#KenLicksCancer

This blog is usually devoted to interesting people other than me. I travel a lot, and wherever I go I find things to write about. The last few posts, however, have been about my personal journey. A journey that began on Friday, July 19, when I received word that I had cancer of the tongue.

In the future, this journal will return to the search for the quirky, the unusual, the fascinating – but not me. However, since so many avid readers have expressed interest in learning about my cancer journey,  I will share one more post about it.

I write this from the OHSU emergency room. Two days ago, I had surgery to remove the cancer and take samples (biopsies) of nearby lymph nodes to make sure it had not spread.

Removing part of one’s tongue produces some interesting challenges, such as chewing. The tongue, it turns out, is a tool, although in the hands of some it is a weapon. As a tool, though, you use it to push food around your mouth, to line up that food for chewing and then placing it in the queue for swallowing. When a chunk of your tongue is removed, it takes a while before your mouth, throat and tongue figure out how to deal with each other again.

In the meantime, you are on a strict liquid diet, until you graduate to mush. It’s only been two days and this is what I have learned so far: first, the 2019 vintage of Ensure is pretty good stuff; second, a good Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is an essential component of a liquid diet; third, the second one was a total bald-faced lie, because you are on such high-powered pain meds that a good glass of wine might be your last. So it’s back to Ensure and pudding and the fabulous chicken broth that your daughter-in-law made just for you and who cannot believe you did not add any salt to it but loved it.

About pain meds. I have a some experience in the pain department, having had RA (arthritis) since 1960.  I have also had five surgeries over the years and in each one I have declined any pain medications. No Oxy, no Percocet, no Vicodin, no drips, no pills, no nothing. I was not trying to be a hero, I had just learned how to detach myself from the pain in my affected joints. This time, however, it became immediately apparent that the pain from this procedure was another octave higher, and it was impossible to detach myself from something as close as my tongue and jaw.

So bring on the pain meds! And do you know what? They work! What a revelation! I am now two days into using OxyCodone and tylenol, and I am already worried about becoming hooked on it. That is healthy and suggests that I won’t. But I can certainly understand how people who get relief from major chronic pain do not want to ever stop taking what helped them. In my case, the tongue and surrounding area will heal. This pain will not continue, nor will the need for high-powered pain meds. But I still have a healthy concern about it. Which means I think I will be ok.

Talking is another challenge. It took hours before I could stand the pain of uttering anything, and what came out sounded like Daffy Duck saying “sufferin’ succotash.”

Only wetter.

Speaking of which, I have picked up a new competitive sport: drooling. Do not challenge me on this – I have become an expert. You will lose. And think hard before coming to visit. Dress appropriately.

But the body wants to heal itself. One of the doctors told me that half of medical treatment is just keeping the patient occupied long enough to allow his or her body to heal itself. My new, sleeker tongue will make friends with my mouth and throat, and a speech pathologist is coming to see me tomorrow to help me learn how to talk and swallow again.

But all that healing will take some time. Last night was a rough night, and today the doctor told me to head to the emergency room to check on a hematoma that appeared to be growing. A flock of medical people flew in and out of my room, confirming that all was healing nicely, but deciding that I should remain in the hospital for observation overnight. So I sit here in a private room in the ER, writing this post, taking up space that could be better used by those lying on beds out in the hallway. But the ER nurses like me, mostly because my needs are pretty limited right now, and they don’t want to give me up to a hospital room upstairs.

Earlier today, my doctor brought some news. He’s a good doctor. Under-promise, over-deliver. He initially told me that it would take a week or two to get the results of the biopsies (the pathology) from the surgery. They didn’t. They came back today.

Clean.

He got all the cancer out, the margins are clear of any cancer, as are the lymph nodes. I am cancer free.

Check!

If you have cancer, do you still have to follow the rules?

 

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My dad said that after you turn 8o years of age, you don’t have to follow the rules anymore. I never figured out which ones, because he didn’t break any that I could tell.

A long time ago I was following an old Cadillac whose driver didn’t notice that the light ahead had turned red, and he barreled into the compact car ahead of him. The Cadillac bounced back from the crash, and then moved forward hitting the compact again, and then again. I stopped my car, put on the emergency flashers, then headed over to the Cadillac. I helped the elderly and severely inebriated driver put his transmission into park, and then went to help the woman in the compact get out of the car and off the roadway so she didn’t get hit again by someone else.

The man slowly got out of the Cadillac and then staggered around in the traffic lanes essentially oblivious to what he had done. He just kept saying “I just found out I have cancer,” over and over. He said it in a way that sounded like it excused what he had done.

I had no sympathy for him. The police showed up, I explained what I had seen, and they took over.

Clearly, drunk driving is not an appropriate response to a cancer diagnosis. Yet I have found myself, having been cut off in traffic or tailgated, or otherwise having been subject to inconsiderate conduct, mouthing words such as ‘oh come on man, give me a break, I’m going in for cancer surgery next week.’ It isn’t a Dead Man Walking situation where you get to eat anything you want the day before you are executed, but I have found myself experiencing a little sense of entitlement, like maybe that I should be able to go through the express lane at the grocery store even though I have 17 items.

So, self-pity can come easily. But you go down that path and you end up feeling worse, and like the drunk in the Cadillac, you get no sympathy.

I’ve found some things that do work.

First, I try to always keep a smile on my face when I’m around other people, and laugh easily. Last night we met a couple at dinner and when they had to leave, he looked right at me and said “Ken, every time I see you, you are always smiling – I like that!” I thought to myself, ‘if you only knew.’ But he felt better being around a happy person, and I did too. Some times I have found that even if I am not happy, if I pretend to be I will often become happy.

Second, someone recently said if you find yourself in a major crisis that could consume you, find someone who is worse off and try to help them. Focusing on other people will help you forget about yourself. I am remiss in not yet having found the venue for this, but I’ve still got about 36 hours before my cancer surgery so there is still hope.

Third, just because you have cancer doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time. After all, you might die because the guy behind you in a Cadillac just got diagnosed with cancer, got drunk, and barreled into you without touching the brake. So take heart and enjoy the time you have, be it days, weeks, months or years. You never know. So get out and have some fun.

So there you have it in a nutshell: Ken’s rules to live by:

First, drunk driving – bad.

Second, making other people feel better – good.

Third, enjoy yourself while you can.

And even if you have cancer, you still have to follow these rules.

What are the Odds?

 

Headlights

Odds are, I’ll survive. In fact, my cousin Ted who had essentially the same kind of stupid cancer as I have, and had the same surgery to get rid of it, says the survival rate is 90%. Wahoo!

I’m not celebrating this.

But I should. I remember one night when my odds of survival were less than if I’d been playing Russian roulette.

It was dusk. I had just landed my Cessna 182 at Paso Robles, California, and hopped into the car I kept there to drive over to our coast house in Cayucos. I was rounding a curve on Highway 46 – the same 2 lane highway where James Dean died many years before. I could see the glow of oncoming cars before they appeared around the bend, and then – I not only saw the oncoming traffic – I saw that there was a car passing all of them and heading straight for me in my lane.

No time to think. The shoulder was wide. I immediately pulled over to the right and cursed the idiot. As quickly as I moved into the shoulder…so did he.

We are converging at at over 100 mph. Let’s pause and assess the odds.

I stay, he stays – everyone dies. I move he moves – everyone dies. I move he stays, we all live. He moves, I stay, we all live. The odds of survival are exactly 50/50.

I don’t why, but I moved back into my lane, and he stayed on the shoulder. No time to think. No time for adrenaline. Just….whoooooooooooosh.

I ended up stopped  in the right lane, my lane. All the other traffic had passed behind me. The idiot was long gone. For some  reason the lights were off in my car. I’m not sure now, but I think the car had stalled as well. All I remember was that I was staring into a black void. There was no sound. Just me, thinking. No time for adrenaline. No time to get excited or worried. Just me, sitting there in the dark. Thinking…

I almost died.

So cancer? It’s nothing! I survived driving from Paso to the coast!

So let’s party! As the pilots said in WWI, “here’s to the dead already, and here’s to the next man who dies!”

Their odds were way worse than mine. The life expectancy of a pilot in WWI was 69 flying hours. I have something over 1,000 flying hours, and I’m still alive.

Really though, odds are not real. If you die, the odds were 100% against you. If you survive, they were 100% you’d survive.

Odds are irrelevant. What is relevant is that you spend every day as if it is your last, you do what you can while you can because you never know what truck will run into you or what enemy fighter will shoot you down or what kind of cancer will choose your body to mutate in or what else will happen tomorrow.

So party on, love your friends and your family, and lift a toast to me and you and everyone else: “here’s to the dead already, and here’s to the next one who dies.”

Cheers!

“As Cancers Go, It Isn’t A Bad One”

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Tooling down I-90 on the way to Spokane, I remembered why I love road trips. The open road, blue sky, fair weather cumulus clouds. The view is always changing, the miles are passing, you’re continuously moving.

Many people find this boring, but I love it. Driving through busy stretches of cities or narrow, winding roads is stressful for me. Give me miles and miles of open road in the high desert and I am happy. 

A few minutes after taking this photo I took a call from my doctor. Normally one does not want to receive the results of a biopsy while driving down a highway in a 35 foot motorhome towing a Jeep at 60mph.  But we had missed each other’s phone calls and I really wanted to hear about the results.

I already knew what they would be. The voicemail I’d received earlier said “I wanted to follow up with you on your biopsy. I know you’re just leaving on a one month road trip and was trying to catch you before you left. I’ll try you again tonight or tomorrow.” 

I knew what that meant. If the test had been negative he would have said that in the voicemail. But he needed to talk to me. So when the call came, it was no surprise.

“The biopsy showed cancer.”

I wanted to know all there was to know, but the next offramp was many miles away and there was no place to pull over. So, left hand on the wheel, pedal down, and right hand illegally holding the phone, I spent the next 20 minutes talking to the doctor about CT scans, different procedures depending on what they show, things that can go wrong. “We have to work around the jugular vein. It’s really not that bad if we cut a hole in it. It’s not like you’ve heard. We just sew it up again.”

Recently, I heard another doctor speak about free radicals and how to extend one’s lifespan by eating mushrooms. At one point he said, “I think we can all agree that the primary goal is to live as long as you possibly can.” My reaction was “No! The goal is not to live as long as possible, it is to live WELL while you can. LIVE until you die. Do what you can while you can; you never know what tomorrow will bring!”

To my surprise, my tomorrow has come.

For me this is an issue with perhaps more consequences than most. Based on my personal and family history, if I live for another 20 or 30 years I will likely have dementia and be all crippled up. Sorry Dr. Mushrooms, living as long as possible is not my goal. I have no death wish, but I hope to run out of heart beats before I run out of joints and brain cells.

For now, my prognosis is good. As cancers go, this is not a bad one. But my surgeon will slice and dice my tongue, and the lymph nodes in my neck, and depending on the CT scans, may do more slicing and dicing beyond that. If the pathology comes back clean, I’m golden. If the cancer has spread, it’s radiation time. Maybe more.

This road trip is coming to an early end. I’m heading home for tests and surgery and to take care of all the things that need to be done before the surgery. And some things that might need to be done thereafter.

Life will change now, maybe more so in the future. But it’s not all bad. It got me writing again.

Now pass the mushrooms.

Dispatch from the Field: Ike and Nikita Fly to Camp David in Igor’s Helicopter

S-58 on White House lawn

A true story.

In September of 1959, Premier Nikita Khrushchev met with President Eisenhower in Washington DC, the first visit by any Soviet leader to the US. It was the height of the Cold War, tensions were high, and so were suspicions. After days of largely unproductive meetings, Ike suggested going to the Presidential retreat at Camp David to relax for a few days. “Dah” Khrushchev replied, assuming that “nearby” meant a short drive.

Arrangements were made by staff, but when Ike led Niki across the South Lawn to a couple of waiting helicopters, Nikita refused to board. He was terrified of helicopters. And for good reason. There is a saying that helicopters are thousands of parts all trying to fly apart from each other. Harry Reasoner once wrote:

“The thing is, helicopters are different from planes. An airplane by it’s nature wants to fly, and if not interfered with too strongly by unusual events or by a deliberately incompetent pilot, it will fly. A helicopter does not want to fly. It is maintained in the air by a variety of forces and controls working in opposition to each other, and if there is any disturbance in this delicate balance the helicopter stops flying; immediately and disastrously…

“This is why being a helicopter pilot is so different from being an airplane pilot, and why in generality, airplane pilots are open, clear-eyed, buoyant extroverts and helicopter pilots are brooding introspective anticipators of trouble. They know if something bad has not happened it is about to.”

Khrushchev thought it might be an assassination plot, and that his chopper might be shot down. Ike assured him that it was safe, and when Ike told him that they would both go in the same helicopter, Khrushchev agreed. Ike let him sit in the Presidential seat, with a commanding view out the oversized window. While Niki fidgeted and squirmed, Ike and others explained to him what they were seeing as they flew over the Maryland suburbs. Someone explained that the helicopter, a Sikorsky S-58, was made by a company founded by a Russian-born designer, Igor Sikorsky.

In time, Khrushchev became comfortable and even enjoyed the flight. When Ike asked how he liked the flight, Niki confronted Ike with his famous wagging finger that he waved one millimeter from Ike’s nose and said “Of course it is a good and safe aircraft, it was designed by a Russian!”

“Yes,” Ike replied. “A Russian who was smart enough to get the hell out of Russia.”

Sergei

As told to me by Sergei Sikorsky (left), whose father Igor immigrated to the US in 1919 following the Bolshevik revolution. Sergei retired as VP of Special Projects for the company.

Dispatch from the Field: My NY Times Buddy in Phoenix

Tammie and I go way back – well, about three years.

On the first Sunday of our first trip to Phoenix for Spring Training back in 2016, I headed to the Starbucks on Happy Valley Road so I could buy the NY Times, and read it over a vanilla latte (cliche, I know, but I really enjoy them). I arrived at the store and was reaching for the paper just as another woman also came to the newsstand. It became obvious she also wanted the Times, but there was only one left.

“You got the last one,” she said with evident disappointment.

“Oh,” I replied, “you wanted it too?”

“Just the crossword puzzle. I like to work on it all week, but it’s ok, you take the paper.” Well, what else was she going to say? It turned out that her name was Tammie and she was the store manager. It would not do for her to swipe it from me, the customer.

So I bought the paper and a latte, and sat down to enjoy a Sunday morning ritual that I have been unable to pass on to my children or grandchildren. It’s clear that getting news in print will not survive another generation. Here in Phoenix, the Arizona Republic, a once-towering force in Arizona, has become more of a leaflet than a newspaper, and survives almost entirely to support the delivery of ads for groceries, mattresses, hearing aids, and treatments for male…dysfunction.

And what a shame it is. A true loss. Not just for me and my joy in reading the local paper wherever we go, but also for society. While newspapers surely have always had a political point of view, they also employed trained journalists who were committed to journalistic ethics. Reporting required back-up, and errors were acknowledged and published. Political spin was largely reserved for the opinion pages. News analysis was so identified. And most important, we all read the same paper, whether it was the Fresno Bee (which was criticized by liberals as being too conservative and by conservatives as being too liberal), or the LA Times, or the Podunk News-Dispatch. We had a common frame of reference even though we might interpret it in vastly different ways.

Now, many of us get our news largely (or solely) from cable news outlets with a point of view of our own choosing, and from social media with an almost limitless potential for abuse. We start and end in vastly different places, rarely meeting in the middle or even the fringes.

And so, I willingly incur the expense of a Monday – Sunday subscription to the NY Times back home, and STILL spend $6 for a Sunday edition while we are on the road. I consider it my little contribution to the survival of an institution that is vital to our democracy, and that is rapidly taking on water.

As I was reading the paper in the Happy Valley Starbucks three years ago, I carefully cut out the crossword puzzle, took it up to the cashier and asked her to give it to the manager, Tammie. A few minutes later, Tammie came bounding out from her office, thanked me and gave me a big hug. She said she would buy the paper the next Sunday, keep the crossword puzzle, and give me the rest.

So began our tradition. Whenever I am in Phoenix, I buy the Times one Sunday, she the next. When she’s not too busy, we visit. I tell her about our travels. She tells me about her and her husband’s plans for what would to do when they retire.

Until last Sunday.

We had just arrived in Phoenix for our annual Spring Training visit. I went to the Happy Valley Starbucks and asked if Tammie was around. “No,” said Kailee, “she’s not at this store anymore; she’s opening a new one in Dove Valley.” I had no idea where Dove Valley was, so I bought the paper and a latte, sat down and started reading. But it was not the same.

Today, after consulting with Mr. Google Maps, I showed up at the Dove Valley Starbucks, saw Tammie, and said “Hi! Who’s buying the NY Times today?”

“You tracked me down!” she beamed, and gave me a big hug.

And so our tradition continues. I’m buying today, she will buy next week, and I will return to our motorhome in a couple of hours with the Sunday edition, minus the crossword puzzle.

Dispatch from the Field: A Man of Visions

John Man of Visions

John sits at his usual table in the Kreuzeberg Coffee Shop, in downtown San Luis Obispo. It is the last night of October. His table is on the far end of a long row of tables, close to the windows which during these days of seemingly unending summer are still open.

It is usually easy to find a seat at the table next to his, since his appearance causes many to avoid getting too close for fear that he might ask for a dollar for another cup of coffee or a bite of food. But he does not ask, he has enough money to earn him his seat at this table for hours upon hours, day upon day.

A journal is laid out, carefully centered in front of him.

He writes from the bottom up. The pages on which he is now working are blank for the top 2/3, with intricate, almost microscopic writing below. It is his diary he explains, but not in the usual sense. It contains a record not of what he has done, but of what he has dreamed. His visions. That is what now occupies his time – envisioning.

Two stones, one laid on each page, keep the light breeze from turning the pages. For John, the stones have a more important role. They are made from basalt, derived from volcanos, the beating heart of the earth. They give him a spiritual connection to the earth. I ask do they work? He says sometimes too well. He has had stones vaporize before him.

I note that his writing appears to be meticulous. He replies that he was an architectural designer, a Cal Poly alum, in good stead with many of the faculty still there.

He writes. Then he waits, envisioning. What do you envision? “These days it is mostly visions from my dreams.”

It is Halloween today, and that is interfering with his visions. To the extent he sees visions at all on this day, he says, they are visions of his own death. He does not seem concerned about death, only that its contemplation is interfering with his visions of other things. I observe “Death comes early enough, no need to see it now.” He smiles softly, and agrees.

After a time, he purchases a small item of food. He carefully moves the journal an inch forward, rearranging his two vessels of water and one of coffee. All remains in perfect order. He looks down reverently, taking his muffin to his mouth with the same care he devotes to his writings.

He is nearing the end of this journal. I ask what he will do when it is complete. “Start a new one. I have over 300 of them already.”

I extend my hand as I introduce myself. He does the same. I tell him of my travels and ask if I may take his photograph. He agrees, and as I leave he says “safe travels Ken.”

Safe travels to you too John, wherever your journeys may take you while you sit at your table in downtown San Luis Obispo.

Some Thoughts on Hair

beatles mop top

Hair was the source of many of the biggest battles I had with my mom. The Beatles had just landed in America, and I wanted to be them. My parents bought me a guitar, but my hair grew faster than my talent.

My mom was ill one time, nothing serious, but my dad used it as an opportunity: “Ken, you would make your mother very happy if you would go to the barbershop and get your hair cut; she does so much for you and she is not feeling well.” This was my introduction to Fransen guilt. More lessons would follow.

rightstuff quaid

In high school, my aspirations shifted from wanting to be a rock star to hoping to fly fighter jets. Accordingly, my hair-length went from being too long to bordering on excessively short. As a young kid I had been known as brush-cut Charlie, but I never quite developed the courage to go full buzz in high school. Somewhere along the years that followed, I just became normal hair-wise.

I started growing my mustache the day I left high school. It took two years before anyone could notice. It took 5 or 10 years for it to be worthy of the name. Now, I cannot get rid of it. My wife and kids, and most everyone I know, have never seen me without it.

There are a lot of things I don’t remember about my hair.

For example, I don’t remember when I started to grow hair out of my ears; I just know that we older men can push out more hair out our ears than the domes of many of our heads. I don’t get the feeling this affects women – if it did there would be ads about it on tv. Of all the things women have to worry about, ear hair apparently is not one of them. Likewise nose hair. And bushy eyebrows. Some hormonal defect causes us men to move our hair-growing capacity from our heads to our nose and ear and eyebrow regions.

Speaking of eyebrows, I don’t remember when mine got out of control. I think it started quite innocently while on the phone – I realized that one of my eyebrow hairs was longer than the rest, and I just pulled it out. It became a nervous habit whenever I was one the phone. At some point I was not making enough phone calls to be able to keep up with them all so my barber asked if she could trim them. Now it’s mandatory and if she doesn’t offer, I ask.

let me fix your hair

I also don’t remember when I first noticed I was going gray but my wife noticed about 10 years before I did. “Oh look,” she’d say, “you are getting gray!” I didn’t see a thing. One day, all of a sudden, I was gray. An attorney I had worked with years before but hadn’t seen in the meantime, invited me to lunch one day. When we met, he extended his hand and loudly blurted “you’re gray!” “Yeah,” I replied, “and you’re bald!” Pleasantries ensued.

My hair is now completely gray, although I prefer the term silver. Gray is drab, silver has a certain chicness, maybe even sexiness, about it. A handsome older man with gray hair used to be called a “silver fox.” I have not personally heard that term in my presence. I do not know why.

I’m proud of my gray hair. I’ve earned every one of them. When I go to a theatre, I don’t ask for the senior rate, I ask for the gray hair discount. When I go to an event that serves alcohol, my gray hair saves me the trouble of having to pull out my driver’s license. If the person at the registration desk is zoned out and asks anyway, I just smile and point to my hair, and I am then cleared right on through.

I often choose my sports teams based on hair color. When I got to the point in life when I had time to watch football, I noticed that one of the stellar and well-seasoned quarterbacks had gray hair – Brett Favre. He was still with the Green Bay Packers then, so I decided to root for his team. (It didn’t hurt that good friend and avid reader Neil was a big Wisconsin-bred fan of the Pack who told me the endearing history of the team and its place in Wisconsin culture.)

Similarly, with the departure of the last wave of true redneck Nascar drivers – those who cut their driving teeth running moonshine through the backroads of the South and who sometimes engaged in fistfights when a hotly contested race ended – I found a ‘gray hair’ to root for. Mark Martin was the oldest guy then driving, and he became my driver. I also thought it was cool that he owned and flew his own jet between his hangar home and the various race-tracks. Mark had a great career, and though he came close, never quite made it to a Nascar championship. In his final years as a driver, his sponsor was Viagra, the obviousness of which bordered on elegance. I rooted proudly for Mark, but never had the guts to wear an official “Mark Martin Viagra” jacket.

mark-martin-portrait-viagra-hat-and-sunglasses-hand-on-hip

Once, a long time ago, I started growing a beard. It was truly awful and only lasted a few months. Ironically, many of our most prominent family photographs were taken during that brief period, causing me to make a gagging sound whenever they are pulled out of the family photo box. A number of years ago, I wondered if my beard would grow out silver (ok, gray) if I tried to grow it again. I decided that if it came out solidly the color of my now gray hair, I’d keep it, otherwise I’d just forget about the whole beard thing. Uniform gray-ness followed. The beard’s a keeper.

cut your own hair

Women do not seem to love their own hair. Those with fine hair wish they had thick hair so they would be able to do something with it. Those with thick hair envy those with fine hair because fine hair dries so much quicker. Women with curly hair straighten it. Those with straight hair curl it. When you google “bad hair day photos,” the results are almost entirely of women.

Some women even prefer men’s hair. When my wife (we’ll call her “Carol”) sees a man with a long wavy tress, she turns to me and says “don’t you just love his hair? Mine just hangs.” Of course it hangs – what else is there for it to do? Gravity, after all, is rather insistent. Her point, though, was simple. She does not love her own hair and would trade it for some guy’s if she had the chance.

When we had just gotten married, Carol decided to get an Afro – being a popular hair style in the mid-1970’s. It did not last long – she looked just like the poster from the musical Hair! Except for the fact that she was blonde and northern European. A short hair style quickly followed.

Speaking of Hair!, Carol spent the last half of the 1960’s in San Francisco, lived in Haight-Ashbury, and hung around with theatre types. Hair! was a popular and controversial rock musical at that time. Extras and audience members came on stage at one point in the performance and during a particularly controversial part of the play, some on stage removed all of their clothing and simply stood there nude. She had always told me she was briefly in the cast of Hair! but we never discussed the details. I recently asked her if she was one of the people on stage who doffed their clothes and stood there nude. She said she is not sure, but for some reason I love the fact that I married a hippie-chick who might have.

Hair!

Dispatch from the Field: A Big Damn Country

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I just returned from a three week 5,000 mile solo trip across the northern plains to Oshkosh WI and back, and it seemed to take forever.

The purpose of this trip was to attend the world’s largest aviation gathering that you’ve never heard of and do not care about (EAA.org/AirVenture). Please note that I am NOT providing dispatches about my experiences at this gathering because I know that NONE of my readers care about airplanes. For those who pretend that they DO, see my other website: www.ohcomeonyoudontthinkIamreallythatgullibleastobelieveyouactuallywanttoseeairplanephotos.com

Two years ago I went on a similar road trip. Not much has changed.

Teddy Roosevelt National Park is still a jewel with incredible geology. Not a rock hound? OK, how about this? Hills made of various layers including a thin layer of coal. When lighting strikes every 10,000 years or so, the coal layer will light up and burn inside the mountain for years until it is all gone and the hill goes poof and crumbles down on top of the now empty space with orange residue sprinkled around.

burning hills

Is it just me or is that really amazing?

I went into the historic town of Medora, where Joe Reid performs in character as Teddy Roosevelt. It was masterful, and made me long for the days when Presidents were towering figures who commanded – and deserved – respect and loved their country more than themselves. Yet even he raged against the press, calling them “yellow journalists.” joe-reid-as-tr.jpg

Buffalo still roam freely around the Park’s visitor center, and their butts still make my grandkids erupt in gleeful laughter, so here you go kids: buffalo butt

Sign of the Day in Miles City, ND: “Live every day so you can look any man in the eye and tell him to go straight to hell.” I still do not know what that means.

Missoula, Montana, it turns out, is a hip town. Weary after days of driving across the country and half way back, I stopped at the Missoula KOA. This was considered by KOA to be an RV Resort, meaning they have a pool and playground and therefore can charge an additional 10 bucks a night. No matter that I needed neither, it had power and water so I cranked up the air conditioning, took a much needed shower, changed into business casual, and decided to check out the town. It reminded me of Fresno: hot and hazy. Lots of vacant lots and old buildings that had seen their best days, yet there was obviously new vitality, with hip new shops and restaurants sprouting up.

I plonked myself down in a restaurant called, appropriately, Plonk! My travel guide said it was the best place in town. I sought and received ordering advice from Helen, who told me I had indeed found the best place in town, partly because her daughter Anika worked there. Helen writes screenplays from Missoula now, to be close to her daughter, but once lived the fast lane life in LA. Her friend Jeri joined her to celebrate Anika’s birthday. Jeri has had an illustrious life. Though slight of build she once ran cattle with her ex-husband, and broke wild horses, before becoming a public servant in the employ of the US Forest Service. Now retired, she serves as editor of Helen’s manuscripts, and landlord to Anika. We sang Happy Birthday to Anika, and I took a photo of the three of them (Jeri on the left, Helen in the middle, and Anika, well, you know):

Jeri Helen Anika

On their advice, I had brunch the next morning at Catalyst, just down the street. Both Plonk! and Catalyst could easily be airlifted into the Portland foodie scene and thrive. My server, Cameron, cameron.jpgcould not have been nicer, and took great care of me though the place was packed and bustling. She asked where I was from. “Portland” I responded. “Oh,” she replied, “my step-mom is from there. I go there all the time.” We discussed Portland and other things, and then she asked where in Portland I lived. “Do you know where South Waterfront is?” I asked. “Yes!” she replied, “my step-mom lives in the John Ross Building.” “That’s my building!” “On the 19th floor.” “That’s my floor too – we must be neighbors!”

I am not kidding about this. Having now returned home, I just walked down the hall and introduced myself to Cameron’s step-mom, my neighbor and new friend. Things like this make long distance travel worth it, even though it is one big damn country – and you have to wait for a lot of trains.

BNSF

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My Jealous Mistress

Nicola at the window

After many years, I decided to call it quits with Lexi. On January 1 of 2016 I said I was done. I moved away. But after a few months, she and I planned a renewal. Fate intervened (I broke my hand), and a rapprochement was not to be. I thought it was over.

But late last year, I thought ‘what could it hurt to see if the old magic is still there?’ Things went slow at first, then it kind of got out of hand, and before I knew it Lexi was starting to take hold of me again. I yielded to the siren call, but then said  ‘no I can’t,’ then ‘oh geez,’ then ‘I really can’t.’ I promised myself that it was over. I thought I was safe.

Then, two hours before I planned to make my final escape, she said “not so fast!” I was at her mercy, knowing it was wrong, but unable to unleash myself from her jealous grip. The back and forth continued for many weeks. We had a fling in Hood River, a couple of more in downtown Portland, even a couple of short trysts in Johns Landing. She would not let go.

Any of you who have gone through something like this knows that it is at once tantalizing and depressing. How can logic fail us at a time when we need it most? Why does sensibility fade as the need for it becomes profound? Where is willpower?

Lexi, you see, is a jealous mistress.

I am not the first to have known this. In fact, it was Judge Joseph Story in 1829 who first coined the phrase: “The Law is  jealous mistress.”

Lexi, you see, is the Law.

Some readers may recall my commitment to abide by the Brett Favre Rule: Go out on top, and then stay gone. (Don’t do what Brett Favre did.) After passing the Oregon Bar exam at age 65, however, I couldn’t resist going ahead and getting sworn in, but promised myself – and my readers – that I would file for retired status promptly thereafter. I confess my weakness. I did not do that. You see, a good friend of mine and avid reader, attorney Steve, emailed me two hours before the swearing-in saying “Not so fast! I wanted to talk to you about helping me with my Hood River clients…” Well, there followed a month of back and forth before I finally – finally! – did what I needed to do.

brett favre hero

Lexi and I are done now. Really. It’s over. And it should have been done long ago. Because going back into law would have seriously interfered with my ability to travel.

And goof off.

And write posts for this ridiculous blog.