George Lois asks: Can you do better?

george lois can you do better

George Lois was a real Madison Avenue adman from the 1950s and 1960s, and after. He wrote a book some years ago called DAMN GOOD ADVICE, which is a combination memoir / self-accolade / idea book.



It’s a good read, and a funny one. I recommend it.



(Incidentally: if you watch “Mad Men,” you will be interested to know that George Lois is rumored to be the model for Don Draper, the main character in the series. George, in his book, hotly denies it. “And besides,” he says, “I was more attractive!”, and shows this picture:



george lois don draper



(So what do you think of someone who says: “That’s not me! And besides, I was more attractive than that!”? Hmm. I know what I think.)



Anyway: the book is full of good stories.



This one nags at me frequently:



A bigwig goes into a bar and says to the bartender, “Give me the best Manhattan you can make.”



Bartender does so, and gives it to Bigwig. Bigwig tastes it. “It’s good,” he says. “Can you do better?”



Bartender tries again. This goes on for several repetitions. Finally, after sampling Manhattan #5 or so, Bigwig says: “This is excellent!”, and then he glares at Bartender. “Why the fuck didn’t you make it like this the first time I asked?”



I have no answer to that.



What does “best” mean?



And why don’t we do it all the time?


For Sunday: Tim Tebow reads “Green Eggs and Ham”

tim tebow green eggs and ham

Sometimes we need a relief from the difficulties of our everyday lives. We need something deeply silly to help us escape.

So: here’s Tim Tebow, who is Christian but delectably cute, doing a dramatic reading of Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham.”

With hand gestures, yet!



I’ve written twice before about Lynda Barry, the inspired writer / artist whom I was privileged to hear speak at the Rhode Island School of Design last spring.



She talked about so much that I could hardly take it all in. I made notes when I got home, and tried to remember everything, because it was all interesting and funny and new.



She talked about the way children play. She described a game her brother used to play: he’d draw random dots on a sheet of paper, very methodically; then he’d eat a bowl of cereal, staring at the sheet of paper; then he’d take a pen and play dive-bomber on the sheet of paper, crossing out dots. The last dot won.



Now that’s play.



But play is not something you can just do. How many times did your parents say: “Why don’t you just go play?” And did you wonder: “What does that mean?”



Play is a state of mind. Go think about Lynda Barry’s brother staring at that sheet of paper, eating his cereal, and consider what’s going on in his mind.



Best story of all: Lynda was in a restaurant, watching a mother and son at a nearby table. Mother was talking on her cellphone. Son, about six years old, was talking to his bacon. “I’m gonna eat you!” he said to his bacon. Then he made the bacon talk: “No no no! Don’t eat me!” This went on for some time. Lynda was spellbound. This was real play.



Until the mother suddenly saw her son playing with his food. “What are you doing?” she snapped at him.



The little boy dropped the bacon as if awakened from a dream. “Nothing,” he said.



Playing. Just playing.



People don’t play enough. Adults don’t play enough.



Partner and I play with our stuffed animals: we make them talk, and argue, and fight, and even make out.



Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?



Believe it or not, it’s quite the reverse. I think it helps keep us both sane.


Feeding tube

feeding tube

I’m having a feeding tube installed next Friday. It’s a tube going directly into my stomach, which will enable me to “eat” if/when I’m not able to swallow anymore.


The procedure, my gastroenterologist informs me, is very simple. (He’s a cutie – short, paunchy, salt-and-pepper, very bouncy). It involves passing a wire from my mouth through my stomach, and – oh, you don’t want to know.

Anyway, I’ll have a little tube going directly into my stomach. I will be able to introduce food directly into my stomach via the tube and some sort of syringe-type device. (The cancer treatments will burn my throat, and it may be too painful for me to swallow – or I may lose the ability to swallow altogether. Again, kids: ew!)

What do I feed myself with? According to Partner’s sister: meatballs. According to Cute Gastroenterologist – “Oh, you know, like Ensure, or Envive, or something else.”

Ensure is good, but expensive; twenty-four cans cost more than a dollar apiece in BJs.

Carnation Breakfast Solutions (which was once called “Carnation Instant Breakfast”) is much cheaper, and has all the same ingredients – protein, vitamins, etc.

I checked it out down at the local grocery. Ten packets were five dollars and change, and weighed maybe half a pound. A bulk container of the stuff, with almost a kilo of the powder, cost the same.

So I think I know what I’ll be buying.

How do I know it’s powder? I dropped the container while I was checking out the contents. It went all over the place, and exploded like a bomb on the floor in Aisle 10.

I got away from there as fast as I could.

Don’t worry: they overcharge, and we shop there regularly. We get our money back.

But I felt like a silly old man as I legged it away from there, rather than summoning a store employee and apologizing meekly.

Oh, who cares? They clean up messes all the time.

Losing weight and gaining weight

losing weight

Back in 2006 Partner and I went on a weight-loss regime. I went from 215 pounds to about 180 in a year or so; within another year I was 170; a year later, I reached my fighting weight of 160 pounds.

I’d had no idea that I was overweight before; when you gain weight gradually, you see very little change in the mirror from day to day. I look at photos of myself from the early 2000s, however, and I see a stuffed sausage:

Fat photo

After I lost weight, I felt much better. I felt smaller, for one thing. When you lose weight, you literally take up less room than before. Stairs are easier to climb. When you eat, you get full more quickly, and overeating can be positively painful.

I joined a health club in 2008, which also helped me keep my weight down. But my kidney stones began to irk me more and more, and I found that thirty minutes on the treadmill made me ache, and I was dreading it more and more from day to day. So I quit the club in early 2013.

Within a month I’d gained ten pounds.

This doesn’t seem like much, and it didn’t show too much – I didn’t have to buy new clothes – but when you’ve lost 55 pounds, it seems a shame to put any of it back on. So, when a friend told me in June about Mimi Spencer’s “Fast Diet,” I was all ears. It’s very simple: two days a week (mine were Monday and Thursday), you eat only 500 or 600 calories; the other days you eat normally. Most people lose a pound a week. I cheated a bit, but by August I was back down to 163 or so, which was fine with me.

Then, around Labor Day, I discovered that I had cancer.

What a nice time I’d chosen to lose weight!

So now I am on the opposite of the Fast Diet. I am cramming a candy bar down my gullet as I write this. I need to gain weight – as much as possible – before the worst of the treatment begins. Almost everyone loses weight while undergoing chemo and radiation, and if you have a few extra pounds – well, hallelujah.

Pass the butter, please. And the gravy. And the ham. And pour a little olive oil over everything.

I’m fattening up.

Lent and Mardi Gras

lent and mardi gras

When my various treatments begin, I will have to give up a lot of things. I’ll have to give up hot/spicy food when I’m on chemo, because it will upset my stomach. Also caffeinated coffee. Also fatty foods. Most of all I will have to give up alcohol, because it would both irritate my throat (which will be irradiated five days a week) and interfere with some of the medications. One of the Comprehensive Cancer Center people told me the other day: “We’ve tried accommodating people with alcohol, and it just doesn’t work.”



Good goddamn!



My friend Joanne said, in response to this: “Pretend it’s Lent.”



This is excellent advice. Lent is forty days (not counting Sundays), roughly the period of my chemo/radiation therapy. People generally give up silly things for Lent, like chocolate and popcorn. I will be giving up my beloved curries, and hot sauce (which I put on pretty much everything!), and my evening drinks (which calm me tremendously).



But the treatments haven’t begun yet. I probably won’t start them until mid-October, once my feeding tube has been installed and my dental work is done and my facial swelling has subsided. (When you undergo radiation for throat cancer, they make a mask to hold your head in exactly the right position. If they make the mask before my dental work, or while I’m swollen, the radiation won’t be directed accurately.)



So I now have approximately three weeks of no rules at all, before the treatments begin. Three weeks of Mardi Gras.



And what happens during Mardi Gras?



All hell breaks loose.



I have had curry three days in a row now. I drink nightly. I’m eating ice cream as I write this.



When I begin the treatments, I hope they prescribe me a lot of soothing medication, for Partner’s sake and my own.



Remember what Bette Midler said to Kramer on “Seinfeld,” when she wanted her black-and-white cookie:

BETTE: Get me one of those Black and White cookies.

KRAMER: Yeah, all right, yeah…. (hangs up) They don’t have any. But don’t worry I’m going to get you one somewhere.

BETTE: Good. Because if I don’t get a Black and White cookie I’m not going to be very pleasant to be around.

KRAMER: Now that’s impossible.



O I assure you it’s possible.



Happy Mardi Gras!


Doctor Pearl

doctor pearl

Pearl is Partner’s sister, who lives about forty miles north of us, in a suburb of Boston. She is a very Technicolor person. She is short and pugnacious, and she always lets you know what she thinks about everything. She has occasionally smacked me in the back of the head when she can’t stand listening to my nonsense anymore. “Jesus Christ!” she yelled at partner. “How the hell can you stand to listen to his goddamned babbling all day long?”

Pearl has been very supportive during these early days of my diagnosis and treatment. This summer, when I was first telling her that I had a strange pain in my throat and was having it checked out, her advice was: “Don’t ask for trouble. If you go to a doctor, they’ll just tell you it’s something serious. You probably don’t want to know.”

“But what if it really is something serious?” I said.

“Then you especially don’t want to know,” she said.

She has a point. Not knowing is much more peaceful. Knowing is a little upsetting.

After my diagnosis, however, she became very pragmatic. When I told her I was having a feeding tube put into my midsection, she was very thoughtful. “How big?” she said.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Small, I assume.”

“Big enough to fit a meatball through?” she said hopefully. “Meatballs are good for you.”

“Maybe liquefied,” I said.

I love Pearl. I know that she wants me to get well, which is best of all. And her best medical advice came in the form of a threat: “If you don’t fight this,” she said in her tough Massachusetts voice, “I will come down there to Rhode Island and goddamn kill you.”

And she means it.

So I’d better goddamned well survive.

Purple socks

purple socks

In Graham Greene’s novel “Monsignor Quixote,” we meet an elderly innocent Spanish Catholic priest, who learns that he’s been promoted to Monsignor. He is very excited about this, because he now gets to wear purple socks.
You know I love purple. I have a couple of purple shirts, ranging in color from Concord grape to light lavender, with several shades in between. A long time ago I bought a lavender enamel star to wear on my lapel, and I told people it was a symbol for gay rights (this was before we had any kind of established symbols, so you could tell people anything and they’d believe you).
But never before did I have a pair of purple socks (see above). They’re pale lilac, with little nubs. Naturally they’re Italian.
Story: there’s a nice little men’s-clothing shop in our neighborhood called Milan. The clothes are beautiful, but they are far too highly-priced for my dollar-store lifestyle. Though their window I could see a lovely display of socks: lemon-yellow, pale lime-green, pale lilac. I have admired them out loud to Partner many times.
The other night Partner surprised me with a pair of lovely purple socks. He pretended that our little stuffed dog Blot Malloy bought them for me. This is Blot:


I ask you, does he look like he has the money to buy Italian socks?
Partner finally confessed that he’d bought them for me. I asked them how much they cost, and he wouldn’t tell me. “I’ll admit,” he said, “that they were more expensive than any socks I ever bought before.”
I wore them to work the very next day, in combination with black pants and a pale-lavender shirt. I showed them to a number of people, and they were dazzled. One even said: “And look! You’re wearing a purple shirt too!”
To which I replied: “Did you think that was a coincidence?”

For Sunday: Buck Owens sings “Cigarettes and Whiskey and Wild Wild Women”

cigarettes and whiskey

There was a television show called “Hee Haw” back when I was a kid. It was a real breakthrough: the country/western world went prime-time / nationwide with a variety program, with stupid sketches and lots of music.

The hosts were Buck Owens and Roy Clark.

Buck Owens, bless his steely Republican heart, was a classic C&W performer. This song of his still goes through my head sometimes. Don’t ask me why.

Slightly better news

slightly better news

Good news, first of all: my PET scan results have come in, and my cancer is confined to the left side of my throat; it hasn’t spread anywhere else in my body. (My hematologist / oncologist was actually giggling with excitement when she told me this. I think I love her.) This means that the radiotherapy can be focused very precisely in the area of the tumor, and I’m not so far along as to be incurable.

It’s barely two  weeks since I learned I have cancer, and I have learned so much!

For example:

  • One of the most effective chemotherapy drugs, cisplatin, is very dangerous for people (like me) with hearing loss. It can make us lose our hearing entirely, or cause lifelong tinnitus. I’ll be taking the milder carboplatin instead. (Imagine having a platinum-based drug infused into your body! I’ll be worth a fortune!)
  • Another, taxol (which I’ll be taking in low doses) causes hair loss and some neuropathy (mostly numbness and tingling) in some patients. I’ll be sure to take pictures of myself during the process, if I become especially shaky and peculiar-looking. You can all have a good laugh.
  • Radiation to the throat makes the whole area sore. I won’t be able to drink for the duration; it will sting too much, and probably also interfere with the various treatments and medications I’ll be taking. Bugger!

But mostly I have learned that this whole thing is ridiculous.

I look over my doctors’ scribbed notes and I see things like “tonsillar cancer.” I have tonsil cancer!


Feeding tube? Ridiculous.

No drinking for the duration of the war? Double ridiculous.

I think of Professor Remus Lupin in the “Harry Potter” books – one of my favorite characters – who taught his students to fight off boggarts (which take the shape of your most secret fear) with this spell: “Riddikulus!”

And he was right. Most of our fears are really ridiculous.

If I can just keep repeating that particular spell for the next three months or so, I’ll be just fine.

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