Oh, but the injustice of it all…

Let it be known that today, the first Monday of November 2011 (November 7th, to be precise) I was, at the vigorous yet tender age of 56 years, diagnosed with and began treatment for gout.

When I expressed to both my physician and my pharmacist my perplexity at such a seeming injustice, I assured them that I was quite knowledgeable about gout, having read Franklin’s wonderful dialogue with Madam Gout.

Both my physician and my pharmacist laughed outright, although M., my pharmacist, told me in her kind manner to go home, put my foot up, and re-read Mr. Franklin.

So I did. And for those of you who haven’t read (or haven’t in some time), here is the conclusion of Benjamin Franklin’s conversation with Madame Gout.

Up to this point, Madame Gout has been berating him for his sedentary life. Her crowning piece of medical advice–which is for Franklin the final straw–is that he take his fine carriage and burn it:  He will now have to walk everywhere he goes and he can use the heat of the fire to a salutary effect on his gouty being.

From there:

GOUT.  Well, then, to my office; it should not be forgotten that I am your physician. There.

FRANKLIN.  Ohhh! what a devil of a physician!

GOUT.  How ungrateful you are to say so! Is it not I who, in the character of your physician, have saved you from the palsy, dropsy, and apoplexy? one or other of which would have done for you long ago, but for me.  

FRANKLIN.  I submit, and thank you for the past, but entreat the discontinuance of your visits for the future; for, in my mind, one had better die than be cured so dolefully. Permit me just to hint, that I have also not been unfriendly to you. I never feed physician or quack of any kind, to enter the list against you; if then you do not leave me to my repose, it may be said you are ungrateful too.

GOUT.  I can scarcely acknowledge that as any objection. As to quacks, I despise them; they may kill you indeed, but cannot injure me. And, as to regular physicians, they are at last convinced that the gout, in such a subject as you are, is no disease, but a remedy; and wherefore cure a remedy?—but to our business,—there.

FRANKLIN.  Oh! oh!—for Heaven’s sake leave me! and I promise faithfully never more to play at chess, but to take exercise daily, and live temperately.

GOUT.  I know you too well. You promise fair; but, after a few months of good health, you will return to your old habits; your fine promises will be forgotten like the forms of the last year’s clouds. Let us then finish the account, and I will go. But I leave you with an assurance of visiting you again at a proper time and place; for my object is your good, and you are sensible now that I am your real friend.

–As of today, I promise to keep my truck, but burn my carriage. While I will never be a better man than Franklin, I will, I swear, burn my carriage and, like Franklin, avow “never more to play at chess.”

Mister Gouty, to those of us swimming in the same ken.

Colaptes auratus

Yesterday, the last day of October, Halloween, I rounded an open stretch of blacktop on the south end of Richardson and caught sight of three Northern Flickers as they jumped and danced together, leapfrogging in a flurry of rust-colored wings and white-thatched rumps, their long, single-note calls rising at the end as if in inquiry, so loud I could hear them even over the roar of my truck’s heater and I could only think of the title of that wonderful old Joni Mitchell album, Court and Spark.

With Age

With age my knee
now does tricks,
something my hands
could never learn.

Fumble, as I would,
with rolling a coin
between wooden fingers
or palming the ace,

prestidigitation never
visited. Today, though,
my right knee conjures
an act of misdirection

so perfect my body almost
doesn’t follow it.
Even the skeptics in the front row
would be wowed.


Miz Adrienne and Miz Bee

From My Journal–Four Years Ago Today

October 29, 2007—Sitting at around 32,000 feet somewhere over the middle of this vast land, both strange and familiar. Should be in Newark in about four hours. Five hour layover, then board a big Continental jet—something so large should never leave the ground, it seems to me, and, I think, to the small children who, inevitably shriek when the wheels part from the tarmac on every flight I’ve ever taken—for Delhi, where I should touch down at around 8 pm IST on Halloween eve.

Spent the past 2 days in Queen Anne with Adrienne. Watched “In the Shadow of the Moon” on Sunday night, a fine, fine movie. Couldn’t take my eyes off the screen, then couldn’t stop thinking about it. To think that there are men walking on the Earth today who have walked on the Moon and to think that in just over 24 hours I’ll be walking in the popping blinking flurry of noisy dirty bright explosively alive Delhi.

At the end of “In the Shadow of the Moon,” each astronaut interviewed who’d visited the Moon described his complete transformation as a result of that experience and the sight of lovely, fragile Earth, their home, our home, hanging in the blackness of it all.

In short, they described the experience of the traveler: transformation, spiritual enlargement, a new view of an old home, beauty beyond words.

Brought with me on this trip, my second to Rajasthan in just over a year, “The Adventures of Augie March.” Last year’s trip, I read Pete Dexter’s “Deadwood,” which I found at Twice Sold Tales in Queen Anne, and which I’d never before read. I wanted a uniquely American book to read on the plane and on the trains slamming and clambering their way across the Great Bikaner Desert and “Deadwood” proved to be just that.

I thought that “Augie” would serve the same function. The flight from Seattle—where I’m writing this—is sparely peopled, and I’m able to have 3 seats to myself, to stretch out, nest, a feeling I won’t have (if my limited experience from last year’s trip is any indication) on the 14-plus hour flight from Newark to Delhi.

But right now, lots of room, cold water to drink, snacks, Sonny Rollins and Brian Eno on the tunes (from Gary’s collection) and a near cloudless sky below me.

How sad I am at leaving my wife, and how sad sometimes I get when I look at her and know that there will one day be a time when one of us—most likely me—will not be alive to share one more moment together. I don’t know that I fear death…most of the time I don’t, but I fear the idea that should I die first—again, the most likely scenario—I will leave behind the woman I love most dear with a grief I will not be there to share.

I have my pocket journal and hope to keep something approximating useful notes. I thought, when I first began carrying a notebook years ago, that it would not only serve as a record of my days but also provide both the forum and the impetus to recall and write of those things that lurk just beneath the shallow, turbulent, utterly-selfish surface of my most pedestrian thoughts and which are keys to the self I am at this moment right now. Things like the fact that the sight of pale crimson persimmons at Blossom the other day reminded me of the skinny persimmon tree that perched on the house side of the ditch paralleling Lillian Highway between the Mackeys’ and our house, a tree that had a single, substantial limb perched out over the middle of the ditch and offering a drop that was just higher than any fall I would normally be comfortable taking, even as a small boy.

But I would take it anyway. How many times did I unclasp my hands and fall from that limb and why would I think of it now, at least 45 years later and more miles away than I can contemplate with any meaning?

What I do contemplate most often is my own narrow self, whether it’s my often and insistent need to pee or the contentions I bring against so many, whether a nameless stranger passing casually after tailgating me on I-5 or my boss. And am I open to what I’m getting out my job right now, a chance to be in the mauling packs of the beautifully exotic streets of Jaipur? Do I not fear that with my personality of emptiness, of mimicry, that I will someday—and possibly even someday very soon—wake up to find that I have become the nightmare that is _______________ (Boss’s name deleted from this entry.)? Of course I do!

But I am in a life right now with a beautiful, witty wife who loves me, people who seem to enjoy my company, and a home under the drooping cedars in a crowd of low salal, overrun with squirrels and deer and chipmunks and towhees and chickadees and nuthatches and crows and ravens and eagles.

And I am on my way to India again, to see, once again, dear friends and another world here on this lovely and fragile planet we all call home.

The other side of the world



Last night (or, more precisely, early this morning,
just before waking)
I dreamed about a student I once taught,
one I had recently learned had died
several years back.

In the dream, I took from my wall
two photocopied pages,
captured against the drywall with a push pin,
telling how he’d died in the fiery hold
of a cargo ship. It was a terrible accident;
the photos were all black and white.

In truth, I don’t know how he died.

What did he leave undone?

I ask this, having passed half a century of life some years ago.
Having lived longer than friends, children I knew,
some family.

What did they leave undone?

This morning, I ask myself
What do I have to do today that I cannot do?
Weeding and planting new ferns?
I can do that.
Reseeding and watering a patch of lawn?
I can do that.
Some minor plumbing, walking down to the garden
and picking or digging, then cleaning the vegetables
I’ll cook for our dinner?
Correspondence, accounts?
I can do all that.

Catching up on everything I have left undone?
Not now.
Not today.

"Such Dreams"