Diagnosis, part 1

Yesterday, I had both an endoscopy and an colonoscopy. I will spare you the details of the lead-up and prep.

I woke after the procedure very confused by the nurse who urgently wanted me to relinquish the bed I was occupying. Since the recent blizzard and the resulting bad traffic, the clinic was running behind and open beds were at a premium, as they needed to catch up on the backlog of late arrivals. If you ask me, the scope rooms are sort of a slap-em-and-dash-em kind of an affair anyways. After all, after a certain age, we all need the scope, so it’s a problem of scale. But yesterday was more hectic for them than usual, I’m sure.

The nurse handed me two discharge reports and my coat, and told me that it will take two weeks for the results of the biopsies, and that I’ll need to come back for another colonoscopic appointment. That’s pretty much all my brain could handle – nothing else she told me registered, other than “get dressed.”

The results, working from the top down:

The endoscope showed that I have Barrett’s esophagus, and apparently a hiatus hernia. The doctor took a biopsy, and I will hear from him in 2 weeks. Meanwhile, some pertinent facts and treatment indications stand out:

  • There is no treatment to reverse Barrett’s Esophagus.
  • Refrain from eating three hours before bedtime.
  • Avoid alcohol and nicotine.
  • Reduce intake of fatty foods, milk, chocolate, mints, caffeine, carbonated drinks, citrus fruits and juices, tomato products, peppers, seasoning and alcohol (again) – especially red wine.
  • Reduce meal size.
  • Raise the head of my head 6-8 inches. Pillows alone are not helpful.
  • Weight reduction.

Here are a few other bits of information culled from the internet that give me pause:

The medical significance of Barrett esophagus is its strong association with esophageal adenocarcinoma, a particularly lethal cancer. Barrett esophagus is a premalignant condition. It seems from my reading that 0.5 % of people diagnosed with Barrett’s Esophagus develop adenocarcinoma. Still, it’s enough of a fact to provoke some anxiety.

I will wait the two weeks and see which category my cells fall in to: non-dysplastic, low-grade dysplasia, high-grade dysplasia, or frank carcinoma. Anything other than non-dysplastic will require further intervention.


Colonoscopy findings were: colon polyps, lipoma, and diverticulosis. Biopsy samples were taken, and I should have the results in 2 weeks.

I looked up lipoma, and it seems to be pretty much a benign growth, if it’s small enough. The question I need to ask my doctor is: how big was it? If it was over 4 cm in size (a “giant lipoma”) I might need a section to remove it.

The treatment for diverticular disease is to increase fiber in my diet and get more exercise. According to the handy chart in my orders, I am to seek 30 grams of fiber daily. Suggested sources:

  • Cereals: they don’t mean Frosted Flakes. They mean All-Bran Extra Fiber – one cup of which would net me the whole 30 grams. Oat bran. Wheat germ. Etc.
  • Fruits: pear, blueberry, fig, prune, apple, strawberry, banana, orange, peach are listed – but I should avoid orange because of the Barrett’s.
  • Veg: corn, green peas, carrots, potato WITH SKIN (thank you, thank you!!!), aparagus, broccoli, green beans, cabbage, spinach, lettuce, raw cucumber
  • Legumes: beans, peas, lentils
  • Grains: barley, bulgur, brown rice, couscous, pasta – and I’m guessing I can have quinoa too.
  • Breads: basically answer “whole wheat” anytime I’m asked.
    1. The scary part about all of this is waiting two weeks to hear if they’ve found anything nasty in the biopsies.

      I’ve been hearing pretty much this same advice for the last few times I’ve been to the doctor: cut down on the fats, ramp up on the fiber, get more exercise. It’s been hard this last year, I’ve been very indulgent and careless in the way I’ve been eating since Simone died, not paying any heed to the warnings. I’ve put on weight when I should have been taking it off. I’ve been allowing myself to backslide, telling myself that my grief was a good reason to eat crap food and drink more alcohol than I should.

      Time to get back on the right track.

This one’s a gem.

Found online, while doing research.

“Continuous productivity improvements allow us to differentiate on the basis of superior quality at market competitive prices without sacrificing our ability to achieve our profit goals.”

I read that three, maybe four times. Here’s my translation:

“Because we make our stuff better all the time, we stand out because our better stuff is better and cheaper than other folk’s stuff – and we make money off it.”

Let me ask you a question. How many times a day do you allow yourself to differentiate – I mean you, personally?

As in, “I allowed myself to differentiate while brushing my teeth this morning.”

Or, “Sorry, I can’t answer my phone right now. I’m differentiating. But your call is important to me, and my altered or modified self will get back to you as soon as I can.”

The bone I’m picking here is that I never considered differentiation to be reflexive.

Silly me.


It was fifty years ago today that John F. Kennedy won the presidential election in 1960.

NPR played a sound clip of JFK speaking at the Garden on election eve. It took my breath away – the man was hot. Every word, uttered with pure conviction, intelligent thought behind each syllable: “All the criticisms that are leveled at presidential campaigns in my judgment fade away against the knowledge which a potential President may have of the strength of this society of ours and our people.”

I’m not a JFK groupie, by any means. I don’t have any of his speeches memorized, I don’t hold him up as a yardstick to any other president living or dead. Mr. Kennedy was human, as we all are. He was not perfect, he is not the model by which all presidents should be judged.

He was a father figure to me, especially after my dad vacated the premises. I was three years old when he was elected, and six when he was shot and killed. My dad died in New York City barely two weeks after JFK’s life was taken.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about my childhood in Ohio. It was filled with spacemen and the Beatles and secret agents and baseball heroes and scary movies on Saturday. Fall weather seems to activate these memories. Back in those days, folks would rake their leaves into a pile in their back yards and burn them. The smell of smoldering leaves transports me to the Ohio of fifty years ago instantly.

I reckon that JFK is a a grainy, black-and-white film in the imaginations of my children. I wonder if they can picture little blond-haired five-year-old me watching him speak on television.

What yardstick has my generation left for its young?

Stating the obvious

I spent the day doing nothing.

(Oh, I’m sorry – maybe that should have been a tweet?)

I’m feeling these days that blogs are as dead as Flash, but recently I saw a tweet heralding the decline of Twitter. All things must pass, I guess.

But in the throes of my nothing-doing today, I spent a good amount of time practicing finger-pickin’. See, I never learned finger-style when I was growing up and spending all my free time jamming out to my Clapton, Hendrix, Who and Zappa records. (Yes, records.) I didn’t invest any time in learning how to finger pick like James Taylor or Paul Simon or Leo Kottke or John Fahey or Jorma Kaukonen or… well the list goes on and on.

Note to the young: don’t put off learning how to finger pick, just because you think it’s hard. Or lame. Or “not your style”. You’ll thank me later. Um, unless you don’t actually play guitar at all, in which case you won’t. Thank me later, I mean.

Part of my problem I guess was not having a mentor or coach or someone to point me in the right direction. In the spirit of “it’s never too late”, I have undertaken to get at least some rudimentary chops together. It has been hard work, and my fossilized brain seems to work against me all the time. But here’s a link to my virtual coach Mark Hanson, who stops through perennially to give a concert at TPCUU. He has totally got The Stuff, and he’s written several books and produced several DVDs that will help you get on your way, too.

Because I think it might make a difference somehow, I wrote down a 6/8 pattern I was working on today – just so Mr. Grey Matter wouldn’t forget. (But – will I remember to look HERE for it when I need this information next?)

6/8 fingerstyle pattern

I confess – I have always had a problem with paper management. I still do. My apartment has little hoard stashes of piles of paper that need to be gone through and tossed into the recycle – or shredded before being tossed into the recycle. Well, maybe I’ll shred a handful or two tomorrow – between guitar breaks – before I go back to work on Monday.

Feels good to have a day off.

Say goodbye to Michael for me

When I was growing up, I often heard the maxim that “nobody can forget where they were when they learned that JFK had been shot.”

I was on Twitter when I learned that Michael Jackson had passed. Not quite sure, but I think I was at work in Cambridge. When you’re in Twitterspace, do your surroundings matter?

I turned to my pal Cutler and told him that news was breaking that MJ had suffered a heart attack.

“That guy’s living on borrowed time,” he offered.

“That guy’s living on borrowed cash,” I countered.

My dear friend NPR was filled with soundbites about today’s memorial service. I heard the Reverend Al Sharpton’s heavy, rhythmic tones, his howl that we should focus on the artist, the love. I heard a woman saying that she’s sending her kids to the memorial service because “this is what music is about”.

Well, if you had a pulse in the last 30 years (and knew it), your life was touched by MJ one way or another.

Personally, my life was touched by Quincy Jones more than by MJ – but I’m the type of guy that listens to the bass lines and horn parts BEFORE ever listening to the lyrics. There are dozens of pop songs from the sixties and seventies that I can sing all the orchestrations of, but i barely know any words other than the lyrics in the hook.

Same with MJ. Take, “Rock With You”, which, counter to one pundit’s opinion I heard during the last week’s media hysteria, is most definitely “baby making music”. It opens with a classy, lonely Moogy-sounding synthesizer and builds to a real-live-string-section disco gesture all in the first eight bars. In the hook, there’s a flugelhorn – flugelhorn, mind you – counter line that puts the right touch of mascara on the eyebrows on the song. I could listen to that track over and over – if it weren’t for MJ’s singing.

Yes, I will commit the ultimate heresy and tell you that, to my taste, Michael’s adult singing style is highly irritating.

I heard some breathy ballad he did on the radio the other day, one that I did not recognize. It reminded me of all those cuts that Sinatra shouldn’t have made. I couldn’t really listen to it. His intonation, his attack, his lack of support – it just made me uncomfortable. And that says nothing about the treacly sentiment he was trying to get across. I agree with The Critic I Can’t Remember on one point: Michael had a hard time with the plain old straight-ahead “I Love You” song. It always seemed to come out more like an alien setting foot on our planet for the first time and falling head over heels for a Tussaud wax figure of Marilyn Monroe – kind of stilted and surreal and filled with inner torment and impossibility.

I heard a lot of African-American voices this morning on the radio calling, “He’s black! He’s ours!” Agreed – well, he sure started out black. He was a role model for young African-American artists. He was hot. He was successful. I remember the pictures of him before adolescence descended on him, with his ‘fro poking out from under one of those badass floppy hats. Flaired knit pants and vests – he was totally IT and I sure couldn’t dress the way he did and go around Cleveland expecting to avoid a hassle.

I’ll tell you one thing – I didn’t hear a lot of men calling out, “He’s male! He’s ours!” this morning on the radio.

Let’s face it: Michael wanted to obliterate the assignments of race and gender that he felt made him a prisoner in his own voluptuous castle. He went to great lengths and great expense to alter his appearance to become what? A white woman?

That doesn’t really describe it. Maybe the negative space approach helps here: he was aiming for not black. Not white. Not male. Not female. Not old.

Many complained while he was still alive that the result of his body mod experiments was something not human. So, yeah. The dude looked like a freak show. He was visually hard to take, especially as the surgeries progressed and got worse. In the interviews I heard with him (and I did not see the whole TV special stuff that he put on during the trial, I just heard sound bites) his speaking voice was soft and effeminate. It was as chiseled as his chin, and the point was to communicate, “I am a gentle soul.”

So now, in death, I am hearing many calls to ignore what he did, and to focus on what he produced. What he stood for in his art.

OK, I can do that for a little while. It don’t matter if you’re black or white. I’m down with that. What about the paternity suit inspired “Billie Jean” – the kid is not my son? (It don’t matter if you’re Mom or Dad, he snarked.) But then, there’s “Man In The Mirror” – which is a righteous piece of funk if ever there was one. Read the lyrics: it’s about trying to change the world for good, starting with changing yourself and your outlook. I can get behind that song.

But tell me – “Smooth Criminal” is about a woman getting murdered, right? “Beat It” is about running rather than fighting a gang – do I have that one right too?

I know. You’re saying, “Come on. What? What are the Sex Pistols lyrics about? Or The Clash? James Brown? U2? Rick James? Duran Duran? Don’t come the innocent prude here. People listen to stuff just to feel good.”

Well, you’re right.

But the point I’m trying to make here is that we’re putting Michael in the ground without really looking at him as we’re saying goodbye. Or not saying goodbye, as some have it.

We’re turning a blind eye to the troubled person he was. We’re ignoring that his identity probably tortured him greatly, and that no amount of plastic surgery or lipstick or pretending he was still 11 years old helped him feel better about himself for long. We’re ignoring his legacy of financial mismanagement and his narrow scrape with pederasty laws.

We’re ignoring to a large degree any inroads he might have made in disrupting the boundaries of race and gender. Instead, we’re basking in his huge ego trip, and making it our own huge ego trip.

Just look over your shoulder, honey.

Happy Father’s Day, Mr. Zappa

Dear Frank,

I’m hitting another milestone year. On my next birthday, I will have officially lived longer than you did.

My first one of these milestone years was when I turned 38, and I realized that I had lived as long as my dad had until he was killed in a motorcycle accident in Manhattan. I remember standing on my back porch, trying to imagine *poof*! it’s over at that age. My kids were 12 and 7 at that point, so much gone by and yet so much left to do. I couldn’t really fathom it. Can one ever?

You see Frank, you’re one of my adoptive fathers – which is to say I adopted you growing up. Stuff you said in your work and in your life resonate deeply with me. Your voice remains very familiar to me. I guess I have a few other adoptive dads floating around – John Lennon comes to mind – but I actually have dreams where you appear to me and offer me guidance and direction. Yeah, sometimes you criticize my playing too. But when you appear, you’re definitely in the role of Dad. Mentor. Father.

So today, the Day After Father’s Day, I’m mulling it over once again. What if all of a sudden *poof*! Of course, in your case, you knew it was coming because you were sick for a pretty long time and in a lot of pain. I’m sorry you had to go through that, Frank. I’m sorry you went when you did, the way you did.

I know you really loved your kids. A lot’s been written about your work habits, and how your children referred to you as that grumpy man who comes up from the basement from time to time, but look at them. They love you so much, still.

My Father’s Day present was a drunken call from my younger daughter, wanting to get picked up in the wee hours, far from home, because she had missed her train back to Boston. I declined and suggested she call her mom. We haven’t spoken since. If I could have one real Father’s Day present, it’s that she would wake up and figure out that she needs to help herself – nobody else will do it for her. She needs to stop blaming the world and take the steps she needs to take to keep herself safe and sober.

Underneath the rage and selfishness, I know she loves me. It’s just not in her this year to show it to me on Father’s Day.

Oh well. There’s always next year.