On Losing a Friend


A few years back I had heart surgery after a trip to the doctor for a plugged ear surprisingly morphed into a stress-test and trip to the hospital. During an angiogram, the doctor found two blockages – one blood vessel 50% plugged and the other 99%. He didn’t run the scope through my 100% blocked right ear, but I wished at the time that he had. It was bugging the hell out of me.

As I watched the borescope traverse my heart on a big screen monitor, the doctor pointed to my innards and offered advice on the things he could do and things he couldn’t. Together, we decided that even though he could repair both blockages with angioplasties, he couldn’t guarantee that one of them – the 50 percenter – wouldn’t clog again.

When I asked how I’d know if it blocked again, his answer was, “You’ll have a heart attack.” I decided to have the bypasses right then, on the table. Waiting for a heart attack didn’t strike me as a particularly good method of risk management.

I didn’t really give the decision much thought. In fact, I viewed it as just one more everyday event in a bumptious, careening life. I went home. I had a nice weekend, and reported back for my surgery on Monday afternoon. The Omnipotent Dad flew cross-country to be by my side while my calmness distressed Mrs. Poobah.

I had the surgery, but afterward, I had none of those “A-HA!” moments that signaled a new perspective on life. No great revelations about staring down death or feeling the beauty of each day I’d snatched away from the grim reaper. After a shorter than average recovery period, I simply went back to doing what I’d been doing before.

After a few months, I noticed that my memory wasn’t quite as sharp as it used to be. I’d always been able to recall thousands of trivial bits of information at the drop of a hat.

What’s the best way to kill flies? Aim slightly behind them, because they jump backwards to take off. How many rooms are in the White House? That would be 132. Who was the voice in the TV sitcom – My Mother the Car? Ann Southern. And for bonus points, she played opposite Jerry Van Dyke. Mr. Ed “talked” because they slathered peanut butter on his lips, Peter Jennings never finished grade school, and the first person to achieve controlled flight was Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont (the Wright bothers were the first to achieve controlled powered flight).

Suddenly, I found my vast store of knowledge frustratingly difficult to access. I began to forget names of people I’d known for years – while I was talking to them. I forgot what I was supposed to buy at the grocery and forgot to run errands, finish small details of everyday life, or go to doctor’s appointments. While these things weren’t happening often enough to become unmanageable, they were still pains in my gigantic omnipotent ass.

One day I realized that I’d begun to have trouble reading, not a lot, but just enough to make it less satisfying. Of all the things that happened, this was the main event.

Before the surgery I’d been a life-long, voracious reader. It was a happy compulsion for me. I frequently read books in a single sitting. My tastes ran the gamut from classics to noir. Newspapers, magazines, and the backs of shampoo bottles. It didn’t matter. It was all interesting to me. Reading had always been a refuge from a troubled life. It as a way to transport myself to some place that was more appealing, whether that place was staring death in the eye by running the Amazon or sitting on a front porch in the warm Georgia sun.

And it was a shocking capability to lose.

My doctors and all suspected the surgery. I learned that people who had the type of surgery I’d had sometimes develop minor memory loss or diminishment of their attention spans. The doctors sympathized that my developments could be frustrating, but that I was generally OK and that it wouldn’t get any worse.

And it hasn’t.

I can cope with not being able to recall trivia at will. It doesn’t really matter that the White House has 132 rooms when I can recall that one of them is inhabited by a congenital idiot. Forgetting a name isn’t so bad. When it happens, I compensate or fess-up that I’ve forgotten and chalk it up to having a “senior moment”. Sometimes I even get a laugh out of it.

But the loss of books as a favored companion is tough.

I still go to bookstores and look at the racks. There are plenty of titles to interest me. I’m still on the lookout for the odd title like, A Wolverine is Eating My Leg, or favored author like Steinbeck, Kerouac, or Russo. But the experience is like a recovering alcoholic in a liquor store. You can stare longingly at the graceful necks of the bottles, but you know that’s about as far is it can go.

I haven’t read an entire book in over a year, George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. It was so difficult, the starts and stops spread into a 6-month long ordeal. I finally finished the book, but only by force of will and a disjointed journey that made it unpleasant.

I can still master some reading. Since I’m a writer, I read a lot at work – though it’s not the most scintillating stuff. I can manage a blog posting. Newspapers still work and magazine articles do too – if they aren’t too long. I still get a little charge over reading the ingredients on the back of a cereal box or the chemical names on the backs of shampoo bottles. Old habits die hard.

But books? Fugedaboutit.

Don’t get me wrong. On the whole, the surgery was a success. I might not be here today without it. I’d have lost other, more important pleasures, like seeing the Poobette grow up, spooning with Mrs. Poobah, or stroking the dog and hearing her groan in pleasure.

But losing the books? That’s tough. Really tough. Like losing a close friend.

So that’s why I chose this topic today – so you could read it and I could read vicariously through you.

It’s a neat trick, but it’s still not the same – like margarine isn’t butter.

BTW, did you know that margarine was invented because of a request from Napoleon’s personal chef? He developed it because butter always spoiled on long campaigns.

I learned that from a book you know.

Thanksgiving: Miranda Says It All

“I’m thankful for the world.
I mean, if there was no
world, we would probably
be dead, floating around in space.
No offense Mars and Venus, but
we can live on Earth.”

Miranda LaBounty, Age 8

Randomness XL Style

I’ve come home early today to be with you, my loyal readers. I also came home because I’m tired and this is my tenth consecutive day of work. I will have tomorrow off, but then will pick up again on Friday and continue for another 14 uninterrupted days. After that, we’ll see. Someone has to make the Bush economic miracle real – it’s just incredibly sad it must be me.

So having few fully functional brain cells left, I will take the usual cop-out of the scattered brains among us and introduce yet another scintillating edition of Randomness XL Style.

So Perky, Yet So Kinky – You saw her here, roasting the Thanksgiving bird in a sports bra and apron, but it looks like Mr. Rachael Ray may be dressing her in a different sort of costume

OH, SHUT THE @*)%^&$%^$ UP! – Janice, over at Cow Hampshire, was kind enough to put us onto this site. From what I can tell, this one’s infinitely more eloquent and erudite than the real thing and it definitely answers the question, “Which is smarter, man or machine?” Well, smarter than this man anyway.

Behold Rodin’s Flinging Children at Daybreak! – I have to admit that statues of old guys on horseback and naked guys contemplating their feet aren’t my sculptural cup of tea, but these? These are statues I could get behind – provided they get a high rating.

T-Giving at the Cheney’s – The Big Dick likes to go off for the occasional drunken hunting trip, so it got us wondering if maybe Lynne will be cooking up some Old Republican Donator brisket this Thanksgiving. We hear the Dick is partial to the cajun flavor.

Vee Haff Vays Uf Makink You Laff – I once had a boss who was dubbed the Commandant of Fun because of her penchant for giggles when they were least appropriate. Now, it appears, we’llsoon have a whole nation of Tittering Teutons.

Aw Grandma, Not Again – My own dear grandmother was an inmate at a state hospital, but I have to say that even in her psychotic moments, she couldn’t top this old gal.

Snip, Snip, Snip – There are many things that boys like to do in large groups. I bet this is not one of them.

This Brief, Calming Interlude Courtesy of the Poobah – Need to relax? We do. And when we do, we stop here.

Unclear on the Concept – I’m sure this took all kinds of technical wizardry – probably some of it produced by geeky guys who spend too much time at International Federation of Trekkers meetings – but doesn’t it just defeat the whole purpose?

The Spam Strikes Back – You’ve seen all those emails from Mattie Gongo or Hortense Horseradish, you might as well join the fun. Just don’t run afoul of Johnny Law.

Those Clever Irish – Never underestimate the power of a stout Irishman, a power saw, and a pint of Guinness. Tip of the hat to Coyote for the laugh.

Miz Scarlett Don’t Know Nothin’ ‘Bout Birthin’ No Babies – What more can I say? Lovin’ like cats and dogs.

Changing a Baby Isn’t All Spritz and Glory – Another in a long line of things I wish I’d thought of first. Moms and Dads, take note.

The Day Bambi’s Mom Rose From the Dead – Put away the hankerchieves, everything turned out OK for Bambie and Mom after all.

Signs the Internet is Becoming Too PowerfulFlickr is dead! Long live Flickr!

The Power of Selling NothingThat’s cute and all, but didn’t your clients get mad when you delivered this instead of the consulting report they hired you for?

Darwin May Not Be Right, But He Gets Even – Apparently, Virgin Marys and toast-born Jesuses no longer corner the market on odd stain sightings. Take that Creationism!

Hey Babe…Buy Ya a Drink? – I’d guess that if you need a class in this sort of stuff, you probably aren’t the chick magnet you think you are.

Beer + Glasses = Big FunCap’n, are ye’ on the lookout fer a set o’these on yer fair vessel?

Nice Place, But Not Much Curb Appeal – I just love a place full of interesting little knick-knacks, don’t you?

I’ll Blow in Your Ear and Then Bite It – This was an unbelievably great story that unfortunately turned out to be a rumor. What the hell, let’s spread it anyway, that’s what rumors are for.

Come On, Just One More for the Information Superhighway! – Finally, a contest that memorializes the greatness that was Foster Brooks. No more fitting a memorial could any man imagine…(hick).

Preaching to Someone Other Than the Choir – There’s hell, and then there’s hell.