The tunes were racked and chambered, Bruce as usual, some Motown and Chris Stapleton, Steve Earle and Dwight Yoakam, to remind me that real country music still exists outside of the drivel and defecating detritus Nashville continues to churn out under that fraudulent moniker.
A pleasant 70-something degrees turns into triple digits in Grants Pass, as a welcome left turn onto I-5 North heads for Portland. Having already banged out a diet of chemo outta Cleveland, surgery in Stanford, immunotherapy blood transfusions in Kentucky, next up is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT) at OHSU’s Radiation Oncology Center. The SBRT uses rotating 3-D CT imaging to pinpoint your tumors within one millimeter accuracy and then zap the heck out of the SOB’s with mega-doses of radiation. Some people might lament having to go another round with this sucker that’s taking up space inside my carcass, but I figure, looking at our national pastime, since as far back as 1882, only 319 times have players hit for the cycle, so by analogy, this is pretty cool and I have cancer to thank for it.
Seven hours later, courtesy of some pals from the Jim Rome Sports Talk Show on CBS, I’m ensconced in a nice room overlooking the Willamette River.
Speaking of, on the drive up, somewhere near Eugene while channel surfing, I get the local CBS sports radio station, happening onto some caller out of Jacksonville, Florida, who’s trumpeting the ubiquitous buffoonery on how soccer is boring and, by his Mensan calculation, if soccer and baseball had never been created by the third week in July, the year of our Lord 2018, those sports would never come into existence.
An NFL fan, he goes on to lambast hockey for its absence of fighting in recent years, as well.
The following morning, while watching the World Cup final between France and upstart, underdog Croatia, I recall Clem’s (or whatever his name was) call, while assessing the two teams’ different styles and alternating offenses and defenses, which resulted in France’s 4-2 victory. Translated into NFL-ese, that would amount to a 28-14 final score. Clem, and a significant number of meatheads (apologies to Rob Reiner), are quick to point out the flops in soccer and its lack of physical prowess. Conservative Washington Post columnist (and staunch Cubs fan) George Will, once referred to pro football as, “Gang violence punctuated by committee meetings.” Others might be quick to point out that pure action wise, it comes in a close second to baseball, which takes approximately 7-10 minutes of real time play in an entire game.
Indeed, I find it comical that so many look back at a Sunday night in 2014 to the NFL Giants Odell Beckham Jr.’s one handed catch as the greatest athletic feat of that or any year in NFL history. Comical, when you look at the pure athleticism of a Ronaldo, a Neymar or a Lionel Messi, which in contrast, relegates Beckham, Jr.’s catch somewhere near John, Paul, George and Ringo’s saunter across Abbey Road. Of course, then, we have that little fact of playing the real futbol on a 120-yard long field with 45 continuous minute halves sans breaks for huddles or catching signs and wind-ups. Just sayin’
By the way Vlad, couldn’t help but wonder, how big was that burr in your shorts while standing next to French President Macron during the presentation ceremony? Looked like your BFF Big D’s recent reaction to boarding Air Force One only to find Melania listening to CNN. Thank you, cancer, for setting me up for that pontification.
Moving on. Monday I take the Trees of Mystery-like tram up the mountain to the Knight Radiation Oncology Clinic for Day One of the SBRT Death Ray. I get a meet and greet with an RN named Maggie. Engaging, Maggie tells me how she got her law degree, became weary of practicing after five years, deciding she wanted to do something with her life. So she got her nursing degree, moved to Portland based on the reputation of OHSU and the culture of the city. Additionally, she does once a week empowerment counseling with young Latino women, looking to enter the business world.
We talk about Portland, life in general and 30 minutes later I get called in for my radiation. Typical of these people’s attention to detail and deviation from the usual 1-10 calibrated form you fill out, they’ve actually read what I’ve written in response to their finely honed questionnaire. I walk into this room, with all these transformer-like big guns all aimed at this little gurney, to the opening strains of Bruce’s “Thunder Road.” I couldn’t make this up.
Radiation techs, Jamie, Katerina and Andrea appear totally jazzed to see the killer frozen grin I have in response to their having manipulated Pandora to queue up my fave tunes. An hour later I’m down the mountain and walking back to my hotel.
Halfway back, I hear a bullhorn, chanting something indecipherable at first, but faintly reminiscent of the cadence and tenor of “Hey, Hey, LBJ, how many kids…..?” Moments later, I realize, indeed, it’s political. I walk a couple more blocks, turn a corner and see an entire two blocks consumed by some form of tent city, with seven black and whites, lights a-flashing, with 10-15 uniformed officers standing by, relaxed, while monitoring the scene.
I walk over to the perimeter of the tents, lean-to’s and tables announcing directions inside for meals, mental health, showers and other forms of assistance. Taking in the larger picture, I see that this temporary street community is lodged in between the federal Immigration Building and, ironically, Portland’s Tesla Headquarters. Signs, banners, placards, plastered everywhere, announce that this is a protest against ICE and, more specifically, the ongoing separation of immigrant children from their parents.
The scene is entirely peaceful, which is only further supported by “Jessie” at the entryway “Information Booth.” Jessie tells me they, approximately 140 by his count last night, have been there for 31 days and will remain there until the children are reunited with their parents. Another demonstrator tells me he’d be there until ICE was dismantled. I declined to proffer an opinion on his chance of success.
A short time later, I approached the officers, who were federal, having taken the place of the local city cops who had recently departed after the city government had decided they’d spent enough money “protecting” the federal building. Both the law enforcement officers and tent city inhabitants had good things to say about the “other side” and how peacefully and respectfully each had treated the other.
Each day, on the way back from radiation, I walked by this demonstration, this testament to our Bill of Rights in action, eventually departing with a silent prayer for having come upon this enclave of sanity in an increasingly tattered fabric that is my country. I have cancer to thank for that.
Other memories culled from a brief sojourn in this foreign place, tuning in to watch the Home Run Derby competition traditionally held before Major League Baseball’s All Star Game. I don’t usually watch this slug fest, but feeling a bit tired after radiation and my walk along the Willamette, I sank into the couch and clicked it on.
Despite having a less than stellar year at the plate thus far, it was very cool to see Nationals home boy Bryce Harper win the contest. That, along with bringing a bigger smile, was seeing his chosen pitcher be his “Pops,” the father and son hugging each other and their trophy as 54,000 locals roared in approval and, just maybe, bringing a wistful tear to many an eye.
It brought memories of my old man back in Jersey almost 60 years ago, defying the statute of limitations on bedtime, asking me to play catch under the streetlight on Deerfield Drive. Not sure if the memory of that time and place would have crossed my mind, but for a Portland date with cancer.
Movin’ on, also indelibly etched, the second day I’m there, I lob a call into the Jim Rome Sports Talk Show on CBS radio and television, where I’ve been a contributor for over 25 years. The show knows of my ongoing scuffle with the cancer bug. A local listener hears my call and manages to track me down at my hotel.
Very graciously, Dave Wilson turns me on to all the local goings on down at the riverfront where I’m staying. Also, he mentions me to a guy many of you out there know, in the guise of some of his creations. One of the former heads of advertising for Nike, Jim Riswold, created the “Bo Knows” ad scheme based upon the multi-sport talented accomplishments of Bo Jackson.
Jim came down with leukemia and, like myself, prostate cancer. He retired from Nike and opened an art gallery, while putting a rather ribald and extremely creative pen to paper, writing several books, including one which showed up, inscribed, at the front desk of my hotel. A sampling thereof:
A LOVE STORY
Cancer lets you get away with a lot of stuff. Cancer giveth and cancer taketh away, but if you knoweth how to get away with stuff, cancer really giveth. In my case, cancer let me get away with making Hitler in a dress art, Kim Jong Un lollipop art, Stalin in a bathtub art, decapitated Marie Antoinette and John the Baptist art… .
Andy Warhol once said, “Art is what you can get away with.” Now, no self respecting artist, especially one who gets away with Hitler art, is going to disagree with Andy Warhol on that one. And, Hitler couldn’t have been that bad a guy. After all, he did kill Hitler.
Turns out to be a pretty fascinating dude, landing somewhere between Hunter Thompson, Warren Zevon and Carl Hiaasen. I’m not gonna bury the lead on Jim Riswold, something of a spin-off out of Jon Hamm’s Mad Men character, I see a future article in the making. That said, once again, but for my ongoing dance with cancer, a flight of fantasy come to reality in meeting this very cool cat.
Wednesday has me a bit worn and nauseated from the megadoses the SBRT lays on (and in) you, which I communicate to dearest Connie, my fiancé holding the fort down back in Crescent City. Next morning, new pal, Concierge Devon at the front desk rings to tell me I’ve got a package that just got dropped off. I wipe the sleep from my eyes, throw on my Crocs and head for the lobby. Devon’s there alone behind the desk. Riswold had asked what size T-shirt I wear, so I ask about the referenced package, expecting that or a copy of his latest book that I googled.
Palms extended, I ask Devon about the package. With an impish smile, he nods to his left, saying, “Oh yes, Mr. Alexander, you have the package waiting here for you” and up stands Connie, having driven all night to be there and buck me up.
We have breakfast, go for a long walk along the river and she gets back in her car for the ride back home. I watch as Texas’ true yellow rose, with a heart as big as Houston, drives away with me shaking my head. One of those rare Kodak moments that’ll reside in my heart and soul forever, care of my pal, cancer.
It’s Friday, my last day with the Death Ray. I walk into the room, strip down to lay on the gurney, only to hear a composite CD that Katerina, Jamie and Andrea have put together for me. From their personal pantheons of favorites, I listen to Peter Gabriel, the Indigo Girls, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, Billy Joel, George Harrison, Haris Alexiou and Kostas Xatzis.
As the music of Katerina’s beloved Grecian homeland assaults the stiffly hung antiseptic drapes, Katerina ushers me across the polished linoleum in sweepingly vibrant step patterns I attempt to follow.
I have often quoted Kurt Vonnegut wherein he says all one ever needed to prove the existence of God was to look to the existence of music. Add to that, four angels named Maggie, Katerina, Jamie and Andrea that I found at the top of a Portland Olympus in the summer of 2018, courtesy of a hitchhiker named cancer.
Old pal Ferris Bueller once told me “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a awhile, you could miss it.”
Funny, and that was after only one day off.
Thank you, cancer.
Jon Alexander lives in Fort Dick.