Some Real American Graffiti

I got my tired, loopy out of shape ass out of the house today and went for a walk!  Good news, bad news.  First, the Good News.  I got to walk a whole mile.  The Bad News, when I got home I knelt down to feed the dog, lost my weakened balance and did a face-plant right onto, fortunately, the carpet just missing the 5 pound Pomeranian we have and sending the bowl of dogfood flying across the living room.  I got up, collected my thoughts, “Am I OK?  I didn’t get dizzy, I just lost my balance and made a fool out of myself in front of both of our dogs”.  I’m sure even dogs would laugh at what I did if they could.  Come to think of it, they bolted out of the kitchen area and hid for at least an hour.  Shit, I didn’t even swear when it happened.  Good Ativan and Zoloft! No harm no foul.

So I did take that walk down McHenry Avenue,  a sprawling 8 lane thoroughfare with every fast food outlet known to man on one end near all the car lots and the old part of town at the other end.  My little sojourn out today put me at the far north end near the car lots and fast food places and one of the Walmarts.  Yes, there are two Walmarts in this dinkly little town.  Somehow, this makes sense in Modesto.

I wanted to take some pictures on the street during my walk.  For the most part, I centered on getting shots of graffiti, very prevalent in this town.  There is a Graffiti Taskforce that I see out and about painting over new graffiti on brick walls, giving the little shitball graffitists a fresh, brand new canvas to deface again next week.  It’s just hard to keep up with little or no budget. Regarding the graffiti itself…it’s of horrible sub-quality.  Yeah, that’s right…it’s even shitty graffiti done mostly by local neighborhood terds trying to show their girlfriend what marvelous, ballsy aritistes they are!  They should have their pea-sized nutsacks squeezed off and handed to their parents, “Did you have any idea that your worthless little Johnny was doing this?”


So,  it wasn’t a very productive day as you can see.  At this point in my career as a photographer and human being…I’m just trying to keep my head above water.  When I finally get this crap out of my system I can really assess the whole deal…me.  In the meantime I do the best I can do at this point in time.  Including getting motivated to write something here.

By the way, these few graffiti shots on McHenry are from a one block section on one side of the street.  All the good stuff is on the bridges and overpasses.

Some reflection on 2011 and only one resolution for 2012.

I was reminded by my daughter, Jen, that a blog was originally referred to as a web log, or weblog.  This in response to my comment that all the blogs I read are all about the person writing it, very narcissistic to say the least.  I told her I had been kind of blog surfing of late to find other blogs I would like to read without much luck.  All of the links she has on her blog are to people’s blogs who are just like her:  young mother married professionals, ie, working moms with young children.  Duh!  Of course they are.  And if I ever begin to find blogs I can relate to, ie, old, curmudgeonly cynical farts who like to write, then, perhaps, I can commiserate (I don’t know if Andy Rooney had a blog, but…well, he’s dead now!).  But then I will have simply found personal, narcissistic web logs from guys or gals my age, the content of which I just finished criticising.  And what’s worse?  This is exactly what I do, save for a few recipes now and then.  Jen went on to remind me that  most blogs are exactly that, an on-line journal, a web log of that person’s life, be it their travels, their daily goings on, or what they are cooking for dinner that day.  It is all personal, and this one is no different.  So comes my only, true New Years Resolution.  I will write this blog as I have for several years.  I will write this blog about me and and how I view things in this world with an added effort to making a positive impact on the folks who read it.  Notice I didn’t pledge to write about only positive things, I just want to write about some things that interest and affect me and others like me as if no one is reading.  I promise to not be too serious, sappy, or nostalgic,  keeping it witty with a seasoning of fanatical idealism and sarcasm thrown in from time to time.

So, a kind of recap of last year and what I can expect from myself this year.  There’s that word, ‘expect’…take notice I didn’t mention ‘expectations’ from or about others, I’m trying to purge those behaviors from my system completely.

This year’s recap will mostly focus on the obvious…it was not a banner year for us..  It is was it was and it is done and gone.

Back in January I started having pains in my abdomen.  After several months of complaining to my primary doctor and several cancelled referrals to follow up, I decided it best that I find out what’s going on.

The pains would come and go and were actually quite severe at times.  I had a couple of non-evasive tests, a scan of my abdomen discovered a stone and sludge-filled gall bladder.  Simple enough, I will just have it taken out like so many folks have done in the past.  Not so fast.  The first surgeon I spoke with wanted more tests first.  I had a more comprehensive scan to determine gall gladder function that turned out, strangely enough, positive, ie, “Your gall bladder in functioning properly despite the stones and the sludge”.  “But is it causing the pain?”, I inquired with a slight grimace on my face complete with furrowed brow.  “We don’t know at this point, need more tests”.  At that point I was scheduled for a endoscopy (the camera tube down my esophagus) and a couple months of cancelling and rescheduling began…I was reluctant to have that thing done.  I have a very sensitive and severe gag reflex and I pictured myself being strapped to a table and held down by two burley orderlies while some wild-eyed ear, eye, nose, and throat doc fed several feet of camera tubes into my gullet.  All the time me choking, gagging, and struggling to escape.  Well, I finally did have my endoscope.  I don’t remember a thing about it from the time the doctor told the nurse, “You can induce now” (induce the wonderful gah-gah drugs they have now to render you not unconscious but unaware without any memory of what happened).  And that’s exactly what happened.  Done deal, it was over.  And, the test was negative.  Now up to this point, I was hoping for a peptic ulcer thinking that something like may have been causing the pain and the bout of bleeding I had the year before.  Oh, did I forget to mention that almost a year prior I had some bleeding for a couple of days that I wrote off as something caused by hemorrhoids?  Not the best self diagnosis in retrospect.  So, no peptic ulcer or other stomach ailment found by the cameras, I was headed now for colonoscopyville…the dreaded ass camera!

Even though I really did have more anxiety about the endoscope than the colonscope, can I assume there are not very many people who look forward to this procedure.  A heinous procedure whereby a tube with a camera on the end of it…well, I won’t bore you with details of something you already can envision or have had done to you.  It’s done all the time…and it needed to be done to me.

Apparently, you get to experience the same gah-gah drug you get with the endoscope.  Doc says, “Induce” and you wake up in recovery.  That’s pretty much it except for the good 30 minutes I lay in the procedure room, chatting with nurse, and waiting for the doc all the while listening to his shitty selection of music on a boombox in the corner.  Oh, and staring directly at what seemed like a firehouse-sized series of tubes connected to a flat screen TV with my name on the screen.  There it was, James Hansen – colonoscopy.  Before the drugs, first some liquid valium to calm me down, then something else whose nomenclature escapes me (remember the amnesia?), the doc has to ask, “Mr. Hansen, tell me why you are here”.  They ask you that before every procedure and you must recite the reason for your visit and your name. “Colonoscopy…James Hansen.  Is that why you’re here as well?”, I asked with tongue in cheek that, by the way, elicited not so much of courtesy chuckle or any answer of any type from him.  Geeze, shouldn’t they make doctors take a class called, “Sense of Humor 101” at the very least, part of the bedside manner thing?  Apparently not.

Flash forward thirty minutes or so and I’m in a little recovery area with Loretta, a nurse, and doctor standing at the foot of my bed.  The first voice I hear is Loretta, “Hi, honey, how do you feel?”  “OK…it’s done?”.  The doc answers, “Yes it is.  I found and removed a few polyps and sent them to the pathologist along with a biopsy from a tumor.  It appears to be colon cancer”.  That was a lot of information to sling at someone who just woke up from a term of unconsciousness with a sprinkling of amnesia thrown in.  Later that day I asked Loretta to repeat back what the doctor said to me and she said, “I don’t remember much, I thought you were listening!”  “Me?  I have amnesia!”  I did manage to query the doctor on the source of the pain (could be the tumor, maybe not) and what my course will be.  At this point, the tumor could be non-cancerous.  I would have to wait a few days for the answer to that question.  In the meantime, the surgery was scheduled for August 26th.

The call from the doctor came to my cell phone while I was at work.  I answered and asked him if I could call him back in a few minutes when I had the time.  He said he would call me back in a few minutes and that is what he did.  I took the call in a meeting room in the rear of the store, he was very polite, “Mr. Hansen, there is really no other way to say this, but…you have colon cancer.  And it has gone into at least one lymph node”.

I can’t say I wasn’t in shock at that information.  I asked the doctor a few more obvious questions and said goodbye.  I did well up, and it did bring a tear to my eye, especially as I called Loretta from that meeting room and told her the news.  She took the news very well and assured me everything would be OK, ie, have the surgery, get it out of your body, and get well.  I went home early from work that day.  The scheduled surgery was three weeks away and I would just have to wait to move on through the next trial.

Those three weeks of waiting for the surgery went by at a snail’s pace.  I worked my regular full time schedule and just tried to put it out of my mind, not an easy chore.  Whenever someone asked me, “Hey, Skip, how’s it going?” I had to pause and contemplate.  Do I tell this person about the cancer (the painfully honest answer), or, do I just lie and say, “Not bad…and you”, usual response in the course of casual conversations at the water cooler.  I chose to say, “Not bad, considering.  I have surgery on the 26th”.  Some would simply respond with, “Oh!” then turn and walk away while with others who cared asked for details…I was willing to share.  I chose not to keep this thing to myself.  Right or wrong, I decided to be open about it.

The surgery came and went without a hitch.  The tumor, 10 inches of my large intestine, 21 lymph nodes, along with that pesky gall bladder were all removed.  The tumor, intestine, and lymph nodes were all sent to the pathologist.  Details of the surgery I’ve already written about and won’t go into save for the fact that the three days in the hospital and 3 weeks of recovery were miserable.  Enough said about that.

Two weeks after the surgery I got the call from the surgeon.  You have Stage III Colon cancer.  Simply put, it had moved into at least one lymph node which was removed.  I would need six months of chemotherapy as kind of an insurance  that it is not growing unnoticed somewhere else.  At this point in time, I am half way done with the chemo.  Needless to say, the chemo is not fun. I go every two weeks for a three hour infusion and return home for two days with another bottle of chemo that infuses over those two days.  I go back and get the bottle disconnected and go home to be sick for a week or so.  By the way, just before the chemo began I had another minor surgery to install a central line port installed under my skin in my chest.  It provides access through a catheter in my jugglar vein that goes directly into one of my heart chambers.  Frankenstein-esque yes, a better way, yes.  Of course, half of this chemotherapy will be part of my end of year recap this year and how I have fared in the world of the “Big C”.  If I write a recap at the end of this year I am a cancer survivor, what I consider myself right now…a survivor.  The cancer was removed and the chemotherapy is getting rid of any lingering cancer.  Done deal?  Not hardly…it’s all a game of odds…and those odds are well known to be 50/50.

Loretta, dear Loretta, has been a super trooper during this whole ordeal, and it has been an ordeal despite my trite comic relief when writing about this.  It’s fucked up to have cancer.  And it’s fucked up for those close to me.  There is no other way to put it.  My circle of support has been wonderful and I appreciate it all.  It’s all they can do.  Prayers and well wishes…and that’s enough.

To keep this particular post non-morose, or at least not totally morose like it seems to be, there is a good side.  Compared to a year ago, I weight about 40 pound less, mostly by design, some of it from chemotherapy.  No hair fell out and I don’t get nausea, upchucking sick.  I simply feel tired and crappy…and, yes, relatively speaking, that’s a good thing.  I have several acquaintances from work going a similar regiment, all of them doing more poorly than I.  That’s not a good thing, it’s just what is.  I feel fortunate to be where I am now in terms of my prognosis.  I stand a good chance of beating this.  And when March rolls around I am done with chemo, April I go back to work.  The weather will be Spring nice here in Modesto and I will relish in the fact that I am now at the proper weight for my size and I have beaten cancer.  Time to hit the gym, the bicycle, the treadmill at a more fervent pace than I have ever done.  Time to ratchet things up a bit, move forward, and do the things I have planned to do when this thing is over.

Not only do I finish chemotherapy in March, I also receive my first social security check.  Since I will continue to work, at least part time, this extra income will come in handy to travel and to accomplish some planned photo projects.  All looks good for 2012 and I plan to keep a positive attitude.  I hope I can influence others to do the same in some way.

My thoughts for 2012?  Only one resolution:  to try to make a positive impact on people, either in person or with my writing or photography.

No big list of resolutions as you can see.  Just to follow up and finish the things I start will suffice.  Life is good.  I have a long way to go still.

Happy New Year!

Our holiday get togethers…part deux.

One of the holiday affairs we attended involved a 60 mile drive.  For that reason alone we always seem to waiver about going.  Wow, 60 miles then drive home at night.  A trek to Sonora is not an unpleasant drive by any means, just a long drive for us of late.  I remember when making 250 mile drives at the drop of a hat was nothing, but now, it gives reason for pause.  “Do we really wanna do that? Remember, we have to drive back as well!”

Every year we get invited to Jen’s in-laws, the Gonzales’ for Christmas.  We went once a few years ago and have passed the on it the past 5 years or so for reasons stated above.  This year, we decided to go.  Jen, Roth, and now Rowan, have always managed to make it down from Seattle to see Roth’s parents for Christmas.  They also set aside a couple of days for us at our house. Sonora isn’t really that far despite my whining about the 60 miles.  So going to the the Gonzales’ is two fold:  accepting a very well meaning Christmas dinner invite and being able to spend a few extra hours with Jen’s family before they come to our house.

The Gonzales’ house is situated a short distance off the main highway, up in the hills near the town of Sonora.  One must navigate a small, curvy, pot-holed road for a short distance that non-SUV’s probably shouldn’t attempt.  But our little, low-slung Subaru SVX made with without any problem despite the smell of burning oil when we got there.  Hey, it’s got 185,000 miles on in and that what those cars do!

Their house is fairly good sized with a nice, big, recently renovated modern kitchen, perfect for cooking for 15 people.  Yes, others besides us were invited including another of their sons and his girlfriend who live there plus another roomie plus a bevy of their relatives, sisters and grandparents I think.  Roth’s mother had her brother from SF in attendance.  He and Roth’s father are both my age and we engaged in a number of conversations ranging from French Laundry cooking (Roth’s Dad is a self-taught chef type like me) to the theory of ancient astronauts.  We talked about living in San Francisco (Tom, Roth’s uncle) and what it’s like residing in such a diverse, culturally rich, beautiful urban environment.  He’s lived there most of his life though has recently moved to Napa, a few miles from the northern tip of the bay.  The restaurants, the galleries, the street people, the stores all fascinating to me, one who has lived mainly in the suburbs, or, recently, small towns like Modesto and Pismo beach.  It’s a whole other world to live there versus just visiting for a day or two.  For one, using public transportation is the most viable option considering parking costs if you can even find one.  Restaurants and bar of all shapes and sizes are there to explore if for nothing else.

Our visit to the Gonzales culminated with a nice, well-planned dinner of rolled, marinated pork roast, a bevy of roasted root vegetables, and Jen’s contribution, her pan-cooked brussels sprouts.  All was cooked perfectly, the company was great, and brought our visit to an end.  My son, Jimmy, called and was arriving earlier than expected at our house, so we had to head out a bit early, sans dessert.

Jimmy was waiting for us when we got home and all was well.

A couple of days later, Jen and Roth and Rowan arrived and we got to spend two relaxing days with them doing nothing much more than enjoying each other’s company.  Rowan, who just turned three, is, well, a typical three year old: precocious, active, curious, strong-spirited, etc.  His parent have done a great job with raising him so far despite the usual three year old’s propensity to take advantage of Mom’s good nature.  ‘Nuff said?  He is a great little boy now.

I had a chance to roll around the floor and horse around with him.  I surprised even myself when raising him over me and preforming several “presses” with a squirming, giggling boy.  Fortunately, his attention span waned with that and I was not required to perform any further gymnastic feats!

All in all it was a great visit.  They departed Friday after two days here, and head north to Redding for one of two more overnight stops on their almost whirlwind Christmas trip.  As Roth was packing up the car I pointed out he only need do this two more times before getting back home.  I not sure he found that spectre amusing.

That pretty much wrapped up our holiday get togethers, economical but very satisfying.  By the way, for New Years, we made a couple of party snacks (wings, toasted raviolis, and sliders), watched a little TV and were asleep by 9:30 or so.  I was awoken from my deep sleep to the distant sounds of very large fireworks booms and gun shots in the air.  I glanced at the clock, it was 12:05.  I elbowed Loretta, “Hey!”  “What?  Huh?” “It’s midnight, honey, Happy New Year”. “Happy New Year to you…”  I laid there another few minutes listening to the far off revelers and the sound of various forms of ordinance going off…pop, pop, pop.  Ah, sounds like a nine millimeter glock.  Certainly hope the bullets don’t come down on our house!  Happy New Year!

It was a nice holiday season for us.  We thoroughly enjoyed all of it.  Until next year.