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Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page

April 27 Update-‘o-rama!

In Uncategorized on April 27, 2010 at 8:49 pm
At 10:00 AM on Monday morning, I drank two cups of sugar-free lemonade laced with iodine (tastes like the forehead sweat of a Bulgarian albino who cleans septic tanks for a living…..it’s better you don’t ask!), then waited about 45 minutes to be stretched out on a table, hands above head, for the umpteenth and latest of what seems to be an endless series of CAT scans of my chest. The technician was flirty. I was not. She observed, “you’re a golfer, aren’t you?” I wondered what about my torso could possibly say “golfer” to even the most discerning viewer. Then she proceded, during the scan, and therefore interrupted periodically by a metallic voice issuing commands like “breathe in, breathe out, don’t breathe,” to tell me about how she and her mother (somewhere in here, I got an IV needle inserted and got a shot of dye) had always wanted to play golf but had never played golf or even received a lesson but had a round scheduled for Wednesday afternoon and………before I knew it, the procedure was over. I wanted promptly to post this information so that my golfing friends will avoid scheduling a game anywhere within a 50 mile radius of Winston-Salem on Wednesday, April 28, 2010.

I had a brief chat with the onco/hemo doc about the scan results this morning, which was brief because treatment is going “remarkably well” and proving “surprisingly effective” so far. Knock on wood, rub a rabbit’s foot (or a rabbi’s foot, depending on your faith), toss salt over the shoulder, boil bats bones, or do whatever else you think is necessary to avoid a jinx – but, to borrow the tag line of a story related, I think, by Steve McQueen in “The Magnificent Seven,” so far, so good. ‘Nuff said, for the moment. Live large, ya’ll!!!

Washington & Lee Reunion, Class of 1975

In Uncategorized on April 25, 2010 at 3:38 pm

 

The 35th Reunion of the Washington & Lee Class of 1975 rapidly approaches. It is hard to believe that 39 years have passed since we first arrived in Lexington, a little town in the heel of the Shenandoah Valley so sleepy that the banks still opened on Saturday mornings. It was easier to find evidence of WMD’s in Iraq than it was for a student in those days to find a restaurant that was not only open on Sunday nights, but also served affordable and healthy meals (there was, of course, the “Quid,” but the Quid had as much to do with healthy eating as the Mayan Calendar does with the Blue Man Group or televised Poker tournaments).

I visited the campus with my son, a high school junior, last fall, and found things so changed that I felt almost recyclable. The buildings on the colonnade are spiffy and fresh, Wilson Field sports a miniature, static version of a Jumbo-tron, and even the old freshman dorm now seems fit for human habitation (no longer would anyone dare write the word “bush” on the hallway floor in lighter fluid, then stand by with a lit match to scare the bejesus out of whoever next approached – burning …… “bush” ….. get it?). Try telling students today that we enjoyed a class or faculty sponsored “grain party” at a corrugated metal shed in the boonies (Zollman’s Pavilion) on “Big Weekends” (the last pistol I fired belonged to the late Billy Scott of, in chronological order, the Georgia Prophets, the 3 Prophets and the Prophets, aiming at beer cans along the bank of Buffalo Creek) and enjoy the baffled expressions on their faces.

Some stories should be told, others beg to be forgotten, and we all have memories that fall in the latter category. Mine run the gamut from relieved (had the “History of Chemistry” not satisfied basic Math/Science requirements I would not have been a member of any graduating class at W&L) to the mundane (chins hitting desktops about the third of twenty times Doc DeVogt, in the dreary course of afternoon business class, would say “and so on and so forth ….. as far as that’s concerned”) to the bibulous (a few of us enlivening a dull Saturday with a round of golf; we arrived at Lexington CC with assorted dates and hangers-on [the Rocket rented a hand-cart for his styrofoam beer cooler]; after warning us on the third tee that members were complaining the pro joined us for the 3 or 4 more holes we “played” before we “bagged it”). And based solely on college experience, I could easily make nearly libelous assumptions about the present (if rushed to a hospital staffed by Duncan Winter, John Keith or Richard Cooksey, I’d ask for last rites) (Wyckoff + NY capital markets + global economic meltdown = coincidence??! – I think not!)

Though much has changed at W&L, much remains (Burr Datz, for one thing!). Rather than risk slipping into grits-for-brains slobbering about enduring values and such, I’ll simply observe that I would not trade my memories of W&L for anything, except maybe a Schmidt’s (you remember: “Schmidt’s – The Beer That Never Gets Cold”).

I regret that my treatment schedule and other conflicts will keep me away from the reunion. I do invite the W&L Class of ’75 to post on the blog unsentimental and uninspirational comments about the blog, life in general, or the whatever the hell may be on your mind. Best of all, let’s hear some rude, snide and ruthless observations about the startlingly decrepit appearances of wheezing, barely recognizable old classmates. Few things would please me more than to hear that so-and-so now looks like a bowl of Dinty Moore beef stew from a rusty can rescued from a caved-in fall-out shelter.

Finally, to all: Enjoy yourselves!

April 20

In Uncategorized on April 19, 2010 at 9:45 pm

     The new chemo regimen is as much fun as being tossed into a barrel of Young Republicans convening in Scranton, PA.  You get worn out quickly and emerge wondering where the hell you are and if you have even the slightest grasp on reality.  I’ve got two treatments under the belt and under my skin, and am scheduled for four more. 

     The days before, of and after chemo, I get to take steroid pills, accentuated by a drip bag of the stuff as part of the treatment.  For two or three nights, Deirdre and Harry assure me I talk so much incessant nonsense it’s like living with the FOX Network constantly on TV.  Then the steroids wear off and the chemo takes hold, and brother, let me tell you this stuff is weapon’s grade.  For the Sunday and Monday after treatment, I might be mummified remains unearthed from some ancient Egyptian sarcophagi.  Then I spend a few days in character, as though I were preparing to audition for a part in “Night of the Living Dead.”  I slowly mend, improving to the point where, for a few days, I get to enjoy being the suave, debonair, dashing and attractive young Defender about town that I used to be.  Then, of course, the needle beckons, and get to do it all again.  O, frabjous day, calloo, callay!  Not to be complaining, though……I’d a hell of a lot rather be sub par than subterranean!

     Next Monday, I get yet another CAT scan to see if the treatments are working.  Assuming they are, I get the next chemo on Thursday, April 29, about the time members of my class at W&L start gathering to celebrate our 35th reunion.  The new chemo schedule means they will have to carry on without me, though it’s open to question how much geezers like us can really carry on.  I plan to post a comment next week for reunioning and other “Dubyanelians” to comment on if they care to, but it’s not easy to find, in memory, much that shouldn’t remain in the attic in consideration of the current reputations of old classmates.  Then, again, if I ever let it drop in a Wodehouseian manner that I was planning to publish my memoirs, I am sure that I would get a sudden upsurge in inquisitive, even larcenous visitors.

      Later…..

The Philpotts’ Most Excellent Caribbean Adventure

In Uncategorized on April 10, 2010 at 2:06 pm
       I begin this note on our family trip to the Bahamas with a disclaimer, which rather than simply state, I can better illustrate with an example. After breezing though check-in and security screening at the Charlotte airport with plenty of time left over for a rubbery bacon bagel and a cuppa Joe, we winged our way south facing an hour, twenty minute layover at the notoriously messy, inefficient, labyrinth known as the Miami airport. Deirdre, knowing I cannot walk more than a hundred yards without taking a breather, had even taken the precaution to pre-arrange whatever wheel-chair/electric cart mode of husband-bearing might be available to help me survive what we expected would be a mad dash through the airport from national arrivals to international departures gates. Then, when aloft, we learned from the voice that intrudes consciousness via barely-interpretable buzz-box intercom that as American Eagle, the cut-rate subsidiary of American Airlines (“cut-rate,” as though you need a cut-rate version of an airline that advertises: “Kids under 8 years old fly anywhere for $40, provided they can be stuffed into a carry-on bag that fits cramped, over-head storage compartments.”) was renovating it terminal, we would land on the tarmac and be bussed to a gate where we’d receive instructions on how to catch connecting flights. Consequently, rather than enjoying the spectacularly clear view of the Florida coastline, we spent the second half of the flight exchanging soft, endearing family words glances and indulging in the reverie of quiet contemplation: “This sucks!’, and “Will my pierced earring post puncture my beloved spouse’s carotid artery?”, and “Okay, breathe deeply, think only happy thoughts, just go with the flow.” Naturally, we expected a missed flight, interminable delay, endless cell phone calls, and tempers flaring. The kicker to the story is not that we had to engage in some madcap, slapstick, Keystone Cop-like, guffaw-inducing dash through the Miami terminal, but that the American Eagle bus downloaded us at the exact gate where we would board our flight to Freeport – with plenty of time to savor a Starbucks leisurely bought at the coffee stand conveniently located about 43 paces away. In other words, readers, if you anticipate a typical, cynical, skeptical Beno blog entry, well relax and have another big orange drink. Just about every facet of our trip to the Bahamas bettered what we hoped for or rightfully expected.

We only committed to the trip about a month ago, semi-scrambling to find flight and accommodations deals on the internet. As sight problems limit what I can read and often lead to creative misinterpretations (e.g., a headline proclaiming “Dook Wins Championship” – now, where the hell did that come from?), Deirdre did the work-horse load in making arrangements. We settled on the Viva Wyndam Fortuna Beach on Grand Bahama, a small, quiet, all-inclusive resort away from the hustle and bustle of the high-rises and high-rollers. It looked perfect on paper (or, I should say, the computer screen), but we had two qualms.

The first qualm was that we worked the deal through a travel site called Cheap Caribbean. I hasten to say that this is a professional travel operation that delivered quality arrangements, which went smoothly and without a hitch. I am suspicious about businesses with “Cheap” in the name, a superstition on my part, which I confess quickly and freely without water-boarding. It derives from a bad experience at Cheap O’s Gas just south of Columbia, SC, where after using the men’s room, I had to sidle to the counter to buy a packet of Kleenex, meanwhile wearing, unwittingly, an Emmy Lu Harris ball cap with a Kotex pad stuck on top. It’s a long story for a different time. Suffice it to say that within a week after my visit, EPA men in Haz Mat Suits had permanently shut down Cheap O’s.

The second qualm was Deirdre’s, who in the material on-line had read that the resort would be home to an outfit bearing a name along the lines of Viva Cirque du Caribbean Sol et Allez Curvezas el Morte Grins or (loosely translated, the last part of the name means, I think, “die smiling, you bastard!”). I had bad dreams about what might happen if, while Deirdre and I were walking, arm in arm, other hands holding free rum punches, a clown might leap out from behind a giant hyacinth and try to amuse us by ambush. It is impossible to overstate the vehemence of Deirdre’s aversion to clowns. I worried that Harry might last see his Mother in a Bahamian jail cell where she had locked up for hate crimes against clowndom, but it turned out the Viva Cirque had no clowns. The Cirque was merely the name of the outfit contracted by the resort to conduct daily activities and nightly shows.

What the Viva Wyndam did have was just what we needed: spacious grounds; accommodations of a sort that were not opulent by modern standards, but would have been considered de luxe at most beaches not too long ago (think the Blockade Runner at Wilmington or the Litchfield Inn a la 1970); free meals at a buffet line that was certainly a cut above K&W Cafeteria or retirement home standards; free drinks; free activities ranging from sail boarding, sailing, snorkeling and scuba to poolside yoga and aerobics to trapeze with lessons for both kids and adults (yes, I said trapeze – they did have to do something to justify the “cirque” in the Viva Cirque name); and best of all, you had only to walk 50 yards from any ocean view room to claim a chair under a thatched umbrella right on the edge of the impossibly clear, blue ocean. Add warm, but not scalding sunlight, and continually cool, but not chilling breezes, except for late afternoon in the shade, and….well, I hate to go completely soft on the experience, but have I yet used the word “paradise”?

Some nattering nabobs might quibble that my use of the word “paradise” reflects that I have shallow, easily-satisfied expectations or a limited perception of the existential and spiritual connotations of the word, but what I am focusing on is the here and now….and in the here and now, for my money and my soul, being on an indolent Bahamian beach, lounging on a beach chair, basking in warm sun, a good book in one hand, a free spicy, but shrinking Bloody Mary in the other, with nothing to think about except the next sip of drink, is pretty much my idea of paradise!

We each found respective ways of “chilling.” I sat, sunned, read, drank bloody Marys, rum punches, Kalik beer, and one strawberry daiquiri that almost knocked me flat on my back, napped, ate, took a few photos, listened to my iPod, drank coffee and espresso, and…drank and ate some more and slept. Deirdre sat, sunned and read a little, beach-walked a lot (on one jaunt, she made one of the all-time great beach finds – a sea biscuit shell, which unfortunately was too delicate to survive the trip home), and tended to her small flock’s wants and needs. Harry made a stab at some activities, but surprised us by finding that he preferred “zoning out” during the days – sitting, reading and wandering the beach and resort facilities. A group of old and new Charlottean families were vacationing together at the resort, and Harry remembered one of the boys from Davidson tennis camp, which gave him a crew for hanging out with after dark. We found it inexpedient to grill him too much about his nocturnal meanderings, which included Discoing into the wee hours, but nonverbal hints from him and others lead me to adopt the rule: Whatever happens on Fortuna Beach should stay on Fortuna Beach.

We did take one family excursion, a ride over natural coral and shipwreck reefs to gaze at colorful fishes from a glass-bottomed boat. Deirdre and I were enthralled, Harry less so, until he struck up a conversation about halfway through the trip with our skipper, a really short, but barrel-chested, charming Bahamian guy, who talked knowledgeably and freely about music, the reef ecosystem, sports and I don’t know what-all. He won my heart when I overheard his observation on Dook basketball: “There is dirt that they just haven’t uncovered yet, some payoffs are being made. I mean, why the hell else would anybody ever want to go to school at that damned place?”

The Wyndam Fortuna does not cater to any particular demographic group, but accepts all comers. Consequently, we were surrounded, but never crowded, by single male and female vacationers, newly-weds on honeymoons, families with young and older children and grannies that needed to be rolled to the sand, Europeans, Spring-breakers, and more Yankees than you could shake a palm frond at. Only a handful of Italian and French men wore Speed O’s, but they did so with nonchalance, simply because at heart continental Europeans like to wear as little clothing as possible – the men don’t wear skimpy PG’s to advertise their wares as certain oleaginous American’s do, so the effect on even the male observer is not instant revulsion, as one might feel at Myrtle Beach or sitting by a Hollywood pool.

All body types were on display. Weirdly, some of the chubbiest women wore the skimpiest bikinis, and when I say “chubbiest” and “skimpiest” I mean that you would have had to, if you dared, rifle through folds of overlapping flesh in order to find fabric swatches encasing private parts. I swear I saw one particularly unappealing specimen hold apart two huge sausage patties of flesh in order to display proudly for a friend her latest liposuction and stomach stapling scars. (I swear, but I may lie, as she could have been showing off something else entirely, since tattoos and belly button piercings were also on ample display on the beach).

I also make the random observation that small kids, teens, and Yankees simply do not feel temperatures in the same way that Southerners of normal physical development do. Those people shed outer clothing at the drop of a hat. Beno several times, while shivering early on the beach, displaying such wash-board abs as goose bumps could imitate under shroud of a wind shirt, was blessed to witness young lasses uncover….well, a genuine description what I watched would probably brand me for life as a dirty old man, so I withdraw from the field and suggest that if anyone wants more vivid impressions, read what John D. McDonald’s fictional alter-ego, Travis McGee, might have to say on the subject. Needless to say, I do not complain of the view.

The resort offered nightly shows, performed by members of the Cirque. “Performed,” in this instance, is a word that should be understood as being entirely too generous for what was actually on display. Deirdre and I decided to check out, at 9:15 (unusually late for my tired blood), the show entitled “Madonna.” Despite it being Saturday of Easter weekend, we did not really expect a religious service. Nor, however, did we expect what we got instead. The Viva Theater (go figure – do you detect a theme?) was jam-packed with vacationers starving for entertainment, and entertainment of a dessicated sort was what they got. Curtains behind a bare stage parted to reveal a stepped platform in front of a white sheet. While speakers blared, onto the sheet was projected a virulently sexual, bondage-themed Madonna video. Eventually the lone blond female member of the Viva team hobbled onto the platform wearing black leather. Though she had a radio microphone prop over her mouth, she did not even pretend to lip-sync, but merely wriggled around in a meaningless fashion. Soon, she was joined by the rest of the Viva troop, the men wearing dark make-up, black jeans and wife-beaters, and collars with leashes held by dominatrix-garbed females. As best as I could discern, in my “What It Was Was Football” state of mind, the Viva troop was attempting to recreate live what was happening in the video, but their true intentions were open to interpretation. Remember that most of the performers were employed for talents in activities other than dancing, such as scuba diving. Needless to say, skill in wetsuits, flippers and diving tanks does not necessarily correlate with skill on stage. There was one guy whom I swear even Col. Ripple, who has all the flexibility of a half-ton block of granite, could easily whip in a jitterbug contest. But, as I say, the assorted vacationers were starved for entertainment and even the five and six year old kids stood and applauded as though they had just seen a Broadway show stopper. Deirdre and I lasted a song and a half.

With about 5 hours to kill between checkout and flight times on Tuesday, but no access to showers until the Gym reopened long after we needed to be at the airport, we rented a car late Monday afternoon – one of those thimble jalopies, where you tuck your knees under your chin and which you steer with your ears. (No, I didn’t!!! Even I can’t imagine the chaos and devastation that would ensue from a sight-impaired me trying to drive on the left hand side of the road). Deirds and Harry took it out for a test-drive on Monday afternoon, then on Tuesday, we cruised Lucaya and Freeport in search of colorful sights and funky Caribbean architecture (oh, let’s describe it as, say, Scranton suburb, circa 1986). We had a great lunch at the Lucayan Marketplace, sort of a stripped down version of Barefoot Landing at Myrtle Beach. It was there, at a “genuine” island shop on the fringe, that I made my only essential purchase of the trip – a colorful, knitted Rasta cap for to warm my head, which is becoming increasingly Kojak-like. Plus, it is instantly embarrassing to a teenage son, a property which has uses when tactfully employed.

Before heading to the airport, we took a short drive along the impoverished southwest shore of the island, stopping in the parking lot of a small church. Along the beach there Harry found a couple of large conch shells and I found a huge piece of brain coral. Deirdre could not believe customs would let us try to carry these valuable artifacts out of the country, but she, by the way was the only one who had any difficulty. The customs officer hassled her over a pack of cheese crackers in her carry-on, the last uneaten remnant of a stash of contraband snacks she had smuggled out of Lexington on the trip. The other customs guy opened my carry-on bag, took a look, saw the coral, and asked, “What is that, a rock?”

Yes,” I replied, “brain coral.”

He zipped up the bag, grinned and shook his head, saying, “You visit the Bahamas and all you take home is a rock!?!”

The planned 3 hour stop-over in Miami was tolerable, but the extra nearly 2 hour delay for “airplane maintenance issues” was not. We didn’t get home until around 2:15 Wednesday morning. Still, what is a trip without a glitch or two? And for an overall summary of our excellent Caribbean adventure, I’ll defer to Harry who says, “I’d be happy to go back to the same place every year.”

Closing, I leave you with the first photo ever to be published on my blog. It illustrates, I hope, that old dogs can eventually dig the great bones they used to dream about when they were still slobbering pups. Unfortunately, it more likely proves that you can get away with almost anything when the camera is being held by your wife!

Old Dog, New Trixies

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     Due to popular demand (okay, so one person has asked) those interested in the full story of the Emmy Lou Harris hat can learn the whole story by super-secret email if you post a comment asking for the same.  Be warned, though, the story is not for the faint of heart or the genuinely civilized.

April 10

In Uncategorized on April 10, 2010 at 1:50 pm

 

Wednesday, following Caribbean adventure (see other posting), I rested while resisting immediate effects of short steroid regimen that attends chemo treatment. Thursday, enjoyed chemo treatment of 2 hours on the drip. Friday, I got neulasta shot and last of steroids. I write this and will attempt to complete the last item in my Caribbean posting before the steroids wear off and the physical train wreck occurs around noon, today. If you read this today, be frightened or reassured “according to your taste” (Byron, “Don Juan”) that I was able to accomplish one goal today. If you can’t read this before next week, then in retrospect, at least, wish me happy dreams and a quicker recovery from my semi-coma (a term I invent just to drive “spell checker” crazy, though it’ll probably lock up my feeble, old-school Dell for days).