John Cleese, who’s on a book tour, recently got together with former comedy partner Eric Idle for a fun hour-long chat here in town. Here’s that chat. I know — you think you don’t want to watch it. I urge you to do so. But fair warning: If, like me, you think you’ll watch five or 10 minutes and then turn it off, you’ll be wrong. You’ll wind up watching the whole blessed thing. Because whether they’re reminiscing about the beginnings of Monty Python or dishing on their former castmates or tossing funny barbs back and forth or re-enacting hilarious sketches from the now-lost show Cleese did before Python, they’re hilarious.
- I woke up yesterday without the taste of blood in my mouth. Yes, the green-tea bag seems to have worked. Either that, or my system rallied: ”C’mon, we’re not going to let us bleed to death. We’ve got decades of debilitation ahead of us first.”
- It’s difficult to imagine that as a teenager I would have been so excited to attend the out-of-town seminar I went to yesterday — on tax strategy. In fact, I think the 14-year-old me would have bludgeoned my elder self to death in disappointment. But it was nevertheless thrilling yesterday to spend seven hours learning all the advantages of setting up multiple LLCs and S-Corps and Trusts and then linking them in byzantine ways so that ultimately one pays little or no tax. (Romney 2016, anyone?) Big takeaway: How does one murder one’s wife and her suitor, leave incriminating footprints, attempt to flee via slow white Bronco, confess to the killing at the police station, get acquitted but lose a civil trial and therefore a multi-million-dollar judgment, get arrested in Las Vegas for menacing people with guns… and still have enough money to hire more attorneys and live the lifestyle in Key West? Shelter it all in your retirement plan. Evidently it’s completely untouchable. Good to know!
- Yesterday I spent 8 dollars for 10 wing pieces at Wing Stop, but only 4 dollars for 4 books at a bookstore next door. There’s something wrong here. It’s clear the value we place on literature, versus fresh-cooked chicken.
- My city is participating in the “Go Dirty for the Drought” campaign. Perfect — my car is unwashed-ready!
On Tuesday, I had oral surgery.
No, this isn’t a euphemism for dental work. I mean I had oral surgery, the kind that involves a scalpel and what is advertised as “a little discomfort.” In my particular case, this meant injecting a poisonous Botox-like liquid into sections of my head, cutting flesh out of the roof of my mouth, and then stitching said flesh into new areas where it doesn’t really belong and has, since Tuesday, been surprised to find itself.
I don’t know what I did to deserve any of this, because I hadn’t even met this dental surgeon before the consult a week before, and I’ve never done anything to malign himself or his family. This just seems malicious on his part.
I should add at this point that this Frankenstein maneuver on Tuesday is only the beginning. This is merely the prep stage for implanting completely foreign and manmade constructs into another area of my mouth. So while I’m enjoying the current stage, I have much more fun to look forward to over the coming weeks. And during the holidays, too!
Barring minor inconveniences, this had been proceeding relatively fine since Tuesday morning. This initial “procedure” had been communicated as requiring 45 minutes, but was actually completed in only 44 minutes. (I timed it.) I like to save time — as though we could actually save time! But a guy can fantasize, can’t he? — and so even if it’s only a minute, I’ll take it and make it mine. Everything seemed hunkydory after the procedure, so I announced that I was going to go to my office.
“No,” said the doctor. “You’re going home.”
“I feel fine. You did a good job. I’m going in for a bit.” (“A bit” generally means all day. Because I like it there.)
“No. You need to go home.” (This dialogue, by the way, is assisted by your reading his voice with a Syrian accent. It adds a lilt. And a directness of sorts.)
“Okay,” I said. Not to be defeated, I added, “But I’m working from there!”
I stopped on the way home and picked up the medicinal rinse he’d prescribed and even the pain medication, although I couldn’t see why I’d need the latter. Everything was good! At home, I settled in with my laptop and started pulling the levers and switches of my business that are available to me remotely, suspecting at the same time that most of what I was doing was annoying other people who wished I’d just be really off for the day as previously advertised to them. When I got on Skype chat, I imagined I could hear groans of disappointment from the other side.
Then, after about two hours of basking in my productivity while actually accomplishing little, in the way that a dog endlessly circling a dog bed is just sure it’s making that dog bed somehow perfect for lying down on just by walking around it for five minutes, I found myself texting this to my business partner: “HOLY SHIT THE ANESTHESIA JUST WORE OFF!!!!” I can now testify that as interesting as I found it to have someone saw off a section of the roof of my mouth and hold it before me with the proud proclamation, “Looks like sushi,” what was even more interesting — because of the intensity of the surprise — was just how surprisingly painful this procedure proves to be about two hours later. So I chucked my laptop to the side, ran downstairs in my underwear and scrambled for that bottle of pain pills.
So that was minor inconvenience number one. Which, I later verified by checking the post-op documents I’d been issued — which I would now classify as “a false bill of goods” — had been defined as “minor discomfort.” Yes. This was minor, and the next step up would be having my leg hacksawed off.
The second minor inconvenience was the string.
At some point later that evening, I had the feeling that something was on my tongue. What was it? I could feel it, and it kept moving…. Then I realized it was a piece of string. More specifically, a suture. It was maddeningly distracting. Once you find something hanging in your mouth, it’s impossible to ignore. Don’t you find that to be true? It doesn’t belong there, and you know it, and so it has to go. But this was a suture, so presumably it was holding something up in place — specifically, the wounded parts of my palate! So my first attempted correction was just to tongue it back into place: to take the tip of my tongue and, with it, to moisten that string and plaster it back into place against the roof of my mouth. Which worked.
And then the string fell.
And then I tongued it back into place again.
And then it fell again.
And then I tongued it back up there again.
And so on.
This little game seemed to go on for hours. Given how I clock time when I’m getting fed up with something, it was probably more like four minutes, but I’m telling you, it felt like an eternity before I launched back out of bed and grabbed a pair of bathroom scissors and cut off all of the hanging thread.
And that worked beautifully.
Until more fell down later.
So then I cut that off.
Then last night when I came home from a meeting downtown there was even more of it hanging down. So I cut that off.
And then tonight before driving out of town for a seminar, I felt it again and looked in the mirror and there were about four feet of sutures hanging out of the top of my mouth and I cut that off too. I still feel more of it up there even now, though! Just how much thread did he stitch into my head — a full spool? I feel like the fish in “The Old Man And The Sea,” hooked at the end of a 200-foot line. Just where is all of this nylon stitched up there, and why does it keep falling down? Just how far can this go?
But even that seemed like a minor-minor inconvenience compared to what started today, Friday, three full days after “the procedure.” On what should have been a healing day. A day of recovery, and of reflection.
When I awoke this morning, I discovered an alien feeling between two molars on the left side of my jaw. Something felt big and fleshy, like an area of my body had become engorged with blood, but not the usual one. No, this particular tumescence was precisely at the crime scene of Tuesday’s action. I knew something was wrong. So I leapt from bed and ran to the bathroom mirror somewhat like Jeff Goldblum in “The Fly” to see what it was. I looked in the mirror and, much like Goldblum in said epic, said aloud, “What… is that?”
“That” was a blue-black-purple lump spilling over from my gum and nestled atop my tooth. Was it part of my gumline? Was it that graft from the roof of my mouth? What was it? And why was it blue-black-purple? I fished around in my dopp kit and pulled out a dental implement; probing with it revealed that the blue-black-purple lump was still attached to me somehow. I couldn’t imagine how that could be — or what this was — or where that attachment was anchored — or, actually, anything of the nature of what I was seeing. I decided not to panic. Panic wasn’t called for. But fretting definitely seemed in order. I also wondered why the movie version Frankenstein monster isn’t generally even more annoyed, baffled, and angry — and why the novel version is so comparatively sedate. He’s cobbled together from parts of many different dead people, and awakens to set off on a quest for his own humanity. In my case, all they’ve done is move one fingernail-sized droplet of my flesh from one area to its nearby neighborhood, and it’s left me perplexed and fraught. I decide my best course of action is just to ignore it and see if it will go away. Somewhat the way I handled the boogie man as a child.
But then, in the shower, I suddenly feel something rolling around in my mouth and spit it out and see that it’s the blue-black-purple lump, rich with my own blood, now spattered onto the floor of my natural-rock shower, where water is hitting it and draining away, pinkishly. And then, fast as a blink, my fleshlet slips down the drain and into the recesses of our plumbing.
Well, I think, that takes care of that. So: off to my office.
At my particular office in our suite of offices, I discover that my lights don’t work. Click-click-click-click-click; I attempt it repeatedly believing somehow that this time they’ll just come on for God’s sake. But no. Oh, so it’s going to be one of those days, I think — but no matter, I’ll just sit here in the gloom, bleeding inside my mouth where the blue-black-purple lump had been. It’s no problem. I’ll just occasionally get up and go into my private bathroom here and expectorate some blood and then come sit back down.
An hour or so after my arrival, I start to feel something catching between those teeth again and, as I’m speaking with an employee who’s come upstairs to consult with me on something, I suddenly announce, “Sorry — excuse me!” and run into my bathroom, leaving him to wonder what’s going on. And, yes, I spit out another lumpen mass of bloody abortive tissue.
Now I’m really starting to wonder about this. I share the situation with my business partner, my workday shoal in troubled waters. She talks to me as though I’m a child, in precisely the tone and manner I need at the moment: “Just call the doctor.” She’s right, I realize! He did this — he has to offer solutions. I might be bleeding to death right now, and won’t he be sorry. In fact, won’t they all be sorry to find me dead up here because I just bled to death, slowly, from my gums. “He seemed okay,” someone would say tearfully at the funeral, “we just never thought he’d bleed to death so quickly.”
I called the doctor and left a message with his receptionist. She said he’d be in at 2 and would call me.
“In at 2,” I thought. In at 2. If you don’t come in until 2… why come in at all? Why keep office hours? Why have a practice? 2 p.m. Why not 2:30? Or 4? Or never? I could be bleeding to death here.
When he hadn’t called me by 2:15, I called again. Now she said he was seeing a patient. “I’m a patient,” I said, kindly, or at least as kindly as possible while my heart was thrumming because my life’s blood was seeping away down my gullet. “He had one waiting as soon as he came in,” she said.
So I called again at 3. He still couldn’t take the call. Fifteen minutes later, in the middle of a meeting three of us are having down in the conference room, I excuse myself to go relieve myself of yet another lump of glistening gelatinous matter from my suppurating wound. I notice that people are regarding me strangely, and who can blame them, given my air of crazed menace and my blood-flecked lips?
Finally, at 4 o’clock, I get him on the phone. For all I know, 4 p.m. is when his office hours — or hour — actually starts on a Friday. I explain the situation.
“Those are blood clots,” he says.
“Yes, blood clots. You are a bleeder. Have you had a test at the hospital to see how long you bleed? That might come in useful if you are ever in a car accident — you would know in advance.”
His tone to me suggests an attempt to blame me in some way for bleeding too much, or for failing to have my bleeding time measured. Perhaps in Syria it’s the norm for people to have their bleeding time measured, but around here, I’ve never heard of such a thing.
“So this isn’t the graft that I’m spitting up?” Because the notion of having this grafting procedure performed again has left me dismal and unruly.
“Oh, no. No. That is stitched up tight. Even if you tried, you could not –” he says, readying an unfortunate image that will stay with me, “– pull it out with a fork! These are blood clots. But the surgery was days ago. As I say, you are a bleeder!”
I have never before been a bleeder and find myself unhappy with being characterized as one.
“How do I stop it?” I ask.
He tells me to get a tea bag, soak it, and stick it in the affected area. He claims that this will stanch the bleeding. And, I suppose, give me a pick-me-up in the form of Earl Grey. Either that, or he’s playing a trick on me. And not a funny one.
Newly relieved (to a degree), I do my best to make nice with all the people I’d been bedeviling earlier all day, adopting an air of joviality before packing it in to pick up a few things at home for my overnight business trip. At home, I root around in my wife’s awful herbal tea collection — dusty boxes of years-old useless herbal tea “remedies” that promise relaxation or good bowel movements or a satisfying menstruation or whatever. I don’t want any of those conditions met — I just want a good absorbent tea bag. Finally I select a fistful of non-caffeine green tea bags and head out the door.
For the next two hours I crawl through freeway traffic southward, swallowing blood and chewing gum to alleviate the taste of my own ferruginous nutrients.
Finally, I arrive at the hotel and dash to my room and soak a tea bag and stuff it into the pulpy red cavern in my mouth. I leave it in there for 15 minutes as advised, a thin slime of greenish tea drool descending down my chin. I look in the mirror and get a glimpse of abject infirmity, of me drooling and hopeless, wondering what it is that has brought me to this stage, and just how much worse this all will get in the years and decades to come. After the endless 15 minutes, I extract the tea bag and dump it with gladness into the trash. And then spit out some more blood. Because, hey, I’m a bleeder.
In the 90 minutes since, I’ve spit out two more chunks formerly of myself. But overall, things are seeming much better. That’s because there’s a 7-11 within walking distance of this hotel, and at 7-11′s in California, you can buy wine. I selected a delightful ten-dollar bottle of Menage a Trois. It’s a California red wine, and I’ve certainly been enjoying it up here in my room. It goes awfully well with especially rare meat.
Someone who is always late (like, say, a friend of mine) comes into conflict with someone who is always on time and kept waiting (like, well, me). Hilarity doesn’t ensue.
It’s not much of an idea, I know, but it’s certainly animating me at the moment.
My daughter and I are visiting my mother in southern New Jersey through next Wednesday. And I’m on deadline for a short play I’m submitting for an event next month.
My plan has been to finish the play today and send it off. My daughter asked me where I was going to work. I told her it didn’t matter, as long as people didn’t talk to me. My mother and my daughter were sitting up in the kitchen playing Rummikub, so I sat down in the living room with my laptop.
And sure enough, they came in to sit next to me and work on a puzzle.
And for my mother to ask me the same thing several times (she’s 89, with a strong need to know things).
And for my nephew to start hammering something onto the outside of the house by a window within my view.
But none of that was stopping me. It actually reminded me that I wrote one of my best plays — widely remarked upon by friends and even judgmental relatives as one of my best plays — while smoking a cigar and drinking wine and talking to an actor at the same time. And I usually write my plays while playing music. I’m used to tuning things out.
So I was feeling unstoppable, and pulling the play into the station as it were, when my mother went downstairs and turned on the television. Loudly. And I started overhearing what sounds like one of those Tim Allen movies about Santa Claus. Sample dialogue:
Father: “I guess I just have to go back and tell her I didn’t find Santa Claus.”
Tim Allen, with a chuckle: “Oh, but you DID!”
There was no writing anything on my play after that. At least, not while being within earshot of that. So now I’m writing this instead — and relocating upstairs.
Twenty-two years ago this evening, we opened Moving Arts. Throughout that time, our mission has been to premiere new plays by new writers. In 1992, we opened an evening of two of my one-acts. On Saturday night, 22 years later almost to the day, we open “The Gun Show,” a new play written by EM Lewis, a writer and friend (and former student) I admire tremendously. We’ve got a new artistic director who is talented and smart, and we’ve got an ongoing tradition of good plays done well by talented people. Tomorrow night will be no exception. It’s thrilling to me that this is the way we celebrate that anniversary: with another new production.
Tomorrow night I celebrate an anniversary of a very different sort. Twenty-seven years ago tomorrow, my girlfriend Valorie and I got married. Yes, on Halloween, and yes in costume. We dressed in replicas of 17th century French court clothes; my father was a clown and my mother was a witch (in costume, not in real life); my new father-in-law was Henry the 8th and my new mother-in-law wore replicated traditional Hawaiian garb. One friend came as a jester, the Roesbergs came as Groucho Marx and Mae West, my one brother was an Arab sheik and my other brother was a butler and my sister came as a cowgirl and the list of costumes goes on and on throughout the 200 attendees. We all had a fine, fine time. My wife and I produced that event and, years later, three children.
Whether for the theatre or the marriage, not every anniversary has felt like it merited an anniversary celebration. But especially when you realize that you’re in the third decade of each, you have to marvel at the accomplishment and be grateful for both.
A tip of the hat to whoever is the music supervisor for “American Horror Story.” The episode tonight, and next week as well, will feature the Pere Ubu song “Road to Utah.” That shows good taste!
Check out the song for yourself:
Here’s another incredible performance by Puddles Pity Party, delivering a cover version that far exceeds the original.
Eleven years ago yesterday, on October 19, 2003, my son and I planted the tree you see above in our front yard. At the time it was a sapling, a five-foot-tall slender branchless stick with a clod of dirt wrapped at its base. Now its canopy grazes my roof and its web of wood provides a highway for squirrels, a sanctuary for birds, and a relief for my house from the relentless heat and sun.
How do I know the date we planted it? Because while we were doing it, I got a phone call confirming my contract with what turned out to be the first client of my new business, which gradually morphed into the business I now own. You tend to remember the date of a contract like that, when someone agrees to be the first to pay you a fair sum of money in a new endeavor because they’re taking your word that you’re good for your end.
In the eleven years since, that son has grown to be a 23-year-old man with his own successes and a career, the company has grown exponentially with three dozen client projects at any given time and a staff to handle them, and the tree has become a daily touchstone for me to regard on my way out in the morning and on my way in in the evening. It reminds me that we all take root with each other, that every thing is part of something larger, and that every day time passes and life goes on.
Which is a good thing, because that’s about how far back my seat will be for The Who, who will be playing the Staples Center.
Actually, the seats aren’t nearly as far off as the date: September 15 of 2015. I wonder if Daltrey and Townshend will still be alive then. Daltrey seems very healthy, but who’s to say that magic bus won’t roll over him unexpectedly? Townshend has been sober for more than 20 years, which certainly will improve his odds. If something happens to either, would they just get a substitute? Given past history, you better you bet. Fifty years later, and despite band deaths and determination that every tour was the “final” tour, it’s clearly too early for The Who to say the song is over.