble, more like." From the casino consultant DB I learned that several of the people I saw over the course of the weekend were in fact drug dealers. So some of their money is going back to the government, at least. Odd to think of drug hounds ultimately helping old people to lawn bowl.
The Myrmidons were well represented, with Kreg and McDoom volunteering as chip runners, and Fearless looking after my dumb dog while I volunteered. The oddest thing about working in the cash cage: In sufficient quantities, money ceases to have meaning and becomes merely paper and numbers. In that way it is oddly like death, where in vast quantities the tragedy is too much to comprehend, and we treat it as a logistic problem.
Oh, deep, Farries, deep. Deep like a paper cut.
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Winter inspires me!
[To the tune of "Cocaine," by Eric Clapton]:

When you're out in the snow,
and it's 40 below,
Eat Pho.

Ahhh...nothing like a steaming big bowl of noodles and broth when it's freezing outside. I love how my local pho purveyors own the "Delightful Donut and Muffin" café in Inglewood, yet they don't really sell donuts or muffins--there's only have a token pastry or two in a rather battered pastry case behind the cash register. They serve standard fogey kibble such as grilled cheese sandwiches, scrambled eggs and hashbrowns, etc., but they are shining stars in the Vietnamese soup firmament. I had to phone Fearless and taunt her afterwards, the soup was that good.
Allow me to explain: I wasn't crying and driving because I couldn't find a nearby cliff to fling myself from, or anything like that. I've just got a big, big, beeg lifestyle change coming up in the next year, and the weep on the way home was just the unavoidable phase of feeling terribly sorry for myself. It's best to get it out of the way quickly and get on with things. And no, nothing bad is happening, in fact, quite the opposite--but forgive me if I don't go into too many details just yet. They shall come. Oh, yes.
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
Especially when the snow blows across the road, and the wind gusts continually punch your van in the face, and it's nighttime, do not cry and drive. A bad number and good news made me cry last night, for different reasons and admittedly with bad timing, although I did manage to keep it to refined tears-trickling and not out-and-out wailing and swerving into the ditch. The bad number and good news had joined forces earlier in the day with fatigue, forgotten noggin pellet and rogue hormones, and they all waited to strike until I was on the road to Calgary. Well, well, I survived. It is now morning and the serotonins are perking merrily in the cranium, and I have a plan of action for the coming year. And that is good.
I began to berate myself for crying, in view of how lucky I really am in contrast to tsunami victims and cancer patients and war-plagued folk. Then I recalled Jeanne Moreau's line in "The Summer House": 'Every living creature has a reason to cry.' Though perhaps not every living creature is driving in excess of 110 kmh when welling up.
The glorious good news is that one of the people I love most in the world has not had a recurrence of cancer. It was a tense week until the bone scan results came back, but they and the fluoroscopic x-ray showed no abnormalities. As for the impossible, inconceivable, all-around bad number: it is. But what it is not is everlasting.
Wednesday, January 05, 2005
Oh, I forgot to list the books: A common feature of any extended moochfest/vacation I take is the consumption of as many books as possible. I fell off my usual standard a bit, but here's what I read over the last three weeks:
  1. All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy. Worthy of all the praise and awards it received in the early '90s, and more.
  2. The King is Dead, by Jim Lewis. Superb, superb, superb. I stayed in bed until 10 a.m. to finish it, enthralled.
  3. The Crossing, by Cormac McCarthy. Brilliant even if heart-breaking. It hurt to read, but hurt worse to stop. I could read McCarthy's dialogues forever.
  4. Nothing to Declare, by Julian Barnes. Views of France by an Englishman who has clearly lost his heart to France while retaining his English sense of irony. Highly recommended, especially for fellow Barnes fans out there.
  5. Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer. Despite the number of grammatical and typographical errors, and Krakauer's sometimes sloppy scholarship (he occasionally lapses into conjecture when the facts are fascinating enough), it's a compelling read. At first it's easy to dismiss Mormonism as a nutball sect, until you look at all religions from the same perspective. I had to keep reminding myself that the fundamentalist Mormons, like fundamentalists everywhere, do not define the group from which they spring.
  6. The Pleasure of My Company, by Steve Martin. Technically I haven't quite finished this book yet, but it appealed to my love of the absurd to the extent that I want to lend it to all my favourite book mavens.
  7. The Yiddish Dick and Jane, which was just silly enough to make me laugh out loud. See Jane schlep. Schlep, Jane, schlep.
Of course, I had to buy a few more books when I went into Santa Cruz Books, my Mecca. Who knows when I'll have the time to get through them all. What a lovely thought.
What's a 70 degree temperature change among friends? Okay, a bit of an exaggeration, but considering I had to deplane at the Calgary airport at 12:20 a.m. and walk about a block in -26 Celsius before reaching the terminal (and hey, thanks a hell of a lot for that, Horizon Air! You've never heard of covered walkways?) -- let's just say I experienced an abrupt re-entry into the Canadian January after 18 days in Southern bliss.
The dumb little dog remembered me, and indeed was happy enough to give me a smooch or two when I arrived at Jean's farm last night, but still whimpered on the drive home to Calgary. Fearless still has the mighty cat, but will be bringing her home on Thursday. I was greatly amused to hear that Fearless and Jean exchanged e-mails about the various annoying habits of my pets: whether it was Piper bounding off the bed to bark at the slightest noise outdoors, or Martini yowling for the hell of it at 4:30 a.m., my pals had plenty to enjoy. Perhaps I didn't bring back enough tequila after all.
Well, back at it, back at it. I've sifted through the truckload of spam and outdated messages, and written my first post-vacation blog entry. Now for some actual (aieeee) work.