A True Story

Over the weekend I’m talking to my brother on the phone. He says he’s concerned that he might be a workaholic, using his work in a way similar to the way the substance-aholic uses substances, escape, self-worth, etc.

So he decides that he should find out more about what being a workaholic means. He finds a Workaholics Anonymous meeting in his area. When he goes, there’s no one there.

Kindle 2

So Amazon has released the new Kindle. A brand new opportunity for you/me, the cash-strapped consumer, to spend a lot of money, and then spend a lot more.

Let me say here that I am a huge fan of Amazon. I buy so much stuff per annum from Amazon that I signed up for Amazon Prime. And the kinds of stuff I buy from Amazon Continue reading

Best freakin' coffee on the planet

I’ve never been a fan of Starbucks coffee—their caffeine, yes, their coffee, no—and so herewith I offer you the chance to try the most freaking awesome coffee on the planet. I’ve never been a big fan of dark roast, and dark roast seems to have proliferated ever since the global expansion of Starbucks. But there’s way better coffee awaiting your discerning palate. Continue reading

So you're going to have a colonoscopy

Fear not. This is a good thing.

I had, post my diagnosis with ulcerative colitis somewhere ca. 1987-88, something like 15 colonoscopies, and so I speak with a certain level of experience on the matter.

In the early days, before the advent of industrial strength bowel cleansing agents, you had to start the “prep” a couple of days prior with nothing but broth and Jell-O and clear liquids. Then, the night before, you had to have a bottle, maybe two, of magnesium citrate. Then in the morning, you had to use a Fleet enema.

Good prep is important. If you screw it up, then you have to start all over again.

The thing to keep in mind is that the prep is the hardest part. The first time I ever had one of those four-liter jugs of purgative, I had heard from a friend that it was horrible. I mixed the stuff up and sat down to drink it. The first cup wasn’t so bad. The second cup was a little less so, and by the 20th or so, I had developed a deep loathing for the stuff.

It pretty much works as advertised, which is to say that you finish it up by about 7 p.m., you’re purged by 11 p.m. It’s pretty much entirely unpleasant, but likely way less unpleasant than dying of cancer.

It wasn’t until about my second-to-last colonoscopy that I discovered a way to make the prep a little less unpleasant. I asked my doctor, “Is gin a clear liquid?” He laughed and said, “I suppose so.” And so when I did my prep, I’d have a cup of the purgative, and then a gin chaser. Didn’t make the Go-Lytely taste any better, but it sure did make things seem a little bit less dreary, and perhaps even humorous.

And if you’re a coffee drinker, as I am, you’re going to have a massive headache by the time you have your colonoscopy, but I’d say don’t worry about a hangover. The whole thing about those Go-Lytely-type purgatives is that they’re designed to clean you out without robbing you of electrolytes. I have no idea whether the gin screws with that. But I’m not suggesting downing the whole bottle.

This is not intended as medical advice. Your own doctor may not see gin the way mine did. Anyway, be happy you have a colon, and not a diseased one. Before it was removed, mine looked, on the screen during flexible sigmoidoscopies and colonoscopies like a pizza with the cheese torn off. Which tends to make the whole thing, from purging to the actual “procedure” a lot more painful. If you have a healthy colon, it should be painful at all.

One more thing, though. If they offer you the chance to be out for the whole thing, take it.

And one other more thing: they use air to inflate your colon when they scope it, so afterward, you will be passing that air right back out. No big deal. It can even be kind of funny.


The Oxford Project

I spent the summer of 1983 at the University of Iowa, where I met my now ex-wife. Together, we moved back there in late summer of 1984. This was the early-middle Reagan years, and there were not a lot of jobs available. Despite whatever might have been happening elsewhere, the Reagan Recession was still in full swing. I remember once going to a hardware store to apply for the one job opening they had, and despite getting there early, there was a line out the door of guys, some likely way more well-informed about hardware, and a lot of them seriously hardbitten, out-of-work dudes who looked like they needed the job in a way that I’ve probably never known.

I filled out the application, but never heard a word.

I took a paper route with the Des Moines Register just to make some money. And then I applied for a route with the Iowa City Press-Citizen. I had experience. I’d worked as a relief driver for news dealers for the Washington Post for several years during high school and college, and it was a job I liked. Parenthetically, there are few better jobs for a writer than delivery jobs. I think it was in On Becoming a Novelist that John Gardner said that one of the best jobs a writer could get was a mail delivery route. Once you have the route memorized, something like muscle memory can take over, and then you get to spend long periods alone, thinking, dreaming, listening to the radio, but then you get to meet people, too, and a lot of times they’re folks you’d never have met in any other way. I used to drive down Route 80 and stop at a place called the Little Amanas, where there was a rack in a convenience store. There was a nice kid who worked there, like me, probably in his early 20’s. He worked behind the counter. He had a sort of angelic face, delicate, and very blond hair. And we’d chat a little every day. Then one day he was gone. I asked the next fellow where that guy had gone. Turned out he’d been beheaded in a car accident.

At that time, and maybe it still is, the Press-Citizen was an afternoon paper, except on Saturdays when we delivered in the morning; there was no Sunday paper. So you got to meet the people you delivered papers to.

One of the places I delivered papers was the town of Oxford, a drive a dozen or more miles down Route 6 from Iowa City through Coralville, and then into Oxford. I always stopped at Mary and Al Wyborny’s Oxford Trustworthy Hardware, then the gas station, where there were a couple of racks to fill. To this day I can’t remember the name of the gas station, because I put it into my second novel, and that false memory, at least in terms of words (the mental pictures are still there) had crowded out the real memory.

And so, late last year, I stumbled across this review of And so, late last year, I stumbled across this review of The Oxford Project in the Philadelphia Inquirer that stopped me in my tracks. I went to the gallery at Welcome Books and stared at the photographs, hoping to see some of the people I had known, many of whom had surely died in the intervening years. And then my wife bought me the book for Christmas.

I spent most of the day in the book, looking at the photographs and reading the short snippets of the lives that people had offered. The thing that hit me instantly was that while I had met these people, and seen these people and interacted with these people, I had never known them. The book is as good as or better than a lot of novels I’ve read. It’s the story of a small American town during a period in which small American towns were (it seems to me) becoming more relevant for whatever iconic value outsiders could paste on them and way less relevant for the people who lived and worked there.

The revelations are brutal and frank and sweet and sometimes massively depressing. Alcoholism is a constant theme. The sorrow of life is palpable, but also is the heroic foolishness of the human heart, faced as it is with its own sure extinction, beating on nonetheless.

Orchises in the paper

Way back when I had hair, and that hair had actual color, Roger Lathbury, who was then Roger Lewis, was one of my favorite professors. We’ve been in touch on and off over the years. I have no idea, really, why he bothers with me, but for me, his impossibly cool erudition make him something of an ideal reader, and a lot of times when I’m writing, I think of him, as in, what would Roger think?, which can be a powerful means for making the really crappy sentence jump right off the page—and force me to take advantage of that jumping to swat it away.

So imagine my pleasure and surprise… Continue reading