Archive for January, 2010|Monthly archive page

Salinger and Other Wierd Strokes

In Uncategorized on January 30, 2010 at 10:47 pm


Let me say that I am well and recovering nicely, and learning to deal with the current state of my sight. This “vision thing” has flummoxed every President since it was “articulated” by the first President Bush (now try repeating that with a straight face), so I do not know why I should expect an exemption.

On Wednesday, Deirdre brought home a few books from the library. I find I can read, but it is a new sort of experience. In an amount of time in which I would have knocked off the entire book, I have reached page 60 of Jeff Lindsay’s new Dexter novel (not-inappropriate reading material for a slightly mis-firing brain). For the short term, at least, I am learning to enjoy reading in different ways.


J D Salinger died last Thursday. The celebrated author and noted recluse was 91. He gave us not only Catcher in the Rye, but also several story collections that artsy girls in my high school always carried around like passports or merit badges. I hope Mr Salinger’s soul finds peace in the embrace of the ultimate solitude that he craved.

I must confess that I did not and do not “get it.” More than a few dear friends of mine find in Catcher expression of the deepest longings on their innermost feelings. When I re-read the book on the Fiftieth Anniversary of its publishing, I found my impressions of it largely unchanged since high school. The resentful nattering of a narcissistic New England preppie has never struck a chord in this son of a furniture manufacturer in Piedmont North Carolina.

A different kettle of fish is Thomas Wolfe. I vividly remember plunging into Look Homeward, Angel, and finding in that mad torrent of words not only the expression of my soul, but also every feeling ever felt by any human being that has ever lived at any time on the face of this planet. To be swept away by Angel again for the first time, and feel again the same mad clamor of emotions, is the lone instance of adolescence that I genuinely wish could happen again.


Wolfe happens to be family – his mother Julia was a cousin of my grandfather. My mother remembers being taken on an old-fashioned, Sunday afternoon visit with Cousin Julia, but little else about the event. I like to imagine my grandmother, Myrtle, and Julia, sipping sweet tea, rocking on the porch of Old Kentucky Home, while they talked about everything under the sun. In truth, however, I imagine the conversation moved haltingly along these lines:

Myrtle: How’s Tom?

Julia: Fine, moved to New York, you know.

Myrtle: And Ben?

Julia: He died.

Myrtle: Sorry, didn’t know!

 What is easier to envision is my mother, sitting quietly, erectly, perhaps in a starched dress, being bored to abject distraction while the grown-ups talked. Sometimes, even tangential brushes with literature leave a lot to be desired.


 In reading a bit more deliberately, I draw on my experiences with an unlikely, perhaps bizarre, pair of books. I tried 4 or 5 times to read Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa, and was defeated by the attempts. I could not fathom why so many people considered it to be a great literary work. Reading it was exhausting – like trudging across a muddy creek bed when the lake is down – and hardly worth the effort. Then something clicked and I realized the pace and cadences of the language embody those qualities of life in the African landscape. Read with patience, in the right spirit, the book is a treasure not to be missed.

I have absolutely not quarrels with the mini-series of Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. It is a great piece of work, and Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones remain the near-perfect embodiment of the two main characters. For anyone who has yet to read the book, I commend the book.

I don’t know whether Lonesome Dove is good literature or not and could care less. It is a great read, one of the best. And my days with the book are the one time I remember intentionally slowing down. I started limiting my daily intake of pages with about 300 left to go. My time with the fictional Woodrow and Gus were such sheer, unadulterated pleasure that I wanted to make it last as long as it could. Maybe reading a bit more slowly is not such a bad thing?


 Deirdre and Harry report that widespread panic was afoot in the streets yesterday as our cozy town went full-goose bozo over forecasted snow. There was carnage at Food Lion as deranged citizens dove after last bags of sugar, coffee and Ovaltine. One elderly gent held a Harley rider at bay with his walker while his wife grabbed the only remaining package of Depends. Oh, the humanity!

In one strange and twisted episode, Marvella Hopkins, 88, attempted to hijack the Carolina House van and force Clem North, the driver, to take her to Miami. Marvella’s weapon was an old pair of yellowed dentures, which she keeps as a spare. Unfortunately, she stumbled a bit as she pulled the lethal teeth from her purse and nipped off the lobe of Clem’s left ear. Having something of a phobia about old ladies wielding choppers, Clem promptly suffered a mild heart attack. Both Marvella and Clem are in the hospital and recovering nicely, though Clem is pissed at having tetanus shot. And I am happy to report that the ressponsible folks at the home remembered to get the remaining passengers off the bus.

The dreaded snow arrived last night, and Lexington has shut down for a day or two. Unable to take my accustomed walk in the evening of every snow, I did venture onto the front porch a few times. There I was able to listen to the unique quiet that comes only with a snowfall.


 My BS-o’meter has been unplugged today. So have the gauges that cull anything sentimental or maudlin from what I write. If anything I have written today falls in that category, DO NOT give me a break or cut me some slack. Email or post me and give me some Hell about it. Only you can prevent forest fires and Beno gibberish. Don’t shirk your responsibilities!



In Uncategorized on January 25, 2010 at 10:16 pm


     Only recently have I begun to appreciate just how much radiation treatments stomped, folded and crushed my energy level to that of a damp swatch of flannel you find in the corner of your granny’s moldy attic. Boy, was I lingering tired.

       The depth of my ennui was made clear when, in preparation for Craniotomy II, I was administered steroids again: pills beforehand, a continuous heavy-duty drip in pre-op, op and the ICU, followed by a declining regime of pills again as the docs insist on weaning me off the stuff. Had Mark McGuire ingested this much stuff, in one season alone he could have hit 397 home runs, won the Triple Crown in horse racing and married Madonna. Of course, the steroids I take enhance my performance in only one respect that I can detect: I am hungry and can eat. 

       When I say “hungry” I mean ravenous, glutinous, famished and every other Hundred Dollar Bill word you can think of for having an empty ache in the belly. Compared to my appetite, Hitler’s lunatic craving for world conquest was a mere longing for a simple strudel in Strasbourg. Stir into the mix the nurse-certified observation that a healing brain craves sugar, and you can hardly imagine what heights my appetite has reached.

       Essentially, I am eating as though training for a lumberjack contest with Paul Bunyon. Yesterday, I started off the day with a sizeable portion of eggs, sausage patties and three – count ‘em – three cream cheese cinnamon rolls. The pills began kicking in.

       Lunch was two bowls of chili, enough saltine crackers to choke every migratory Canada goose in North America, grapes, carrots, and a few (well, more than a few) handfuls of potato chips with some Skippy’s peanut butter on the side.

       Supper was two plates of high-piled taco salad garnished with lettuce, tomatoes, green peppers, chopped onions, cheese, two kinds of salsa and every other sort of topping you can conjure. I politely tapped the corner of my mouth with a napkin, and then attacked a bag of vanilla ice cream cups.

       And have I mentioned that in snacking during the day, I demolished a package of Nabisco sugar wafers, a big bag of seasoned oyster crackers, various vegetable sticks, chocolate chip cookies, a cup or seven of pudding, and god knows what else might have gotten near my mouth unnoticed in the macerating frenzy. Oh, and I also had a sip of milk, Coke, water, green tea, ginger ale, tea, coffee, Vitamin Water, and orange juice along the way. 

       By my best calculations, as a dedicated amateur nutritionist (yea, right!), I yesterday consumed 426,000 calories of food, which at least slightly exceeds the FDA recommended daily minimum for healthy living. The net result, according to the morning bathroom scales: a weight gain of .32 grams.

       I cannot recommend this new diet for everybody. It apparently has a physical effect. According to my family, I am starting to resemble something along the lines of Mike Ditka’s stuffed head resting on top of a pot-bellied Franklin stove. And spending the latter portion of each day reckoning what next to eat contributes little to the maintenance of relationships. I grow eager for the pills to end and the days to resume some normalcy.

       Or, to phrase it differently, I look forward to wanting a grilled cheese sandwich, but a grilled cheese sandwich alone.

“I See,” said the one-armed wallpaper hanger

In Uncategorized on January 23, 2010 at 11:59 am

       Thursday afternoon, I had an appointment with the genuine, honest-to-God ophthalmologist at Wake Eye Clinic. Frankly, this was the first instance in all my visits with the Good Folks at Baptist that was not entirely satisfactory. The staff was friendly and eager to please as mice finding treats at the end of every pathway in a maze. The wait was tolerable. My stay was pleasant, but I could not help hearing in the back of my head (what is left of it) the nasal twang of Strother Martin in “Cool Hand Luke”: “What we have here is a failure to communicate!”

       Scheduled by my brain surgeon for testing after a craniotomy on the right occipital lobe of my brain, I was handled as though I had appeared for a routine eye exam. I spent more time than needed gazing at mysterious pictures on the wall, amorphous magazine covers, then reading letters illuminated in a mirror and eye pressure checked and irises dilated before the before the good doc finally suggested, “What you really need is a Field of Vision test.” Well, DUNH!!!!

      It took a scurry before I was ushered into a cubicle by a technician who was as kindly as a fantasy grandfather, yet blessed with all the personality of an untoasted marshmallow. His idea of being “encouraging” during the test was to reassure me that he could tell I was trying to be very “conscientious.” It was like being a water boy being complimented for remembering to bring the dipper along with the water bucket. I suppose inept praise, sincerely offered, is about the best reward we can expect in life.

       The Vision Field Test itself is a strange amalgam of ‘70’s arcade videogame, computer high-tech, and the sort of Orb Gazing one finds at Madame Zelda’s Fortunes & Nails Salon in the former Quickie Lube on Highway 8. You rest your chin on a strap (that has been sanitized 17 times), hold a clicker, stare into pale curving space with one eye focused on a yellow light, then click the clicker as points of light of varying sizes and intensities pop at random times into view.

       Of course you click at ghost lights and after-images. Of course you twitch and double and triple click. Of course some light dots cauterized my retina while others beckoned wanly as though a moon glimpsed through a foggy night over a haunted grave yard. Of course I had nearly napped out twice while waiting and lacked my usual “Top Gun” reflexes. Nothing you do or try to do really matters, explained the tech. The computer has been programmed to dispatch cunning, foils and foibles. Unlike presidential elections, it is impervious to being gamed.

      The results are printed, as you might guess, in the form of a visual aid. I will let minds greater than mine (by last authorative count there were 13.4) to contemplate the ironies of being given a visual aid to show you what you cannot see. Missed dots are rendered on a bar graph rather like Richter scale readout depicts an earthquake. My test reveals that I have now vision identical to that of Ronald Reagan in 1982. Draw a vertical line through circle representing either eye, and every thing on the right is clear as a high pressure night sky in February, but to the left things are dark, murky, even threatening. I do not yet detect any serious effects on my state of mind, but if anybody hears me muttering about wanting to “Nuke the Russian Bear,” please call those nice young men in their clean white coats.

       Other than restricted driving, I am functioning semi-normally and feeling great. Reading the newspaper, formerly a 10 minute dash through newsprint, has become a 30 minute exercise in which following the words resembles something like a middle linebacker attempting origami while playing a game of Twister. Time slows, but I manage and otherwise really do feel fine. We hope and expect for improvement and the best, and, are reassured by the tests to one inalienable certainty: if you imagine me as holding binoculars, and unlike some former presidents I know, I am holding the binoculars correctly and looking ahead, not behind.


In Uncategorized on January 23, 2010 at 11:41 am

I would be remiss as a human being if I did not assert that my health stumbles do not amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, and that if they did amount to a hill of beans, it ought to be shipped to Haiti.  The suffering is beyond our imagining and the immediate and future needs of those affected are so great that we scarcely know how to begin to offer help.  I personally keep thinking not only of the immediate misery, but also of the selflessness of the uncountable number of volunteers who have been working under the radar for many years to improve the systemic problems that have plagued that society – feeding who could be fed, teaching what could be taught, building what could be built, amid squalor and unaccountable hopefulness.  In our impulse to generosity, we need to remember not only the thirsty mouth and bleeding wound, but also the feet that should be able to walk again safely down the street.  For a donation that addresses not only the present, but the future, I can only recommend you consider a donation to Episcopal Relief.  Thanks be to God.

To donate to the Haiti Fund, visit or call 1-800-334-7626, ext. 5129. Gifts can be mailed to Episcopal Relief & Development, PO Box 7058, Merrifield, VA 22116-7058.  Please put “Haiti Fund” in the memo line of all checks. 


In Uncategorized on January 20, 2010 at 10:53 pm


ESPN news reports that Tiger Woods has checked into a Mississippi clinic for treatment of sex addiction. That a person tinted darker than Mueller’s bleached spaghetti would voluntarily cross the borders of that state under any circumstances testifies, I suppose, to the continuing improvement of race relations in America. Faulkner’s body has slowed: it no longer spins in its grave like a lathe, but at the speed of a mashed potato blender.

Sex addiction is one of those “maladies” that has always been with us, but which we used to call by other names. For example, “adolescence” leaps to mind. So does “manhood.”  I could offer other euphemisms, of course, but the effort would probably earn a visit from Focus on the Family, an annoyance I could do without.

Having never not suffered from sex addiction, but never having been so successful at it that I required intervention, I have no clue what the treatment might be. I would like to be the proverbial fly on the wall during a group therapy session or two, if only because I wonder what a fabulously wealthy man who can fly a Coyote hostess from Manhattan to China could possibly find to talk about with the night watchman from the generator plant who has trouble scoring with the

late shift waitress at IHOP. One must have faith that there exists a common thread in humanity that would give two such men common ground on which to converse.

Of course, plenty of common obsessions, addictions, peccadilloes, tics and twitches go untreated by either ornate rehab facilities or regular nose-to-the-grindstone health care professionals. Not all of them interfere with our ability to function in our daily lives. I, for example, will attempt to crash through a cinder block wall rather than risk hearing even a note of Julie Andrews singing “The Sound of Music,” but so long as my bones do not brittle and I can make the effort without knocking myself out, I suffer few ill effects from the effort.

Clovering, on the other hand, is a different beast. Some folks cannot walk on a beautiful day and pass a green hill without stopping to search for a four-leaf clover, sometimes wasting hours in the effort. I happen to know of two marriages, one committed gay relationship and one friend’s strange arrangement with a cockatiel that are seriously threatened by this particular obsession.

And take Oprah, if you will. How many of us have friends who are reduced to quivering mush if, for some reason,, they miss the show and have to go an entire day without Oprah having told them who they should find interesting, what they should eat, how they should exercise and what they should read that night. A month ago, a pal related how he came home after a work to find his wife hiding in a corner of the attic after a power outage had deprived her of her Oprah fix by eliminating afternoon TV. He has yet to lure her back down into the house, but feels ambivalent about the situation, since she has proved to be an excellent mouser. Need I mention that my pal seriously hates cats?

Any of us could squander the rest of our lives listing all the things that are true impediments to effective, happy and healthy living – Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, Celine Dion, Neil Diamond, Rush Limbaugh…. And there’s the problem with making such a list: once you get started, short of a mafia hand amputation, it’s hard to stop. So why bother?

Nevertheless, I would not suggest putting the question entirely out of mind. I guarantee you that out there somewhere, laboring in the dark, is some nefarious soul whose great ambition in life is to have the “affliction,” even something as meaningless as a fondness for fondue, included as a genuine disorder in the next update of the Physician’s Desk Reference (PDR). This is the Holy Grain of disease, for inclusion of a malady in the PDR means somebody is going to get paid for treating it, and that somebody is inevitably you and me. Which brings me finally back around to Tiger and his new buds in the clinic: I sincerely hope that his premiums are paid.

Meanwhile, Mississippi should I guess be congratulated for offering a cure for things other than educational achievement and intellectual curiosity. Keep up the good work, folks.

January 19, 2010

In Uncategorized on January 20, 2010 at 2:54 am


     Greetings and salutations and best wishes for a happy new year! We had a great Christmas, filled with good food, fellowship with family, and celebration of the Season. It has been nice recently, however, enjoying a break and respite and respite from the marrow freezing cold streak that settled on us like a greasy goulash from a Kurdistan diner with Somalian cooks.

       As previously reported, absolutely all my treatment follow-up scans have revealed continuing progress in nailing my cancer to the wall. Unfortunately, a few glitches in vision developing around Christmas proved to be symptoms of a new bit of cancer in the right occipital lobe of the brain.

      I had Gamma knife radiation done on the area, Tuesday, January 12, then surgery at Baptist on Thursday to remove the tumor completely.. Because of location (“location, location”….apparently brain surgery is a hell of a lot like running a dry cleaners), neither procedure has been anywhere the ordeal as before. Gamma knife was over and done quickly and I was home by lunch on Tuesday. Post-op, I was home by lunch on Saturday. My energy levels are high, I’m eating like a Budweiser Clydesdale, and I’m having trouble convincing myself that I need to recuperate from anything. Hell, I’m even having problems finding something funny to say about it all.

      Only my vision is affected, which means only that for the time being I have little bits of flowers popping in and out of view, the occasional handful of night crawler worms, and various other odd shapes and colors floating around occasionally. It’s like I’m getting the benefit of psychedelic flashbacks without having ever taken LSD. Testing with an ophthalmologist this week will establish a baseline for evaluating future progress in this area, which should begin rewiring and improving.

      Meanwhile, rest easy that I am banned from the helm of motor vehicles until when and if the doctor specifically approves. If you see me driving anything )except Deirdre crazy) – car, Hummer, lawnmower, pink Barbie Playmobile, motor scooter, even a remote control dune buggy – extract cell phone and call 911 for police, deputies, US Marshals, FBI, SWAT teams and whatever else is necessary (except Sarah Palin) public safety. Remember, only you can prevent Beno driving!

      This is just a glitch along the way. We remain healthier, hopeful, happy and confident about the road that remains. We count on you holding steady with us along the way.