Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Curse of the Catheter.

I underwent major vascular surgery in my pelvis last week, huge stents in arteries to both legs. Now--I understand they had to thread a catheter up my penis so I didn't accidentally pee all over the doctor's gown during the operation.

     But--the operation was over, I spent an hour in the recovery room, ate two meals, had a decent night's sleep, and not even a drug addict would be peeing all over himself on the amount of drugs I had in my system. It was high time this catheter came out. I told the nurse and she agreed to make it her first request when the doctor showed up.

      Okay. But I had periodic burning sensations, and I thought the tube to the urine bag might be twisted or kinked, so I plucked the bag from under the bed and switched it from hand to hand as I untangled the tube with the other hand. The tape holding the tube against my thigh came off so that my penis stood up and followed the tube around like a bird dog on the hunt (a pointer), a very unpleasant sensation--when it didn't involve a woman.
      Finally sick of the process, I carried the bag into the bathroom (just in case I squirted when I yanked out the tube), and gave the tube a healthy pull.

       Yow. That hurt. And the evil tube stayed in place. Something was holding it in, so I went back to the chair in my room and tried to be patient. But, the burning sensations kept coming around and I couldn't tell whether I was peeing or not. Where the hell was the doctor? Where's the nurse?

        Fed up again, I went back to the bathroom with gruesome determination. I grabbed my penis in one hand, the catheter in the other and pulled firmly in opposite directions. Aha, I observed, I could see the tube exiting the end of my penis, so I kept going and it looked like I was making progress. But, ow,ow,ow, no undocking. The only thing I accomplished was to compress my penis into a little stub of wrinkles resembling a small stack of coins (about $3.50 in quarters). At that point, I wanted to go into the hallway and howl like a coyote until relief arrived.

        Luckily, the nurse came. I gave her a grim look and said, "This catheter has to come out."
        She almost smiled when she conceded, "Okay, I won't wait for the doctor."
        She had me lay on the bed and started to manipulate the catheter.
        "What's the trick?" I asked, after confessing that I had tried to pull  it out.
        "Oh, you can't pull it out. There's a balloon on the end of it that has to be deflated."
        A balloon!
        "Are you ready? One, two, three...."
        I have never been to a hospital anywhere, at any time, for any purpose, for anyone when I didn't think the nurses were angels. Thank God for the angels, and may my penis rest in peace.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Snowy Day.

It's 2 pm, and it's snowing hard. The geniuses on TV tell me this will go on until the wee hours of morning.

Hmmm, let me think....

Should I call in to work, sick--for which I will get a full day's pay--or should I go out to clean four inches of snow off my car and brave Interstate 293, like a kiddie in a bumper car, then work four hours on a mail sorting machine so that the folks can get their Walmart flyers and save 19 cents on a quart of milk if purchased by Friday?

Should I clean another four inches off my car at 8:30 pm to slip and slide over to Dunkin' Donuts to get my customary coffee from some kid whose only purpose in life is to be cool and relaxed--never mind old customers like me who are limited to half-hour lunches--then finish sorting the day's mail so that mail carriers can park in the middle of clogged roads, trudge through the snow and deliver bills? Then, clean another four inches of snow off my car at 12:30 am to get home--only to plow my way into the one parking space left on the street while the predators who own my building clear the parking lot and call the tow trucks?

Or--should I stay home, bake that strawberry pie I'm planning for Valentine's Day, plus a salmon pie that will feed me for days, and add an improvised pot of minestrone soup while I watch a movie on TV?

Hmmm, let me think....

Okay, I thought enough. Get me the phone.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Good Ol' Movie Diversion: Cat Ballou.

Got a couple hours to get silly and emotional at the same time?
Try this movie.
Jane Fonda turns in a touching performance as a girly-girl outlaw while all the men around her act like complete fools, with Lee Marvin going over the top to win an Academy Award playing a hopelessly drunk hired gun. All through this engaging farce, two banjo wielding jokers (Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye) appear here and there to sing the Ballad of Cat Ballou as you watch. It's delightful.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Rest In Glorified Peace, Larry Zavaglia.

Very often, we lose track of people we loved, like Larry Zavaglia.
I recently heard of Larry's passing, and I was struck with regret. I hadn't seen him or talked to him in at least twenty years, but the news triggered a stream of memories, all happy, now touched by sadness. Larry loved the theater, and as long as I knew him, his dream was to play Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.

Larry worked in management at the Daily News in New York, graveyard shift, and when the unionized press room went out on strike, Larry recruited me to work as a scab (defined as, someone who doesn't give a shit about union "solidarity"). I didn't have to cross any picket lines because of the late hour, strikers asleep, and the pay was excellent. Each night, Larry and I had lunch together in his office. He glided all over the office in his comfortable rolling chair, checking this and that on the computers, which earned him the nickname, "Ironside," after a popular TV show about a detective in a wheel chair. After work, we hit the bagel joint for a feast, he with tuna on a toasted bagel and me with a super-salted bagel with butter, bacon and egg. Oh glorious breakfast, we agreed.

But, my best memory of Larry was at a dinner theater in New Jersey. Not just an actor, Larry loved theater so much that he would pitch in at ungodly hours to help out on the production of scenery. One ungodly a.m., with opening night looming, Larry, producer Jack Bell and I were the only troops left to finish work on the scenery, and, at one point, Larry stopped in the middle of the stage carrying a large chair. He had been walking back and forth with the chair for several minutes, exhausted, trying to find a good place to store it in the wings.
"Aw," he said, "my dogs are barking."
Jack and I paused with our paint brushes to wonder, "Huh? What dogs?"
"Dogs. Didn't you ever hear that? "Dogs" means "feet." It means my feet hurt...Y'know, they're "barking."
We couldn't work for the next twenty minutes because, in our state of exhaustion, we collapsed in mirth, and every time we resumed work, one of us would chuckle and trigger another round of ridiculous laughter, tears welling up all around.

As an actor, Larry was superb. He had been afflicted with Bells palsy, a relatively rare affliction which paralyzes muscles in the face and makes the mouth droop on one side--not once, but twice, once on each side, so that his face appeared perfectly symmetrical, droop though it did, and he spoke with a detectable lisp.Yet, his dramatic and comic lines onstage were always perfectly intelligible and powerful, always believable.

I missed the show when he finally got the part of Tevye, probably busy with my own dreams. It must have been glorious.

(Photos and clipping courtesy of Stephen Newport).

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Oh, yeah? Oh, yeah.

This photo was recently posted on Facebook by my niece, Stacie (Murray) Coburn, showing me grabbing her for a kiss at her wedding many years ago. Whenever I was away for a while, I always grabbed Stacie and her sister, Melissa, for a kiss, on the sofa, on the floor or halfway up a stairway, me in aggressive pursuit.

 I love this photo, especially the flying leg--except--Stacie said that I was now too old to do it anymore. I almost posted a response to her, saying, "Oh, yeah? Come here, babe, I'll show you what," but I'm afraid that my back might give out and we would both end up on the floor, me with permanent injuries.

I may just have to look at the photo and remember how I loved those girls.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Commando.

Twas a week before Christmas, and all through the house
One small creature was stirring, inside of my spouse.
The baby was due on December two-five,
The same day as Santa and gifts should arrive.

Happiness ruled on King's Highway, New Jersey in the winter of 1988.
We knew it would be a boy because the doctor who showed us the sonogram said, "Do you want to know what it is?"
"Yes," said Susan, before I could think.
The doctor then added, as he finessed the probe and watched the screen, "See that rocket ship between his legs?"
We had discussed names already. A girl would be "Jacqueline," but a boy was in dispute. I favored "Nicholas Conrad," the "Conrad" after my father, but Susan favored "Thomas," a name common in both of our families (I was named for my Uncle Thomas Davis, my mother's younger brother who was shot dead by a friend around 1935, at the age of thirteen, as the two boys played with real guns). "Thomas" eventually prevailed, but only, I swore, if we call him "Nick," so, his name became Thomas Nicholas. Of course, my dictates came to nothing as both families sang about the new boy, "Tommy, Tommy, Tommy!" The only reference to "Nick" came from my father in a phone call from Florida when he said, for the first and last time, "How's Nick?"

There was only one dark cloud hovering over our happiness in that last week before Christmas.
"We don't even have a Christmas tree," Susan brooded in our empty living room, rummaging through boxes of decorations.

Now, to me, a Christmas tree was just decoration, not important. In my many years as a bachelor (that would be until age forty or so), I never erected such a thing. Only once, spending Christmas Eve with a Navy shipmate onshore in California, he and I went on a lark to find a tree. All we found were abandoned Christmas tree sites and a few stray evergreen branches, so we scooped up the largest branch and took it home. It looked very promising after we propped it up and adorned it with crushed aluminum foil--even better after we added spaghetti strands like tinsel from dinner. I don't remember what we used to top off the "tree," but it must have been funny because we were very creative and I remember us shedding tears of laughter. You would think that we were drunk, but neither of us imbibed, except for huge amounts of coffee.

But, by 1988, I was hoarding my limited funds like a Scrooge. Twenty dollars for a tree seemed like an exorbitant expense in the face of a new baby who would need an endless stream of Similac gushing down his throat, not to mention piles of fresh diapers. And, being self-employed, I never knew where my next $20 would come from.

I thought I had made a compelling case for saving money and living without a tree, but I was genuinely touched by Susan on her knees, sadly and hopefully perusing all the gewgaws in the "Christmas" boxes, her swollen belly hovering over all. So be it, I thought. One night after dinner I rummaged through my wardrobe and prepared to accept my mission. I put on a pair of black jeans, several layers of shirts topped with a dark charcoal sweater, a navy blue woolen cap pulled down over my ears and an impressive pair of black boots.

As I stood at the front door wriggling my fingers into a pair of black gloves, like a doctor preparing for an operation, Susan appeared from the kitchen below to ask, "What are you doing?"
My eyes twinkled.
She often loved my antics, so I twinkled again and said, "Just call me the Christmas Commando."
I noticed she was smiling broadly as I went out the front door, myself tickled with glee.
It might not be easy, I thought, as I clomped along the road through the snow, even though we lived on the outskirts of town, mostly surrounded by woods. First of all, I didn't want to get caught, because I didn't really know who owned what, and I would absolutely not take a tree from someone's private landscaping. My friend, Brian, and I once planted a perfectly spaced row of trees at the front edge of his property only to see one of the trees disappear years later in December leaving a gap like a missing front tooth.
Bastard thief, we agreed--no Santa.

After stopping in the garage to grab a pruning saw, I walked about two miles before picking a spot to enter the woods, and I was disappointed with the meager prospects--a surprising number of wild trees are just crabby-looking--so I kept trudging through snow and going deeper into the woods aided by a mystically charming moonlight. When I saw electric light in the distance, I walked toward it, curious about its source, and it looked like some kind of warehouse or factory. As I approached, I could see a loading dock, and I could hear and see men dressed for the cold chattering back and forth.

Then--Holy Baby Jesus!--between me and the dock stood a perfectly beautiful evergreen tree. It was way too tall, but beautiful and perfect. "If only I could get that top six or eight feet," I thought. This property must be owned by that warehouse company, but it was not part of any developed landscaping. They probably wouldn't care, even if they ever noticed it was gone. But there was no way to climb up to get the top without being detected by the men on the dock, so I crawled on my belly, knees and elbows deep in the snow, to the base of the tree, which was about six inches in diameter, way too big for an indoor tree.

Slowly and carefully, I sawed through the base of the tree until it was ready to tip, then pulled on a low branch, keeping behind the tree and out of sight from the dock. When I heard a few wood fibers snapping, I moved back to the base to saw some more--saw, pull and snap repeatedly. I wanted to be there to cushion its fall so that no one would hear a crash. In the process, the tree, when it fell--heavier than I thought--overwhelmed me and pushed me deep into the snow. But, it was okay, because its fall was very, very quiet, and I squirmed from under it no worse for the wear, then froze for a minute or two to see that there was no reaction from the men on the dock.

After sawing the last few fibers from the trunk, I dragged the tree to a safe distance, huffing and puffing and staggering in the snow, cut about six feet off the bottom of the trunk and dragged the remainder out of the woods and down the road.
Susan appeared with her happy mouth wide open as I barged through the front door dragging the tree, then she gave me a look. "You didn't steal that from someone's yard, did you?"
"Of course I didn't steal it. This is from out there in the wild woods--complements of the Christmas Commando," twinkle twinkle.

Luckily, we had a cathedral ceiling, because the tree was still too tall for most living rooms. I used an eight-foot stepladder to decorate the top, and it warmed my heart to see Susan fussing below with the gewgaws and giving me directions. It turned out to be a magnificent tower of color and light, with a beautiful empty crib waiting nearby.

On Christmas day, Susan sprang up, and we spent five hours outside the delivery room at the hospital, a false alarm, as Thomas Nicholas refused to appear until December 28. On the 28th, I sat beside Susan in the delivery room squeezing her hand tightly--though not as tightly as she squeezed mine. Her suffering made my heart ache, and when Thomas Nicholas finally emerged, the doctor exclaimed, "Isn't that beautiful?"
No, I thought, not at all. Then the doctor gave me the scissors and instructed me to cut the cord, and we took the boy home and introduced him to his crib nearby the awesome Christmas tree.

The very next night, I crossed our gravel driveway to the landlord's house to pay the rent and he informed me proudly that Thomas Nicholas was the first baby born in our house, which he had built with his own hands. "Do you want to see the baby?" I asked. He jumped up, called to his wife and we trooped over to take a look at the new baby.
Of course, they gushed over the boy.
         "His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry."
         "He had a broad face and a little round belly.
          That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly."
          --He was chubby and plump, a right jolly young elf--
          "And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself."
When the landlord finally looked around the room, he was impressed and very happy. Susan had decorated the windows with charming, ruffled white curtains, but otherwise the Christmas tree and crib dominated the room, and he said, "I love the way you keep this space open," perhaps not realizing that I did not have $500 for a sofa, or any other stuffed furniture for a living room. Then, he looked up at the tree, "Wow, Where'd you get a tree like that?"
"Oh," I said, "You can find 'em."
He turned back to the crib, "Hey, did you notice? He's a Nicholas and he's a Saint--St. Laurent."
"Saint Nicholas," Susan said.
I walked with them to the door and out to the driveway, glancing up at the clear night sky.

He crossed the short drive, to his wife made a call,
And away they both flew, very pleased with it all.
But I heard him exclaim, 'ere they walked out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight."

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Love her.

I"m not a fan of opera because I don't think people should sing dialogue, and,--in fact, in real life--they never do. They rant and they rave and they laugh and they cry, but they never sing. When we sing, we sing emotions in subconscious sounds, all by ourselves, ideally fitting words to our hearts and souls. But never mind the format, listen closely to this orchestra and follow the words of this great voice, singing about love. It's a song sung by King Arthur in the musical, Camelot, in love with Guenevere, after his talk with the wise sorcerer, Merlin. He sings a profound point well made:

I've been in love a few times, and every time, I followed the advice above. It didn't always work out well, but it's probably the best you could do. Maybe the love was extended infatuation, sexual attraction, pathological obsession, or intellectual simpatico, but despite the heartache and the eye-opening crashes, the love itself lingers forever, and--good news--even if you lose, it will happen again.