POST-OP WEEK 36
week of October 5
We had a black wrought iron banister going down our stairs in my house, growing up. Rail, banister--- it was on 8, maybe, of the 13 steps going up to the second floor of our little blue-collar house.
I kind of liked it; it was very thin. You could tie things to it, strings for my Army guys to climb down to the living room rug below.
I remember my mom used to let me “paint” it. She’d give me a small modeling paint brush and a Dixie cup of water and set me lose. I’d dip my brush in the water, then meticulously cover the railing. Because it was wet, the wrought iron looked like it had changed color to me, turned a darker shade of black. And then it would dry. Just like paint. That’d occupy a good part of my time and I did it more than once. I thought it was fun…
When my parents had parties and the loud noise would wake me up, I’d come out of my room and see the yellow glow coming up the stairway. I’d hear the humma-humma of their talking and smell the smoke from their cigarettes. I’d make my way slowly down the stairs to get a better look at the source of this color and noise but stop at the top of the banister. That’s where I’d sit, holding onto the wrought iron vertical piece and sticking my head through the space.
Until someone saw me, then my mom would come up the stairs and put me back in bed.
We used to slide down the stairs “on our PJs.” We had these feetie/footie pajamas, you know, long sleeved, they zip up the front right up to the neck. And, of course, feet at the end of the legs, with little traction pads on the bottoms, like slippers. They were made of fleece.
My little sister sat on the steps and slid down that way, boomp, boomp, boomp. I held the sleeves at my wrists and slid headfirst on my front, so I looked like Superman only sliding down the stairs toward the big, wooden front door. Honestly, it was “abrupt” hitting the bottom, but I’d never get going fast enough to hit the door.
I used to like to lie upside down on those stairs. Not a lot, not all the time. But every once in a while, I’d sit down on the stairs, about 5 stairs up, then spin my legs around the other way, up the stairs instead of pointing down. This way, my head would hang over a step and everything would be upside down. In this position, I’d imagine the ceiling like the floor… What would it be like to walk around on this big, empty white space? The crown moldings around the top edges kind of reminded me of quarter rounds, so, yeah, it kind of looked like a floor.
Yeah, it’d pretty be cool to walk around on the ceiling.
I did the weirdest thing once. I don’t know why, but it doesn’t seem like something I would do, it seems very unlike the me I think I am.
Anyway… I was driving home, I think from school. I think I was in junior college. I came up to an intersection and rolled to a stop next to a bunch of other cars. It was a corner on the exact edge of my home suburb, the North East corner to be exact. There was a girl, a woman in among the cars, one of those people who try and sell things to you while you’re stopped there.
I pulled up, I guess, and she walked down the lane between cars offering people carnations to buy. I can’t remember if I bought one from her, but I remember I thought she was cute.
Here comes the weird part, or maybe it’s just the impulsive part:
I drove through the intersection and headed home. I picked up my camera and went back to the intersection where the girl was. I was getting into photography then, taking classes at junior college so it wasn’t unusual for me to take pictures of everything and anything— I did that back then. You won’t believe the number of black and white pictures of people at the mall or blurry fire hydrants I have lying around in my basement.
So I parked the car a half a block away where I could find parking and walked over to the corner she was “working.” And started taking pictures of her. I’m pretty sure I was in the street with her taking them.
We talked for a while. I didn’t get the impression she thought I was a creeper or anything and it wasn’t like I asked her out. I took some pictures. And then I left. You know, impulsive.
I went out on my first date in my sophomore year of high school. I don’t know if I was “seeking” this girl out; I remember that I liked her well enough but that was all. I’m thinking, probably not. We were sort of set up by her sister and her sister’s boyfriend. We were all in Russian Club together. Yeah, we all took Russian and thought hanging out in a club of other kids who were taking Russian would be fun. We really didn’t do any Russian stuff, speak the language, none of that. We got together once a year, at Homecoming, and built a float.
My sister was in Russian club in high school and built floats, so I had to, too.
So, my sophomore year, I was hanging out at this house or that one, making little “flowers” out of crape paper and assembling the whole thing in my garage. (because my mom started me early in Kindergarten) I would’ve just turned 15. (I don’t know, was that young? These days, kids are going out much earlier. Were they in the 70s?)
I’d talk, I guess, with this freshman girl--- in English. Her sister was a junior (I can’t remember her name) and her boyfriend was a senior. Those two weren’t going to the homecoming dance; they were planning an “anti-dance” kind of thing, in this case a Steven Stills concert at a college. He kind of set up the whole thing, I don’t remember asking her out or telling her that I liked her (or telling any of her friends), it was all sort happening. I wasn’t even a Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young fan but the boyfriend set it all up so I couldn’t say no.
He picked me up with the two girls already in the car. They were in the front, I got in the back with my date, who, as I remember, didn’t say much. We got to the college and stood in this really long line. Suddenly, the front of the line rushed the door. The boyfriend told me: if anyone hands you a joint, just say no. No one did.
I can’t tell you anything Steven played. I sat next to the girl, trying to get the nerve up to put my arm around her or something. I think I finally reached over and held her hand. The concert zipped by and it was time to take the girls home. I was worried, sweating out the moment when I’d have to figure out how to kiss her goodnight but I got a handshake instead.
I saw her at school the next week on Monday and started hanging around her, buzzing around, walking her through the halls. I got up the nerve again to hold her hand and she let me, but continuously tried to “hide” it from everyone. I think she even tried to stick our hands into my coat pocket… I did, eventually, get the hint and went away.
Needless to say, that was about it between my first date and me.
POST-OP WEEK 37
week of October 12
The second girl I went out with was Cathy. She was one of the theater kids. I sort of hung on the fringes of the theater group. I never worked on any plays; I was never in any of them.
(Okay, one. The theater director/teacher experimented one time and instead of putting on a play written by playwrights, he decided to put on 3 one-act plays written by students at our school. Apparently, this didn’t sit well with the theater kids, so none of them tried out. The director happened also to be my English teacher that year and he asked me during one class to audition. I told him, no, I’d never get in, so why should I bother. He said he “knew” I had a “really good chance” of getting in— wink, wink because he was the one I’d be auditioning for. Needless to say I got in one of his one-acts, the comedic one.)
But I hung out with that crowd. I seemed to fit best with them. I wasn’t into sports or science or smoking or cars or work programs or music or any of the other cliques high schools have. I fit best with the misfits, the kids who did all the plays and musicals. They were skinny with bad complexions or overweight or gay (but didn’t talk about it much or at all). The girls were gawky or had buckteeth.
[Of course, a good many of them went on to do notable things in theater. One of them directs non-union plays. His brother is a union prop guy in national touring companies and their littler brother is the prop master at the Goodman downtown. One of them does loungy/torch singing in cabarets…] Anyway---
Cathy was in that group. She was tall, close to my height. She had dark hair, almost black, long, but cut kind of shaggy. She asked me to a dance. Turn-about, maybe, where the girl asks the guy. I think that might’ve been our first “date.” Her dad drove, a dark figure in the front seat while we sat in the back not talking. I don’t remember any thing about the dance itself. I’m sure it was just a lot of walking around saying “hey” to everyone else just walking around. Maybe we danced.
I seem to remember shopping for something for her. I don’t know if it was a Christmas present or I gave it to her for the dance (that might’ve been it) in addition to flowers. I had it in my head that I wanted her to have a necklace. And it had to have a locket on it, shaped like a heart. I finally found one, I think it was at the local drug store, so you know it had to be good quality stuff. When you opened it, there was a “paste” in it that smelled like perfume. I thought it was pretty cool.
Cathy was my first kiss. I don’t know how this worked but I dropped her at her door, walked her up her front steps. I kept trying to figure out how I was going to lean over and all that when she leaned my way and kissed me, slipped me a little tongue, as I recall. And then said goodnight. I think maybe one of my parents drove me home from her house, probably my mom. It would’ve been weird if it were her dad.
When I got home I got out of my suit and got into bed. I turned on my tiny black and white TV and put on Creature Features, a late night weekend program that played old monster movies. I was looking at the movie but all I could do was think about Cathy kissing me. My mom came in and asked me how the dance was and we talked but I don’t think I told her about that last part. I just kept mulling it over in my head.
Cathy and I “went out” for a while after that. We’d hang out after school. We walked to another theater kid’s house once, holding hands, and listened to music. He’d play stuff I never heard of like Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks (an obscure country swing band from San Francisco) from his brother’s record collection.
Cathy and I went to theater parties and sat awkwardly in the dark, under the black light posters while I got up the nerve to put my arm around her. There’d be this couple writhing on the floor, making out the whole time, and groups in a circle, talking.
At some point Cathy broke up with me. If I remember it correctly, she said it was because I watched too much TV, that it was all I talked about. Hm. I don’t know, I suppose that could be true…
I worked for a while on a cable shopping show. They were big in the 80s and this local producer thought Chicago needed its own version. He and his wife did a local cable talk show and they thought this’d be a logical extension of their talents. They called it: “Shop Chicago.”
I was producing the comedy group’s cable show at a Centel Cable facility in a suburb close to mine and the woman there who managed the place recommended me to the guy who ran the Centel in, I want to say— Elmhurst —whose name was Tom Cruz, and looked nothing like the other one and was tired of acknowledging his name sounded like the actor’s but wasn’t. I went over for an “interview,” but he was already going to give me the job. Pretty much no one else came in and no one else wanted it. I was going to be their guy on Camera #3.
Camera #3 was their close-up, tabletop camera— the stuff I did as a studio photographer but now I’d be using a video camera, live on cable TV. When the host talked about the lovely cubic zirconium earrings that our lovely model was wearing on-set, I had already set up a shot of another pair of earrings on a piece of green velvet that the director could cut to when he needed a change of pace.
At first they thought I was nutty with the way I lit everything. TV shows were all lit from grids on the ceiling, ten, twenty lights clamped to poles and pointed this way and that, but pretty much just flooding the whole studio until it looked like the surface of the sun. When I got there, I asked if they could get me a few of those lights off the ceiling and clamped to floor stands so I could aim the lights at the merchandise from behind the camera and give it shadows and depth.
They reluctantly said yes and I set my table up like the tabletops I used in catalog studios. I think live TV, news shows and such, have started using floor lights. At least it looks that way. So, hey, I was ahead of my time!
I’d get to the studio early, like 7am, with the rest of the crew. I’d drive from the Andersonville apartment I lived in with my wife before we got married. I’d help the crew take the boxes of products out of a locked room and bring them to the studio. I’d look at the run-down and line up what I had to shoot. We went on live at 8. We’d do 5 segments or so every hour, featuring one item up for sale every ten minutes. There were two hosts who did two hours each for four hours on the air. One was a woman they found somewhere and the other one was the producer’s wife, the one with the talk show. The show was over at noon. We’d pack the stuff up and lock it back in the room until the next day. I made 5 dollars an hour.
They didn’t give me very many backgrounds to shoot the watches and earrings and bracelets against. The pieces of velvet got boring pretty quickly. They told me they had no budget to buy any, but they gave me a little bit so I bought some aquarium rocks at a pet store. Mostly I stole what I needed…
If I noticed some cool looking pumice rocks in the drive-thru lanes at McDonald’s, I’d take a few. Pieces of bark in neighbor’s yards looked nice, sand, anything I could pilfer.
One day, the show either lost or got rid of the other woman host (the wife stayed) so they had auditions. Men, woman, at various levels of talent blabbing mindlessly about TV tray tables, or commemorative drinking glasses, musical figurines, all sorts of mediocre junk. A ventriloquist came in with his dummy to do an hour.
I was still doing club gigs with the comedy group at night and mentioned the vacancy at the show. Dan was interested, for some reason, so I got him a tryout.
[It was the first, but not the last time I helped Dan get a job…]
I’ve got to say, Dan did a very good job. He didn’t seem to have too much trouble saying nothing about a cheap piece of merchandise for ten minutes straight. But by this time I saw what the other people did who DIDn’t get the job so I’d slip Dan notes with suggestions when I knew he wasn’t on camera. I tell him: MENTION THE PHONE NUMBER AGAIN. Or make sure you do this or that. I can’t say for sure, but I think that what I did pushed him over the top because he got the job, right on the spot, I think. He made $25. an hour— 5 times what I made…
After they put Dan on, they changed a few more things on the show, too. The producer put himself in as a host who sat on the studio set, drinking coffee and eating donuts in his bathrobe. They also thought it’d be funny if I did a segment as Walter, the Wacky Warehouse Guy (a variation on a “deez-dems-and-doze” character I used to do on stage named Warren Borzello).
Right next to my tabletop set, I piled up a bunch of boxes and stuff to make it look like the corner of a warehouse. I put on a hardhat and flannel shirt I brought from home, sat in a director’s chair, and unpacked an item for the first time, on-air.
They let me say whatever I wanted to, pretty much, about the item. Improv. I knew not to insult the products, but they never told me not to. But they were okay with me saying, as I was featuring, let’s say, an electric hot dog bun warmer, “nothin’ like warm buns…” Wacky stuff like that. I did that character once an hour, in between my normal tabletop duties on Camera #3. I still only made $5 an hour…
I’m trying to remember how that ended…
I stopped working for them after a while. And the show eventually went off the air. But I don’t remember exactly which happened first. I have a feeling I quit and they kept going for a while. I know Dan worked for them for a bit while they “owed him” his weekly paycheck. I know the husband and wife sort of vanished and Dan never got some of the money.
I don’t like answering the phone at home. It’s almost always not for me and it usually means that suddenly there’s something I’ve got to deal with. That happened one day when I was home alone and a call came in. I think it was around Christmas, maybe just after. The caller ID said: “Carson.” That would be Jackie Carson, one of my wife’s friends. I know her, too. We’ve spent many hours at the local public pool, talking in the sun while our kids were off playing together. I figured it’d be safe to answer it. I’d give her a quick: “My wife’s not home, I’ll have her call you when she gets back.”
But she had some news. News that she could just as well tell me and I could pass it along.
She said, “Nancy Baker was in a car accident…” My mind was racing, she said Baker; they live on the next block. One of my kids used to play with their son, Ned. But I kept thinking: why’d I answer the phone? I should’ve let the voicemail pick up. That way my wife could hear whatever Jackie had to say right from Jackie. Yeah, well, too late now. Now, I had to pay attention.
So when Jackie was saying Baker, I kept picturing this other neighbor named Brown. Lisa Brown. They both start with a “B.” The two women are nothing at all alike; you’d never confuse them for sisters or even cousins. But in my racing brain, they were one in the same… I kept seeing Lisa Baker. I had to remember that name so I could get the story right when my wife asked for details.
Jackie had been talking this whole time: “She broke a couple of her vertebrae. The whole family was up in Michigan at a wedding when Ned had an appendicitis attack.”
My brain stopped for a second, paused long enough to hear the name Ned. The Browns didn’t have a son named Ned. In fact, I don’t think they even have a son. She couldn’t be talking about the Browns. Who IS she talking about? Oh, wait! She said Baker! I know the Bakers; they live on the next block! I was still really only half listening while I sorted out this name thing.
“They were rushing him to the hospital when they ran into some black guys, rolled over and ended up upside down in a ditch.”
I wondered what the color of the guys skin had to do with the accident. Jackie wasn’t the racist type. If she was commenting on the color of the guys in the other car, there must be a good reason, I thought, maybe she was going to say they didn’t have insurance. I didn’t know where she was going with this black guys thing. But I tried to focus in again on what she was saying because it must enter into the story someplace.
“The rest of the family’s okay but Nancy’s in intensive care,” Jackie finished. “She’ll probably have to stay in Michigan for a week or so.”
“Well, thanks,” I said. “I’ll tell my wife when she gets home.”
No mention of the guys or why their skin color was so important.
When my wife got home I rushed over to tell her what Jackie had to say about our neighborhood drama. Michigan. Nancy. Black guys. Ned. Intensive care.
“Black guys?” my wife asked.
“That’s what Jackie said: they hit some black guys and flipped over into a ditch.”
“Really, she said black guys?”
My wife got on the phone soon after and called another neighbor to give her the news but she had already heard. Except for the part about the black guys.
So my wife called Jackie to get it straight from her.
“Yeah I heard about Nancy,” I could hear my wife say on our end of the phone. “Broke her vertebrae… But she’s going to be okay? And Walter said they hit a couple of black guys?”
She listened for a second, then yelped.
“Really? Black ICE? They hit some… black… ice…? and skidded off the road? Okay. That makes much more sense… Good thing I didn’t keep spreading that rumor!”
The black guys story was a running joke for maybe a year or two, me at the brunt of it. That’ll teach me to answer the phone.
POST-OP WEEK 38
week of October 19
We had plastic tiles glued all around our bathroom walls when I was growing up. Engrained, mixed into the plastic was a design, I guess you’d call it, little dark swirls to make the plastic look more like marble. I never realized how cheap they were until I was rehabbing the bathroom in our Logan Square apartment and had to chisel their plastic tiles off their wall.
As a kid, though, I kind of liked them. The patterns made little shapes, faces sometimes, each 4x4 inch square its own Rorschach test.
There were a couple tiles high on the wall above the toilet with melted spots here and there. It took me a while to figure out how they got that way. It wasn’t until one evening I saw my dad standing there, drunk, peeing, propping himself on the wall with his left hand (holding a cigar), that I saw him melting those little spots.
The reputation my suburb had, at least when I was growing up, was pretty elite. I’m not sure who gave it that rep, but I had heard it was hard to get a house there— houses there didn’t so much go on the market as suddenly be for sale, then poof! get sold, oh, sorry.
We didn’t have any ethnic groups, that I know of, back when I lived there, except for the Chinese family who lived upstairs from their chop suey restaurant on Harlem Avenue, which was right on the boarder to the East. And that was an apartment.
[Of course, that’s changed. Actually, the way I hear it, they’ve “allowed” other ethnic groups in since my childhood.]
But for all its swagger, my suburb was really a fairly blue collar town. The houses were small, for the most part and all jammed together. (Sure we had a couple Frank Lloyd Wright houses but they were more curiosities than anything else. Nobody that I knew cared about them much. One is tucked away in the foresty section down by the river, so you wouldn’t even know it’s there.)
Our house has this thin, little driveway running right along the house. It’s just wide enough for a modern-day car. One of those over-sized pickups would be a squeeze. There’s about six feet of lawn next to the driveway, then the neighbor’s house next door.
When my dad finally added a half-bath in the basement, he put in an exhaust fan that had a motorized flap that swung up at an angle when you turned it on. The driveway was so tight that people hit it on their way down. Actually, it might’ve been just my dad. My dad also hit the quaint light post that bordered the driveway to the extent that it was noticeably crooked and didn’t light up after a while.
I can’t believe I did this, but one night I was racing to get Dan and Tom (two of the comedy guys) back downtown--- Tom to his train and Dan to his apartment. We ran out of the house, past my little sister Ellen’s car, parked at the bend in the driveway, where it went from one car width to two and up to the garage. We all got in my car, in the garage, and I sped backward, started to make the turn and smashed right into Ellen’s car, you know the one we just walked past, parked at the bend, etc etc etc. Smart.
When my older sister Jayne graduated college, my dad bought her a new car--- a souped-up Ford Torino, a blue version of the Starsky and Hutch car… They parked it on the lawn with a big yellow bow on the roof, just like you see now in Lexus commercials on TV at Christmas. I think The Shop (my dad’s company) bought it, really. We were one of “those” kinds of families, where all the kids had cars. I got a new one when I was in high school and another one when I graduated college, both Fords. Ellen got a new Toyota, I think, or a Mazda? when she graduated high school.
I don’t remember my oldest sister, Sue, ever getting any cars.
[There are parents in my neighborhood who buy new cars for their kids but I’m not one of them. We have three cars now. A 12–year-old minivan (that’s been totaled and pounded back into shape). A 2-year-old Pontiac that we bought used. A Highlander hybrid—that was an extravagance. But for the longest time, we only had the van. It wasn’t until the kids started driving that we started accumulating cars.]
I think it was that party that started us on this “trick.” Whenever someone was blocking our skinny driveway, so a car ahead of them couldn’t get out, instead of asking them to move their car we’d just drive over our lawn, onto the next door neighbor’s driveway and onto the street. I thought it was cool, the neighbors were okay with it, but it was kind of a white trash move, don’t you think?
POST-OP WEEK 39
week of October 26
I went for my follow-up to the pulmonologist to hear the results of the latest CT scan of the cyst in my lung. He said it hadn’t changed since the last CT, six months ago, and the X-rays of it from 1977 or so. We decided in April when I saw him last, that even though most doctors recommend surgery to remove it, since it’s just been sitting there, unchanged, minding its own business for 32 years, it’d be okay to leave it alone.
I asked him, again, about the “disease” that was in the cyst originally, Mycobacterium avium or whatever it’s called. He said it was rare infection to begin with, especially for a teenaged boy. He said usually middle-aged woman get it! (He didn’t say why specifically). He said it doesn’t come from birds as my family’s been telling me since forever (although Wikipedia says otherwise). That even though it’s got “avium” in its name, you don’t catch it from birds. You catch it, he said, from contaminated water. Not necessarily Mississippi River water, like I swam in when I was that age. It could just be improperly filtered city water.
Anyway, it’s odd and unusual and par for the course with me, I guess.
It must’ve been the spring of my sophomore year that I started going out with Judy. She was, if you’re counting, my third girlfriend.
[I wouldn’t’ve said I had a lot of girlfriends in my life, if you asked me. I’d say that I hadn’t had many at all, that I was fairly “dateless” and spent long spans of time unattached or alone. But, I’ve got a kid in college, who only two months ago had her first boyfriend--- and that only lasted a month or so when he broke up with her. And my high school junior has gone to a couple of dances with girls, but that’s about it, as far as I know. So, maybe, by comparison, I was quite the lady’s man.]
[And doing the math I’m seeing that I was only 15 when I started all this. That seems awfully young, looking at it through my “dad lens,” in hindsight. My daughter was kind of “hanging out” with a crowd that “dated” back in 7th and 8th grade— maybe they don’t exactly date, these days, I don’t know, maybe they just hook up —and we put the kibosh on it right away because we thought she was too young (okay, she was 13 or 14). Hm.]
I don’t remember too much about Judy. She about average height for a girl, dark hair, I think her family was Italian. She was a grade younger then me and lived in one of the older houses in our suburb, across the street from my old grade school.
This was before I could drive, of course, so I’d ride my ten-speed over to her house and we’d just hang out. We’d take walks around the grade school in the rain, like a sad movie, while I’d lament how my parents didn’t understand me. A lot of kids think that, I know, but in my case I think I was right. I don’t think they ever really did.
I remember Judy and I actually went somewhere once. For some reason, we went on a “road rally,” I guess it was called, with my sister Jayne and her husband. I don’t know how we ended up in the back seat of their car while the four of us tried to follow clues and drove places to find things. Yeah, whatever. Like a scavenger hunt only in a moving vehicle. I don’t think I asked them to drive us around. They must’ve asked us. Judy “had some words” with my brother-in-law, as I recall. And I’m pretty sure he deserved them. He told me later that he never liked her.
Judy and I only lasted a few weeks, I think, when she broke up with me. “It’s not cool anymore,” is what she told me. I remember, even back then, that it was a weird thing to say. Actually, I thought it was funny.
diary continues in November 2009...