Chapter 47 Pin Cushion. Tuesday afternoon it rained. Hard.

Looking out our front window, I saw that the car cover had blown off of the Alfa which had been leaking slowly and steadily to the point of worry and mildew and potentially rust that winter. I needed to get a carton of organic free range free roaming stock that guaranteed the chicken went happily straight to bird heaven don’t worry don’t worry about it from the garage anyway. After the rain finally stopped, I went outside to get the stock and take the car cover out of the rain gutter and towel off the interior of the Alfa. I was wearing a pair of old slippers with soles worn smooth over may years and pajamas at 3 in the afternoon. Bad idea. After retrieving the happy happy chicken stock out of the garage, on leaving the back yard, I made a quick detour onto the side path that ran through the garden to put the lid back on the compost bin as the top had blown off several days ago. Another bad idea. This shouldn’t and wouldn’t have been a big deal if I had been wearing shoes with soles that grip or the paving stones weren’t shiny, wet and green moldy from a winter’s worth of rain. I don’t fall often and with the yoga and meditation I had been doing for the past year, I believe, even if there is no empirical truth to back this up, that my sense of balance had improved greatly as a result. Well, none of that mattered a bit at that moment.

This fall happened so fast there was no time to even attempt to balance myself. One moment I was up taking my first step on the path and then next I was seamlessly down for the count. As my right foot planted it immediately slid out and my left knee, now bent at a 45 degree angle, rammed into the top of the wooden planter box which bordered the side of the path as my right struck the paving stones. The pain was immediate and real. I had one thought, “this is going to hurt a lot more tomorrow.” Sitting on the wet ground and pulling up my pajama pants, I was relieved to see no blood. There was a long red line that stretched across the knee cap where the collision had occurred. Nice. I limped over to the Alfa and finished the job before going back inside. The rest of the day was spent with the well-known post fall regimen of ice, ibuprofen, elevation and arnica. I was happy to have already started the aforementioned lazy man’s chicken soup and it simmered quietly bringing good smells and vibes into the kitchen. I ate dinner alone, knee iced, in front of the Daily Show. Only big foot white dog was happy about any of this, it meant more couch time with company and that is where she sat curled up next to me snoring doing her best to take as much space as doggily possible. She who seems to always be working late found me later in bed at 8:30, leg propped up, watching the Warriors struggle through Don Nelson led listless loss, eyes closed and fading quickly with the help of a massive mug of chamomile tea. Not surprisingly

she, exhausted from yet another 12 hour work day, did not notice the state of her husband, said a quick hello, gave me a routine peck on the cheek and went right to the bathroom to shower because she was cold. She did ask in passing if there was dinner and I told her that there was soup waiting in the fridge. A few minutes later she, swathed in flannel like a newborn, went downstairs and I sat there wondering, just what would it take to get her attention? Severed limbs? Piercing screams of pain? Blood spouting from veins and arteries a la Python or Dan Akroyd’s famous Julia Child imitation? Now I know that with all fairness and to her credit, there was not much to see except a man lying in a bed with his leg elevated. Maybe that was not as dramatic as I would have thought it to be. Maybe not. I decided not to bring up the fall and after complimenting the soup “Nice soup”, she gave a quick good night “Good night dear”, pulled the blankets completely over her head and went to sleep almost instantaneously as I watched, no make that stared at her, in a combination of shock and then not because the same thing had happened so many nights before. I never got used to this side of she who is otherwise a good wife and neither have many of my friends who get the same treatment from their respective spouses. For us, it all starts and ends with the attention to detail, or more importantly the lack hereof. So much just seems to float by our wives and never reach their consciousness. We don’t know

whether to even bother to point these moments out anymore (usually they get pissed off when we do) and that is where I find myself these days, not even bothering, shrugging my shoulders and saying “whatever you want dear.” The next morning went down the very same path as she who compliments those late night board meetings with very early parents meetings was out the door before I awoke. I really didn’t know what to do with this behavior, couldn’t tell if she plain out forgot that today was surgery day or not. After carefully showering the trip downstairs was slow, descending step by step, so as not to aggravate the now swollen knee. There in the middle of the dining room table was a short note right to the point, “Call me when you come out of surgery and let me know if you are OK.” And if I wasn’t? Then what? In the end run there was no need to dwell on it, that was the extent of the sympathy call and there would be no more. It never was different and it wasn’t going to change now. There was no time to deal with my feelings about her feelings, I had a date with a scalpel in the city in an hour and it was time to go. It was toast, coffee and limp out the door. One hour later I found myself sitting in a tiny nondescript medical office on Sacramento Street with a group of fellow sun damaged voyagers. They ranged from much older veterans of the cuts, burns and frozen tissue to people more my age. Most read and after they explained the routine, I did too. Others compared surgeries and deformities like

athletes going over game results. I can’t say whether I felt any emotions that morning, I knew why I was there and I just wanted to get on with it and kept within. As the nurse explained it, the routine was simple. They would go in, remove the bad cells and measure a perimeter of healthy tissue around it. Then they would lab test the healthy edges of the incision. If it came out clean, they patched you up. If it didn’t they went in again. And if needed, in again until gone. The removal portion of the story happened fast and just as during the biopsy, the pain was limited to the first few moments when the Novocaine shots went into my left nostril and then burned like hell. After that I numbed up quickly, that strange swollen feeling spreading into my mouth and lips. The nurses, pleasant and efficient, asked regularly if I was feeling OK. I told them that my lips hadn’t felt this numb since the 1980’s. Youngsters that they are, they didn’t get the joke. The surgeon, a young, intelligent and totally professional woman, did the first cut quickly and I felt nothing whatsoever. She offered just enough information to keep me posted and set about her work like any other day. As I sat there under the hot bright lights I wondered, did some part of me feel that pain? Where does the pain go when you are numb? Is your nose screaming as it gets sliced? It was over in minutes and then there was only the

waiting. I was too uncomfortable to read so I sat listening to the inane conversations of the staff with the rest of the cut crew. I tried to make the time go by as quickly as possible by clearing my mind and that seemed to help until old reliable, my stomach took over and thoughts of lunch began. Being a good San Francisco office crew they knew where to send me, a great Burmese restaurant on Clement that I had been meaning to try for years. I felt pretty weird limping through the Richmond with the left side of my face fully bandaged like a deranged patriot wearing sweats. Who knows what people would think had happened to me that morning. I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to let anything stand in the way of a good meal. I deliberately walked the 10 blocks to the restaurant with determination and of course missed it twice. Once there, the host quickly found a seat tucked in a corner, merciful for me and their patrons. Who would want to look at me over their festive lunch? The service was quick and a few minutes later, with my mouth still half numb, I guided the beautiful green vegetable curry in slowly and carefully. Carrots, peas, potatoes, tofu, god it all tasted so damn good. I determined that I needed a straw to drink the green tea that came with it. I didn’t care how the tea went in, it both revitalized and refreshed. There was solace and wonder in the complexity of the curry and peace in the warm comforting green tea. I was ready for round 2. When I returned to the office that afternoon results had come in from the lab. They hadn’t got it all and

would be going in again. For the first time I felt uncertainty in the process. Up until then I had been nonchalant and matter of fact. I began to worry about how long I would be there and whether this procedure was going to work. I thought about how big the hole was going to be in my nose and whether it would ever heal. As I did, a thought welled up from inside: It was my man buddha. He spoke to me quietly. Calmly. You are here and lucky to get such care. You are in the hands of capable people who are going to get this thing out of your body. It is not fatal. It is local and this is the worst of it. Relax and let the moments happen. And my anxieties disappeared like a candle that had just been blown out. This voice was still foreign. Yet it lived within me now, a calming influence that I had never experienced. And each time that I felt this way it became more natural and less odd. So I relaxed and they called my name and I went into the surgery room again. Well, that one got it and another hour later they gave me the good news from the lab and the repair process began. That was the surprise. The reconstruction took 5 times as long as the cuts did and were 10 times as brutal. It was a physical attack on my face. A new round of numbing shots, the dull sense of pounding as she cut flaps of skin and moved them over the wound (all patiently explained) and the needlework reconstruction. “Think of these as hundreds of small stitches that will dissolve over the next 6 months”, she said. Then to top it off there

came the sick smell of yourself burning during the closing sets of cauterization. When it was over they asked how I felt. I told them that I felt like I had been assaulted. I managed to drive home, let her a voice mail to let her know that I was fine, and passed out in bed after eating some chicken soup and taking a Vicodin, the feeling having now returned to the left side of my face with a dull and steady march of gradually elevating pain. I am not much on painkillers and try to avoid them where possible, but this was not a time to put ego over suffering. I slept soundly and did not hear a thing when she came home. The next few days are difficult to remember and that is not just because of the pain pills. I have seen pictures of patients emerging from plastic surgery and that is what I looked like. My left eye, especially the eyelid, was swollen shut and my right was not far behind. My face seemed to have doubled in size. It could have been featured in an ad for a midnight horror show at a downtown movie theatre that was already going out of business. Surgery, small or large, knocks you on your ass. The damage didn’t heal quickly and I stayed inside, not wishing to deal with the world feeling like a freak. At least the enforced rest helped my knee to heal. She who became concerned at the scope of my swelling was as supportive as she could be, bringing me milk shakes and oatmeal, all that I could eat for the first few days. Mostly I just sat in bed, listened to music through my headphones (classical and trance/chant) and thought. My left eye was still way

to closed to read or write. I thought that I could meditate lying prone but quickly found that meditating in bed was not going to work. My brain would wander all over the place, the monkey was in control, and then I would fall asleep. So despite the condition of my body, 2 days later I headed back to the mancave and the cushun. The routine of Manful Mediation was what I craved and there I returned to peace again. In my meditations that spring something kept coming back to me. It was a new concept that had been haunting me in small pieces while it emerged. A feeling that was not a part of my being, an idea that I could never ever have felt earlier in my life for a host of reasons, many of which had been explored in these manful meditations. It was this: Gratitude. Gratitude was an entirely novel feeling for me. One that could only emerge with the passage of a huge chunk of free time and the sense of renewed perspective that this phase of my life had gradually worn into me moment by quiet moment. I had no idea that so much could change in my life. No idea that so much internal satisfaction existed outside of work. No idea that I could alter the way that I looked at the world every day. With gratitude came the realization that I was lucky. Not lucky in the stupid sense, but in the way that my chance had brought real opportunity to do something different with my life. Lucky that my efforts went into

something and not to waste. Lucky to have exited an impossible work situation one month before the country shot full speed into a recession with dollars in my pocket instead of a worthless IOU or a lawsuit. Lucky to spend my days with she who works hard, looks good and brings home the lardons. Fortunate to have 2 kidults who bought into the work ethic we taught them and talk to me with humor, love and respect that is mutual. To have the support of friends who were there during those dark days when nothing good was happening and I just needed to talk and talk. And most of all grateful to have my health back (blood pressure was 130/70 this morning thank you very much!). Lucky to have stumbled into manful meditation like a drunk coming home from a long night who finds his way home and feels his key going into the lock and the door opening. Happy to have a dog that could walk and walk and when that was done walk some more and howl at you when you were too lazy to go out until you did. Thankful to live in a neighborhood that was safe and beautiful. Thankful for the sight of clouds flowing over the golden gate bridge into the bay. Thankful for the clean ionized post rain air. Thankful that my past was now a past and not a present. Somehow I had managed to put a lot of baggage behind me and locked the door to that basement tight. These meditations had helped me to close many of those doors and to find peace in subjects that had tortured me for year (my youth and

my family for example.). My gratitude meditations continued through to Friday morning. That morning the recovery started as the pain began to diminish and the swelling didn’t look worse for the first time. And I was so grateful that when my personal order of cancer came up in the cosmic kitchen it wasn’t the kind that spread. Finishing my gratitude meditation, I felt that familiar urge returning, the desire to get out a cookbook to celebrate the scars that would heal. I settled on something traditional but somewhat time consuming. After not liking duck for as long as I could remember, I had picked up a taste for those super dark rich meaty dense quackers in the past year starting in a small café in Lille. Their intense flavor suddenly attracted me and I was going to make some French comfort food. A cassoulet. Well kind of. Why kind of? Because I don’t know how to make the duck confit part, that’s why. So I cheat with a package of duck breast confit. The dish still works. Faux Cassoulet: 1 package Duck Brest Confit. 2 cups of white canelli beans. Cooking white beans is child’s play. Soak them over night. Rinse. Cook slowly with 4:1 water until they fall apart. So much better than the can. 1 onion diced.

6 heads garlic. Diced. 4 sausages. 1 cup chicken stock. Bread crumbs. Optional but SO GOOD: Duck fat. In a heavy pan sauté onions and garlic at low heat until translucent. While sautéing, cut the sausages into 1 inch pieces or if feeling aggressive, remove the meat from the casings and crumble. You choose the sausage, it’s a flavor thing and personal. I like duck sausage in this dish, others will only use pork. Heat the oven to 345. In a ceramic baking dish combine the sausage/onion/garlic mixture with the white beans that you have drained into a layer that covers the bottom of the baking pan along with enough stock to moisten. Place the duck breasts over the mixture. Cover the dish with bread crumbs and spoon duck fat over the breasts and the bean mixture. Bake for an hour or until mixture has deep brown golden color and has begun to bubble. Find a Rhone or a Chateau Neuf De Pape and an aggressive white for she who does not drink red wine and make sure she isn’t too late that evening. While you are cooking, here are some songs of gratitude and happiness.

You Make Me So Very Happy. Blood Sweat and Tears. Happy Jack. The Who. Sea of Joy. Blind Faith. The Best Thing That Never Happened. Paul Westerberg. Joy. Shakti. Pride and Joy. Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Oh, and what her first words through the door that night? “It smells good in here. You must be feeling better.” I was. Hey, what was that in her hand? Were those roses? Things were looking up.