We had a real nice turnout for our Maryland meetup last night, although Brian and I were the only ones to show up in a Scout. Erik and Brian came over from the Eastern Shore, and our two Brians came even though they don’t currently own IH. Bennett surprised Brian with a check from partial proceeds of the auction at Nationals this year, which was super cool of everybody there. We caught up over beers, told stories, and made tentative plans to get together in the fall.
Our weekend was full of activities, starting with Finn’s first soccer game of the season. They’ve had a total of one practice since the season started, rain having washed out all of the scheduled meetings, but her coaches did a good job herding the cats and getting the girls to remember how the game is played, where they should go, and what the rules are. Finn did really well on defense, but got winded on offense pretty easily. Her team has several very good players who carried the team early, and the Fireballs won the game.
From there we picked up a friend of hers for a playdate in the Scout, stopped for a celebratory donut, and then I got to work bagging up 1/2 of the acoustical tiles in the attic, which had finally succumbed to repeated cycles of heat, moisture, and cold and dropped all over our stored baby gear. In four hours, I had it all bagged, the contents of the attic vacuumed, and everything rearranged. Jen offered all of Finn’s old clothing to Christi and Glenn for Ruby, so this week she’s going to go up and sort through the piles to see what goes and what gets sold. I also used our $10 handcart to bump the A/C unit down from the attic and stick it in the back of the Scout.
That evening we had friends come for dinner, and stayed up late eating, drinking, and sitting in front of a roaring fire to roast marshmallows. Sunday morning revealed a house destroyed by the girls, a kitchen destroyed by dinner, and two sizable hangovers. The girls went to church and I continued working around the house until the afternoon, when we had another family come and join us for dinner.
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I got an email last week asking if I’d like to teach a class next spring, which sounds really good. While it’s not a senior-level class (I think the full-time faculty claimed those for themselves) it’s one Jen and I have taught before, so I won’t have to worry about developing a syllabus while I’m down for the count.
We’re also building a list of stuff that has to get done before I can’t get up off the couch; This includes stuff like pulling all of the air conditioners from the windows, stocking up our inside wood supply, putting the hardtop back on the Scout, and kegging a batch of beer. I’m sure there are more that I’m not thinking of, but I know it’s going to get longer.
This is Chewbacca as they dragged her out of Brian’s garage. God, what a sad sight.
The local Scout guys are getting together next week to catch up, which will be great–I haven’t seen anyone in over a year. I’m hoping a few of the guys I haven’t met yet will show up. There’s Dwight, who lives right near the train station I use, who has a pretty green Terra. I’m going to send another email to the guy with the diesel Traveler I saw last month. And, there’s another new Scout in our neighborhood, under a tarp by the high school. I’ve stopped over there a couple of times but it’s always under cover. I’m going to ring the doorbell this weekend and see if the owner is home and likes beer.
I’m writing from an uncomfortable IKEA couch in the living room of our rental, which is only steps from the beach and is thus the most awesome IKEA couch in Delaware. It’s day 13 of our two-week vacation and I’m trying not to accept the reality of our impending drive home on Saturday; we’ve got one half-day on the sand left and then we are slaves to a typewritten sheet of directions on the fridge: make the beds, vacuum the floors, lock the windows, set the AC to 77˚.
Our stay has been lazy and carefree and unstructured as possible, which is exactly the way we planned it. Slow mornings to rise, gather some breakfast together, form coherent thoughts, and begin organizing for the beach. Make some sandwiches, pack a cooler with water and alcohol, grab some cheesy-poofs and find a dry suit to wear. Grab a towel, drop clean clothes off at the outdoor shower, and assemble downstairs at the beach buggy.
We have experienced the luxury of a beachside house twice. It is the difference between carrying everything for a five hour stay out to the sand or just grabbing a chair and a cold beer. This house is perched between the road and the edge of the barrier channel between Delaware and the bay; the public access path is steps from the driveway across the road. It’s only just on the other side of the road, but it means we must pack like the Joads heading to California every day. The buggy carries our chairs, the tent, the umbrella, all the toys, the cooler(s), a couple of floats, and the kite. Wide wheels make it easy to pull over the sand, and it collapses into a packable unit. After a couple of days we got the assembly of our beach camp down to a science, and learned what had to come with us and what we could leave behind. I also learned that the Coleman half-tent I got on sale at Amazon was worth less than what I paid for it.
The first week we shared with Karean and Zachary, and it was good for the five of us even though there was a giant empty space where Rob should have been. Karean brought a picture of the four of us, which we’ve kept on the shelf since we got here, and I find myself looking at it multiple times a day. For the first few days Zachary obsessed over Minecraft until the iPad mysteriously disappeared but once he’d forgotten about it he and Finn settled in to an easy working relationship. Our days were relaxed and the weather was excellent; the first few days the water was balmy and mild. We took a break from the sun on Wednesday to hit Rehobeth for some games and fun, and had some dinner in town to break things up.
On their final day, Karean and I walked out to the beach to scatter some of Rob’s ashes in the water. I stayed several steps behind and tried not to intrude, terrified I would say something/the wrong thing. I watched her from the tide line until she beckoned me down into the water. She gave me a handful, which I gripped in one hand as I said a prayer to the ocean, and I let the wind take it from me.
Rob and Karis joined us for our second week, and we’ve integrated them into our loose routine. We got chased from the beach on Monday by high winds and Tuesday was nothing but driving rain. Wednesday cleared up, but the wind was still strong and the surf powerful. Thursday the water was placid, and Rob got Barrett slowly over his fear of the water by early afternoon.
Finn was lucky to find a friend a few houses up the beach, named Jenna, and they quickly went off together to collect horseshoe crabs, spin cartwheels, and jump in the surf. I walked over and chatted up her parents, who seem like lovely people, and Jen and I breathed a sigh of relief to know she’d have a playmate her age for our second week. On Wednesday they were nice enough to invite Finn back to their house, so we paid it back by taking her into Milton for some ice cream.
Harvey kicked the shit out of Houston but seems to have affected us only slightly; apart from Wednesday’s storm and the rough surf on the days before and after, we’ve enjoyed warm, calm weather with only a few overcast days. Overall, it’s been an ideal two weeks, and we’re already making plans for next year.
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Since hosting my parents earlier this year, I’ve been working on a recipe for Manhattans so that I could prove to my father they don’t need to taste like turpentine. I followed some recommendations from Esquire and wound up with a midlevel rye whiskey and vermouth, which made a middling Manhattan. When Matt came into town, he gave me some advice on better quality ingredients. When we hit the liquor store upon arriving in Milton I picked up some Bulleit rye whisky and a bottle of the only sweet vermouth I could find. This made a shitty Manhattan. Later I was able to get a bottle of Dolan vermouth and this made all the difference in the world. I’m now at the end of the Bulleit but will be looking for some Blantons when I get home.
Day one: perfect, perfect weather. Warm ocean water. A mile of empty beach to ourselves. Cold drinks and dinner on the deck.
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.
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.