With my hand on the wheel and my brain in neutral . . .

Immortal Love

They that live beyond the world cannot be separated by it; death cannot kill that which never dies.  Nor can spirits ever be divined, that love and live in the same divine principle, the root and record of their friendship.  If absence be not death, neither is theirs.  Death is but crossing the world as friends do the seas; they live in one another still.  This is the comfort of friends that though they be said to die, yet their friendship and society are in the best sense, ever present, because love is immortal.

William Penn’s words on the memorial tablet to his father in Saint Mary Radcliffe, Bristol, England
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This is an old piece of mine, written many years ago. I had it on Hubpages for awhile, where it won an award for Best Hub (article) of the Month!

One of my most memorable coffees has a flavor that gets more distinct and recognizable every year.  When I have this rare brew, it always an autumn day, and my father and I have spent the afternoon working outside, raking and burning leaves, or cleaning out the garden, or winterizing a car and then washing our hands in gasoline that always somehow feels much colder than the weather.  We sit on the concrete steps of the back porch, having that warm, brown coffee and resting before we go inside to clean up and cook dinner.  Relaxed by the day’s exercise, he’ll mumble something, and although in reflex I only glance at him, my eyes are magnetized and quickly return to his face.  He’s almost in profile, looking out into the yard, squinting a little into the setting sun that shines dull red on his skin.  He tilts his head down to sip his coffee, and I notice the gray stubble on his cheek and the thinning white hair that curls out from under the paint-spattered blue knit cap that sits, as it always has, precariously on the back of his head.  A dog barks behind the neighbor’s house, so expectantly my father and I look out into the next yard, not knowing what will come into view.  We sit together on the hard steps of the back porch, breathing deeply the cooling air and soaking in the last of the setting sun.

In my Navy years, the best coffee was on the 4-8 watch, especially when we were at sea in the tropics.  With the crew asleep and the six 12-cylinder diesels snoring steadily like a group of drunken giants, the ship was peaceful, and I’d push open the weatherdeck door to watch the rising sun melt the night sky.  I’d turn my back to all the alarms and gauges and lean against the doorway, listen to the black water sliding along our iron hull, and, waiting for enough light to distinguish the horizon, just look out into the fading darkness.  With each gentle roll of the ship the warm salt air would breathe in and out of my little iron cave, ruffling papers on the desk, and I’d be sipping not the day’s first but its best cup of “joe.”

In the autumn mornings of my junior year in college my girlfriend and I would walk hand in hand to the edge of Penn State’s main campus to The Ye Olde College Diner, open 24 hours a day for something like the past 47 years.  We’d get a cavernous wooden booth with dark Naugohyde seats and have a big blueberry pancake breakfast, and then, in no hurry to go anywhere, we would sit and talk and sip coffee and smoke menthol cigarettes, sometimes holding each other’s hand across the heavy wooden table.  On rainy, cold days The Diner was usually subdued and hushed, even cozy, but on bright, crisp, colorful October Saturdays The Diner serviced hundreds of fad-wearing students and their visiting families, all anticipating a day at the football game and tailgates, all talking at once.  We would catch bits of conversation, just a phrase or name or a laugh, but mostly the voices blended together into a hum above the scrape and scuffle of tables and chairs being moved and adjusted, the clink of heavy ceramic dishes and the tinkle of silverware, and the bangs and shouts and clatter from the kitchen.  And my girlfriend’s soft voice, quiet and pretty, separate from the noise . . . The coffee at The Diner never again tasted as good as it did during that autumn with Lori.

There were three winters that held the best Sunday morning coffee I’ve ever known.  Separately we’d stumble into the kitchen, my girlfriend, her son, her mother, and me, and with the appearance of each new face we’d contest who had the morning’s worst bed-head hair.  We’d have bacon and cheese and tomato on English muffins, eggs scrambled with scallions, and breakfast sweetcakes, and we’d lounge around in sweat pants and wool sweaters and thick socks, reading the Sunday paper and recounting the week’s adventures.  Her sister had taken to driving 45 minutes to be there for coffee, and almost every week her ex-neighbor and long-time friend joined us, once even driving over in her houserobe and slippers.  Occasionally her other son or some of the boys’ friends would show up, and they’d trade young men’s stories of wild Saturday nights, entertaining us all.  On those bleak winter mornings when no one wants to bother going anywhere, still people would come to Suzanne’s kitchen, and Sunday morning coffee often lasted way past noon.

Those three winters with her have also borne a new tradition: Christmas coffee.  Ethiopian Sidamo, New Guinea Peaberry, Sulawesi . . . Shopping for it, lingering among the bins of fresh gourmet beans, has become my duty and, for me, another sign that the holiday season is at its peak, just like the sight of nearly empty Christmas tree lots.  Christmas morning we’d know that we had special coffee, but still everyone tore off the wrapping to discover the flavors.  Three generations lounging together under the Christmas tree, losing our coffee mugs under discarded wrapping paper, admiring each others’ gifts and playing with ridiculous toys, pushing the overly affectionate and easily distracted dog toward any other family member, lying on the floor near the fireplace and wanting nothing ever to change: now that’s Christmas.

We do lazy mornings in the summertime, too.  There are those easy mornings out on the shaded deck, reading the newspaper and with a bare foot mindlessly rubbing the dog’s belly, glancing up at the blue sky and having just one more cup before going in to the office . . . And there are those mornings when I’m the first to awaken on family vacation at the beach house, especially that first morning there, that first morning I wake up free of my normal work routine: while I wait for everyone else I sit outside with a cup of coffee, just damn glad to be there and not in a hurry to do anything, the sun warm on my cheek, the ocean sparkling in my eyes, the cries of gulls and the smell of sand, all of it sifting memories into my morning’s slow thoughts . . .

You have to drink coffee for a couple of years before it wets that certain part of your tongue and warms that certain part of your belly, and then you start finding many cups that taste especially good.  There’s the coffee had after a truly exhausted and refreshing sleep, and there’s the cup poured for you as you return from driving barefoot and un-showered to fetch donuts on a hot Saturday morning.  There’s the precious mud had with a hangover, when you sit thoughtless and stare into your mug at the shiny reflections from the oil of the coffee beans.  There’s the coffee used to kill time between job interviews, and there are those endless cups in the middle of a day when you just don’t want to go home or do anything but let your life roll around in your head.  There is, of course, that wonderful cup lingered over after a good dinner when you want an excuse not to get up and leave your favorite restaurant.  There’s the roadie cup as you commute to work on a cold and oppressively gray morning, and there are those delicious cups – preciously limited in a lifetime – poured from a Thermos as you drive alone across several states straight through an empty winter night for the sake of young love.

The best coffee ever?  I don’t know . . . it might be the cup I’ll have as I watch the face of a friend as she reads what I’ve written here.  We’ll see; the best coffee can’t be brewed, only poured.

Post Numeral #19

Go to FIRST post –> Diary of My Death, Post #1

Diary of My Death, Post #19

Treatment Days 169-182, Chemo infusion #14 (two weeks later)

Good news!  My blood test numbers are still improving!  That’s more evidence that indeed my blossoming superpower is “fighting cancer”!

Two good things immediately came out of this good news.  First, my doctor reduced my chemo dosage again!  The treatment is still “a bit of a bother,” but it is noticeably easier to take.  Second, this time around, and this time only (at least for a while), we’re going to extend the time between treatments from two to three weeks.  I get an extra week of feeling mostly normal!  I’ve been getting tired of being so damned chemo-tired, so this decision to push the next treatment has definitely lifted my spirits.

Okay, so here are my notes for this cycle:

Monday – Doctor visit and Chemo infusion

Tuesday – Actually went outside and walked over to the neighbors for a short visit.  NEVER have I left home, or even thought of being sociable, the day after a chemo!  I do wonder if it was the steroids that accompany the chemo that gave me the energy on Tuesday.  I do not know if their dosage was reduced.  I don’t care, though: it was a more palatable way to go!

Wednesday – Went to hospital for the routine removal of the portable chemo pump connection from the port in my chest (sort of like the plugs in Neo’s body in The Matrix).  Otherwise puttered, putzed, and napped.

Thursday – although I slept mostly through Wednesday night, nonetheless I slept a lot on Thursday.  It was a sunny, warm, beautiful spring day, but I didn’t even want to sit outside.  In the morning I was zonked out in bed, and after lunch I was zonked out in bed.  I was up for a couple of hours and then again slept mostly through the night.

Friday – pretty much the same as Thursday, not much more than sleep, sleep, and sleep.  These two days of nearly constant sleep weren’t bad at all.  I mean, if you’re going to feel like crap, you might as well be effectively unconscious, right?

Saturday – a nap or two (hey, we’re talking about me, right?), but the Binge Sleeping was over and done.  I didn’t do much of anything, though.  I updated my To Do list, took a shower, looked at my sink full of rinsed but dirty dishes, and decided that was as productive as I was going to get.  I felt lazy.

Sunday – Woke up, had coffee, then immediately went back to bed until nearly noon.  After lunch, I did the dishes! (By hand, mind you; remember, I live on a boat and do not have a dishwashing machine.)  To celebrate my mountain of accomplishment, I didn’t do a damn thing the rest of the day!  Another lazy day.

 

That’s the chemo week, and that’s about how long it takes for me to do more than sleep, suck air, and daydream.  The next week was much better, almost normal.

Monday – ran some errands and then pooped out.  Afternoon nap, then a little bit of productivity, and then I gave in to laziness and watched Netflix all evening.

Tuesday – ran some more errands, and as I was driving caught myself moving my body to the rhythm of the radio, “car dancing”, (which is where I do my best dancing because it is mostly in my mind where I move fluidly and gracefully in such a charming manner as opposed to in real life where I lose my balance and twist my legs into pretzel formations and trip nearby dancers.  Really, there have been lawsuits.)  Felt pretty damn good and energetic, but then pooped out completely in late afternoon.

Wednesday – made another pass at the next level of personal archeology, purging some more belongings and going through boxes of photos that I’ve told myself , “I’ll sort through those in the quiet of this winter” . . . for the past 10, 15, 20 winters . . .  Again, late in the afternoon, early in the evening, I just pooped out and went into Lazy Mode.

Thursday – went to the laundromat.  In addition to my clothes, I washed some salvaged canvas I can make into something even if it’s only utility bags.  It bothers me to see perfectly good or usable stuff just thrown away to be buried in a landfill.  I pick it up and put it away for projects I’ll never get to – ya, it IS a sickness.

Friday – worked on my 1998 Toyota.

First, in the morning I caught a ride to fetch a new battery.  This was planned, because these days I casually use a budget for my time and energy.

Then, because of rusted bolts and access issues, and, okay, my clumsiness, it took me four hours to free the convoluted pipe from the gas tank to the pump nozzle receiver.  Once unattached, removing it from the maze of frame struts, hydraulic brake lines, and various under-car parts was very much a puzzle: maybe if I twist it this way, move this end up and over, then twist it the other way . . . There is no doubt that this piece was originally installed pre-assembly of the body to the frame.  In fact, I’m 100% sure that the factory built the entire vehicle around this convoluted pipe!

Fuel Filler Tubes 450

I was replacing this piece because the vent pipe was holed or clogged, which forced gas station nozzles to shut off after only a few seconds.  I timed myself the other day: it took 31 minutes to pump $10 of gas.  According to online forums, this is the problem’s most common cause.  I hope it works!

Saturday – installed the new fuel filler pipe.  It took maybe only an hour.  Hard to say because I had a number of visitors: it was, after all, a weekend at the marina!  Mostly it was people I knew, for whom I’d crawl out from under my vehicle to talk.  There were others, though, like the cute child who took an interest in my array of wrenches splayed over the gravel.  The wrenches were within my reach . . . I shimmied out from under and we played with the tools while the mother and I chatted . . . so, with various kinds of company, one hour of work took all afternoon, but I didn’t mind at all.

Camouflage Nap 450

Nap Master’s Journal: Camouflage Nap!

Sunday – very rainy day, the kind of day made for listening to the raindrops on the rooftop, taking long naps, drinking coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon as I work at my laptop, and repeatedly indulging in small doses of “medicine” (dark chocolate.)

A few free-floating notes:

  • My fingers and feet are tingling near constantly now, and my fingers are a little numb.  I haven’t been dropping things, but my fingers aren’t working quite right, which is a bit worrisome for someone who has much to do with his laptop, writing and internet work!  It’s been warmer outside, in the 50s and 60s and few bumps up into the 70s, so this tingling and numbness makes me afraid of next winter!  Also, it makes me wonder how sick am I, really?  Is the cancer doing a little rock-step backwards just to come at me with more momentum?
  • There’s what I think is a metallic taste in my mouth, and overall my taste has changed, so although my appetite is fine as far as me being hungry, food just isn’t as fun.
  • Constipation is a real pain in the ass.

And that’s it.  Tomorrow begins my “extra” week.  I’m expecting to feel better and be productive!

 

American Flag 45716dwo215vbaj

One autumn afternoon, I was sitting in my car parked along the border of Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, just waiting to rendezvous with someone.  Old Dominion does have ROTC classes, which I remembered when I noticed a uniformed officer walking toward me, coming from the residential neighborhood next to campus.  He was young, maybe in his early thirties; no doubt he was an instructor and on his way in to teach a class.

He was on the other side of the street from me, as was a somewhat neglected house in the early stages of refurbishment.  Outside the house, in the front yard, were three late middle-aged men, apparently employed with the dirty work of the house repair.  Beside their clothes being dirty, dusty, and splotched with paint, it was obvious that their clothes were rather worn, even for work clothes.  They all could have used a haircut or at least a trim, and they all looked a little tired, not tired from the day’s labor but tired from the labor of life.  I had the feeling that these were not the best days these men had had.  They were taking a break, sitting on the front steps with cigarettes and beers.

They also noticed the young officer approaching, coming down the sidewalk on their side of the street.  I saw the guy in the middle give a little elbow nudge to the bigger guy on his left, and then he turned his head and quietly said something to the guy on his right.  Separately, nonchalantly, they put down their beers and dropped their cigarettes on the brick porchway.  Separately, nonchalantly, they stood up.

As the officer walked on the sidewalk in front of “their” yard, the guy in the middle said, “Tennnn-hut!”  The officer ever so slightly flinched in his walking and sharply glanced at them, maybe thinking they were a bit old to be teasing passersby.  But they weren’t harassing him.  All three had snapped to attention, in perfect form.  “Haaand . . . sa-lute!”  All three struck and held textbook salutes, not John Wayne waves but perfect salutes with the bicep horizontal to the ground, wrist straight, hand flat, fingers pointing to the corner of the right eye.  Clearly, these men had been soldiers, or sailors, or Marines, or airmen.  And they probably had been good at it, judging from the way their military bearing just welled up from somewhere deep inside their shabby clothes and from behind their tired faces.

The officer must have recognized this immediately also.  He returned their salute, nodded, and I thought I heard him say a quick, “Thank you.”  He walked on his way, the man in the middle commanded, “Readdy . . . to!” and they brought down their salutes, in unison.  The men picked up their beers and cigarettes, and I continued to sit in my car, smiling to myself because I knew I had just witnessed something special.  I had done a hitch in the service, so I knew, I felt what had just happened.  Military service becomes a part of you, and even if it doesn’t cross your mind much as the years go by, it is always there.  It is a never-ending fraternity.

 

Little Nudges

H DeeDee and Unckie Monkey

When my niece was about 2 ½ years old she had her first tricycle, a little colorful plastic thing.  Her little legs could push the petals, but she had a hard time getting it started.  To help, we’d position her pointing down any slight grade on the sidewalk or in the quiet parking lot.  On the level or when going up the slight grade, to get her started I’d put my foot on the back of her trike and gently give her just enough of a push to get her going.  It worked a few times, until she noticed what I was doing.  She didn’t like it: she’d reach around to push away at my foot and say, “Me do it!  Me do it!”

Well, you know that saying about how having kids allows you to relive your childhood?  It doesn’t mean that you get to play with toys again.  It means you get an adult perspective on your own childhood years.  Getting caught trying to surreptitiously help my 2 ½ year old niece get her tricycle started made me wonder how many times my parents gave me unseen, loving nudges to help me grow into adulthood . . .

My niece will never remember that one summer evening on the tricycle, but someday, when some child in her life tells her, “Me do it!  Me do it!” she just might suspect that likewise there were many similar moments in her own childhood, many unnoticed moments of love and nurturing that were, at the time, way beyond her understanding.  Maybe this is why when we have children, or when we help raise our loved one’s children, we get closer to our parents.

Thanks, Mom and Dad.  Thanks for everything.

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