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Posts Tagged ‘Memoir’

A. IN THE GOLDEN HILLS.

Thanksgiving Day brought with it an intermittent sun playing hide and seek with the rain. We had lunch in the Golden Hills with HRM, Uncle Mask, Adrian and N. I was surprised to see N there. She had come to California a few days before and will remain until late December when she will take HRM to Italy for the Holidays. The lunch featured a well-made ham with several toppings to choose from. I was a bit disconcerted because I had expected I would be minding H during Dick’s absence in early December but with N there, I expect that would not be necessary.

N and HRM

Later, we drove back to Sacramento for dinner with Naida’s Daughter Sarah, her family, and their two dogs, a black and white brindled standard poodle named George Washington and Franklyn Delano Roosevelt, a large mixed pit bull and retriever. We brought along Boo-boo, a mixed Chihuahua and whatever, who although he may have lacked the size and prestigious name of the other two dogs, by the end of the night had clearly acquitted himself as an equal.

Dinner included turkey with all the fixings and pumpkin pie and cheesecake for dessert. The cheesecake made by Sarah’s son Charlie, who happily explained to all of us the secret of making a perfect cheesecake — first rule “do not beat your eggs,” mix them slowly using only a certain rotation of one’s arms and shoulders. He then demonstrated the movement. It looked quite painful

B. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN THE ENCHANTED FOREST:


The rains have returned soft and gentle. The streets, lawns, and pathways in the Enchanted Forest glisten a brilliant red and yellow. Here and there pods from the Deodar Cedar litter the walkway like little banana slugs. For the first time, it seemed like autumn.

As usual, we attended the Saturday morning coffee at the clubhouse. Surprisingly, as many men attended this week as women. I sat a bit off to the side, observing as I often do. I could not help noticing the usual neatly coiffed hair on the spy who goes by the name “Ducky.” It always looks as though she just came from the hairdresser. Unlike most of us at this advanced age whose hair of various colors gone drab, interlaced with streaks or dreary grey, and winds about our heads like birds nests, hers, a brilliant white, sparkled like icy snow in the sunlight.

I decided to survey hands today. Most of the woman had long slender fingers gone knobby with age. The model’s fingers were the longest. Like many whose movements are often characterized as elegant, the tips of her fingers seemed to move as though they were independent of the hands to which they were attached. Naida’s hands, unlike the others, were the hands of someone who spent a life of a farm or a ranch, thick and strong.

I noticed while most kept their hands relatively still when they talked they would now and then gesture whenever they were making a point. Naida again was an outlier. Her hands flew about vigorously as she talked. She would not be out of place in Southern Italy. In fact, in Sicily, the Sicilians would consider her an uplifting and ebullient person before even hearing a word she had spoken. Alas, to these same people, her hand movements would appear to them as gibberish — meaningless noise. Americans use their hands while speaking only as punctuation. Without words it is meaningless. In Sicily, the gestures are words and have meaning independent of what is spoken.

We then returned to the house, Naida to work on her Memoir and me to write this. Later we walked the dog along the levee beside the American River. The setting sun shining through air recently washed clean by the rains lit up the autumn colors like fireworks.

On Sunday we sat around the house. Naida read to me sections from her memoir. As she read the words, my mind transformed them into scenes from a movie — the frightening 25 mile skate down the frozen Big Hole River; learning of her parents divorce; the comical introduction to her father’s new girlfriend; the infatuation of a 13 year old girl with her handsome uncle; the fight with her brother over a plate of macaroni and cheese; the dreams, the fears and the sorrows… It will be a wonderful book — a Little Women with real drama.

The Author at Work in Her Studio

Monday I had an appointment with my primary care physician. As he entered the examining room, I said, “Since my surgeons agree I am a dead man walking, I intend to go out happy, pain-free and without my bowels turned into cement. So, I need you to prescribe the pills that will allow me to do so.”

“We are from birth all dead men walking, ” he responded. “Nevertheless, I think I can provide what you need. I even know of something that relieves pain without constipation.” He added that he understood what I was going through because he has had two bouts of his own with cancer. Also, his seven-year-old child was struck with bone cancer and had to have his leg amputated below the knee.

Once again, I found myself embarrassed and humiliated by my misplaced sense of humor.

The doctor a youngish man, in his late thirties or early forties, is built like an NFL linebacker and specializes in sports medicine. At my prior visits to his office, I noticed a deep sadness in his eyes that made me wonder. Now I know why.

He prescribed a healthy supply of Xanax to keep my spirits up, a pain reliever that keeps my bowels lubricated and even a topical that eliminates the irritation caused by my clothing rubbing against the tumor. Finally, he explained that the most important thing he’d learned from his own experience with cancer was that one ought not to concern one’s self about the future but concentrate only on what needs to be done that day. In other words, take it one day at a time. I am not a fan of platitudes (unless they are my own, of course) but appreciated the effort.

C. TO SAN FRANCISCO AND BACK AGAIN:


On Tuesday we left for San Francisco to spend the evening with Peter and Barrie before my visit with the physician at UCSF early the next day. We brought the dog along with us because Barrie thought it would be a good idea to see how he got along with their dog, Ramsey.

That evening, leaving the dogs with Barrie, Naida and I went to a French restaurant on 24th Street where Peter’s trio was performing. They were very good, as was the food. Peter played bass, the leader of the group, guitar, and the third member, the violin. Peter told us he (the violinist) is or was first violinist in the LA Symphony. If you’re ever in the Noe Valley area on a night they are playing you should drop in.

The Boys in the Band.

The next day, I met with the oncologist at UCSF to explore potential treatment options including clinical trials. As usual, I began with an inappropriate joke. When the doctor entered the room and settled into the chair opposite me, I said, “Now that two surgeons have agreed that ripping out a part of my throat and slicing off parts of my body with which to fill the resulting hole was not advisable, what options are available to me?”

The doctor a youngish Korean-American oncologist with a national reputation was not amused. Nevertheless, after asking some questions he played out a treatment program that appeared to me to be promising if we could get the insurance company to approve it in a reasonable amount of time.

D. BACK IN THE ENCHANTED FOREST AND A VISIT TO THE RIVER OF RED GOLD:


On Wednesday, I rested all day and Thursday, I turned my attention primarily to a request of Terry’s that I am sure, as usual, will turn out more interesting than beneficial. I also received a call from my doctors that the insurance company approved my treatment plan and it will start early next week. Hooray!

If I have learned anything from life (I am pretty sure I have not), it is that that one learns less from success than from failure and it’s more interesting too. Also, behaving foolishly is a lot more fun than propriety could ever be.

On Friday, I accompanied Naida to Meadowlark Inn at Slough-house on the old Jackson Highway. There Naida had a luncheon with a small book club (about eight women). They discussed her California Gold Trilogy. Later we all went to the historical Slough-house cemetery several of the characters mentioned in her books were buried. Naida told some fascinating stories about the area — the Native American, Chinese and European settlers, the gold discoveries, the massacres and the private lives of the people buried in the cemetery that she had garnered from their diaries. She even found the grave of the old woman who had become her friend and whose diary had begun her interest in the area and became an important part of her books.

The Girls at the Cemetery.

Following that, we drove to the bank of the Cosumnes River in Rancho Murieta where the Indian village described in her books stood. She became quite upset when she saw that the great old mother oak, sacred to the Native Americans who were buried in the ancient midden that lay beneath its branches, had been chopped down by the developer (despite his promises not to.) We then walked along the river bank and explored the rocks containing many native grinding holes and the stepped stone platform where she was sure the natives gathered to listen to the orations of the head man whenever there was a festival or a party. Naida mentioned that the area was so productive that it has been estimated the average time native male worked (built things, hunted and so-on) was only 45 minutes a day and the average women 3 hours. It was a peaceful paradise that existed for over 600 years until it was utterly destroyed by European immigrants from the United State in less than twenty.

On the Banks of the Cosumnes.




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A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN THE ENCHANTED FOREST:

After three days, while on our late afternoon walk, we discovered the mysterious orb still there. Now, however, with a sign affixed to its surface announcing “Fountain. Free. Take it away.” Mystery solved, perhaps.

It is now three and one-half months since the growth on my neck first appeared and I went to my oncologist for the first time for a diagnosis. Since then, I have had a PET scan, two CT scans, four sonograms, three visits for biopsies, a stress test, two blood tests and at least 8 meetings with five separate doctors and I still have no treatment plan. Today, I am awaiting insurance company approval for a second opinion on the feasibility of surgery. During all that time, the swelling tumor on my neck has grown from an insignificant bulge to a goiter like bump and my diagnosis has gone from, “It is nothing to worry about” to “You’re probably going to die.” I am no longer amused.

Groucho Marx had a cousin from Argentina named Gaucho.

Days pass, I read a lot, watch the news on television, see the Niners lose again, spend too much time on Facebook — It is now Wednesday, I finally have an appointment scheduled in San Francisco at UCSF for my second opinion. Sometimes bitching and shouting works.

Thursday was a good day although the air quality made it better to stay indoors. San Francisco was reported to have the worst air quality in the world today because the smoke from the many fires in Northern California hung over the city like a dirty shower curtain. Sacramento was not too far behind. Nevertheless, I felt good today. Whether it was from the valium I had taken last night to help me sleep or something else I do not know. In the afternoon, I felt good enough to brave the hazardous air and drive into the Golden Hills to pick up Hayden and Jake. The Skate Park was closed because of the hazardous air-quality, so we went to the house where we discussed the possibility of the three of us driving to a Mountain Bike track somewhere in the mountains this weekend. After doing some research about the various trails, I left them to ruminate on the alternatives and returned to the Enchanted Forest.

Back at the house, I busied myself posting various articles on Facebook from two of my blogs, “Trenz Pruca’s Journal,” and “Papa Joe’s Tales, Fables, and Parables.” I was doing this because I wanted to increase the number of views this year to more than any of the Blogs’ prior years. At first, I was afraid to mention here in T&T how I spend several hours a day (at least four) because it might reveal me to be an insecure recluse desperately seeking recognition for what I feared were my inept and odd scratchings. Eventually, I convinced myself that it was no more than an obsession to “beat my record.” So instead of revealing my pitiful insecurities, I exposed one of my more idiotic neuroses which I somehow believed was less embarrassing. Anyway, for “Papa Joe’s” I passed my best year in early November. For “Trenz Pruca”s Journal,” it will be close to the end of the year before I know if I will succeed or not.

In any bureaucracy, all the work is done low on the food chain. Everyone else just holds meetings.

Last night, I dreamed a movie, actually two, one complete and one half-way through. This is not unusual. I have dreamt movies before. Usually, in my dreams, I enter one of the movie theaters I remember that existed on Fordham Rd. in the Bronx way back when I was going to college at the end of the 1950s. They were grand old Egyptian-Baroque buildings. In my dreams (and probably in real life) the theaters had deteriorated to become purveyors of soft porn and old movies. Strangely, in my dream, I had to go downstairs to get to the theater. The movie was an old one I had never seen before — a melodrama about two families going through various domestic crises. I woke up briefly half-way through the second feature but fell back to sleep almost immediately. The movie was still running but had now become a porn flick and I was an actor in it. This was notable, not because of the nature of my involvement and the vigor of my participation, but because I have not experienced such dreams for years now.

I awoke that morning with Naida caressing my arm as it lay across her body. It made me both happy and sad. Happy because it is so nice to wake up in the morning with someone who loves you and sad because I fear those mornings are going to end far too soon.

Those who observe well, dream well.
Friday was a non-event and then came the weekend.

At five o’clock in the morning, Naida woke up and said that she had to go downstairs to write something in her memoir — something about her approach to math as a child, a complex method that included fingers, beacons and musical rhythms ( the left hand did the rhythm and the right counted the repetitions). I went back to sleep and fell into a marvelous dream. I was somewhere in the Mediterranean, in a colorful small town by the sea. I was younger, a drifter and con man. My friend Blackie had engineered a scam that had gone bad. I was accused even though I had no part in it. A younger Isabella Rossellini, who was a princess of some sort, rescued me somehow. We laughed a lot and got naked. Then Naida woke me up to go to the Saturday coffee at the Nepenthe Club House.

The weekly Saturday coffee was usually attended by the older members of the community. Women outnumbered men more than two to one. Although each person sported a name tag, I never could recall names even after staring at the tags so, as usual, I gave them nicknames — the football coach, the two spies (one a man who was a senior executive in the State Department, the other a woman with coiffed white hair whose job prior to retirement was shrouded in mystery), the leader, the cute lady, the model (an eighty-year-old ex-model), the model’s husband the architect ( a 90+ year old architect of some renown) and others. There was also a mother-daughter duo that one could not discern who was the mother and who the daughter. They whispered and laughed together in the corner. Also, there is always a woman there, usually without a name tag, that attended to the refreshments. I do not know if she is a resident or an employee of the HOA.

The Leader, a large woman, selflessly devotes herself to the task. She feels quite distressed and obviously hurt if anyone challenges or disagrees with her, so we don’t. She opened a small roll-on piece of luggage that accompanies her everywhere, pulled out some papers and a small bell that she rings to call us to order. Then, she announces the events scheduled, calls for volunteers for the myriad of charitable activities planned to be undertaken and so on. After that, we clean up the clubhouse and leave.

Naida and I then went shopping and had lunch at Ettore’s where I choked on a piece of turkey breast and threw-up all over my plate.

The mysterious orb remains, in the gutter by the house. No one has claimed it yet.

B. A SHORT TRIP INTO THE SIERRAS:

On Sunday, we decided to escape the fire-caused air pollution and drove into the Sierra foothills. We drove to Jackson. There is a bookstore that sells Naida’s books. The bookstore has a Sherlock Holmes museum on its second floor with a room made to look like the great detective’s Baker Street residence. While Naida went into the store to discuss book things, I took the dog for a walk around the time. The little fellow got into a snarling match with a large pit bull. I admired his courage, not his common sense.

After that, we went for lunch a Teresa’s one of the better restaurants in the town. It always saddens me that so many Italian restaurants here and even in Italy have passed from the families whose food came from the techniques and recipes that their mothers develop to please the taste of their families who ate the food every day, to others whose recipes and techniques are often designed to lower costs and aspire only to being merely acceptable. If you are ever in Jackson you should stop for a meal at Teresa’s.

While there, I learned the story of how Naida got her name. It was not an uplifting story. It was as remarkable and as disturbing as the rest of her life.

We drove back by way of Ione. While passing through the town Naida told me about a friend of hers, an Indian woman, who was Dave Brubeck’s piano teacher when he was growing up there.

C. OFF TO THE CITY — THE BIG ENDIVE:

On Monday, we set off for San Francisco. Before leaving we drove to the kennel to board Boo-boo for the night. It took a little time because the person typing the required forms was blind. He had to lay one eye on the computer screen in order to read the form. Then, after saying a teary farewell to the dog, we left.

By the time we had reached Vacaville, the smog from the Forrest fires was so thick our lungs began to ache. We had coffee and a brioche there and then drove on into The City. Noe Valley where Peter and Barrie live was only slightly less occluded with the smog. They gave us some masks and we walked down to 24th street for lunch. After lunch, Peter and I went to Bernie’s for coffee. The air was too unbreathable to sit at the “Geezer’s Bench” so we sat at a table by the window drinking coffee and complaining about the pains and burdens of growing old.

The next morning, we went to UCSF for my appointment. On the way, as we passed the Ferry Building, Naida told me that at one time she worked with the State Department of Corrections on a massive study on the effectiveness of various parole alternatives on the recidivism rates of violent criminals. The results showed that nothing works.

I met with a Dr. Ryan for a second opinion on the possibility of surgery on my neck. The surgeon’s office was located on the fourth floor of a hospital in Mission Bay. Many years ago I had some involvement in the approvals for the development of Mission Bay. Precisely what, I do not remember. It now has become a hub or medical treatment technology. The cancer department impressed me. It is set up so that most of the diagnostic and treatment needs of the patient can occur in one place without the usual delays.

The surgeon was a youngish man in his mid-forties, dressed in a dark blue suit (He did not have a bow tie). Following the usual prodding, he confirmed the opinion of the previous surgeon that an attempt to operate would probably be fatal. The tumor had entwined itself around the muscle like a lover and pressing up against the artery. If he operated he would have to cut a flap of chest muscles to fold over the wound. He did indicate that all the tests done so far do not show that cancer had spread any farther and those other treatments may work. I then told him I was also looking into various trials including with one of his office colleagues that Terry recommended. He then arranged for an appointment with the doctor in a trial that focuses directly on my problem.

Although this was a somewhat more positive result and made me feel much better, I realized that I am effectively dead in the very near future should these treatments not work.

We drove home that afternoon, picked up the dog, watched some movies and prepared for Thanksgiving.

And on Wednesday the rains came.


Have a Happy National Welcome New Immigrant’s Day.

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