I put the phone down after a brief call with my doctor, and waited for the reality to hit me. You have a large mass in your pelvis. I didn’t really know how to feel, other than thinking, Fuck, I’m supposed to have another ten years or so before this shit starts happening.
I’ve been noticing my pants getting tighter around the waist since January. At first, I figured some of them had shrunk in the wash. By March it was happening with all of them, and I’d gained a couple of pounds. This is weird because I’ve been the same weight since 1989. I chalked it up to the fact that I’ve crested the middle of my 40’s and I’m probably due for additional padding. When I pulled my shorts out of storage in May, there were only a few that I could wear comfortably–shorts I’ve worn for 10 years. I’d been in for a physical with bloodwork in February, and there was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary to report there. It took a closer look by Jen and then some insistent prodding to get me back in to the GP for a follow-up. He listened carefully and palpated my stomach. After some questions, he ordered a CT scan and I made an appointment to ride the donut.
It was the result of this scan, and that call, that got the circus underway. I made an appointment to get a MRI and another with an oncological surgeon. Jen and my brother in law got me another appointment with a different doctor across town a full week earlier. I did the MRI (fell asleep inside the tube), then went to meet the doctor two days later. She was an excellent source of information, and after telling us everything she could, found a surgeon within her practice who could talk to us later that afternoon. We went out and got some lunch and tried to remain calm. On the way back for the consult, the contrast from the MRI started burbling in my stomach and decided it was time to GET OFF THE BUS. We made it back to the hospital with seconds to spare. Can I just say that relieving oneself of iodine contrast is like shitting fire?
The surgeon, a pleasant, reserved fellow, showed us the MRI results: a self-contained mass within my stomach cavity, 8 inches long. Basically, I’m four months pregnant. They asked me if I was having any symptoms–problems with my bottom system, gas, pain, heart issues, breathing–and I answered honestly: nope. The honest truth is that I feel fine. My new bloodwork was all normal. This mystified all of them. He filled me in on his course of action: go in, get it out, and then do a biopsy. He warned us that there could be complications: severed nerves, bleeding, loss of continence, motor function, or worse, depending on what it’s hooked up to. He was kind, but fair and honest. That was last week. Strong drinks followed that news.
On Wednesday, we saw the second doctor at Mercy, where Finn was born. We got a great vibe from the people in his practice, and then the man himself. His take on things was that it’s most likely benign based on the symptoms, labs and the images. He took the time to show us the MRI, and talked us through what we were seeing. He seemed confident it would come out relatively easily, but he wanted to start with a biopsy and move to surgery after he knows what we’re dealing with. I liked his conservative but confident approach and we both got a good feeling from him. Then we hustled over to Hopkins for a third opinion.
The third guy was a referral through a friend. He is an orthopedic surgeon in the oncological practice within Hopkins–so, not a soft tissue guy. He looked at the charts and images outside and without much preamble told us it’s most likely malignant, recommending a biopsy, surgery, radiation, and ongoing treatment. That was a punch in the dick. He talked everything through with us and we nodded our heads and then ate a tasteless, quiet, shocked lunch in the cafeteria. Then we headed home to pick up Finley at our sister’s house where we started pouring strong vodka tonics.
From what they all can tell it’s not growing out of any organs or bone. My white blood cell count is normal. All of them say that our vacation is important for the family, there’s not much they can do in the next two weeks with scheduling anyway, and that the baby will be fine until we get back, so fuck it, we’re going. I am going to sit my ass down on the beach, drink some cold beer, watch the kids play in the surf, and try not to think about things. Obviously it’s coming out; we have to decide who and where.
That, among a succession of shit luck and bad news suffered by friends and loved ones, has put a bit of a damper on vacation. I’m having a hard time focusing on preparing for the beach while also trying to be supportive, stay positive, wrap up and reschedule work plans, and generally just deal with a fucking parasite in my stomach. Jen has been a wonder this week, shuttling me across town and back, scheduling care for Finn, running pre-vacation errands, getting me to and from work, and being a rock beside me while I wait for informed opinions. I couldn’t have made it this far without her. She’s going to need this vacation as much as I will, because when we get back our lives are going to be chaotic.
I love you blondie, and I’m sorry I completely forgot your birthday.
Having spent hours among my digital archives for the past two weeks, I’ve come to the realization that I have no proper catalog system to speak of.
On my server, I have folders organized by year, and the contents of those folders are roughly dependent on whatever ordering system I inherited from iPhoto, Aperture, or Lightroom. The organizing principle was whatever the application decided it would be. Thus, some years have neat subfolders organized by month, from 1-12. Others (from later iterations of iPhoto) are arranged in numbered sequential folders beginning with the word Roll; inside some of those years there are other folders of special events, like Ireland or Birth.
Cataloging them all with iPhoto or Aperture is useless, especially as Aperture has been put out to pasture and iPhoto is long dead. When I realized none of these apps were a long-term solution (careful testing revealed these applications got dog slow when cataloging anything over a year’s worth of photos), I backed up the files in the Originals folder Apple hid within the data package. I knew I would lose any metadata I may have carefully added (GPS data, captions, names, face-recognition information) unless I wanted to keep the XMP sidecar files with them, which I ditched.
My current solution is about as old-school as it gets: I’m making contact sheets. Photoshop has an action built in that batch processes folders of photos and lays them out in a user-configurable grid; another custom action I wrote saves them out in sequence. Anything over about 1000 photos (50 pages) brings my machine to a crawl, as Photoshop fills the hard disk for scratch space, so I’ve got to subdivide each year and work on it in chunks. So far I’ve got the first decade of the 2000’s done (2004 has an inexplicable gap, so I have to dig through my DVD’s to find those) and I’m working on 2011. Because I shoot in RAW format, the graph of the size of these folders looks like a hockey stick, so the going is going to get much slower as I get further into this decade.
The resulting JPGs are then combined inside Acrobat to generate a multi-page PDF. They are big files: 2009 is 990MB in size. But at least I don’t need a program with a limited lifespan to quickly page through my photos, and that catalog is quickly and easily copied from the server to my backup drive.
I’m sitting on the couch trying to figure out how to put the last 72 hours into one coherent narrative. Fuck it, here goes.
Friday: a whirlwind of cleaning and scanning and organizing and shopping. That’s the boring stuff. in the early afternoon I picked up Matt and Sophie, whom I haven’t seen in over 10 years, and slipped back in time as easy as putting on a new shirt. As we got settled in and poured cocktails, Jen got taken down by a migraine, courtesy of the storm system that was gearing up to blow through the area, so Finn and I took them out for dinner and we commenced to catching up.
Saturday we got a slow, easy start to what would be a heavy day. I picked up some bacon egg & cheese sandwiches for my family and fellow NY expats before we all got ourselves ready for the drive over the bridge. Which, as Siri was happy to tell us, was backed up by two and a half hours. We’d left an hour early to get there and set up the slide show. After some WRC-worthy driving from Jen on the back roads, we wound up only a little over an hour late. Finn, who had been napping in the car, spiked a 103˚ fever, so Jen dropped us off and turned right around to go find some children’s ibuprofen. Have I mentioned recently that she is a saint? Meanwhile I hustled to the back of the bar to hook up the displays and then someone slammed a drink in my hand.
So many old friends were there. Charles, looking the same as he always has, tall and tan and bearded. Beth, smiling wide and cheerful. Karean’s whole extended family, her sister, Rob’s brother Steve, who I’d spent two and a half hours catching up with on Wednesday night while picking up photos to scan. Rodney, my Scout and carb guru. A bunch of other guys we went with on that epic rafting trip. The rest of the afternoon was talking with friends, drinking, checking on Finn (who soon recovered and dove into Minecraft with Zachary), and telling stories about Rob.
Karean and Steve got up and said a few words that made the whole house cry.
By dinnertime the crowd had thinned so we got a table and sat down to an exhausted meal with Karean and her family. Finn’s fever spiked up again and an already late night for her was compounded by a drive back over the bridge so we piled in the car and headed home. After getting her into bed (and Jen, whose migraine had returned), Matt, Soph and I stayed up until 3:30 talking and laughing and telling stories.
Sunday morning my internal clock got me up at 8 but I wasn’t functional until I’d had 2 cups of coffee. We got a slow start to the day and roused ourselves for a lazy walk through Patapsco to shake off the cobwebs, then headed over to Tim & Betty’s for an afternoon of cocktails on their deck and some barbecue for dinner. Again, we all slipped into the familiar rhythms of laughter and stories, and I realized even though we’re all greying, wearing reading glasses, and talking about mortgages, we’re all still the same band of fuckup art students who were lucky enough to find each other in one of the country’s most permissive and dangerous cities of the early 90’s.
As the sky got dark (and Game of Thrones loomed on the clock) we packed up the car and headed home to prepare for the Monday workday. I said goodbye to Matt and Soph and we all made a promise not to fall so far out of touch again. This is something I am not good at, but if there is one single takeaway from this whole shit experience, it’s that I don’t have the time to lose sticking my head up my own ass.
I will reach out, call my friends, and ask them how they’re doing. And then I will get better at listening to them.
I just found out via text that Brian had a catastrophic fire which leveled his garage today, enveloping part of the house. Brian and his family are OK, but Chewbacca, which was sitting in the bay of the garage, is likely destroyed. The pictures he texted me show a pile of charred timbers sitting on the shell. I can’t believe it. It’s a shit end for a reliable, faithful truck that I was sure would outlast Peer Pressure.
For anyone following along, Chewbacca was my first Scout, and I secretly sold it to Brian’s wife as a Christmas present for him. He spent a year restoring the whole thing, using a Kentrol tub and new parts wherever possible, and the result was a work of art. Some might say it was a different truck entirely, quoting Theseus’ Paradox, but I always knew her beating heart was the same.
I went into the project convinced I was going to be a ace wrench in no time, though. Surely, even a clumsy and sheltered city boy like myself could learn how to repair and maintain a machine as basic as a tractor.
Andrew Collins over at Jalopnik totals up what a year cost him to own a Scout that he traded for a high-mileage Toyota Tundra. I’d say he made out pretty good.
On Tuesday night, I got a call to tell me that Rob, one of my oldest and dearest friends, is gone.
I met him sometime directly after leaving college–I’d estimate 1995 or thereabouts. My memory of those years is hazy and I didn’t have a weblog to help me remember events. One of my roommates started dating a girl and later moved in with her. She was renting a room from Rob in a huge house on the northeast side of Patterson Park, and our crew of friends found ourselves there at parties almost all the time. It became the center of our social world for several years.
Rob was a little older than the rest of us, but was generous and funny and had a spirit that was half Cub Scout Leader and half juvenile delinquent. He had been a Marine for several years, was discharged honorably, and had a real job as a mechanic for the DC Metro. As I got to know him, I immediately knew he was more than just a mechanic. He had a passion for art, music, and culture. He had a subscription to the symphony. Living with a bunch of art-school graduates, he bought our work and our friends’ work, and was proud to hang it in his house. He dressed better than any other man I’ve ever met. He was always reading, always asking questions, always thinking, always making himself better in some way. I called him the Renaissance Marine. He inspired me to think beyond what I knew, to challenge myself, and to find ways to make my life better.
Early on as we got to know each other he pitched a business idea to me, and I created a bunch of artwork for him to use, working with the primitive technology available to me at my first job. We sold his merchandise for a couple of years at festivals and events, and while we didn’t get rich, we had a great time and built our friendship.
He taught me how to mountain bike. Not just how to climb a hill and ride slowly back down; in his prime, he was fearless. He’d lived in California for years, and was experienced on the higher, tougher trails of the West Coast. He was shorter and more compact in stature than me, but built solid from years of lifting weights on his breaks at Metro. With a lower center of gravity, he attacked steep cliffs and switchbacks with equal parts technical skill and reckless abandon. I followed his lines and tried to keep up with him. For a few solid summers, when we both lived in the city and enjoyed free time, we were riding twice a week and once on weekends. As I followed him and listened to his advice, I got better. As I got better, we sought out bigger hills to ride, and it got to the point where I could throw myself down a slope and keep up without thinking about it.
He showed me how to throw a classy, exciting, and memorable bachelor party without limos and strippers and blackout arrests: by organizing a kayaking trip down the Shenandoah river for about 20 guys ending with a riverside barbecue, camping, and drinking under the stars. His toast was on point, his food was delicious, and the liquor he brought was top-shelf. By setting the tone of the day, and carefully orchestrating the activities, he kept things friendly, safe, and inclusive.
As I got serious about my girlfriend at the time, I looked at buying a house in the city and found a house in Canton, which was directly across the park from his place. A few years later he and Karean sold their house by the park and found a place blocks away from mine closer to the square in Canton.
When he and Karean married, they had a lovely DIY ceremony in a restaurant in Canton, and asked me to shoot pictures of the ceremony. With my limited skills and equipment I did the best I could, but I was just happy to be part of the day. Looking back on this, I see it as sort of the high-water mark of the group of our friends; in the years directly after we all started scattering to distant cities and states. Soon after this I split up with my girlfriend, but the three of us stayed close.
Time passed, and I met Jen. He and Karean welcomed her into their lives and our friendship grew. The four of us made time to get together for dinner and trips even as we made plans to move out of the city. As Jen and I got serious about getting married, I asked him to be the best man at my wedding. Here again, he organized a quiet, classy, fantastic bachelor dinner. With his typical class and grace, he outshone me in all of the pictures (served me right for asking such a photogenic man to be in my wedding), understood and leapt into action when I realized I’d left the rings on the shelf in our hallway (the church was down the street so the problem was a minor one), and stood beside me as I asked Jen to be my wife. Once again, his toast was on point.
Later that year, when our friends Matt and Sophie got married, we all flew out to San Francisco for an epic wedding and the four of us spent a couple of days kicking around the city together.
We got together to visit new restaurants, explore the Eastern Shore, and spend time together. The time between our calls got longer but we still got together and kept in touch–in no small part due to Jen and Karean. When Jen and I found out she was pregnant, they were some of the first friends we shared the news with, and some of the first people to meet her besides our family. Not long after that, we found out they were expecting too.
As our kids grew, we made a point of getting together more, both for the adults and for the kids. Dinners, concerts, Wildkratts, and day trips over the Bay Bridge. In 2014 we planned our vacation together and found a house in Delaware to rent. For an idyllic week we hung out on the beach, watched the kids play together, and ate guacamole.
Somewhere in that week, as the kids played in the surf, he told us how much the vacation–and our friendship–meant to the two of them. He asked if it was OK with us for Zachary to call us Uncle Bill and Aunt Jen, and we were honored. It was a natural extension of our friendship–we thought of each other as family.
This year I planned early and had a beach house located and rented by March. We were all looking forward to our week together. I don’t know what happened. I don’t have details, and if I did I wouldn’t share them here anyway. I do know that part of my family is gone, and I’m still dealing with that reality.
I spent time on the phone Saturday with a select group of old friends to let them know what happened, and found myself trading stories and photos via text until about 10PM. Part of that time I was down in the basement going through my print photos and another part was spent in my Amazon Prime archives pulling photos together.
I will miss his humor. I’ll miss his quiet intelligence, his advice, and easygoing warmth. I’m going to miss growing old with him, like we joked about–two old farts sitting on a porch drinking beers together. I’ve got a hole in my heart where he should be.