Something Happened!

(No, not the Joseph Heller book, but you should read it)

You will notice, or perhaps not, that I have been away for a while. There is a reason for this. Two, actually. First is, I have finally received serious treatment for my Trigeminal Neuralgia and yes, it appears to have been successful. The treatment thus imposed is called a Micro Vascular Decompression, in which the skull is opened and padding is placed between the trigeminal nerve and nearby blood vessels which are annoying said nerve. This involves a complicated bit of surgery, which, as noted, was successful, and I have not had TN pain since November 10. Blessed relief!

What’s that? Side effects, did you say? Well, they are legion: stroke, seizures, venous sinus occlusion, swelling of the brain, and CSF leak…hearing loss, double vision, facial numbness or paralysis, hoarseness, difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), and unsteady gait. 

So guess which one of these yours truly was afflicted with? Well, several, actually, but most of them were (or are) minor and endurable. The one that made the biggest impact though…

Let me describe what happened. I had the MVD on Monday, November 13. I spent a couple of days in neuro ICU at Vanderbilt, got transferred to a regular room for one night, and then home the next day. Silly me, I thought that was the end of it. I was out and about, walking, doing fine, even had much of my strength back. Things were looking good. I might even get to go back to work sooner than expected and spend the remainder of the holiday season pretty much as normal.

But of course it was not to be thus. Sunday afternoon I was sitting at home, enjoying the last night’s Predators game and occasionally checking up on the last NASCAR race of the year. It was a fairly quiet day and I was enjoying it. At a certain point I decided I would enjoy it more with a glass of milk, so I got up to head to the kitchen.

Or at least I tried. My body did not obey the commands my brain was sending.

Being the stubborn sort, I kept trying. Eventually I staggered to my feet and somehow made it part way across the room before collapsing on the sofa.

Shell came in a few minutes later and saw me on the sofa. She asked me something, I can’t remember what. Perhaps, how did you get over there? or maybe, what was that noise? I replied, I suppose, something unintelligible. I couldn’t speak. Or at least, not well enough to be understood. It felt like the right side of my mouth was melting.

Bless her heart, she reacted as a loving wife should. She hollered for our son, told him I was having a stroke, and insisted on carrying me to the nearest emergency room. A couple of hours later I was back at Vanderbilt, and a few days later I was back at home, not quite so cavalier about the time spent horizontal. Stroke is a nasty business, and I was informed by the folks there that this had been a near thing; the clot that had caused all the trouble was large enough and located in a tender enough location that it could have either killed me or rendered me helpless for the rest of my life.

So. Something happened, all right. Now then…what caused it?

Could be the MVD. Could be…except that the stroke happened on the other side. Hard to say. Could be that my persistent atrial fibrillation finally caused a clot that resulted in the stroke, as they are wont to do. Could just be fate. In any event, I am now on blood thinners which I will probably remain on the rest of my life.

Weeks later I am back at work. I am still very weak, all things considered. Back to zero on the personal odometer. I am having to rebuild myself, make myself better than I was before. Better…stronger…faster…or not. I’d settle for “capable”.

Anyway. That’s what happened. Back to your regularly scheduled real life…


Cheezburger to Go

I do not blush to affirm that I have long been a cat man. I love dogs, certainly, but cats are just…different. A dog will love you unconditionally, usually immediately; a cat loves you when it does because it chooses to do so. That’s the kind of companion I can appreciate.

Our family has been blessed with cats for a very long time, since the day my wife brought home two kittens in a box…this after insisting she’d never have another pet in her house, EVER. In this case it was two small kittens, unweaned, one near death. Wal-Mart cats, if you know what I mean and I’m sure you do. We fed them calf milk (we were raising cattle at the time) from eyedroppers and they both made it past the dangerous early weeks and into thriving adulthood.

Taborina, High Priestess of the Kitikat Tribe

Their names were Tabby (aka Taborina, High Priestess of the Kitikat Tribe) and Ila (aka Naughty Kitty of the Night). Mind you, we didn’t have a lot of room in the house, but we had plenty of room in our hearts. Tabby was strictly an indoor cat, but Ila was the Mighty Huntress, indoors and out, bringing us many “treats”; some alive, some…less so. But she was appreciated for her character and loving demeanor. Between the two of them they lived long, happy lives…16+ years for Ila, and 17+ for Tabby. When they crossed the “Rainbow Bridge” a little over a year apart, all three of us shed many tears, even our 22 year old son.

Ila, Naughty Kitty of the Night

We all three agreed that there needed to be a bit of a cooling-off period before we tried to adopt another cat. Tabby and Ila had been members of the family for too long, and you don’t just “replace” family members. They had both been caretakers as well in the passing of our Father and Mother, staying with them throughout and giving comfort to them and all of us when we needed it most, and we felt we owed them such consideration.

Then, Cheeseburger.

I think it was our son who spotted him first. We knew we wanted to adopt a rescue cat, one that was perhaps older and had less chance of being adopted. The pictures we saw depicted an orange and white shorthair that looked relaxed, but with perhaps a wily glint in his eye. We asked about him. Six years old, we were told, good with other cats, not so much with kids. His previous owner had passed away and he’d been looking for a home ever since.

It was a Tuesday. I was on a bit of a “staycation” so we figured there would never be a better time to scope out our prospective family member, and allow him to do the same with us. He was being kept at Petsense in Fairview, about twenty minutes up the road from our home on Breezy Knoll, so we drove down to have a look at him.

My heart broke when I saw him. Not because he looked as if he were being mistreated; on the contrary, he was being treated very well and the people at the store were very kind. It was just that the enclosure he was in was so small for such a large cat…it reminded me of some of the caves I used to crawl around in when I was younger. Cleaner, yes; warmer, certainly, but so very cramped and lonely.

The girl at the store opened the enclosure so I might get acquainted with him. Gently I eased my hand close to him.

He sniffed my fingers. Licked them tentatively.

That was it. That was enough. He needed to be with us. After some adoption paperwork was filled out and signed, we were given a box in which to carry him home. A very small box. VERY small.

Cheeseburger did NOT want to go in that box, but eventually we managed to get him in and more or less comfortable for the short trip to his new home.

Inside. Box on the floor. Open box.

Orange streak bounds out and heads toward the back of the house. Fortunately we had thought enough to close every door in that area save one, which is my son’s old bedroom, now unused. We figured it would be a good hideout for him while he adjusted to his new surroundings. Over the next few hours we took him a food bowl, a water dish, and a litter box and left him to his devices.

The next day, my son tempted him out from his lair long enough to feed him some treats and pet him. I did the same a little later and actually had him rubbing on me. My wife took one of our old cats’ sleep ring and put it on top of the bed, with the blanket the folks at Petsense were kind enough to give us for him, along with a couple of toys he’d played with while in the store. Anything to give him a sense of continuity with his new location. We knew it would be a long process, but we were prepared to wait as long as it took; some sources suggested it might be weeks before he felt comfortable to come out and mix with us.

Weeks? Days. First he allowed us to (gently, gently) enter “his” room and pet him while he lay in the sleep ring. We left the doors open so he could explore the house while we slept. Occasionally we would cross paths during late night trips to the fridge or to the loo; he would dart away at first, but as the days went by, he’d do so with less haste.

We all kept visiting him in the bedroom. My son and I in particular are pretty big guys (Preston is six feet eight inches tall and I am just a bit shorter) and we didn’t want to appear threatening. We called him by his given name–there had been talk of bestowing another, but he seemed to know his old name, so we left it in place. Mostly.

One afternoon I was not feeling well and was lying down to take a nap. As was my custom, I left the bedroom door open so he could come in and go out if he wanted. Next thing I know, he is on the bed with me…and cuddling. He stayed a couple of hours, napped with me, and left while I slept. Progress made…

Later that day, rather abruptly, “Cheezy” carefully padded down the hall and into the living room where my wife and I were seated. He looked at both of us. I offered him some treats. He took them from my hand, then, deciding I must be okay, he jumped onto the chair with me. After a while with me, he joined my wife on the sofa. A little later he climbed onto the top of the sofa so he could scope out what was happening outside the picture window. We have bird feeders out there, you see. High entertainment, like big screen TV.

It’s now been a little more than two weeks. Cheezy is still somewhat skittish, but as they say in racing, it’s early days. He’s still exploring the house, figuring out where all the nooks and crannies are. Good hiding places for his toys. He’s had a ball with a peacock feather. He sometimes will get on the bed with us at night, but he never stays long. He has a new bed now, on the ottoman in the living room, where he can watch us watching him if he’s not sitting with me on my chair watching the races or reading. He just wants to be around us. Yes, a sudden movement will still startle him, but perhaps he’ll get used to this in time. Or maybe he won’t; either way, we will accept and love him. We hope he’ll be a part of our family for many years to come.

Wrapped up in books

It is a well-known fact that I read a lot (and if it isn’t, it ought to be.) Now, one cannot feed on bread alone, nor can one solely exist in the reading world of the adult one pretends to be. As such, I have tried my best to delve into various age groups.

Harry Potter? Loved it, every single volume. I bought most of them on their release days. It really translated well to us big kids.

The Hunger Games? Liked ’em a lot. Not quite as well suited for the more “experienced” reader, but still highly entertaining.

Twilight? Ummm…the less said the better.

I have also really dug into Lois Lowry’s The Giver, and its subsequent followups. I loved it so much that I now have the boxed set. It’s quite the amazing world she has created, and there’s lots of lessons for us  adults in each of the stories. I suspect a certain orange-haired Oompa Loompa President hasn’t read too much Lowry…just a guess, based on the tenor of some of his statements.

Another terrific Lowry title is Number The Stars, which deals with children trying to escape the Nazis in occupied Denmark. It’s an incredibly gripping little book and I found myself wishing I’d known of it sooner.

Onward then. Having been very much into a reread of the Repairman Jack books (most of which are very much not children’s fare) I figured I’d overload on darkness and violence if I didn’t roll a kids book into my reading list somewhere. Now, I had a copy of the Puffin Classics version of Kipling’s Just So Stories on my dresser for weeks, so I decided now might be a good time to go ahead and check it out.


Regrets…I’ve had a few…and this is one of them. I should have read this book thirty years ago! Why? Because this is one of those books that would work so well as a storybook to read to a child. PJ would have loved this stuff! “How the Camel Got His Humph” indeed! My personal favorite is the one about the kangaroo being chased by the dingo, or the butterfly stamping its feet…it’s funny, entertaining stuff that teaches a lesson, and that can’t be a bad thing. Oh, I know it’s dated, and there are some folk who will say it’s not “politically correct”. P’shaw. Kids will eat this stuff up, and the kind of lessons they’re apt to learn are pretty timeless. Read it yourself and see if you don’t agree.

So. What other kinds of reading did we dig on?

Wow. I can go back a long way. Anybody else ready the “Little Eddie” stories by Carolyn Hayward? They were probably the first “series” books I ever read. I remember he had a pet goat named Gardenia and a next door neighbor called Annie Pat. They stuck with me. Then the Black Stallion books…I went through a bunch of those. Didn’t care a lick for horses, not like my sister, but I loved the books. Jules Verne? I went through a very Verne period where I read most of his books. I’ve reread them all several times since.

I went through a mystery phase too, one that never really ended. I was an early subscriber to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine…wish I still had my old back issues. I’m reading Raymond Chandler now and really enjoying his work. But all of this probably started with the Hardy Boys books by Franklin W. Dixon. Yes, I read a lot of those. Owned a bunch too. Yes, they were real mysteries. It was only much later that I learned that “Franklin W. Dixon” wasn’t a real person, he was several people, including women, and they were the same folks who wrote the Nancy Drew books. And the Ted Scott Flying books I enjoyed too.

Asimov. I think the first book of his I read was “The Gods Themselves”. Great book. Got it when I joined the Science Fiction Book Club the first (of many) times. I’ve read his Foundation series as an adult and the Robot books as well.

Mom used to take us to the library every week. That was a treat. There was a library downtown we had to drive to, then they put a new one close enough that we could walk to it. And if we couldn’t go, she’d look for something and bring it home for us. One particular day she brought home a book for me called Depths of the Earth, about caves and the people who explore them. Well. That started something, it did, and many years later Mom told me she regretted ever bringing that book home because she lost many a night’s sleep worrying about me coming home alive from our latest underground escapade. But that’s another tale for another day. Cave literature became paramount for a long while, and my childish scrawl can be seen over and over in the check out cards that remain in some of the books in the Griffith Public Library. Then volcanoes and earthquakes…why, I don’t know, perhaps just an Earth Sciences thing. Then airships. Airships! Ask me about airships, I can tell you all about ’em. I was steampunk before there ever was such a thing…

Our library had a paperback trade section…bring in a book, take home a book. And keep it! Wow! What a concept! I found my first Perry Rhodan book there, and I was back on the sci-fi train again. I read a lot of that “book-zine” back in the day. And I discovered the Griffith Used Book Store about this time too. A musty old place full of books. Gobs and gobs of books. But to get to that, I had to walk past Alexander’s…yes it was a stationery store, but it also sold books. And comic books. Yes, I read comic books. I was very into the reboot of Captain Marvel. Of course, back then “reboot” meant, “kick him again.” And Archie. Read a lot of Archie comics. And I bought my first “graphic novel” at Alexander’s, one based on the TV show Space: 1999.

Ah, then came 1978 and my first Indy 500. And suddenly it was all racing, all the time. I bought lots and lots of racing books. They were hard to come by back then, as racing wasn’t near as popular as it would later become.

That I would marry a woman who lover reading was only natural. And over the years Shell and I have accumulated a lot of books. Some of them are books from my past, like the star book my Dad brought home from a garage sale that got me into astronomy. Years passed, that book got away from me (as some inevitably do) and I wanted another copy. I found one. I have probably a couple of dozen books on astronomy too, but this one title remains dear to my heart.


Our bedroom…it’s shelves and shelves of books. Very near to a thousand of them by my running list, and yes, I do keep a running list. Got to know what I have and don’t have when I go to McKays or when the next library book sale comes up…and it’s this weekend! Yay!

This is my life…wrapped up in books. I never really felt comfortable unless I was surrounded by them. I still don’t. Yes, I have a Kindle. Two, in fact. But they will never replace the Mighty Book.

Bubbles on the brain

Okay, so it’s been a while since I’ve been able to add to this blog. Please, allow me to explain.

It goes back to a previous missive of mine, explaining something called trigeminal neuralgia, and how I came to learn I had been afflicted thus. There’s actually more to the story, and I will take some time now to elucidate. You see, in the process of obtaining the diagnosis I had many, many tests. Among them were a CAT scan (no cats found, sadly), and MRI, and lo, many blood tests. Many, many blood tests. A lot of things can cause TN, it seems, so we rule things out.

As it happens, the MRI caught it. But the blood tests caught something else. Something with the catchy name of Monoclonal Gammopathy of Undetermined Significance, or MGUS. Which meant trips to a hematologist. Otherwise known as an oncologist, otherwise known as the Doctor Whose Name Shall Not Be Said. Actually he’s a very nice man named Habib Doss, and if I were to contract cancer, he’d be the guy I’d want treating it. More tests, including a twenty four hour urine collection. Wow. Anyway, the upshot is that it appears I do not have cancer yet, but I will have to be monitored for it, probably for years, possibly the rest of my life. Anyway.

But, to the bubbles. The MRI found…

…wait for it…


Not one, or even two, but three! Three wonderful aneurysms! (in the voice of the Count, of course.)

Aneurysms. Bubbles on the brain, basically. My neurosurgeon said, hmmm, better have a look at this. Aneurysms can mean instant death. Yikes.

Now, it’s true that I am well aware that life is at best fleeting, and we are but transient presences on this planet. Still and all, I’d like to prolong that presence as long as possible. Another test then? Why not? An arteriogram of the brainpan this time for a better look. Meanwhile, I am dealing with the TN as best I can, which is not very well at all. The first med given made me feel like the walking dead. The second kept me awake at night and resulted in more soiled britches than I’d ordinarily care to admit, but being as I am all about honesty here, you are getting the straight scoop, and the Fruit of the Turds are very literally thus. I had too many pairs of skivvies anyway, right Shell?

The news from the arteriogram was not bad. Two of the “bubbles” were not so bad as to require treatment. The third…well…let’s try another med before we allow them to crack my skull open, hmmm? I have far too many medical bills I cannot pay.

Anyway. It’s racing season. The drivers and car owners are getting their mounts ready for the new year and the track folks are getting the new rules in place. And me? Well, I will hopefully be helming a new podcast, which will be the next thing I write about on this space. The Fruit Of My Loom, my son Preston, will hopefully be engineering this effort, and we may have a somewhat larger cast than last time too. And perhaps a sponsor to provide some updated equipment even. So, very soon I will be too busy to be sick…


Doesn’t it just make you wanna grin till yer face splits?

Well, maybe that’s just me. Having grown up with the notion of Chicago sports teams as a bunch of lovable losers was fun, but ultimately unsatisfying. A Bears Super Bowl win in 85 was great, but it didn’t make up for decades of heartache and frustration. The White Sox went through their “Winning Ugly” season in 83 and looked set to take it all, but it wasn’t till 2005 that they finally redeemed themselves as the south siders swept the ‘stros. In turn the Bulls and the Blackhawks brought home championships in the NBA and NHL respectively.

Ah, but the Cubbies.

First of all, True Confessions Time: I did not grow up a Cubs fan, and for a very particular reason. You see, as a child I was required by my Mother (a die-hard Cubs fan if ever there was one) to take my nap about the same time as Leo Durocher and Company (for he was the manager then) took to the diamond. The Sox generally played in the evening, so I just sort of naturally drifted in their direction.

Still, it was hard not to like the Cubs. For one thing, they had this wonderful field, with ivy-covered walls. That cool scoreboard that had people crawling around in it, for heaven’s sakes. And best of all, they had ERNIE BANKS. Mister Cub! Ol’ “Let’s Play Two” himself! Not like the Cubs? Impossible! So much so, that when a local publisher printed a pair of books and titled them, Stuck on the Sox and Stuck on the Cubs, why, I went and bought both books.

I never finished the Cubs book. And for a particularly galling reason: I took it with me when I went to Marine Corps Recruit Training so I would have something to read on the plane…not knowing it would be confiscated from me as soon as we hit the ground. I never got it back. Much like I never got my High School diploma back after having carried it to Chicago for my USMC entrance examination and NROTC scholarship stuff (but that’s another story.)

I got out of the Corps in 84 and moved to Riverside, California to live with my Mom while I sorted my life out. That also happened to be the year that the Cubs looked like they might be contenders, and in fact they went all the way to the National League Championship Series against the San Diego Padres. The day games weren’t televised locally, so I listened to the games on the radio and kept score–I have always been a stat junkie and am quite adept at scoring baseball  games. Then I’d go to Grandma’s house and read through the game, just like it was happening. The first two games, we all loved. But…

…well, you can guess the rest. My radio ended up in pieces in the lot behind the turn six grandstands at the late, lamented Riverside International Raceway, where I’d been watching a Can-Am face and following the game. As the last out was called, I couldn’t help myself and flung it downward some hundred feet, passers-by be damned. Fortunately I didn’t kill anyone.

Time marches on. There were several close calls over the years (anybody else remember wanting to murder Steve Bartman?) for the lads from Wrigleyville, but they didn’t get hold of the brass ring proper till this year.

Now, I could say that it’s a shame that my Mom, who started it all, wasn’t around to see it. Her remains perpetually are covered with a Cubs cap. Or Grandma, who till the day she died kept a picture of her with Ernie Banks on her mantle along with the rest of her family…you see, he was family!

But still. I believe in a beyond, and I know that both of them were watching. In fact, I can picture them sitting on either side of Mr. Cub as Kris Bryant made that last out , and all three of ’em with those face-splitting grins.

And I was right there with ’em.

What we live with (not to be confused with familial complaints, of which I have none)

Here’s how it all started. I think.

It was sometime in April, not long after a trip to Centennial Hospital to have my arrhythmia corrected (which it hopefully has been, but that’s another story.) I began to notice very sharp, stabbing, almost electrical pains in my face and mainly my teeth. It was like a really, really severe toothache, only it wasn’t confined to a single tooth; rather, it was first one tooth, then another. The next day, still another. At another time, it might feel like three or four involved at once.

It was frightening for a lot of reasons, and not just the pain. I can’t afford to spend any money on dental care. My heart and lungs have been the expensive things lately. They’re getting better–I hope–but I can’t afford to deal with a couple of thousand dollars worth of fang repair. So I went in to my usual biannual checkup/cleaning a few months later with some reservations.

The surprise was…no surprises. There was nothing wrong with my teeth. X-rays seemed to show this conclusively. I breathed a sigh of relief…kind of. You see, the pain had never gone away, and at times it was quite blinding.

It’s hard to explain this. A toothache, yes, that’s easy to quantify to anyone who’s ever had one. Or a migraine, or a cluster headache. Kidney stones, and God knows I’ve had my share of those. Or a broken tailbone. Yes, that too.

This…this is something different, and what was worse, it was something I couldn’t pin down.

Being the inquisitive sort, I began to do a little research on that Great Fount Of All Information, the Internet. It didn’t take long to find a few hints. But being rational, and having an appointment upcoming with the wonderful Dr. Anna I figured I would just lay everything out to her and see what she had to allow.

Dr. Anna is nothing if not thorough. She asked all of the questions and I gave all of the answers. She examined me every way she could and should, and she sent me to an ENT to rule out issues with my sinuses. I do have occasional issues with my sinuses. But the phrase that kept coming up is trigeminal neuralgia. This wonderful little condition comes with the humorous alternative moniker “suicide disease” because a) it’s so painful (it is) b) no one believes you have it (try and convince someone you’re in blinding pain for no really good reason!) and c) it’s rather difficult to treat, apparently. There are options, but none really offer complete relief, and there’s always the question of money, or lack thereof.

Anyway. My ENT visit was today. And Dr Roth, who is a very nice man, is sending me for a CT scan. More $$$, to be sure, which I am not keen on but I guess I have to do it, then a return visit next week. All the while I keep having to grin and bear it. Last night I shaved, brushed my teeth, and washed my face…and I cannot adequately describe the resulting pain.

No one will ever see these words, probably. But I will post it nonetheless, and continue to do so as this strange journey progresses. Mayhap as time goes on someone will get a little comfort from knowing they’re not alone.

Because everybody ought to. That’s why.

Why have a blog?

It’s the same question people ask when they find out someone is keeping a journal (or a diary, same difference.) Why do it? Why make your private life public? Because a journal (or a diary, same difference) is by nature a private thing, unless you leave it laying around or the lock is easy enough to pick…just ask any convenient sibling…

But my private life has never been thus. Why should it be? Who am I? Well, this is me:


Quizzical look, disheveled hair and all.

And I am not a public person. No, really. I am quite shy and generally prefer to be left alone. That is, unless I am performing. And when I am performing I rend to be loud and occasionally overbearing and at times obnoxious. It’s what I do.

There is one person who knows me. That is my Favorite Wife, my one and only. She knows me. This does not mean she approves of me, only that she tolerates me as I am. Which is what I call True Love.

Anyway. This is my blog, and I will be Saying Things here that I might not say elsewhere, so if’n yer interested, keep the orbs peeled. You may see something you like. Something funny, or provocative, or annoying, or downright infuriating. I will be talking about things like writing books, reading books, racing, homelessness as a result of racing, hiking, theatre, the art and science of hollerin’, the art and science of hollerin’ in the theatre, and other Magnificent Obsessions. A whole lot of different stuff, in other words. Which is pretty much been the story of my life. In any event, you won’t be bored. That much I shall promise.

This bit of explanatory verbiage behind us, let’s us begin, shall we? You need but turn the page (metaphorically speaking, of course) to begin…jdr