Sunday, August 3, 2014

Amenity, perplexity

Silver Lake morning
We spend a few days this week in LA, house sitting for friends who are vacationing. The relocation gets us away from the desert heat to the more temperate summer weather of the older but trendy neighborhoods near Hollywood. There had been talk of taking in some urban amenities, like a visit to LACMA for a leisurely look at what’s up there these days, or the Getty, where there’s a favorite Van Gogh of irises that just lights up a whole room.

But fatigue had the better of me. I hardly stepped outside the house to take a couple snapshots of it from the street. On Saturday, I was finally able to take a 45-minute walk over to Sunset and back with my wife and the dog. By mid-afternoon I was tired again and napped into the early evening.

One amenity we have enjoyed is the proximity of good food that you can have delivered to the door. Chinese one night and Italian on two others. (If you are ever in Silver Lake, I definitely recommend Tomato Pie on Hyperion for their New York-style pizza and ravioli.) For my wife, the chief cook, that alone has been worth the 2-hour drive into town.

Desert weather we left behind 
Being in LA also gave me opportunity to see my dermatologist. As a “great speckled bird,” always alert to skin cancer, I keep this guy in my yearly round of checkups, though cancer has decided to visit me in a way I had not anticipated. “Are you a convert to Islam or is that a fashion statement?” he says seeing my skullcap as he walks in the exam room. Always full of good humor is he. In a few minutes he is gone again, having declared me good for another year.

Before that, though, I had some real input for reflection. In the waiting room, another patient introduced himself by saying that he has “beat cancer” three times and regaled me with stories of less than satisfactory care at the VA across town in Westwood. Most striking about him was the complete absence of his left arm, removed during one of those battles with cancer.

I so wanted to ask him how he adapted to the loss of it, but I got called in for my own appointment, and all he was able to tell me about was how it has affected his balance. A fair-skinned man, older than I, with full white beard and white hair, his pants held up by suspenders, he remains in my thoughts, and when I am tempted to fault my left arm for its clumsy unreliability, I won’t forget the dread he voiced over losing the use of his other arm, which would make him dependent on someone else, as he said, to “wipe his ass.”

Bougainvillea on the roof
The drawback of cancer for someone as self-obsessed as I am is that I automatically give too much weight to the thoughts and moods that stray across my awareness. Radio Ron is usually on when I wake up in the mornings, playing tunes selected from some random playlist, which then call out for interpretation. One day this week it was Tina Turner singing “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” later followed by the song from On the Beach, “There’s Still Time, Brother.” I’d call that a mixed message, but take some reassurance that there is confidence somewhere in the subconscious for eventual resolution of it.

And on the topic of confidence, my wife and I have begun noticing that I’m becoming increasingly dependent on her, in subtle ways not always easy to notice. As a person who has prized his independence, I take this as not a good sign. So I did two confidence builders this week: 1) getting a prescription refilled at a local pharmacy in LA when I found I'd miscounted one bottle of pills before leaving home, and 2) ordering food for delivery on the phone one night.

No biggies, but a step away from the brink. And I am struck by how easily I have allowed lassitude about taking care of simple matters like this to creep over me. I blame having to give up driving a car. I have not understood until now how much of that ability has given me a sense of who and what I am.

Deck doorway
This ends up being related to another question that came up during meditation one morning this week: What exactly is my purpose here in this time left to me? I know, that sounds pretty self-important, and I put it down here with some temerity. There are too many high-minded answers that the question implies and there’s enough self-inflation here already.

I doubt sometimes that this cancer journal is little more than self-indulgent hogging of the spotlight. And I understand at those moments why people diagnosed with a serious illness choose to quietly fade away. There’s a commendable modesty about not using it to grab for attention, manufacturing yet another ego trip the world can well do without.

I remain equally convinced that silence is no good either. Being aware as I wake each morning that I’ve been given yet another day—for some good reason—surely beyond the usual options of either play or work, I often find a reflection of me in the bathroom mirror with an expression that looks like a bemused shrug, and I’m thinking I should know the answer to this. But I don’t.


  1. Independence is touch to lose. It's definitely one thing that frightens me about getting older.

  2. Great photo of the clouds and the bougainvillea on the roof reminds me of Palm Springs. It seemed to grow over, on, under, and through most of the yards, walls and buildings there.

  3. My husband is dependent on me in some ways and me on him in others. Not a good thing at all. We married young and never considered the paths we were taking. Maybe now is the time. Take care. thinking of you.

  4. The story of your encounter with the white-haired patient strikes a chord. My mom would've said he was an angel in disguise.

  5. Keep posting Ron. We are listening.

  6. This old Nebraska/Wyoming boy is scratching his head wondering how anyone could relax by house setting in LA. But sounded pretty good when you got to the food part.

  7. Dependent in some ways ande vice-versa in others. Sounds like possibly the right balance to me? As Walker says: we're listening and learning.

  8. Glad to hear you are again able to enjoy good food!

  9. Ron, I have been pondering over the question "What exactly is my purpose here?" since I breasted the forties a few years ago? I think everyone does at some point in their lives. Must be a midlife crisis or something. Of course, I probably wouldn't think about it if I lived in the moment. I hope you and your wife have a nice time in LA. Good wishes, Ron.

  10. Perhaps your cancer journal is for others to find, to read, and to gain strength from. That seems logical.

  11. I don't care if you're being self-indulgent writing this blog. You're such a good writer, your musings become literature.

  12. Thanks, everybody. You make my day.

  13. Love your writing and blog, Ron. Like Leah above says: your blog is for us all, for others to read and get strength -- and pleasure/food for thought (those book reviews!) from.