Going, Going, Gone

I sent the galleys of my novel, L’Amérique, to the publisher today, with a cover letter apologizing for the myriad of corrections. It’s sort of embarrassing, thinking a manuscript is over and done with and, rereading it (and having friends read it as well), discovering errors, typos, and inconsistencies on almost every page. After more than a half-century of dealing with words, you’d think I have a certain expertise in this line of work, but no–the serial comma still escapes my attention; semi-colons remain mysterious. I use numerals when I should write out numbers, and vice-versa; and my love affair with both sentence fragments and run-on sentences remains alive and well in spite of many interventions.

I’m having a bit of post-partum depression. This is the book I’ve wanted to write for a few decades. It altered my life, not always in positive ways. I rewrote it, edited it, went apoplectic over other editors’ suggestions, realized the suggestions were largely right and applied them; I had second, third, and fourth thoughts, and finally hurled the manuscript to its final destination. Now, barely hours after washing my hands of it, I, well… I miss it. The space it occupied on my desk is strangely empty, and I wonder if the more than hundred-and-fifty pages taken out should perhaps have stayed in.

The publisher of L’Amérique also signed another book, Montparnasse, and it’s time to finalize that one too. Plus, there’s Dope, an unfinished sequel to an earlier novel, Thirst. Dope needs an ending. Another finished novel, Lurid Tales, is seeking a home and four other partially written books beckon. Some have legs, other don’t.

For the past few months, I’ve been working on The House on Belmont Road, a fictionalized memoir of the years spent in downtown Washington rehabbing an eight-bedroom townhouse with the help of well-meaning friends and strangers. House is the third book in the L’Amérique trilogy. I haven’t even begun Book Two.

All this to say, there’s no lack of things to write, but L’Amérique was special. If I were to be allowed authorship of only a single, must-write book, it would be this one.

And now it’s written.

How very, very odd.

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America the Hateful

For the past few months, the United States has been forcibly separating immigrant children from their immigrant parents and placing the kids—some 10,000 so far—in vacant Walmarts, church basements, and detention centers in fourteen states. There is one word and one word only for these actions. They are obscene.
The fact that lawmakers have endorsed such a policy is obscene as well. That Americans who love their own children have not risen up en masse is, yes, obscene and beyond comprehension.
Laws permitting such foul and despicable behavior are generally extent in nations we call totalitarian—North Korea, for example. What would happen here were we to hear of other countries allowing such a practice? Would we protest as we did a generation ago? Would we flood the staggering cowards whom we call our elected representatives with mail? Would we rescue the children?
Daily we add our names to endless petitions to save grizzlies and wolves, block pipelines and deforestation, end fraking and mountain-topping, and make elected officials responsible for their actions. There have been a few online pleas for a return to humanity and moral behavior when it comes to immigrant kids, but these are lost among the rising tide of online outrage over the latest Trump horror.
We are losing America. Our moral compass—the values we held onto to help us decide wrong from right—is spinning out of control. Our leaders are thieves and unscrupulous morons desperate to hold on to their jobs. They care only for re-election and personal enrichment. They follow the Trumpian example of lying repeatedly until a lie appears to become a truth. They—both Democrats and Republicans—wage wars of attrition within their own ranks while the lives of millions—and not just those of legal and undocumented immigrants—unravel. They watch this happen and pat each other on the back for a job well done. Then they go on recess. Attorney General Sessions, meanwhile, believe he’s doing God’s work and that immigrants should not come here if they don’t want to lose their children. This is such a repugnant concept that it’s not worth contesting. In fact, it makes me believe that God (right here, right now) is indeed an abstraction while the devil (right here, right now) is real and wearing an expensive three-piece suit.
I do wonder how the good people patrolling the border and doing the hands-on job of tearing children from parents feel. I’d resign, wouldn’t you?
We have no one but ourselves to blame for the rapid changes hurtling the nation backwards. We were too lazy to vote, we’re too lazy to act, and too lazy to take to the streets.
But make no mistake: We are losing America. The nation that was once the envy of the rest of the world, America the Beautiful, is becoming America the Hateful.
Happy Father’s Day.

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Of Hockey and Tariffs

The Caps won. Hurrah! Washington has some reasons for joy, because God knows, since Donald, we’ve had little to smile about.

The Post headlines announcing the Cap’s victory were bigger than those heralding the Trump election. Marx was wrong, it ain’t religion that’s the opiate, it’s sports.

I’m not particularly interested in hockey; my taste runs more to European football, soccer to you on this side of the pond, and this year, the US isn’t even in the World Cup.

My first question, seeing this morning’s newspaper, was whether the Caps would travel to the White House to swear fealty. I hope not, but I wonder if the team’s reigning Russian players will be getting orders from Moscow to attend or, perhaps, not attend. Does that sound preposterous? It’s not. Alex Ovechkin, Evegeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov all have friends and family in Russia and Putin, like Trump, is not above threatening players to have his ends met. Remember Trump’s tweet that the football ‘sons of bitches’ should leave the US?

I find it interesting that the Post coverage of the Cap victory has secured more column inches than some other events I believe may be far more important.

Take, for example, the tariff squabble. The White House has already announced that the President will not stay and attend the full meetings in Canada. My read is that his handlers know Trump can take only so much criticism, which he’s sure to get, from heads of state far more intelligent and less impulsive than he is. They don’t want him to blow a fuse in front of the entire world. He plans to leave a day early, taking his ball and going home, so to speak.

The tariffs he has imposed will cost the average American household $2200 annually, according to CNN, and essentially wipe out any gains made by the recent tax cuts. According to Fortune magazine, the tariffs will lead to job losses in the States, increase the price of an average home, and raise retail prices by about ten percent. Many small businesses operating on a slim profit margin will have to close, unable to afford the raw materials they need to operate. This will land more American workers into the crowd of unemployed.

It’s still unclear who will benefit most. The rich? Probably. Large American companies, many of which are already getting sizeable tax breaks? Assuredly. The average consumer? Nope.

I’m not even sure it will benefit the hockey players.




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Anger & Sadness

This morning on my way to coffee at the breakfast place, a bone-thin man blocked my path. He was café-au-lait colored and bulky from too many sweaters worn on a not cool day. He was pulling a small shopping cart usually associated with older ladies. Inside the cart was a black plastic trash bag trussed with bungee cords like a Mafia victim. He was muttering to himself. I sidestepped and smiled. He stood his ground and glared. I passed him and he bared amazingly white teeth and muttered, Motherfucker. I wasn’t ready for that and I stopped, turned around, and reconsidered. He slammed into a Dunkin Donut and parked his cart against a wall. I walked on.
Anger is endemic. I suspect I’m as angry in a lot of ways as the café-au-lait man, but my filter may work a little better than his, and he and I probably don’t have the same issues.
I believe anger turned inward is depression, and I do not know which of the two is the less tolerable. I know some angry people, young ones who having barely reached their late twenties already feel life has cheated them. They are angry becuntitledause they’re not married yet, or are, unhappily so; they do not have the job they think they deserve, or feel they have no friends, or that the friends they do have all have private agendas.
Personally, I am angry at the cancer shortening my life. I am angry because too many friends have gone, some physically, others emotionally, others still into a dark and private world where I am barred from entry. I am angry because I cannot find a job even though I have sent out hundreds of résumés to companies who needed my skills (my favorite was a small NGO looking for someone published, who could write in both French and English, and was willing to travel to West Africa. Yes, yes, and yes. Been there, done that. I am qualified, thank you. They never returned my call.)
I am angry at people, places and things. I get despondent when people promise they will do something, and then don’t. I get angry when they claim never to have really promised. I get angry when people say “always” but privately imbue that word with a temporary meaning, rather than a permanent one. I get sad when I see the talented and hardworking misuse gifts bestowed upon them, and sometimes that sadness begets anger.
I read the paper every day, and on a daily basis, as I’m doing so, I can’t avoid uttering, “Asshole.” Angrily.
Most of the time, this unappetizing word is aimed at our lying, inept, deceitful, self-aggrandizing, and whining President. Occasionally, the exclamation follows the grumblings of another ill-advised and unqualified miscreant temporarily in power—a Cabinet head, say, (Education, HUD and Interior immediately come to mind), or a smug attorney representing a famous reprobate worthy of our contempt. I say it aloud, “Asshole!” with, at times, multiple exclamation points. On two occasions a person occupying the table next to mine has looked up and asked, “Excuse me?”
Liars anger me. I think lying is one of the more destructive shortcomings inherent to humans. Lying builds expectations, gives birth to resentments, destroys lives, ruins respect, and kills love.
We live in an era where lying is the norm, and the excesses of the people in power appear to have become worthwhile examples for people not in power.
I am, incidentally, as guilty as the next person. In my time, I’ve lied, built expectations in others and not cared about the impact of my lies. I’ve tried to change in the past years. Over the last few months, the anger is often replaced by sadness, and I don’t know if that’s good or not. Anger sometimes motivates, sadness rarely does.
We are living in ill-mannered times, and we are moving backwards. This wonderful land is becoming the butt of jokes, and the cowards at the top appear to believe this is okay, as long as they stay in power and enrich themselves. Liars all, great and small.
That makes me both sad and angry.

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An Acceptable Day

I could tell right away today would be acceptable-not good, not bad, but not shocking, either.
I was up by six. Archie, my assassin hamster, actually crawled into the palm of my hand this morning. In spite of his name, Archie is pretty much of a coward, as rodents go, and this gesture of trust and confidence sort of moved me, in a hamsterish way.
My newspaper was at the top of the pile that, daily, is unceremoniously dumped in my building’s entrance way. Normally, I have to dig for it, today, I didn’t.
On the way to breakfast, I saw an Asian gentleman who looked exactly like Emperor Akihito. He was riding a bicycle and was both imperious and imperial. He passed me without a sideward glance; I stood up a little straighter anyway. How often do you see such a venerable person atop a two-wheeler? I wondered if perhaps he’d been shopping at Target.
Shortly after that I encountered a mushed banana on the sidewalk. I’ve always wondered how the banana peel got its reputation, since I’ve never actually seen anybody slipping on one. And if an unfortunate walker did, wouldn’t that lead to serious harm? Shattered vertebras and concussions? I decided I would test the banana peel for slipperiness on my way back, but then I forgot which is just as well.
At the coffee shop, I ran into Marie Doe, the homeless woman who befriended me when I first moved into this area. She was all smiles and neighborhood news—what had happened at the Peruvian chicken restaurant owned and run by a NepaleseIMG_9002_ME@0,5x family (they were robed twice in a month); how the nearby ABC store was scheduled to close; how her son in California had given her a Movie Pass. She’d seen eight films in two weeks and decried the state of the American motion picture industry, except for RBG, which she loved and would have seen twice if Movie Pass allowed it. She also had good words to say about Black Panther and City of Dogs, but she hated the Avengers movie. I bought her two bacon and egg sandwiches and a couple of bagel to go, as well as enough coffee to fill her water bottle. She gave me a wheat leaf penny she’d found on the sidewalk.
I’ll admit all this forced cheeriness is somewhat bogus. I’m actually terrified of the upcoming test results, and I never do well with holidays like Memorial Day or July 4th. A friend of mine described the feelings associated with these long weekends as being the last person in a campus dorm when everyone goes on break for Christmas. I’m generally not overly bothered being without family, but sometimes—like now—it does get to me.
In the meantime, I’ve started reading about alternative treatments that show anti-cancer promise. CBD oil is one. According to Prevention.com, “CBD oil is typically extracted from the resin glands on cannabis (marijuana) buds and flowers. It can also be extracted from hemp, an industrial, fibrous form of cannabis that has small buds and a tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, concentration of 0.3% or less (THC is the chemical compound that’s responsible for making people high). It’s usually diluted with another type of oil. Although CBD oil is often derived from marijuana plants, it won’t get you high—and it’s not just pot users who are partaking.”
In fact, back when I was first diagnosed, I met a musician who swore by it and told me it had helped him deal with his cancer. I’ve decided it’s worth a try, since I can’t do the traditional chemo anymore.
Monday, I have an appointment with a Ural dealership to test- drive one of their motorcycles and sidecar.

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And Now for Some Good News

The CT scan done yesterday revealed no additional cancer. The disease has not spread, which was a major concern, particularly in regards to the pancreas and lymph nodes. Any metastasis to those organs could have proved quickly fatal.
Hallelujah! I suspect I will sleep better tonight than I have since Monday. I need to get more tests, but this is an excellent start.
The doctor told me that a common cause of bladder cancer is smoking. I stopped smoking more than 20 years ago, but my body apparently neither forgot nor forgave, so if any of you out there are still practicing that noxious habit, please stop. Thank you.
I am awaiting the results of the latest cystoscopy, which was done Monday. This will give me a better idea of the probable direction the disease is taking, as well as a more functional notion of when I can expect my bladder to go kablooey, which is the official medical term for bladder failure.
In the meantime, I have made a second decision, following the one to buy better grade canned tuna.
I will probably not sell my Avanti car, unless I decide to purchase a Ural motorcycle with a side car. If I do this, I will need friends to ride in the sidecar so I can learn how to drive this vehicle safely. Volunteers will be welcome.
Thank you again for prayers, good vibes and support.


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But on the Other Hand…

I did very little yesterday. At breakfast, a friend came to my table at my habitual coffee shop, sat down, and we spoke briefly of cancer and at greater length of our writing projects. Then I had coffee with two more writers and went to my Tuesday writers’ group. After that, it was off to the KP lab to have blood drawn for tests.
I checked my phone and saw an outpouring of care and concern from old and new friends. I went home and reacquainted myself with old buddies,  Calvin & Hobbes, two characters who have always cheered me up. I slept four hours, and had dinner with yet another friend.
I’m generally not that social, but I have, for the past several months, tried to see at least one person a day. I attend three or four writers’ groups a week, and overuse my Movie Pass. Being alone is good, but being too alone is not and leads to isolation, sadness and self-pity.
This morning I went for a CT scan. The young Eritrean technician and I spoke of soccer and he asked if I knew Thierry Henri and what were France’s chances in the World Cup? Slim to none, I said. The French are extraordinary at individual sports but stink at team efforts. A lone Frenchman will cross the Pacific Ocean in a one-paddle kayak. A Frenchman (honorary, admittedly) in a soccer team will head-butt an opposing player and cost the country a win.
I decided on the way back from the clinic to make a meaningful change in my life. I stopped at the grocery store and purchased three expensive cans of tuna fish ($2.49), instead of the cheap containers of tuna mush ($1.39) I normally buy. Thus empowered, I followed this effort with five shots of espresso and began to ruminate on things I no longer had to worry about, like moving.
I’m not fond of where I live, and had thought to relocate, but have now decided to stay where I am. Moving is a nightmare I don’t need right now.
I’ve also decided not to buy a stupidly expensive sports car to replace my old Porsche that was destroyed a year ago. I am thinking of perhaps renting a stupidly expensive sports car for a week or so, though. I plan to give my plays to a local director who did a wonderful job of producing a couple of them, and I need to pass on some other stuff to friends.
I am appreciating the Kafkaesque humor of life. In the past three days, I’ve received four solicitations for life insurance.
I began ruminating about death and decided that we’re afraid of it for the same reasons we fear the dark. In early times, the night was full of fearsome, carnivorous creatures. It no longer is. In fact, having walked into darkened rooms thousands of time from childhood on, the worst that ever happened was a stubbed toe. Oh. And embarrassment when I walked in on a couple engaged in primal activities.
What I have to deal with is a way to contain the churning in my stomach, and the dismal outlook I’ve espoused on my immediate future. It’s foolish to pretend life hasn’t suddenly changed, but even more foolish to act as if it has already ceased to be.
There are books to be read, and books to be written, and people to see, and love and admire. The quicker I start with that, the better off I’ll be.


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