Sunday, April 29, 2018

Hospital Time

Here I am at bedside about 9-10 hours a day. No complaints. Peggy is there 24 hours every day for the past 14 days. Time does not hang heavy. I’ve never read the newspaper so thoroughly. I move her pillows around. Advocate for nurses to come. Occasionally catch two medications which are contra-indicated. I hold her hand through tough moments. Reassure her and she, me. Mostly what I do is be present so when she opens her eyes, I’m there.

It’s a kind of dance. Gently pushing, then pulling back. She needs to rev her engine, to get up and take a few steps. I’m the coach urging her on. She also needs to blow into a spirometer ten times every hour to clear her lungs and prevent pneumonia. I’m the guy who has become the taskmaster. She’s still shaking off the anesthetic. She wants to give it a rest. To be 97 means that all your bones are also 97. She has a neuropathy in her feet, bed sore on her rear, an arthritic neck and shoulder, spinal stenosis and that incision on her front. Everything hurts but the way out is through.

Peggy has had two dreams about earthquakes as if to acknowledge that her architecture has been insulted…yet still holding together with a few retrofits here and there.

I’m also resistant. I’m learning how to tell time on a new clock. Progress appears to be excruciatingly slow. Some days seem to move counter-clockwise. I find myself moving in slow-motion.  There are pot holes on the road to recovery. I need to adapt to hospital time.

About ten days ago there was a fierce wind blowing, particularly through the canyon formed by high-rise medical buildings around the hospital. I found myself following the dervish of trees and swirling leaves outside the window. The agitation of the plants matched my own unease ultimately quieted down when all went still.   

News of her progress comes at me from two surgeons, an oncologist, internist, gastroenterologist, cardiologist and pulmonologist. They don’t always agree. She needs to rest. She needs to walk. Her diet should be liquid. No, she should take solids. The heart doctor, fearful of a recurrence of pulmonary embolism, says to resume her blood-thinner. The surgeons say to keep the blood thick mindful of excessive bleeding. She’ll be leaving tomorrow. She might be staying another week. My need to know has yielded to a need to shut up and let everything take its own course.

My time at the hospital is not a chore. It’s an opportunity to express love. I cherish my hours spent with Peggy and this is a way to express it as we discover together a calm at the center of this quake.  

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Bad News Disguised as Good News

First I need to say this is not about Peggy.

(Secondly I’m remembering something I heard during a poetry seminar in 1979 from the mouth of Stanley Kunitz, who twice served as Poet Laureate and is also a most eloquent literary writer. It has to do with moving from the general to the personal…or was it expanding from the personal to the general. I forgot which.)

In the summer of 2016 all of us (the enlightened) were rooting avidly for Donald Trump to trounce his rivals for the Republican nomination. Like most Liberals I feared Jeb Bush or John Kasich. After all, only a congenital moron or a member of the Koch Bros. / Ebenezer Scrooge fraternity of the privileged would vote for the fraud. Trump was so beatable, so inept (why would anyone vote for a guy with no ept?), such an abomination his candidacy was the ultimate Good news that has turned into the Baddest news in my lifetime. There are still those misguided fools among us who regard him as the Louis XVI who will trigger the revolution. I think not. Civilization will be guillotined first. The lesson to be learned is never to underestimate the stupidity of the American voter.

When I was in high school I had high grades in science and math. It was probably those good marks which led me into Brooklyn College of Pharmacy. Bad career move … which sentenced me to fifty-three years of penal servitude confined behind the counter. And to think, my hand-writing was so illegible I could have become a doctor. In fact I had peaked by age seventeen and have been in steep decline ever since. Now I am much happier filling a page like this than I ever was filling a prescription.

Josh Rosen was the UCLA quarterback who will be drafted  today by some professional football team. I read in the newspaper that he is regarded as too intelligent to be a top pick. He is cursed for thinking too much, for having good DNA above the neck. It could cost him many millions. Football is actually a game of strategy, deception and out-thinking one’s opponent yet it is also instinctual and they don’t like guys who are too intellectual. Go figure. If he were really that smart he would have chosen chess anyway.

I lied. This could be about Peggy….and all of us. Way back when I was eighty years old my doctor said he had good news for me……… more colonoscopies. The hidden message in his announcement was: colon cancers are usually slow-growing and you’re going to die anyway. Maybe he was looking at my life expectancy for the year I was born. In 1933 I was expected to live for sixty-one years. In other words I was already nineteen years ahead of the game at age eighty. Even today the male allotment is just under seventy-nine. Who knows what nefarious plots are being hatched in our octogenarian entrails? Peggy’s cancer may have been growing over the past dozen years or more. Tell your gastroenterologist to take a peek. Early detection is the good news that comes after the bad news of the cleaning out.  

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Peggy Factor

The Peggy Factor

Thursday 10 PM

She loves her doctors, all six of them. She loves Father Paddy, the chaplain. She even loves most of the nurses and quickly got used to the nasal-gastric tube. But the poking, prodding procedures, the prep for them and the dependence on others has tested those two words she lives by: No Resistance.

I marvel at her indomitable high spirit. I know of no other word for it. She is both fully present and yet lifted above in another dimension. Not buoyant but real. Peggy never rehearses bad outcomes. She doesn’t ask, what if or and then what? She lives in the Now. What I call anticipation she calls needless worry. I still have much to learn.

The Now is an obstreperous obstruction like a sig alert on the 405 freeway complete with road rage or to put it another way if the alimentary canal is a stream there is trouble in River City which requires a resection of her colon six inches of which have turned malignantly out of control. The surgery happens tomorrow afternoon.

Friday 10 PM

In spite of her alleged age, aortic stenosis, a compromised tricuspid heart valve and assorted maladies she came through the difficult surgery. She charmed everyone from the gurney including the anesthesiologist over whom she cast her own spell. The Peggy Factor prevailed in defiance of the odds.

I belong to that school which does not believe in prayer or vibes or the so-called transmission of positive energy. At least from a distance. I do believe that love and support, even service dogs, all improve well-being and healing to a certain extent if the recipient is open to receive them. Petitions to god are simply wishes. I know my view is not popular….particularly in Los Angeles. I may need to go into a witness protection program. At the same time my sincere appreciation for all those expressions of their love for Peggy in any way they wish. Don't let me stop you. It can’t hurt….and I may even be wrong.

A positive attitude which Peggy radiates can’t kill cancer cells or Ebola or Aids virus etc… but it most certainly brings out the best in her doctors and caregivers. Open heartedness elicits an open heart in others, a full humanity. It creates a ring of generosity and kindness. A good part of healing is self-healing and those qualities have kept Peggy alive for 97 years come May 2nd.   

Thursday, April 12, 2018

But Who's Counting?

In June, nine years ago, my late dear friend Tony Pascal mentioned in passing that his son-in-law Alex had started writing a blog. Blog, what’s that, I asked. This is my 800th and I’m still not sure. When Tony described it as a web log I thought to myself, I could do that. The only reason I know the number is because Google is keeping count.

In a sense these blogs are my make-up exam. English composition was my worst subject in high school. I couldn’t cram or even prepare myself. There was nothing to memorize. Our assigned subjects were: What I did over the Christmas holiday or Our Happy Family or What Patriotism Means to Me or My Day at the Zoo. There were no good fits.

Up until my first blog post I wrote poetry or, at least, what would pass for poetry. Poems were passable enough to be published in about thirty literary magazines and win a few prizes. By blogging I wanted to see if I could remove that jagged right-hand margin and make paragraphs out of stanzas. Authenticity and accessibility, above all else, seem to be the trend in poetry. The result is conversational poetry or poetic prose.  

I’d like to believe that some of my sentences attain that level. Much of what I come across masquerading as a poem is what Kurt Vonnegut called, carefully ruined prose. I half-agree with him. In fact the most severe criticism of a poem these days is that it is too poetic. Of course Peggy’s poems are unmistakably poetic without the prose being purple or archaic.

There was something pretentious calling my stuff, poetry. So I unburdened the lines with the lesser designation. There is a blurring of categories between non-narrative fiction and narrative non-fiction and between poetry and prose. I’m fine with that.

My impulse is to lift my words into another dimension, here and there. Not to re-state what I read and watch on cable news or the Internet but to find some connective tissue or observe from a different angle sufficient to move the subject into a slightly different plane.

Taken as an aggregate the 800 blogs have become a tracing of my own obsessions, passions, celebrations, memories, infirmities and quirks. They run from reflexive vehemence to interior reflection. Rumination to rambles to riffs. As far as I know there are no rules to obey as in high school composition. 

My first blog posted in June, 2009 was called Much-Maligned Salami. I just re-read it. In it I attempt to confer upon salami its second act rescuing it from its cursed sodium nitrite and icky trans-fat, by calling attention to its zero carbohydrate content. Not that I had any desire to be stuck in a sausage factory but to give salami a small measure of redemption as a snack for diabetics. My take also revealed me as a card-carrying contrarian.

My choice for subjects runs from politics to movies, sports, history, literature and Peggy... and language itself. I’m fascinated by words, their elasticity and their long-traveled transformation over millennia. For instance, we live in tragic times and that word, tragic, has a cargo of 2,500 years on its back. It derives from a Greek work pertaining to goats or goat-song. Aristotle’s use of the term referred to theater-works of sadness or suffering which have an element of catharsis. The plays themselves were often awarded prized goats to be ritually sacrificed like scapegoats as if the sins of the city-state could then be expiated. There are plenty of goats in Washington today and millions of sheep who put them there.

After just about every blog I write I get the feeling it will be my final one. I would never have guessed I have so much to say. I can’t seem to shut up. The blank page welcomes my squiggles. It’s almost an affliction. If I don’t write for 4-5 days something starts gnawing at my entrails. I’m sure I’ve repeated myself along the way. Sometimes I plagiarize from an old poem of mine I might have come across. Other times I find that I don’t even agree with myself a year later. Blogging grants me that dispensation.

For the first few years I collected my favorites in book form. First came The Marriage of Everything, then I’m Just Saying and in 2014 Now and Then Some was published. All are available on Amazon. Since then I have enough material for at least two more collections but I can’t quite get my act together. My deathless prose may have to wait for posthumous publication…or wither away in virtual blogsville.


Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Circle of Trump

So planetary and orbital, he arrived as a chunk of dark matter to crater our lives. Like a Sun God the man in the Oval roams the circumference.  His hair is sunrise itself. How he rises and sets all powerful worshiped by a landslide of love. How he goes and comes around like some circular argument to prove himself.

In a circular argument the conclusion proves the premise which proves the conclusion. So migrants are all criminals crossing the border therefore we need the National Guard. Why? Because these rapists and murders are threatening our national security. And how do we know this? Because Fox News says so and everybody knows this. It is even on T.V.

The circus of Donald Trump dominates the news cycle. The pocked lunacy. The perpetual spin. How he bounces the Hannity and sure enough it sounds ripe the way that red ball returns tethered as it is by rubber band to paddle. What joy he must feel to watch it roll on early morning tweets circling the Earth. Those bubbles overhead, now sixty watt bulbs, enough to wake faraway places to his brilliance. The incandescence of his nocturnal emissions circle the globe in a planetary roundelay. His blurts dance and shiver the ether  

He listens to his echo sounding sweet as an orange. The juice. The peel. Forget those inconvenient pits, the rind of the matter. Sunkist is the cover-up, the comb-over.

By executive order pi r squared, 3.14, is now fake. He has decreed a new ratio of O because O was Obama and must be repealed…like an orange the way the ball was foul even though it was fair because the imp is now the ump, the guy who is calling the balls and strike, who’s safe and who’s out of the inner circle.

The Wheel of Fortune turned and we got Donald as if the previous administration was too lofty, inclusive and incorruptible. Maybe there is some cosmic rotation at play to offer a glimpse of the abyss after eight years of dignified statesmanship. Or perhaps this is an instance of the ouroboros, the snake that eats its own tail, a symbol of the eternal cycle of renewal.

In any case the White House door revolves like a merry-go-round with dozens leaving and the few remaining out to destroy the mission of government, proving its dysfunction. What’s left is a poverty of deliberation and vacancy of competence….a balloon filled with hot air.

While the man putts his balls into holes at public expense the nation caddies his clubs. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see we have been taken for a ride with a flat tire.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018


Before Zuckerberg’s t-shirt or Steve Jobs’ turtle neck there were suits. Three-piece or gray flannel or those you could buy at Sears with two pair of pants, all wool gabardine. People wore them to see a play or fly from here to there. I wore a smock, on and off, for fifty years as a dispenser of assorted remedies and assuring words. I don’t miss mine at all.

Maybe they’ve been replaced by tattoos and bumper stickers. We’re not our job anymore; we are individuals each making his/her own major statement. Egalitarianism allows us to dress down, to slum or choose a wardrobe out of thrift stores. Designers have lines of scrupulous sloppiness with ventilation at the knees. There are friends I have never seen in jeans and others who always wear them. To each his uniform.

All of which leads me to remember vanished uniforms along with the jobs themselves. What ever happened to that young woman with her bright jacket and flashlight patrolling the aisles as she hushed us and ushered us kids in the dark movie house, darker still because it was Saturday afternoon and we always came in the middle of a film. Was she dreaming of being discovered, projecting herself on the big screen. Or did she fade to black?

Gone, too, is the doorman with his epaulets, our peacetime commander who lived on tips. He waved, whistled and launched a thousand taxis. Doormen disappeared or did they just live in movies set on 5th Ave? I imagined these quasi-aristocrats fled Europe as professors or constables and had to settle for the ignominy of brass buttons.

And where is the elevator operator, in authority for the length of his shift, traveling vertical miles on one spot from Icarus to Orpheus as he alone contracted and expanded those wrought iron lungs?

The usher had no name but saw plenty of wandering arms in the balcony. Maybe the other two wrote novels in their heads from snatches overheard. They answered to first name only and remembered to speak politely to Mr. and Mrs…. on the 23rd floor.

They slipped away unnoticed, loud uniforms, shiny buttons and all. Jackets and caps now in vintage shops, indignity and pride embedded in the fabric. In one pocket dried lipstick and a stick of gum. In another an empty flask and a check for two bucks, uncashed.