“Who’s for the cave?”

I was shanghai’d, no doubt about it. I met the woman who was to become my wife in 1991, when I was researching a book based on the legend of the Bell Witch, and there is a whole involved story there I won’t go into. Anyhoo, Shell knew I was crazy for caves at the time, and to entice me to move to Tennessee she sent me photocopies of Tom Barr’s Caves of Tennessee and Larry Matthews’ Descriptions of Tennessee Caves, making sure to note all of the interesting-sounding caves near her home.

Photocopies, mind you, laboriously done at Nashville Tech. In retrospect it would’ve been cheaper for her to buy actual copies of the books! I later procured legit copies of each. Tom Barr signed my copy of his book many years later (after a trip to DePriest, interestingly!) and I will hopefully someday get Larry to sign his. Dr. Barr has since passed on, but Larry is very much a going concern and is working on another book even as I write this. In fact, he’s mostly the reason this missive came about in the first place, but again, another story for another day.

Anyway. Shell’s evil ploy must have worked, as I (not so) grudgingly moved from the Louisville area in early 92 and have been here in Tennessee ever since. I was a member of Tennessee Cave Survey for many years but have been infirm for the past ten years or so to the point that I have sort of drifted away from caving as a sport. But I remain interested and still have all of my books and gear. The books get read often; the gear mostly collects dust and takes up space in the basement, but it does elicit some great memories.

But anyway again. This is all about DePriest Branch Cave, probably one of my favorite places to have made those great caving memories. And, more to the point, the survey thereof.

The DePriest Branch survey came about as most such projects do for us…in a backhanded sort of way. My friend Dan McDowell came down from Indiana for visits every few months those days, and he was always putting the bite on me to find something new and different for us to do each time. As a result Shell and I started having a regular gathering for our Northern Indiana Grotto brothers and sisters called SpeleXposé, with our home as Base Camp. We even produced a guidebook of our area caves for our visitors.

One of those showcase-kinda caves was Lewis County’s DePriest Branch Cave, which we had visited as guests on a trip with the Cumberland Valley Grotto of the National Speleological Society. At the time we floated the idea of a survey, with Mike Bose, I believe, but everyone in CVG had pet projects they were working on and couldn’t be bothered to come west to map DePriest, no matter how pretty it was. That annoyed Ron Johnston, not just the cave owner but a caver himself. “Why don’t we do it?” I suggested. Dan was all for it, and allowed as to how he thought NIG would get involved.

What did Ron think? Well, he thought it was a pretty good idea, “as long as I get my name on the map,” he asserted. If you help survey, you’ll get you name on the map, I told him. Initially he was indignant (“it’s MY cave!”) but eventually he did help survey, and he did get his name on the map. All by itself even!

So, all that remained was to actually do the work. And over the course of the next year or so, we did just that.

That first trip it was, I think, me, Shell and her friend Wanda Warren, and Mark Deebel, now probably best known as the spearhead behind the Lost River Cave System in Indiana. We did over a thousand feet the first day (from the entrance to an impressive cantilever dome that would eventually be called the Pretty Good Sized Room) and were rightly accused of scooping the easy stuff first. That was probably true but we didn’t want to burn Shell and Wanda out, and we did it slowly and carefully, front sights and back sights and elevation, proper “grade 5” stuff in cave mapping accuracy lingo.

Dan came down within a week with Deebs again, and shortly thereafter arrived the vanguard of NIG. Pretty soon we had two and three teams going. I was still more or less unfamiliar with the cave and did a long southeast passage that dead-ended, thinking it was the passage that led to the Red Room and Hodag Cemetery, two exquisitely decorated chambers in the southeast quadrant of the cave. We would bring home pages and pages of survey notes, which were usually moist, and universally dirty, but all readable. I would immediately input the data into my Macintosh, loaded with David Herron’s CavePlot software, then it would draw a rudimentary map of what we’d done. The most wonderful thing about this was that as it worked, we finally began to grasp the layout of the cave.

At the end of that first weekend we had 4200 feet done, almost half of the cave as it later turned out, with much of the dry stuff done. Later Deebs, Steve Lockwood, Dave Seng and I did the wet upstream stuff, some of which was way nicer than expected. First trip I did up that way it way very wet and obnoxious, but you could mostly stay out of the water. Mostly. The second trip, Dave borrowed my wetsuit (you’d have to have see that to understand how awesomely funny this was) and it turned out we didn’t need it…the water was way down! There is an interesting little rock formation about a hundred yards in we called Phantom Ship; in the dimness it rather looked like a ghost ship floating on the surface of the stream. Well, it was beached on the next trip!

Far upstream was fascinating. The passage width was startling for so deep in the cave and it was big enough to walk around in after having crawled and climbed to get there. But it gave you the feeling it was about to end, and end it did, with a sump pool along the right side of the passage amongst silt-covered breakdown.

Over the next several trips we kept doing cutarounds and little stuff off of the main passage, side leads that we knew weren’t really going anywhere but would add the the footage and lend character to the finished map. Some of them I couldn’t get in, they were so tiny; here Ron’s son Chris came in very handy as he and Dave were really the only people who fit. Also, to date I have yet to see the fabulous Born Again Chamber as I am a) too big and b) too claustrophobic to attempt such a small passage. There is a video of Bruce Silvers of NIG going through it on YouTube and to me this is the stuff of nightmares. I offered to dig the passage out out a few times but Ron demurred, saying it’s the best kind of nerd filter. I guess that makes me a nerd…if so, I wear the moniker proudly!

I can safely say we surveyed everything there was to see in the cave, and I believe I could traverse it in my sleep now, even twenty years later. There are a few places that might, if given a serious push, might go a farther: for example, a miserable, low, wet passage just off the end of the Gun Barrel called W7. It started as W6 till we got in to survey it, thinking it might pass beneath the upper level stuff and bypass the sump at the end of the cave. Walter Scheffrahn, Windy City Grotto caving veteran and ace surveyor, who was lured out of caving retirement and brought his family down a couple of times, led the survey into it and was concerned (perhaps rightfully!) that rain might flood the awful little crawl. Thus it became Worryin’ Walt’s Wonderfully Woesome Watery Wallow. We returned later and learned that it got low and apparently ended after a few hundred feet, adding the final W, for Worthless! Still, move some rocks away and it might go farther…at the bitter end you can hear water dripping into some kind of cavity. Maybe it’s a drain. Something for another day, another trip, and now I’m not sure I’m capable. So it goes.

Ultimately we mapped almost 9000 feet worth of cave. Ron was a little disappointed that we came just short of three kilometers, but it wasn’t as if we didn’t try…I even tried to force the sump at the end of the cave a few times during dry weather and still believe that more passage exists beyond, it just may not be accessible through the DePriest entrance. It’s pretty grim back there…the footing is very awkward, and if you were to slip and fall and be unfortunate enough to slide beneath the wall…well, it might be difficult to retrieve your body…

So, it was time to draft the map. I am no artist, certainly, but the software did most of the hard work allowing me to practice my penmanship. Thankfully I did not have to hand-letter the features; we had access to page layout software and were able to do things neatly. Shell is a wonder at this sort of thing and was able to provide valuable instruction and the finished product was well received; Ron looked ready to cry when we presented him with a framed copy of the map which as far as I know still hangs on the wall of his home. The truly ironic bit though is that I don’t have a large format copy of that map…and I drafted it!

Yes, we heard some grumbling from some Tennessee cavers after the fact about NIG coming down and scooping another big Tennessee cave, just like they did with Dunbar. But there you go. You either do it, or someone else will do it for you. We had the same thing happen with another nearby cave, Pleasantville Palace in Perry County. There at least we started it all. I still have most of the survey notes for that too; we got a little over a quarter mile recorded on that one before the idea ran out of steam. Six hundred miles is an awful long way for folks to travel, after all. Hopefully someone else will take up that spelean gauntlet. It’s a small cave but very pretty in spots.

What’s left to do? Well, if it’s really big caves you want, well, we have one of those too. Blowing Cave, in Hickman County, just up the road from DePriest. Morgan’s Cave, if you will, to differentiate it from all the other Blowing Caves, including the sprawling maze a few miles west across the Perry County line. Hickman County’s Blowing Cave, owned by transplanted Texan Gary Morgan, is a large volume cave that must be seen to be believed, and may well traverse an entire massive limestone ridge to the little burg of Upper Sinking. The passage just goes and goes beyond the last big room, sometimes crawling, sometimes big enough to stand up in, always carrying water. Too, there’s an awful swallow hole cave on the other side of the ridge that is channelling gobs and gobs of flood water roughly southwest, and a large, interesting karst spring just up the road from Morgan’s that appears to spit it all back out again. Things that make you go hmmmm…


(as Johnny Olson) A NEW CAR!!!

Yes, we did!

And here’s how it came about: Ruby, our beloved 2011 Versa, was in serious need of attention. Like, to the tune of repairs totaling about a grand or more. The wonderful Shell and I talked about it, and the more we spoke, the more we figured it was time to perhaps look into getting a newer vehicle. Another, newer Versa would be nice. We could trade in the old car, but Shell really wanted to keep it as her own daily driver, and we really couldn’t trade in the truck either as with our rural property (such as it is) we still really need a truck. So, what to do?

A trip to the credit union proved the answer. We were quoted a figure on a used car loan, plus a little additional money to repair the old car. It kept us in the ballpark of payments that we had on the previous machine, and with that in hand we started shopping.

It didn’t take long. We went through Enterprise Car Sales, which whom our credit union has a relationship, and they had pretty much what we wanted: a 2016 Versa Note SV. The only hitch was the color; we had but two choices, black or silver. Neither one was particularly appealing, but I was prepared to live with silver, till I asked the wonderful young lady at Enterprise who was working with us if there was another alternative. She clued me in…”Sure! We have several of them at our Memphis dealership…what color do you want?”

Well, Ruby is red, so perhaps blue? She allowed as to how that would be no problem, and sent me a link. The picture included wasn’t all that good, but it looked better than black or silver, so I said, ship it and I’ll come have a look at it. She said, no obligation, which was even better. A day and a half later it was at the dealership, and I went in to scope it out…

Azzie the New Blue Shoe!

“Azzie” the New Blue Shoe sits at the dealership, patiently waiting her new owners.

…wow! That’s not the same blue I saw in the picture! It’s more of an azure, Shell said. It was love at first sight for me and I didn’t even bother taking a test drive, I had so much confidence. A mistake, I know, but somehow I just knew. I would take my test drive on the way home.

So. To the lot on Saturday to complete the transaction. I expected this to be as painful as our experience buying Ruby, but just it wasn’t so…we got it all done in well under an hour. Nice job, Enterprise…we will certainly do business with you again next time we’re ready for a new car!

Now then. I have since noted that the Versa Note gets no respect from the car mags–you know, the likes of Motor Trend and Car and Driver who, it seems, have forgotten what it’s like to be poor–so I figured I would put my own .02 worth in. Thus, here is the actual review I posted about our new car at edmunds.com.

First off, you probably should know that this is our second Versa. We really like the model…it is, it seems, as close to our ideal vehicle as exists today. Sure, we wouldn’t mind some cavernous SUV but the fact is that we can’t afford it, and with gas getting dearer and dearer still we appreciate the economy of a well built “misermobile”.

We bought the first used as well and have put 140K miles on it (so far…it’s still running well!) but we were ready to get another, thus the 2016 Versa Note SV. We purchased this one via Enterprise Car Sales and I cannot say enough about the buying experience…first rate all the way; great price, wonderful vehicle, just what we were looking for, and with pre-arranged financing through our credit union we were in and out of the dealership in well under an hour.


The back side view. Minus stickers, those would, of course, come later.

Now, as to the car…first things first, it’s not a race car, so take reviews from sites like Car and Driver and Motor Trend and their ilk with a VERY large grain of salt. The Versa Note is a commuter car, and it does that job exceedingly well. It rides well, has a quiet, roomy cabin (I am 6′ 3″ and fit fine both in the back seat and behind the wheel) and everything is laid out logically. The SV package includes just about every electronic widget you could possibly desire sans navigation, but that’s why I have an iPhone and a GPS. The backup camera is a nice touch but with so many enormous windows it isn’t wholly necessary. It’s nice to have, though.

The body style is a significant upgrade from the rather shoe-like boxiness of the 2011 Versa we own, and is very pleasing to look at. The cargo space is remarkable with the rear seats folded down (my bicycle fits just fine, thank you!) and the Divide-n-Hide storage is a neat feature that gives you a nice flat floor with a nifty hiding place beneath. Every car should have this sort of thing!

As to the driving, I enjoy the CVT personally though I can understand why drivers who prefer more input might desire a five or six speed. I certainly can’t argue with the results though…my average gas mileage has been a jaw-dropping 41.5 mpg in combined highway and local driving. Seriously. I watch this stuff carefully (with my budget I have to) and this is not just accurate, it’s spot-on. Those are near hybrid numbers, at what, a half of the cost? A third? Remarkable! Mind you, I drive with a balloon foot mostly, but hey, I stay out of the way and don’t slow anybody else down. I bet I could speed up a bit with little loss in mileage, but I’d rather be kind to the car. The small fuel tank probably helps too, holding about 2.5 gallons less than the 2011 Versa. Less gas, less weight. Less range too, you would think, but at 41.5 mpg you’re talking 450 miles per tank, and that’s more than the 2011 ever got.


Behind the wheel. More buttons and levers than we are accustomed to, certainly!

The steering is precise on the road but remarkably light in the parking lot…nothing to complain about there. The car mags all note the supposedly gutless engine, but hey, it gets me up to speed just fine and I don’t have any problem keeping up. So far as costs go, apart from gas, regular oil changes, and rotating tires, the Versa would be frugal on that score too.

In the summing up, as a used vehicle, fleet or otherwise, the Versa Note is a remarkable bargain, proof that you don’t have to give up much to gain a lot of value. I expect to be driving it for many years to come.

And that’s it. A new car buying experience that I will remember pleasantly (for a change!) and a new vehicle that so far has been a joy to drive. We’re going to take our first trip in her a few weeks from now and we’ll see how the pair of us enjoy it as a country road cruiser. Till then…

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.