Jotting down life

I’ve been journaling since 1994, and the unrelieved banality of my journals not only disappoints me, it lances me, makes me realize how crushingly uneventful, how downright nondescript, my life has mostly been. 

Or has it?

Of course there are highs and lows recorded in the reams of pages I clutch and possess with paternal jealousy, some on paper, such as Moleskin notebooks, but most in digital files stored on my well-backed-up laptop. 

That much verbiage can’t be all bad, and some of it, I humbly admit, is pretty all right. I’ve lived loudly. I’ve loved amply. I’ve travelled widely. I’ve won awards. I engage my myriad interests. And my friends and family are tops.

Rereading some old entries has triggered surprise and delight at a deft phrase, a funny observation, a jolting memory, or a nostalgic or sentimental rush. And none of it is performative; it’s for me and me only.

I have perused past journals raptly, and felt a strange exhaustion afterward, as if the words exhilarated me, hauling me through a woozy time-warp. Like: getting violently ill twice in Thailand in ’95; the great break-up of ’01; being shortlisted for a Pulitzer in ’06; Mom’s death in ’19; Dad’s passing the following year; and so much more.

I’ve done a decent job filling life’s canvas and, with equal fervor, filling pages about it all. This is starting to sound like a valediction, like I’m in hospice or something. That’s hardly the case. I’m merely musing, and that’s what journaling is about — navel-gazing, woolgathering, reflection and introspection. It’s capturing the milestones and the millstones, the highlights and the lowlights.

Almost always it’s simple recording, dull, everyday stenography. Like this I typed yesterday: “I lie in bed, trying to wrest another hour or so of sleep from the morning, and all it amounts to is tossing and turning and amplified anxiety, ugly thoughts and visions. It is torture.”

It can be dark, indulgent, meaningless, like the above. Even so, getting it down is the heart of the process. Journaling is purging, an irrigation of the brain and pipes of the soul. If lucky, it provides fuel for future scribblings. 

Some of my journals, printed and bound

A famous writer says to “mine your journals” for essay and blog material, something I’ve taken to heart. Dreary daily bulletins can be spun into content, stories, little narratives. Sometimes they are inspired, like gold; other times (too often), they’re gruel. 

So now when I return to this post’s opening graph, I think it’s all wrong. My journals aren’t reserves of the uneventful and the nondescript — the banality of drivel — but contain just enough substance of a full life. 

I’m no journaling master. And I obviously haven’t mastered this life thing. Last week in the airport, on the way to Scotland, I did some journaling. I’ve plucked a snippet from that entry, a sentiment that holds true for that trip, for writing, and for life as a whole:

“I still don’t know what in the hell I’m doing. I really don’t.”

Scotland: heat, history and, yes, haggis

It was 65 degrees F and the Scots were on fire. Summer’s here, the locals kept blissfully declaring, as they peeled off jackets and dabbed beading brows and dipped into pubs for emergency pints, as if they were dangerously parched from the sizzling rays of a vengeful sun.

This was comical to me, who was strolling about in long sleeves and a quilted black jacket and feeling just right in the rare Scottish weather event called “sunshine.” A cool breeze mussed your hair and creeping cloud cover furnished a periodic chill. 

Not so for the delightful natives I encountered in Edinburgh and Glasgow last week, where miles of pale flesh — as pasty and pink as a baby’s — almost required Ray-Bans.


Part of why I went to Scotland for my biannual travels was for the cooler late-spring weather (it’s going to be 90 in my parts this week — disgusting). And so watching the denizens get in a happy lather when temps broke the 60s amused me a bit (a “wee bit,” to borrow the local vocabulary).

Scotland was a lovely surprise (“lovely” being another highly trafficked descriptive). Why Scotland?, even the locals asked me. Dunno. Been around the world a couple times, looking for someplace new — and climatically cool — and my research convinced me it holds sights and treasures and, yes, food, worth checking out. 

Food? That’s the big punchline with Scotland. I’ve written about it here before, and when I texted a friend I was there, she wrote back sarcastically, “Enjoy the great food” with a dubious emoji. 

But first, the big national rivalry: Edinburgh vs. Glasgow. Who wins? No brainer. Glasgow can use the excuse that Edinburgh is too touristy. But there’s a reason for that: It kills Glasgow, a big, homely city with a few historical sights and other feeble points of interest (hey, here’s a university and over there’s a giant mural).

Meanwhile, Edinburgh is encrusted in history, flush with medieval flavor, cobblestone, and an attractive village vibe, especially as the country’s capital. The ancient Castle is there, sure, but the city’s overriding character stomps the generic urban tang of Glasgow. Yeah, I said it.

Royal Mile, Edinburgh

Scottish pub culture is familiar to all of the UK, and much of its food is delicious. But dig deeper, beyond the burgers, fish and chips, Eggs Benedict and bangers and mash, and a quality bounty awaits. Like Cullen skink, a thick, fantastically savory soup of cream, smoked haddock, onions and hearty potato chunks that I had at a pub before (one of many) whisky tastings. 

Here’s some of the rest:

Scottish Eggs: eggs wrapped in sausage, breaded and fried
Lamb shank atop mashed potatoes in wine and onion gravy
Potatoes, with haggis on the right (sheep & beef guts with oats — fantastic)
Hake fish with potatoes and baby asparagus
Fresh peas and scallops
Cod wrapped in pork, with poached egg at right

And for dessert:

The charming, super-historic Grassmarket, where I stayed in Edinburgh

And, of course, a fragrant flight of whisky at one of several mandatory tastings:

To that last one I say, Slàinte Mhath!, or Slanj-a-va, meaning ‘cheers’ in Scottish.

Pissed off

There I was, in third grade, using the urinal in the school bathroom, wearing a brand-new t-shirt emblazoned with mutant-monster football players growling and slobbering on the field (I’m not sure why; I didn’t even like football), and a kid named Tom Rainbolt stood directly behind me, yanked down his pants, and soaked my backside with a hot stream of pee. 

It was as disgusting and logic-defying (and, years later, funny) as it sounds, especially since Tom and I were cordial, practically friends. In shock, and suddenly wet and warm, I bawled and ran to the playground and flagged down a so-called yard duty — a volunteer adult supervisor with a whistle around her neck — and spewed between tears, “Tom pissed on me!” Yard duty: “He spit on you?” Me: “No, he pissed on me!”

Chaos. Kids circling around, the shaken yard duty escorting me to the principal’s office while seeking Rainbolt in the scrum of gasping, giggling children. He was easily detained, like he didn’t even try to slip out. Was I embarrassed? No. Traumatized. 

I was cleaned up and given a used, undersized kindergartener’s t-shirt to wear, which I concealed with a windbreaker zipped to the neckline. Rainbolt was busted, sent home, though I can’t recall what his full punishment was. I wish I did, that sonofabitch. 

What was he thinking? He wasn’t thinking. Kids do exceedingly stupid things, and I did my share. Frog torture, doorbell ditch, dog poop dumped on front porches, tossing shotgun shells into fires, trying to lure a friend into a subterranean booby trap and bury her alive (a very poorly thought-out ruse) — all of this was done in grade-school, and that’s only part of it. 

And yet I’ve never gotten into a physical fight with someone, ever — though I should have clocked Rainbolt. And, except for that doomed frog, I’ve never engaged in animal abuse (unless you count me boiling some Sea-Monkeys).

“Boys will be boys,” they say with a smirk and a shrug. I call bullshit. Boys will be monsters — I’m sure girls will too — peeing on each other, picking on each other, normalizing violence, torturing kittens, setting fires, stealing, vandalizing. I’m generalizing — not all kids are little bastards, and most might even be angels — but empirical evidence tells me boys are drawn to trouble, only reeled in by good breeding and good sense, and maybe a slap on the wrist by Pops or the cops.

And so my little fable ends here — all of it true — with this moral: Boys, always check behind you when you plant yourself at the urinal. You never know who’s going to hose you. I can laugh about it, and I almost forgive Tom Rainbolt his puerile shenanigan, his repellent stunt, which was probably just an experiment to see how far he could spray. The more I think about it, I almost empathize with the little jerk. Boys, after all, will be boys. Those monsters.

Scottish cuisine — really?

So I was walking around the hood recently and I spotted a squirrel in the road squished like a jelly donut. It was gruesome and sad and got me thinking about mortality, careless drivers, blameless rodents and, yes, Italian food. 

I envisioned the shockingly good meals I ate last year in Rome and Naples: pizza margherita, caprese salad, pasta carbonara, ravioli, gelato, etc. And that led to thoughts about the kinds of food I might eat on my upcoming journey to Scotland. 

This was tricky, because I don’t really know what native Scottish fare is, except for the shuddering national dish haggis, dubiously defined as “a pudding composed of the liver, heart and lungs of a sheep, mixed with beef or mutton kidneys and oatmeal and seasoned with spices, which is packed into a sheep’s stomach and boiled.” 

Suddenly, I see that pulverized squirrel.

This is a job for some A.I., I mused, too lazy to grab my Scotland guide books. So I asked ChatGPT to spit up some famous Scottish dishes and it gave me haggis (#1), smoked salmon, porridge (!), black pudding (sausage made with pig’s blood) and other grub that doesn’t sound wildly appetizing on paper, but rather Dickensian.

That said, I’ve made reservations at seven restaurants in Edinburgh and Glasgow that seem delicious, and almost all of them boast Scottish cuisine (the exception is an Indian joint that looks otherworldly). I’m particularly amped about Makars Gourmet Mash Bar in Edinburgh, which merrily touts affordable farm-to-table dishes featuring lots of mashed potatoes and scads of fresh meats and veggies. Bangers and mash? Um, yeah. 

I was watching “Top Chef” the other night and the show’s deceptively sweet host Padma Lakshmi — she of the cutting parting words, “Please, pack your knives and go” — reminded me how food is of paramount consideration when choosing where to travel. I go partly for the local cuisine, be it sushi and takoyaki (octopus balls) in Japan or jamón ibérico and patatas bravas in Spain (or, gulp, haggis in Scotland).  

This trip is different. Despite my A.I. research, nothing but the cursed haggis stands out, and yet the menus at my reserved restaurants are thoroughly enticing. A quasi-foodie — sort of a Foodie, Jr. — I’m all about adventuresome eating, be it silkworm cocoons in China or that whole cobra in Vietnam I’ve mentioned here a thousand times. Will I try haggis? Maybe. Yet I don’t want to order an offal-filled sheep’s stomach only to gag on the first bite and then where will I be? Embarrassed and out 20 bucks. 

I rarely strike out in my gastronomical exploits — OK, the silkworm cocoons were disgusting — so anxiety is low. I bet I can do haggis. Right? After all, it really isn’t like it’s roadkill or something. 

Damn. That poor, pitiful little squirrel. 

Haggis. There you have it.

How ‘Jaws’ ate me alive

Today was a two-errand day. I was picking up a modern classic potboiler at the library — the one about a ginormous great white shark that terrorizes the bejesus out of a New England beach town — and I was getting my periodic pedicure at the salon. I dubbed the day “ ‘Jaws’ and claws” to amuse myself. (Mission accomplished.)

The book I got really is “Jaws,” Peter Benchley’s 1974 blockbuster that spawned Spielberg’s famous film and a million petrified beachgoers around the world. As a kid, I lived in beachy Santa Barbara when both were released, and I fantasized about flesh-shredding teeth and ominous dorsal fins to unhealthy degrees. It terrified me, and I loved it. 

First I worshipped the movie, which I saw at age 7, then I snatched my parents’ mass market paperback of Benchley’s novel and gobbled it up at age 8. I savored those pages, slashing with vivid, violent writing that helped turn me onto reading for a lifetime. 

I still own that cracked, yellowed paperback, but it’s packed away with other mementos. So, on a whim, I hit the library up for its copy. I quickly located some of my favorite passages, ones that haunted — and excited — me as a young reader.

Just like my own copy

Can you handle it? This horrifying scene is from the opening of the book, when a young woman — recall her from the movie — takes a skinny-dip in the moon-dappled ocean. 

“The fish smelled her now, and the vibrations — erratic and sharp — signaled distress. The fish began to circle close to the surface. Its dorsal fin broke water, and its tail, thrashing back and forth, cut the glassy surface with a hiss. …

“At first, the woman thought she had snagged her leg on a rock or a piece of floating wood. There was no initial pain, only one violent tug on her right leg. She reached down to touch her foot, treading water with her left leg to keep her head up, feeling in the blackness with her left hand.  

“She could not find her foot. She reached higher on her leg. Her groping fingers found a nub of bone and tattered flesh. She knew that the warm, pulsing flow over her fingers in the chill water was her own blood. Pain and panic struck together. The woman threw her head back and screamed a guttural cry of terror.

“This time the fish attacked from below. It hurtled up under the woman, jaws agape. The great conical head struck her like a locomotive, knocking her up out of the water. The jaws snapped shut around her torso, crushing bones and flesh and organs into a jelly.” 

Now, as a young boy, this was about as stupendously visceral as prose could get. (And I omitted the rest of the violence for reasons of taste and space.) “A nub of bone and tattered flesh” — I reread that line over and over, shocked, thrilled, gobsmacked. 

Even today, these opening pages stun. Getting the book at the library, I was hoping Benchley’s eloquence would strike me again, and it did. That’s why I shared some here. 

Call him a hack or a mercenary, but you’d be wrong. Benchley’s a savvy craftsman, expert at tension and thrills, not to mention a vibrant stylist with a painterly (think Francis Bacon) flair. His humans, from Quint to Brody, pop off the page even if the world he confects for them occasionally brushes pulp.

I’m not going to reread the entire novel, which is remarkably short at 278 pages, but it was fun revisiting a book that so influenced my cultural life.

Why “Jaws,” why now? Well, I’m reading an excellent new book about the history of Hollywood and the Academy Awards called “Oscar Wars,” and I’m deep in the chapter focusing on the making of “Jaws” (as well as “Barry Lyndon,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Nashville” — 1975 was a hell of a year in American film.)

The lore is notorious: Making the movie “Jaws” was a prolonged ordeal and near-disaster for all involved, including a 26-year-old Steven Spielberg, who was sure his nascent career was finished. We know how that turned out.

If the movie “Jaws” remains one of my all-time favorites — in a crowded field that includes “Heat,” “All About Eve,” “Sweet Smell of Success,” “Manhattan,” “City Lights,” “Seven Samurai,” “Duck Soup” and on and on — the novel “Jaws” is more of a sentimental gem. It’s dear to my heart for reasons that go beyond art. On a nostalgic level, it has — yes, I’ll say it — sunk its teeth in me. And it won’t let go.

The reluctant bachelor

In my 30s, a pair of well-meaning coworkers nominated me for a title in a big-city glossy magazine that makes me blush even as I type this so many years later. 

The magazine was a strenuously vapid thing, slathered in food and lifestyle pap, all of it mawkishly upbeat. To attract page after Technicolor page of blaring ad copy, it was shamelessly obsessed with ratings and lists: Best Barbecue! Best Campsites! Best Burgers! Best Places to Get Off!

City magazines with ample ad revenue are like that. They traffic in pretty pictures of manicured affluence, catering to the beauty-salon and doctor’s office crowds. Without being trendy themselves — they are woefully unhip —  they try to manufacture trends. Only dingbats actually pay money for the periodical, which is so cloying, you could barf. 

That said, I admit up front that I participated in this paragon of sub-journalism. My coworkers nominated me for one of those knuckleheaded lists: the city’s Most Eligible Bachelors. I was flattered. I was humbled. I was mortified.

The magazine editor phoned me for a preliminary interview. And I blurted: no. I rejected the nomination. It was way out of my comfort zone. I wasn’t so desperate for a date. And this introvert definitely didn’t need the exposure, my bewildered mug spread next to an ad for the hottest tanning salon or 40 sparkly, smiley real estate agents.

I thanked my deflated pod-mates, the lovely Sarah and Sharon, and also apologized. I was being ungracious, but I didn’t have the stomach for it. 

My dis was apparently a big deal. Friends expressed dismay. My disappointed mother scolded me like I was eight. The topper: Ira Glass of “This American Life” called for a possible segment — man turns down most eligible bachelor nomination, how zany is that? — that, fortunately, never panned out. 

And yet, I’m only human.  

Forward a year: Same routine, but this time, for better or worse, I caved. I did it. I’m not sure why. I was strafed by anxiety. But I thought, what the hell, man up. 

During the in-office interview with the editor, I explained my job (movie critic, which I said wasn’t nearly as glamorous as it’s cracked up to be), noted my hobbies (world travel, books, film, drinks, drums), and things I’m not so crazy about (dancing, reggae). Asked the inevitable question of what I look for in a woman (sigh), I said something like someone bookish, worldly and intellectually curious (what a dope).

This is the story of someone quite bashful scraping himself out of his dark, lonesome shell. A comment the editor solicited for the article from one of my dearest friends, Courtney, included these bits: “His eccentricities are very endearing … Once he lets you in, you discover a kind-hearted soul.”

Yeah. That might be a bit much. But there I was in this glossy magazine with nine other “most eligible bachelors,” practically shaking in my boots with self-consciousness. Each of us filled a full color page, with no ads. In the photo, my head is enormous.

The issue hit the stands (and the beauty salons and doctors’ offices) and I braced for the worst. But instead: crickets. No one called, emailed, berated me, ridiculed me, asked me on a date, nothing. Disappointment? No, massive relief. 

I guess the moral of this tale is to get out of your self-defined — and in my case, distinctly neurotic — safe zones and take a chance on something new, even alien. I ate a whole cobra in Vietnam and got detained by Hezbollah in Beirut. A cheesy little spread in a city magazine is comparably nothing. Really. Nothing.  

Take a risk. It might be gut-wrenching. It might be exhilarating. Or it might be … crickets. 

Farewell, Fido

“I don’t want to be buried in a pet sematary/I don’t want to live my life again!”

“Pet Sematary,” the Ramones 

I once had a pet rat named Becky. After two and a half years of feisty play and impish scampering, tug of wars and belly tickles, she got terminal cancer and I had to put her down. I placed her remains in a decorated wooden box, dug a hole in the hard Texas dirt, and buried her in my backyard.

I repeated this ritual with three other pet rats — Phoebe, Tammy, LaShonda — and it shattered me every time. My yard became a veritable pet cemetery, a rodent resting place, and each grave should have cautioned me: Never again. I didn’t learn.

I also buried a blue betta fish named Alvy in the ad hoc graveyard. He thrived for four swishing years in a big sparkling bowl. I nestled the old man in a matchbox and set him in the ground, saluting him for his gratifying longevity. I miss the fish.

If you care one lick, laying your pet to rest is undiluted trauma. The platitude holds: pets are family, loving and adored, like hairy children who only live to their teens, if that. So integral are they to our lives, you swear they speak English and read minds. (I’m convinced Cubby the dog is really a tiny man in a dog suit. I keep looking for a zipper.) 

And so we honor them in death as in life, with a sentimental flourish and teary respect. Or at least we do in the modern age. There was a time when “people disposed of their dead pets in the river, or might have sold their bodies for meat and skin,” notes a CNN essayist. I know of modern folks subjecting their late Spots and Trixies to taxidermy, which is not only creepy, it’s selfish and disrespectful and twisted. 

Burial and cremation are popular send-offs. Barcelona, Spain, is set to open its first pet cemetery next year, with plans to carry out 7,000 animal cremations a year. Why? “Constant public demand,” they say. Barcelona is home to 180,000 dogs alone. Surely there’s just as many cats. (Rats? I bet.)

In 1983, Stephen King published the popular horror novel “Pet Sematary” about some macabre happenings surrounding a buried cat that is resurrected, or some such nonsense. The book spawned a 1989 movie (with “cemetery” also intentionally misspelled for plot purposes), which featured a cat-chy theme song by the Ramones.

The book and film helped spread the idea of the pet cemetery. And yet pet cemeteries are not some freaky esoteric brainchild of ghoul-meister King. There’s one in London’s Hyde Park, founded in 1881. New York’s legendary Hartsdale pet cemetery was founded in 1896, followed by Paris’ Cimetière des Chiens in 1899. 

About a hundred years later, I founded my own pet cemetery, at age 6, in my family’s pretty and serene Japanese-style garden in Santa Barbara. (This preceded the rat resting place by decades.) Surrounded by bamboo, moss and a statuary fountain, the graveyard contained goldfish, salamanders and other mostly water-bound critters. I’ve been at this a while.

On film, celebrated director Errol Morris made his debut with the acclaimed 1978 documentary “Gates of Heaven,” about the pet cemetery business and the souls who rely on it. It’s alive with vivid characters who are wrenchingly emotional about their dearly departed four-leggers.

Critic Roger Ebert, who named the film one of his 10 all-time favorites, wrote about “the woman who speaks of her dead pet and says, ‘There’s your dog, and your dog’s dead. But there has to be something that made it move. Isn’t there?’ 

“In those words,” Ebert writes, “is the central question of every religion.”

That pretty much says it all.

Becky the rat, at play.
Becky at rest.

Best. Teacher. Ever.

Reading the short bubbly novel “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” by Muriel Spark, I’m reminded of my own most extraordinary high school teacher back in California so many years ago. 

In the book, Miss Brodie is a 30-ish instructor of teenage girls in Edinburgh, Scotland, with unorthodox teaching ways that fellow teachers sniff at as “experimental methods.” Weeding out her sharpest pupils from the dolts, Miss Brodie selects six girls to be “the crème de la crème” — the Brodie set.

“Determined to instill in them independence, passion, and ambition, Miss Brodie advises her girls, ‘Safety does not come first. Goodness, Truth, and Beauty come first. Follow me.’”

Miss Brodie goes on: “Art and religion first; then philosophy; lastly science. That is the order of the great subjects of life, that’s their order of importance”

At that, memories tumble forth of how my junior year English teacher, Mrs. Lisa Condon, laser-focused on art, literature, theater, poetry and all things high culture. And how she quietly cherry-picked certain students to be her, for lack of a better word, pets — the Condon set. She knew who would soar amid her unconventional efforts and those who would muddle through a fog of half-assed disinterest.

I went to an unremarkable high school in the flush suburbs of the East Bay near San Francisco, notable for its cloying rah-rah school spirit (Go Wolves!) and outstanding mediocrity, from academics to sports (Go Wolves?). The place sort of asphyxiated your teenage soul.

But there were exceptions in the form of a few teachers — colorful, charismatic, quirky characters who jumpstarted their subjects to phosphoric life. They’d challenge with an uncompromising affection for the material and the students. To name a few, there was Mr. Church, Mr. Weigardt, Mr. Nelson and, above all, the fearsome Mrs. Condon.

Mrs. Condon — always in flowing floral skirts, straight brown hair down her back, peasant blouses, no makeup — was soft but a fierce taskmaster. She could scare the snot-nosed adolescence out of you and make you a college-poised pupil in the first couple weeks of class. Each week we had to write a long essay. They took me five hours, every time. For midterms, we had to memorize the verbatim definitions of 125 vocabulary words.

Mrs. Condon was no martinet. She was warm and human, if tightly wound. She hewed to principle. She knew how things should be done and expected us to follow. There was little room for compromise. At 32, she was in her prime. 

On that crummy campus, her room was an oasis of art, civilization, rules and manners. She was dedicated to culturing us, wiping the philistine smirks off our faces, getting the gears in our sex-addled heads whirring. We studied Picasso, Dalí, Blake, Hemingway, Van Gogh, Dante, DeKooning, even lyrics by Iron Maiden and Pink Floyd. There was so much more. My head exploded. (She later added classical music to her syllabus. I would have killed for that. She would have broken down and cracked open the glories of Beethoven and Mahler with passion and ferocious intelligence and her students would weep.)

And woe to those who didn’t keep up. Mrs. Condon kicked out a jock when he couldn’t identify the ongoing famine in Ethiopia (he was back in class the next day), and ejected a cheerleader for cheating on the weekly vocabulary test (she never returned).

An unreconstructed Berkeley free-spirit, she maintained a rebellious streak — a “Question Authority” bumper sticker was posted by her desk for all to see and ponder — and actually told me what teachers to avoid or enroll with.

Mrs. Condon was a force. None of my college professors grazed her instructional power. Working at my second newspaper job in my mid-20s, I wrote her a note to thank her for the cultural exposure, no matter how demanding, that she instilled in me. She wrote me back, warmly pleased I was still writing. 

A couple years before that, while in college, I ran into Mrs. Condon at a San Francisco Ballet production of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” It was an awkward reunion, clumsy and blushing and impromptu and all, but nice nonetheless. I can only think she chalked up my attendance as a small triumph. I hope so. 

“What were the main influences of your school days? Were they literary, political, or personal?” a character asks one of the Brodie set in the novel.

The girl responds: “There was a Miss Jean Brodie in her prime.”

I’d say the same, but in my version: “There was a Mrs. Lisa Condon in her prime.”

Dodged a bullet — for now

Health scares have a sly way of wrecking your day, your week, even your month. 

Say you’re awaiting test results, as I was this past week. Each day you wait to hear from the doctor is a kind of water torture, drip drip drip, as you check your phone and email every hour, every minute, to see what the verdict is: Am I sick, or in the clear? It’s aggravating. It’s terrifying.

For six days I’ve been lightheaded, my heart’s been racing, my stomach’s a mess, and I’ve been socked with depression and free-floating angst. I’ve been great fun to be around. Even the dog’s avoiding me.

Last Wednesday, I underwent a pretty invasive procedure to test for a pretty pernicious malady, and it took the doctor till today, Tuesday, to get back to me with results. I’ve been walking around like an anxiety-racked zombie for almost a week. 

At 1 p.m. local time, the goddam doctor called with the report: “Good news,” he said, in a semi-chipper tone. Let’s just keep an eye on it for now, he went on, come to my office for a quick chat, then go ahead with your May trip to Scotland. (Actually, he has no idea about Scotland. I just added that for cheery effect.)

Jesus Christ. I exhaled the breath I’d been holding for 144 hours and made him repeat the words “good news.” I see him Thursday. I may hug him, or bring him an ice cream cone.

The body bites. Its chances of betraying you — indeed, attacking you — are about 98.9 percent. We’re not all doomed, unless you consider dying doomed. But not all of us will be struck with dementia, MS, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s, you name it. Some will croak in their sleep; some will get smooshed by a speeding autopilot Tesla. 

We live on borrowed time, and I apologize for the gloom (and the cliché). For now, though, it’s good, or at least steady, news for many of us. Rejoice. I am — well, as best as this born pessimist can. I get encouraging news, cheer, then fall back into the abyss of: What does it all mean?

Enough. Bullet dodged. For now. Let’s party.