i would have made a great busted rock star

except of course for my total lack of musical talent. I do, however, play a mean Sonic chocolate shake.

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waltz # 3

I’m here today and expected to stay
On and on and on
I’m tired

I’m tired

— the prophet Steven Paul Smith

The important thing in any meaningful cancer discussion is running shoes.

The PA asks me if those are the shoes I run in. I explain, no, they’re another in my endless series of failed experiments. But they’re now my go-to chemo shoes.

He nods, that understanding of someone who’s been in the trenches with you for a while, although he’s nowhere near the True Believer dogma of my oncologist. Life is a series of compromises.

He says he’s wearing Asics these days. Mostly Nimbus. Used to be Kayanos, but they went dead too quickly. He just did the Disney 6-Day with his kids and the Nimbus worked great, other than the long lines and his wife’s low phone battery life. I’m not sure you can blame Asics for that.

He’s curious how many miles I get out of shoes. I tell him the current ones have a nudge under 700 miles, although my knee is suggesting I switch to Roscoe, the new pair waiting patiently to come in from the sidelines. Sort of like being the backup to Tom Brady, I guess. I don’t tell him about the Piranhas and the 1,000-mile game. There’s only so much you can cover in a doctor visit.

What’s your sweet spot for the drop in the shoe? Padding preference? What’s your price point?

I tell him I lean toward minimalism stuff and don’t really pay much attention to drops, other than $300 worth of exiled Altras sitting in the closet wondering why I ever started the relationship when I knew it would never work out. And I don’t worry about shoe prices these days, since I bill them to the insurance company as part of the oncology bill.

Mostly I buy shoes to match the color of my sunglasses, and I just bought pink ones in an unfortunate late-night stupor. But he doesn’t need to know that. Although he’s wearing a bow tie in a color not found in nature.

And then eventually we run out of stuff and have to talk about cancer. Numbers good, tolerance fine, prognosis good, blah blah fluffy. I ask him what happens when we get to the end of the chemo road, nine visits later over a year and a half, and he says some stuff about studies that have been done and the reality is that they don’t really know yet. You can follow a marathon training plan, but there’s no way of being assured what lies in the 25th mile. Marathons are just 25 miles, right? It’s been a while.

He walks me down the hall to the infusion center. I say my financial guy predicts I will live to be 90, though it’s likely because I pay him a lot. The PA nods and says to be wary of financial advisers. Bottom line, they’re just salesmen, he says. The words roll around in my head. I understand what he’s saying. But then he’s selling me a two-year chemo plan with no warranty. Trust the science. Until you don’t.

And now it’s 2 a.m. and the fuzzy thing is back in my head, an inevitable byproduct of the obinutuzumab mambo. A couple of crappy days ahead, followed by a really crappy day after that, and them I’m not sure how many sorta crappy days after that, followed by a gradual return to normalcy, a sure sign that it’s time for the next round. All the while, trying to forget this makes my covid susceptibility so great that they’re no longer taking bets on my odds in Vegas.

I’m not sure I know what to believe in anymore. Trust your coach, the old running saying goes. Trust the plan.

Trust.

I’m here today and I’m expected to stay, Elliott Smith wrote. On and on and on, I’m tired. I’m tired.

And then he died.

Me? Maybe I’ll see how far I can go in the old Beacons. A lot of a miles and an uncertain sole. Just like me.


Looking out on the substitute scene
Still going strong
XO, mom

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just another morning conversation, part 85

me: are you mailing the mugs today?

mo: i don’t have enough wrap.

me: you can never go wrong with snoop dogg.

mo:

my sense of humor is lost on the masses. likely why you never see standup comics in catholic ceremonies.

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once in a lifetime

You may ask yourself
“Where does this highway go to?”

— the prophet byrne

“Have a great life!!!”

It was more of an order than a wish. I was running on the front stretch of the bird loop when we passed each other. She lifted both arms over her head and pumped her tiny fists, said hello, and then shouted the exhortation.

I was a bit shocked at the enthusiasm, and the scope. I can deal with a wish for a nice day. But a great life? That’s a bit imposing.

But as I thought about it on the next lap, maybe not. Being told to have a nice day creates a lot of pressure. It’s already 10 a.m. and I’ll be working into the evening on a tight newspaper deadline. How nice could that day possibly be? If I accept a nice-day wish, am I obligated? It’s hard to have a nice day when your hair is on fire.

But a great life? Looking at the calendar, it’s mostly done. If life is a marathon, I’m somewhere around mile 22 and looking around for discarded clif gels by the curb. And it HAS been a great life so far. I’m a lucky guy. I just need to avoid cramping up and barfing over the next few years.

I smiled for the rest of the run. Funny how one brief encounter can turn a crappy run into a great one. Thanks, friend.

I didn’t have time to say it before you walked away, but I hope you have a great life too.

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Rip out the table. We need room to move.

Someone take the wheel
And I don’t know where we’re going
— the prophet westerberg

We’re almost home, barreling along I-40 on the non-Beverly Hills 90120 side of California. We’re making good time. Until we aren’t.

We suddenly find ourselves in a parking lot of semi-trucks and bewildered travelers, with nobody sure what’s going on. It’s got to be Interstate Crash Syndrome.

Of course it’s terrible when someone crashes on the interstate. High speeds and large vehicles are a bad combination, much like a pizza with anchovies and, um, anything. But for those of us treading water in the wake left behind it, the wait goes on forever. No access road, no alternate route, no choice but to park and wait. and wait. and wait.

Fortunately, we have all the accessories needed to hunker down for the interminable delay. Bathroom, Frito pies, Dr Peppers, Pringles, Troll Night Light — basically all the survival items in the Boy Scout Handbook. OK, I dropped out of Boy Scouts after a year so I have no idea. Couldn’t pull off the dashing scarf look.

Clearly this is going to last a long time, the result of a semi in the ditch to the side of the road. We eat lunch. We have dessert. We mock the guy in the next lane who is nervous about stepping out of the car with his foo-foo dogs so they don’t explode. Like this derailed convoy is going to start rolling again in our lifetime.

Mike, who has heroically driven the entire trip (it’s a smith boy thing), goes to the back of the RV, roughly a quarter-mile from the driver’s seat, for a bathroom break. The door shuts.

And, of course, the traffic starts to move.

Laura and I look at each other. Neither of us has ever driven this beast, which is roughly the size of the state of Delaware, if Delaware is actually a state, and I have no reason to believe it is.

The left lane is moving briskly. Our lane is still at a standstill because of us. The drivers behind us Are Not Happy. We need to do something. Quickly.

And so I leap into action, running to hide behind the dinette table. In my defense, I drive a stick and have no idea how to work an automatic.

Luckily, Laura is there. With zero hesitation she jumps fearlessly into the cockpit, takes off the emergency brake and smashes down on the gas pedal. We’re off like a rocket.

A loud thump comes from the bathroom. In hindsight, we probably should have warned Mike first. She cruises down the interstate like Vin Diesel with a more fashionable hairstyle, dodging the foo-foo dogs now running wild along the road and merging perfectly with the speeding traffic. Yes, I was able to peek over the dinette table to watch it unfold.

Mike makes his way back.

They deftly switch places.

Two minutes later, traffic comes to a halt again.

Laura stays up front. Just in case. It’s good to be tested now and then, to see what you’re made of. Apparently I’m made of tapioca. Maybe we’re having tapioca for dinner. I hope there’s another crash soon. I’m hungry.

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