Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Face

I introduce the temp to everyone at work by saying, "She'll be taking care of things while I'm away next month."

The people who know why I'll be out all make the same face - head tilted, lips pursed in a slight pout, eyes widened (and not that I doubt their sincerity, it's just a very specific face).

The temp, who doesn't know what's going on, is classy enough not to ask, but after enough people make the face, I explain to her about my upcoming surgery.

"And now you're making the face!" I say, making us both laugh.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Wait, Do You Think I'm Racist?

As we reach my stoop, the conversation turns to Brexit, like it does.

"It's funny that, after five hundred years of colonizing the world, the Brits kick themselves out of Europe because they don't want any more brown people," my friend says, paraphrasing a joke that's been going around lately.

I counter with one I heard, saying, "'Um, listen, brown people - if we need you, we'll invade.'"

A woman who has been sitting on my stoop, listening to all of this promptly gets up and walks away, giving me a slightly dirty look over her shoulder.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

2016 Doesn't Like You

"Well, you've got a great attitude," my co-worker says when she finds out about my upcoming surgery, "so I know you'll be fine. My brother's going through something similar, so I know."

I ask, and she leans on the shelf above my desk wearily, saying, "Well, I can tell you since he's started telling people: my brother has been in the hospital for seven weeks after being diagnosed with full-blown AIDS."

"Man," I say, "what is it about 2016 that it wants to kick everybody's ass?"

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Romance Fades

When I get to the bottom of the stairs with the doge for her evening walk, I notice the puddles in the street reflecting the streetlights, the reflections breaking into shuddering ripples.

It's raining, and neither the dog nor I thought to bring an umbrella.

I shrug, clip the dog on her leash, and walk out into the lovely night air, enjoying the patter of rain on my relatively newly bald head, the scent of rain, the cool breeze.

Several minutes later, under the same tree we've been under for what seems like a half-hour, my head and face streaming with water, my shirt mildly soaked, the dog still indecisive about exactly where she'd like to pee, I'm less enamored of the romance of the rain, and I strongly suggest to the dog we should think about wrapping things up.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Visions of Boredom Yet to Come

Serge the dog leans up against Katie and lifts his old, shaggy, gray head to smile at me, all the while slowly wagging his tail. In the fashion of people you meet walking dogs on the streets of Brooklyn, we know the dog's name, but not his owner's.

"And when you can't get out that much it's really just boring," Serge's owner says, speaking of her hip problems, and I can't help but think of when I'm going to be laid up after my surgery. "I read, I watch TV, I do some laundry, and I can't even walk Serge!"

Saturday, June 25, 2016

She Won't Answer Anyway

"'S that a husky?" the boy says, reaching over the railing to pet Coco, who shies away as if she's been burnt.

"No, it's a shiba inu," I say.

"A shiba weiner?"

"Close enough."

Friday, June 24, 2016


I step out of the shower, wrap myself in a towel, and peer down the dark hall to our roommate's room.

"I could have sworn I heard her come home," I tell Katie. Coco, our dog, peers up at us curiously, her tongue lolling out in its accustomed position.

"Could just be the dog, tumbling around like a shoe in a dryer," Katie replies.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Chee NO Mo

"So it looks like chemo didn't work," my medical oncologist says sadly. "But you've got surgery scheduled, which is good."

"I feel like I let you down, Doctor," I say.

She whacks me on the knee with a rolled up medical chart.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


Although the nausea has abated, the second week after chemo usually involves a lot of pain in the area around my tumor - the equivalent of having a stomach ache or intestinal cramps, but in my upper thigh. I can usually keep it in check with a steady dose of ibuprofen, but if I miss the timing on the dose by as little as twenty minutes or so, the pain comes back with a vengeance, and there's nothing I can do about it until the tardy drugs work their way back around through the bloodstream to take care of it.

Last night, though, my body woke me up at precisely midnight, and then again at precisely four A.M. for my dose, keeping me from hurting - the fact of which I found so wholly amazing and awesome that I found myself standing on the subway platform this morning, composing an ode to the body in its dumb wisdom, singing (in my head) Praise! to the holy body that works small wonders for us every day, despite its suffering and mistaken cells, Praise! to the sacred flesh that supports us and would die for us, if it could, all Praise!....

Until this guy prodded me, not unkindly, in the shoulder to get me to move out of the way on the crowded platform so a lady could get by me to get on her train.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

First World Problems

"Everything will be...fine," my boss says with a sigh before she affixes a bright smile to her face. "I mean," she continues, waving her hand, "it's nothing compared to what you're going through."

"It's not like that," I say with a grimace. "First world problems are still problems, you know?"

Monday, June 20, 2016


My first bike ride since I started chemo is to see my writing group, mostly because it's downhill the whole way.

My more canny readers may have noticed the flaw in my logic.

In the highest (lowest? I never can figure out the nomenclature - it's the one where you can spin the pedals fifty times to creep forward a foot) gear available, I crawl up the the looming hills of the side streets, snaking my way between avenues like a man doing switchbacks up Everest, until I make my final assault up Union between 6th and 7th.

The cars whoosh past me as I hug the line of parked cars, trying to feel as unconcerned as those ancient asian men I see in videos of Bejing who ride their bikes through the inferno of rush hour traffic.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Secret Brotherhood

One of the vendors at the Flea, the one they call "Tall John," smokes a pipe into which he occasionally sprinkles a little weed along with his tobacco. He sells vintage furniture and has several large, interesting tattoos running up and down his lean, veiny arms.

He looks me up and down in the morning, before we're done setting up, says, "Yeah, that haircut, 's that like a chemo thing?"

When I confirm, he nods sagely and says, "I ended up stronger than when I started, with mine."

Saturday, June 18, 2016


The air in the park smells sweet and green. In my head, I feel young, the way the leaves and the birds and the grass are young, and the feeling dances in me, singing.

My body, however, wrapped in clothes to keep out the sun, covered in hats and sunglasses and sunscreen, walking slowly along, led by my patient and careful wife, sings a different tune. We settle on a shady patch of grass beneath a tree, and I sigh as I sit, like an old person, already tired from the walk, my eyes watering, listening to the discords between my body and mind play diminished chords in my heart.

Friday, June 17, 2016


"It's really because the baby is coming, no matter what," says my pregnant co-worker, "and there's nothing I can do to stop it. I don't like not having control."

"Let me tell you something I haven't told anybody else," I say. "I'm worried that, when this cancer thing is over, I'll be exactly the same as I was before."

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Being Friendly

After we congratulate our server on her makeup (sparkly rouge climbing prominent cheekbones), and Katie makes her laugh with a "Namaste!" in thanks for her delivery of a basket piled high with onion rings and french fries, it's clear we've established a friendly rapport. We banter and enjoy the talk as the meal progresses.

Though they seem bengin enough, and certainly aren't throwing any shade over the new, short-term friend we've made of our server, the two ladies sitting at the next table seem to be sort of watching us. I find myself wondering if they think we're just pretending to be as happy as we act, as I ask our server, "Is that a butterfly tattoo on your wrist?"

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

'Tis But a Scratch

The support for the railing on the stairs, a squarish piece of metal on the underside, all sharp edges and machined cuts, catches the cuticle of my thumb and tears it back as I'm running down for the subway to take me home after work.

It really hurts, so I hold it in my other hand and squeeze. A co-worker spies me on the platform and sidles up, and when she asks about why I'm holding my hand strangely, I open it to show her.

We both look calmly at my blood-filled palm, and she says, "I think you need a band-aid."

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Since You Asked

"Scott, what's the deal with the hat?" a co-worker says loudly in the midst of the meeting as I'm walking to my seat. "Did you have a bad haircut or something?"

I kneel next to her, smiling, but trying to be nice - she doesn't know yet, as I've been kind of letting people find out organically as they express curiosity.

"Do you really want to know?" I ask.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Wishful Thinking

Another random video on Facebook makes me cry for no good goddamn reason.

"You've got, like, pregnancy hormones," Katie says as she cradles my head.

"You wish," I say.

"If only you were a seahorse," she says, pulling me close.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Making It

The sun is shining bright in a gorgeous blue sky, so we walk with the doge on the shady side of the street. I'm wearing a flannel and a cowboy hat to keep the sun off my increasingly balding head.

We walk around the block, and back home. The fresh air does me good for a bit, and I think I might live.

Saturday, June 11, 2016


I close my eyes. The world is spinning, ever so slightly, to the left, and it makes me want to throw up.

"Time to get up and brush your toofies!" Katie calls out in her most encouraging voice.

"No," I whine.

Friday, June 10, 2016


Katie has decided that both the doge and I need fresh air, and after a short stint on the stoop, we are sitting outside at a sidewalk table, eating ice cream.

I scoop a tiddle of ice cream on my fingers and reach down to give it to the doge, who hesitates before slurping it up. She pivots her crooked head in all directions, looking for more of the same, and then fixates on Katie with her visage of cutest beggary.

"Oh, doge, you spin your head like an owl. but when you beg I see the universe in your eyes," Katie says into the doggy face of absolute longing looking up at her.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Mawwige is What Bwings Us Togethah

"So what's the secret to a good marriage?" the nurse asks as she gets the bags of saline and poison ready for me.

"Well, I don't know if there's one secret," I say, "but you have to be... fierce."

"Fierce?" she says.

"Marriage is a game of chicken that ends when one of you dies," I say.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Do it Again (Chemo Redux)

The sun has finally come out, and it shines through my bosses window at a strange angle, throwing shadows I haven't seen before and making the room look like a place I've never been.

I shake it off and turn to her, saying, "Okay, is there anything else before I head out?"

She shakes her head, and then says, "Good luck tomorrow."

"Yeah, time to go face the playground bully again."

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Motherly Aggression

"Wait, pass the phone over to mom," I say to my father.

The perspective tilts and shifts until my mom slides into view, pointing the phone too far up so only the top half of her head is visible.

"Mom," I say in my best grown-up voice, "why wouldn't you go on the cruise?"

"I am not leaving the country while my son might need me, and let me just say, it is not your call," she says sternly.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Missing My Person

Katie is out of town at a cool-ass wedding. We weren't sure how I'd be feeling so I stayed in Brooklyn.

What I think is gonna happen: "Cool, I'll get to bed early, maybe watch a movie."

What really happens: the internet until I pass out.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

It (Really) Begins

After shower, getting ready, watching my fogged face in the mirror, the comb comes away clumped with hair, some dark, some silver.

I take the comb into the bedroom where Katie is dressing and, giggling, show it to her. Her face twists in pity, and she says, "How do you feel about that?"

"Give me a few hours, and I'll tell you," I say, still giggling for some reason.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Is There a Ghost in My House (pt. 2)

The night before last, we were awakened by a loud thump from the kitchen. Upon investigating, Katie found that two pictures had fallen from the wall.

Last night another thump, another bunch of pictures, postcards, fallen from the wall and scattered across the floor, and I said to Katie, "Maybe we've got a poltergeist."

"Maybe the building is collapsing," she replied sleepily.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Still Got Some Life Yet

The older woman who lives upstairs is unlocking the door as I come up with the doge after her walk. She's wearing a lovely woven jacket - mostly black, with treads of orange and gold - she informs me, because she attended a family member's child's graduation.

"Well," I say, "I won't tell anyone that you broke curfew."

"Hardly," she replies, rolling her eyes.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Foot in Mouth

His eyes soften and he takes off his headphones when I tell him that I wasn't on vacation, but that I was, in fact, getting chemo.

"Oh man, I know what that's like," he says, his voice thick with emotion. "My mom died of breast cancer, and my dad went from prostate cancer, and my sister-in-law, I know how tough it can be."

"So what you're telling me," I say, thinking to lighten the mood, "is that I have cancer because I know you?"

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A Near Miss

Bright, sunny day, midtown sidewalk, the flow of people streaming past on their way from the office, to the office, and I slip into the current toward my deli to grab some food.

She's leaning against the building smoking a cigarette, blowing a thin stream of smoke the same direction I'm walking, so I don't see her face, but the guy walking towards me sure does. He's little and wiry, with a shock of white hair on top of his weathered brown face, and his mouth is open in awe, as if he simply can't believe that someone who looks like her even exists. 

We walk towards each other, me watching him stare at her like a man seeing for the first time, his mouth open, his brows furrowed in consternation, until he's well within her personal bubble, and then at the last moment, he veers off into the flow and disappears into the crowd behind me.