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THE RUN-DOWN DEPARTMENT STORE

A warning: What’s ahead is probably the very darkest part of this miserable, goddamn, already-dark story. Turn back, if you like; I won’t blame you. My brain, at this point in my illness, was about as useful as a lobster forgotten in a steam pot. Then one of the imaginary cooks would say: “WHO LEFT THIS LOBSTER IN THE STEAM POT? BECAUSE IT’S COMPLETELY USELESS NOW. GREAT.” And he’d be right. In fact, instead of reading this section I suggest finding a quiet ice cream parlor and treating yourself to a bowl of strawberry ice cream. Strawberry ice cream never tastes better than it does in October for some reason. And the creepy guy who works the counter could really use some company this time of year.

Things lighten up considerably after this, promise. Last chance for strawberry ice cream.

Here we go. More…

LOST & FOUND

There was a bit in the last section that I’d like to reclaim. I used the word “frightened” to describe myself in the moment when I saw my mom and dad’s faces for the first time and subsequently interpreted their appearance as a symbol of how dire things were for me. I don’t think that’s right. I don’t believe that I ever felt scared, or frightened, or sad, or angry, or anything that a healthy person would probably have been feeling throughout this. Inside me, there was only this: a static indifference. It was like a white noise, like a box fan being run at higher and higher speeds, and swallowing everything up. No, I was never genuinely “frightened” at the beginning, not really, not even when things turned grim as they soon would. More…

UNDER THE SEA

Everything around me in the hospital was cast in a kind of perpetual, shimmering twilight. Sounds fruity to say that, but it’s true. It would be twilight as I was falling asleep; I’d wake up and it would somehow still be twilight. No matter what time of day it was, the shadows were always long and dramatic in St. Paul’s, the sun outside always seemingly close to going down. I didn’t understand it then, but I was becoming more and more untethered to time. I was leaving behind the things that normally bound me to the world—clocks and calendars and the Internet and so on. I didn’t care if it was Monday, Friday or Wednesday; if it was the middle of the night or lunchtime; or if it was my birthday even, which it really was during the early days of my hospital stay. Because up ahead there was always more of that seductive, delicate twilight. And more twilight always meant more sleep for me. More…

MR. ZERO ONE ONE

My third visit to the Emergency Room at St. Paul’s was even more of a blur than my two blurry earlier visits had been. Jason, my friend, as his wife Ali who is a medical doctor had instructed him to do, shepherded me there, though I have no memory of him doing so. I don’t remember many tangibles from this visit—no faces, names or anything like that. I remember sitting in a small curtained-off room by myself for awhile. I remember doctors and nurses wheeling a series of odd-looking machines through the curtains, as if these were prizes I’d won on a dour gameshow. They cheerily hooked me up to the machines one after another. Once a machine got the information it needed, they would wheel it away again. What the doctors saw, either via these machines or the way I was behaving at the time (i.e. zero, one, one), definitively told them what I had been trying to tell them for the last two weeks: that something strange was going on inside me.

More…

STATUS UPDATE: STILL HERE

That’s right, folks—I’m still here. My still here-ness is something that apparently continues to impress a fairly large portion of the medical community here in the Vancouver, BC area. Every few days I’ll arrive for a routine follow-up exam, as one must do in the aftermath of a thing like this. I’ve probably seen 45 different doctors or so in the last four months. When I see a doctor for the first time, he’ll spend a few minutes paging through my records in a formal, doctorly fashion. Then he’ll usually say, “You know, you’re lucky to be alive.”

You are lucky to be alive. I never know how I’m supposed to respond to this. Thanks? Yes, that seems to be true, doctor? My, that’s an extremely flattering necktie? If anyone can make paisleys work, it’s you? I’m an American living in Canada, so I’m always certain that this will be the moment that Canada has decided to present me with a super-sized medical bill that includes a kajillion-dollar fee for bring me back from “the mist-filled abyss of the nether-world.” Though I haven’t been yet. More…

Christmas Vacation: Part 5

[Read the first installment here. -Scott]

When I was a boy—yes, another post that begins with those dreaded five words—I realized at a young age that I was blessed with two main talents. Talent One was my gift for committing the weekly TV Guide listings to memory. Talent Two was the ability to turn the smallest of concerns into insomnia-inducing, hand-wringing worries. In short, I was a prematurely anxious child who could reliably tell you when 60 Minutes was on (Sunday, 7 p.m., channel 5).

Yes, I was quite a piece of work. More…

Christmas Vacation: Part 4

[Missed the earlier installments? Scroll down, lovely reader, and you'll find them. -jones]

I was all business as I made my way through the overcrowded Toronto airport, lowering my shoulder if needed. I might or might not have knocked the wind out of a man in a trench-coat who was looking at his phone instead of looking at where he was walking. If I did, apologies to you, good sir. Please look where you are going next time. I was desperately trying to recall the protocol in Toronto for switching from a Canadian flight to a U.S. flight. My best guess was this: customs (a pair of hissing, Death Star-like doors marked with a sign that says “U.S. FLIGHTS”), then fetch my luggage from the baggage-claim area (which is challenging, as the baggage-claim in Toronto is as large as a Tie-Fighter hangar), then haul said luggage to a completely different terminal, then check in for my flight, re-check my luggage, then board a propeller plane the size of a squirrel trap and fly to Syracuse where my old parents were no doubt already waiting curbside in the “NO STOPPING” zone for me, because they’ve never been late, not one second late, for anything, ever in their lives. More…

Christmas Vacation 2013: Part 3

My time up in the air was, as always, complete bliss. Despite the cramped conditions and rampant flatulence from the crush of humanity around me—what is it about airplanes that makes people fart so much? scientists, can you please do a study?—I adore my time on airplanes. I always have. Last October I did 10 hours to Tokyo like a pro. In fact, any flight that lasts for less than five hours—which is any flight that isn’t going from one coast to another—always feels prematurely truncated to me. Whenever the announcement is made that the cabin needs to be prepared for landing—seat-backs upright, luggage stowed, etc.—I pout like a five year old who’s being sent to his room. Please don’t make me go back to life on the ground, I think. Down there, I have bills to pay and weird bumps on my body that need to be checked out and vitamins that need to be eaten and writing that needs to get done. Just before the airplane’s wheels touch the tarmac, just before they let out that welcome-back-to-reality, horror-movie scream, I wonder if $100 would be enough to get the pilot to take this old bird back up and to fly it around for an hour while I watch another two, three episodes of The Big Bang Theory.

Now, the exact specifics of what transpired on my Christmas flight from Vancouver to Toronto are a little hazy. This is what I know for certain: I dozed off at some point and woke with a crossword puzzle partially completed in my lap. I maneuvered that air-blower thing above my head so that the cool, germ-infused air was blowing directly on the front of my face. I watched a Woody Allen movie on the seat-back TV—Blue Jasmine—though I couldn’t tell you the first thing about it other than Andrew “Dice” Clay wasn’t too bad in it. More…

Christmas Vacation 2013: Part 2

[Missed Part 1? Shortcut to reading it is here.]

Vancouver International Airport is not the world’s largest airport by any means, though it does boast several well-vacuumed terminals, and, like all Canadian airports, a Tim Hortons counter manned by bored Chinese women wearing hairnets. The odds that the man and I—the same angry little man who had attempted to run me down with his pick-up truck in Gastown 24 hours earlier and then gave me a verbal dressing down from his lowered driver’s side window because, according to him, I was in his way—would wind up not only in the same terminal as me but also at the same gate as me had to be practically nil. Of all the flights leaving that busy travel day, it would take a Christmas miracle for he and I to be on the same one. More…

Christmas Vacation 2013

Three days before Christmas I showed up at the airport to make my annual 3,000-mile holiday journey back East. Ten a.m. and already the terminal resembled a low-grade soccer riot. I found an available kiosk and did my best to satisfy it. I plugged my passport into the passport slot and answered the requisite questions. (No, kiosk, I do not have any flammable paints, or crossbows, or dry ice in my luggage.) Once the skeptical kiosk was more or less satisfied, it kicked out one of what should have been two boarding passes. Hmm, I thought. I’ll have to get this minor oversight resolved when I change planes in Toronto. I didn’t know it at the time, but this would be the first harbinger that my bicoastal journey would not go smoothly this year. More…