Sunday, March 31, 2019

402. Explorers Club: A Stuffed Cheetah, the Penis of a Sperm Whale, and for Dinner, Ostrich and Madagascar Cockroaches


My latest:

 The Eye That Never Sleeps eimage.jpg

A story of the strangest friendship that ever was: a dapper young bank thief and the detective hired by the banks to apprehend him For more about this and my other books, go here.  

Fascinating New Yorkers has been reviewed by The US Review of Books.  Reviewer Gabriella Tutino says, "There's something for everyone here in this collection of profiles, and it serves as a source of inspiration for readers who love NYC."  For the whole review, click on US Review.

Small Talk

It's an old joke, appropriate for Valentine's Day, but I can't resist repeating it.

He:  Darling, I don't know what to do.  My heart tells me one thing, and my head, another.

She:  What do you hear from your liver?

      Explorers Club: A Stuffed Cheetah, the Penis of a 
               Sperm Whale, and for Dinner, Ostrich 
                    with Madagascar Cockroaches

         I first heard of the Explorers Club when I read Thor Heyerdahl’s book The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By Raft across the South Seas, telling how he and five others, all Norwegian except for one Swede, left Peru on a raft in 1947 and sailed across the Pacific to Polynesia.  Heyerdahl believed that people from South America had once crossed the Pacific to settle in Polynesia, and his expedition, using only materials available in South America in pre-Columbian times, was designed to show that this was possible.  Before they left, Heyerdahl visited the Explorers Club in New York and discussed the expedition with members there, one of whom was so excited by the expedition that he wished that he too could go.  And Heyerdahl’s account was fascinating, telling how they lived on fish that were tossed up on the raft, how on the 97th day out they made contact with the inhabitants of one atoll, but were unable to land safely; how three days later the raft struck a reef and was eventually beached on an uninhabited island, where a few days later they were found by men from a village on a nearby island, and in time were taken to Tahiti by a French schooner with the salvaged raft in tow.  He had traveled 4,340 miles and spent 101 days at sea.  Heyerdahl believed that he had made his point, though not all anthropologists agree; the matter is still being debated.

File:Expedition Kon-Tiki 1947. Across the Pacific. (8765728430).jpg
Heyerdahl's raft, 1947.
Nasjonalbiblioteket, Norway

         Such was my first awareness of the Explorers Club and its members.  I could well imagine them sailing thousands of miles across the ocean, at the mercy of wind and waves, or penetrating the jungles of New Guinea to be welcomed by natives with poisoned darts or bows and arrows, or trekking Arctic ice caps in the most incredibly frigid of climates, maybe stalked by a hungry polar bear.  Adventures that I myself would never dare to undertake, but exciting to read about if one is snug and comfy at home, and inclined to applaud the doughty doings of others. 
         As regards New Guinea, I have heard that it harbors some of the last wilderness to be explored.  I also recall seeing, long ago, a photograph taken from an airplane, showing a bunch of New Guinea aboriginals shooting arrows at the low-flying plane.  Similarly, I recall the attempt by five American evangelicals to Christianize the Huaorani, an isolated tribe in the rain forest of Ecuador who are known and feared for their violence.  In 1956 the undertaking ended in the massacre of all five missionaries, following which the widow of one victim and the sister of another went to live among the Huaorani.  They succeeded in converting many, including some involved in the massacre, but at the cost of promoting contact between the tribe and the outside world.  Not an Explorers Club undertaking, but one showing that there are still remote primal peoples on this earth, to contact whom is an adventure fraught with danger for both them and their presumably “civilized” discoverers.

         Now back to the Explorers Club.  My attention was drawn to it by a recent article in the New York Times: “What’s Left for the Explorers Club to Explore?” by Alyson Krueger, in the Metropolitan section of the Sunday Times of March 24, 2019.  The article discusses the difference between the older members, for whom exploration meant going to faraway places and bringing back significant artifacts, and the younger members, some of them still in college, who thanks to technology can do their exploring from their couch.  One young explorer uses high-resolution satellite imagery and artificial intelligence to to track whales, and another builds robots able to explore  caves, so humans don’t have to.  The difference between traditional exploring and the means used by the young newcomers is vast and could well create tension among the membership.
         That membership totals about 3,500 today, with chapters all over the world.  To understand the stance of the old-timers among them, it’s useful to glance at the history of the club, which was founded in 1904 in New York City to promote the scientific exploration of the world by supporting research and education in the sciences.  The seven founding members included two polar explorers, a museum curator, an archaeologist, a war correspondent and author, a professor of physics, and an ethnologist.  Dedicated from the start to science, it wasn’t just place for veteran explorers to get together to swap adventure stories and share tips on clothing and equipment, perhaps over a drink or two, though that probably happened also.  And the members were doers, responsible for a lot of firsts that the club’s website proudly lists:

·      North Pole, 1909.
·      South Pole, 1911.
·      Summit of Mount Everest, 1953.
·      Greatest Ocean Depth, 1960.
·      Surface of the Moon, 1969. 

         The club’s flag has gone with these explorers and has flown at both poles, in the ocean’s nether depths, on the bleak and sterile surface of the moon, and even in outer space.  To be a member and carry the flag, one must be actively involved in scientific exploration.  But there have been honorary members too, such as Theodore Roosevelt, Charles A. Lindbergh, Prince Philip, and Albert I, Prince of Monaco.

File:Explorers Club Headquarters.jpg
The Explorers Club headquarters on 70th Street.
Jonathan S. Knowles

         Today the club’s headquarters is located in a six-story Jacobean revival mansion at 46 East 70th Street on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, with heavy entrance doors and ornate turn-of-the-century stained glass windows inside  There, mementoes from earlier endeavors are on display.  A virtual tour online shows the elongated tusks of a rare species of elephant flanking a fireplace, and the preserved head, mouth agape and showing daggerlike teeth, of a lion donated by Theodore Roosevelt.  Also displayed are tusks galore, a formal gilt-framed portrait of an explorer, a huge polar bear rearing on its hind legs, a stuffed cheetah, stones from Mount Everest, a stag’s head with branching antlers, and a globe used by Heyerdahl to plan his expedition.  Topping them all, perhaps, is the penis of a sperm whale.

File:Explorers Club fireplace (82325).jpg

         Plaques on the walls commemorate  members’ firsts.  Also on display are flags that flew on the moon.  In all, to date there have been 202 numbered flags, each one displayed on an expedition and returned to the club with a written report of the expedition.  Also in the building are a library, and on the top floor, research archives comprising 13,000 books, 1,000 museum objects, 5,000 maps, and 500 films.

         Once a year hundreds of members gather for the legendary dinner, famous for its unusual cuisine.  Once the pièce de résistance was a 235-pound ostrich that took six and a half hours to cook, along with Madagascar cockroaches raised on a farm in New Jersey.  Another dinner featured martinis with goats’ eyes, a steamed goat penis with honey, and for dessert, strawberries dipped in white chocolates garnished with maggot sprinkles.  But these delicacies are available only to members.

         Today a clubhouse full of phallic jutting tusks, mounted severed heads, and whole stuffed wild animals displayed as hunters’ trophies raises an eyebrow or two … or three or four or five.  Wild animals once so plentiful are being killed off the world over, and hunters’ trophies are seen by many as both antiquated and barbaric.  This view is often shared by the club’s young members, tech-oriented and not veterans of treks in distant places.  Recently, in the club’s annual weekend, it broke with tradition to let its young members present their initiatives.  The young members are using new tools to take a closer look at environments that have already been discovered, forcing the older ones to rethink and expand the notion of exploration.  For the young, tech is in, trophies are out.  The whole atmosphere of the clubhouse can strike them as outdated, Victorian, quaint.  Some oldsters resist this invasion of the young, clinging to trophies and the traditional view of exploration, while others welcome the initiatives of the young and declare that satellites and lasers are cool.

Coming soon:  Breaking the Law

©   2019   Clifford Browder

Sunday, March 24, 2019

401. The Magic of West 11th Street: A Perfect Day


My latest:

 The Eye That Never Sleeps eimage.jpg

A story of the strangest friendship that ever was: a dapper young bank thief and the detective hired by the banks to apprehend him For more about this and my other books, go here.  

Fascinating New Yorkers has been reviewed by The US Review of Books.  Reviewer Gabriella Tutino says, "There's something for everyone here in this collection of profiles, and it serves as a source of inspiration for readers who love NYC."  For the whole review, click on US Review.

Small Talk

And now, to spice things up, here are two examples of a library director of some years ago (not in this area) who thought he was brilliant.  

  • To a patron wanting information about Walt Whitman, he said Walt was the husband of Christie  Whitman, former governor of New Jersey.
  • To another patron wanting information about the Gettysburg Address, he went to check the phone books.
No, I haven't made these up.

             The Magic of West 11th Street: A Perfect Day

           Another where-but-in-New-York story.  One thing I like about the West Village is that I can go out and have adventures within a few blocks of my building.  Last Sunday, March 17, I did just that.  I lunched again at Philip Marie, a trendy restaurant at West 11th and Hudson, just a block from my building.  As usual for Sunday brunch, it was jammed and noisy, mostly a young crowd under 30, though they let me in anyway.  I got my favorite table, near the front window, with a good view of the street and, just diagonally across, another of my favorite local restaurants, Frankie’s 570.  It was a sunny day and the wind had died down; people were sitting outside both Frankie’s and Philip Marie – hopefully, a sign of spring.  The windows of Philip Marie were plastered with paper shamrocks, and outside, tied on a long string to a railing, two green balloons danced in the wind.  Only then did I realize that this was St. Patrick’s Day; fortunately, I was wearing a green T-shirt, and I can always fake a brogue.

         What I love about Sunday brunch at Philip Marie’s – as at other West Village restaurants – is the mix of New Yorkers.  Yes, there are a few couples, but mostly it’s oddball combinations: 5 guys and 2 girls, 6 girls and 1 guy, 3 girls and no guys, and so on.  For many it’s probably a time to see friends and get updated.  Among the girls, long hair is definitely in, and bare shoulders are perhaps another harbinger of spring.  The noise is deafening, but I don’t mind: they’re all New Yorkers intensely having fun.  On the wall across the room is a sign:

does not depend on what
you have or who you are.
It rests solely on what you think.
                                                               -- Buddha

A noble thought, but at Philip Marie’s Sunday brunch, there isn’t much thinking, just a lot of loud talking.

         The waiters know me and know my usual fare: yogurt and granola with strawberries, followed by a cappuccino.  As I consumed it and the noise raged on, outside I saw the passing traffic on Hudson Street; cars, yellow cabs, bikes, an occasional tour bus, police cars, and rarely – a reminder of the graver side of life – an ambulance, its siren screaming.

          At a table nearby there were three girls talking and laughing exuberantly.  As they got up to leave, one of them started grooving, rocking from side to side and raising her arms high in the air.  So from a sitting position I started grooving too, rocking my arms and shoulders back and forth.  She noticed, pointed to me, and squealed with delight.  Her friends turned, saw me, and likewise squealed with delight.  As they passed me bound for the exit, I announced, “My motto: geezers rock”; more squeals of delight.  The grooving one embraced me and kissed me on the cheek.  A smart phone appeared, and three of us put our heads close together and grinned at the camera: click, click, click.  Then more good-byes and they left.  It was all over in five minutes or less.  The diners at neighboring tables were so engrossed in their talk or their mobile devices, they hadn’t noticed our moment of silliness and joy.  But I love the purity of it.  We’ll probably never see each other again, but they’ll remember that grooving white-haired guy in the photos and have a few more laughs.  Where but in New York?

         It being a sunny day without too much wind, I decided once again to walk down West 11th Street toward the river.  And once again, on the uptown side of the street, between Greenwich Street and Washington, I came to the Robin Rice Gallery at 325 West 11th, which features exhibits of black-and-white photographs.  Just beyond it is Turks & Frogs, a wine bar with an interesting window display – on this occasion, as often before, a model sailboat on top of a chest, flanked by bottles, candle holders, and other objects.  I have chronicled both the gallery and the wine bar before in this blog.

         Going on a block, I glimpsed from a distance the Palazzo Chupi, a towering superstructure of a building whose top Italian palazzo-style floors, to the scandal of the West Village, once flaunted a Pepto-Bismol pink.  That pink has now softened to a lusterless shade that neighbors and myself have gotten used to and almost like.  At that point I decided to retrace my steps and visit the Robin Rice Gallery, which was exhibiting the photographs of Robin Rice herself, the gallery owner.  And just in time: this was the last day of the exhibit.  I was the only visitor, though two young women were sitting in front, busy doing something connected with the gallery.  I had seen the exhibit before, but this time I picked up a list of the photographs and made notes on the ones that I found especially impressive.

           Most of the works exhibited were black-and-whites, but on the wall at the end of the gallery were over a dozen in color, including one dated 1977 and featuring Andy Warhol at the Studio 54 opening.  His name, a slashing scribble across it, is not a signature; Robin Rice informed me by e-mail that she added it by scratching the emulsion off a slide film.  Several of the other photos were also from the 1977 opening of Studio 54, a trendy nightclub favored by trendy people in the 1970s.  So Robin Rice goes back a ways and did get around.

         It was the black-and-whites that drew my attention, and the descriptions often came as a surprise.  For instance:

·      No. 10.  A large hand, open, upraised.  Title: “Milly, W. 12th Street, New York.”
·      No. 24.  A row of looming dark hulks of shapes, suggesting towering rocks along a rugged coast, maybe in Italy or Cornwall, England.  Title: “Near Penn Station, New York.”
·      No. 28.  Two high heels on tiptoe, casting shadows on pavement, and two men’s shoes planted firmly on the ground.  Title: “Greenwich Village, Lynn and Angelo.”
·      No. 51.  An allée with cypresses.  Title: “Maureen, Villa Boccella, Lucca, Italy.”  Not a surprise, this one.
·      No. 53.  A large seascape showing a broad stretch of sand and sea, and a horse and rider splashing ahead in shallow water.  Title: “Horse in the Celtic Sea, Penzance, Cornwall, UK.”
·      No. 56.  A couple embracing so closely that you can barely tell them apart, him seemingly in the briefest briefs, her in a wide-brimmed hat and maybe nothing else.  Title: “Sarah and Archer.”  No, not in the West Village; in Los Angeles.  I thought it intensely erotic, but Robin Rice herself corrected me by e-mail: it's a mother and son!

And these are only some of the photos that caught my eye.

         The photos bear dates from 1975 to 2018, and are taken in places as diverse as New York, Rome, Montauk, South Africa, Paris, Chicago, Brazil, Fire Island Pines, Devon in the English Channel, Eastern Caribbean, Minnesota, Naples, and Los Angeles.  Yes, Robin Rice did get around.  And the prices?  Anywhere from $600 to $3,000 unframed, and more if framed.

         As I left, I told the two young women that I did a blog on New York and would mention the gallery.  Delighted, they asked the name of the blog, and I gave them my card, promising to notify them when I published the post.  They then gave me a card announcing their next exhibition: Michael McLaughlin, “41 Degrees Latitude,” opening reception Wednesday, April 10.  I will attend the reception, if I can.  Hopefully, I’ll have better luck this time.  Last winter I meant to go to one, but was prevented by a heavy fall of snow.

         Such was my West Village adventure of Sunday, March 17.  Not exceptional, but not mediocre.  A fine example of life in Greenwich Village, and the inexhaustible excitement and cultural richness of New York.  

Coming soon: ???

©   2019   Clifford Browder

Sunday, March 17, 2019

400. Cancer, and How I Healed Myself


My latest:

 The Eye That Never Sleeps eimage.jpg

A story of the strangest friendship that ever was: a dapper young bank thief and the detective hired by the banks to apprehend him For more about this and my other books, go here.  

Fascinating New Yorkers has been reviewed by The US Review of Books.  Reviewer Gabriella Tutino says, "There's something for everyone here in this collection of profiles, and it serves as a source of inspiration for readers who love NYC."  For the whole review, click on US Review.

             Cancer, and How I Healed Myself

         Cancer: a word that terrifies.  A scourge, a killer.  When the figures are in, in the U.S. alone some 609,640 mortalities are expected in 2018.  Scary. #Cancer

         For me, it all started with my annual physical back in January 1994.  When my doctor reviewed the results, she reported:  “You’re a bit anemic.  If you were a menstruating woman, I wouldn’t be concerned.  But for a man, it’s suspicious.  I’ll refer you to a gastroenterologist for a colonoscopy.”

         I didn’t know what a colonoscopy was, and I couldn’t even pronounce “gastroenterology,” but it seemed that I was bleeding internally.  Having no symptoms, I doubted if anything was amiss.

         Time passed; no one contacted me about a colonoscopy, but my bowels were acting up.  On March 19 I wrote my doctor to report these symptoms, and from then on things moved fast.  I soon saw Dr. Malinovsky, a genial older man who gave me instructions for the colonoscopy.  Primarily, I had to fast, drink some foul-tasting liquid called MoviPrep to clear out my bowels, and then, the following morning, show up at my medical center at Third Avenue and 96th Street at an ungodly hour. 

         So on April 5, 1994, with my partner Bob in tow to see me home, I showed up, undressed from the waist down, lay flat on my belly on an examination table, got sedated, and let the good doctor rape me gently with a finger-thick, lithe black snake of a tube that he poked into my rectum.  On a table next to me, right at eye level, was a screen that showed what was happening in color.  It beat any TV that I had ever seen, flashing red, orange, red, as white dots of popcorn flitted across. 

         “The colon wall,” said the doctor.  “Now we’ll make this turn.”

         His assistant plied my belly; cramps.  I hardly noticed, riveted by the screen’s polychrome display: green splotches, egg yolk, orange peels, then ever receding grottoes, tunnels, and reefs where light had never been.  “Another turn,” said the doctor.  More massaging, cramps.  On the screen, crypts of cantaloupe, brown lichens, candied yam. 

         “There,” said the doctor quietly, “is what we’re looking for.”

         Nested in a niche, blobs of an aborted mushroom, a wrinkled, hunched pink worm.

         “Biopsy,” says the doctor.  On the screen, tweezers appeared, tweaked it.  A red kiss, then another.  “A polyp or a cancer,” said the doctor.  “Probably a cancer.”

         Under sedation, I took this gently, philosophically, almost as if he were speaking of someone else.  I felt distantly vulnerable, important. 

         One last look at the screen: sleeping, coiled pink muscle of eel.  My enemy, my threat.  Almost an embryo, mine, weirdly beautiful.

         Cancer: the threat of it began to hit home.  My mother had warned me long ago that there was cancer in the family on her side, including several deaths.  Cancer: the dread of the word.  Not some infection from outside, but my own body in rebellion, its cells in disorder, engendering a small lethal worm of a tumor that could kill me.  But while Bob worried, I stayed calm.

         Surgery was ordered, as soon as possible. Then, good reference librarian that he was, Bob at his library read up on colon cancer.  Another baffling word came up: metastasis, meaning the spread of cancer from its original site.  Survival rate of 
surgery before metastasis: 90 percent.  After metastasis:10.  

         I saw the surgeon, a man with a friendly, reassuring smile.  “A common surgery; I do two or three a week.  We’ve got lots more colon than we need; you can spare some, not to worry.  Unless, of course, the lymph nodes are involved.”  He scheduled it for May 3.

         Lymph nodes: what the hell were they?  From a college biology class I remembered something about a lymph system and its nodes, but not much.  And unlike Bob, I preferred to know no more.  But I learned plenty when the results of the biopsy came through: yes, malignancy, requiring immediate action; the date of the surgery was advanced to April 19.  Also, there was a lovely photograph in color showing me the bulbous, pink tumor nesting in my gut.  (No photo here of tumors in the gut.   Don't want to cause revulsion in my viewers.)

         Surgery would remove the tumor, but unless I did something, the cancer would return.  I consulted my friend Patrick, who advised me on vitamin supplements.  Then I consulted a holistic MD, who took one look at the photograph and said emphatically, “Get that thing out of you as soon as you can!”  He approved Patrick's suggestions and recommended two more: Quercetin and Coenzyme Q10, neither of which I had ever heard of.  These antioxidants would be my follow-up program after surgery.

          At noon on April 19 I checked into Beth Israel Hospital at First Avenue and 16th Street on the Lower East Side.  Soon I was in my room, donning a hospital monkey gown and awaiting the residents, the nurses, the anesthesiologist, and whomever else might have reason to see me.  My room was quiet, but when my roommate moved out, the hospital asked me to take another room nearby, so they could put two female patients in the room together.  Foolishly, I agreed, and found myself stuck with a roommate who day and night played his radio or TV loud, and resisted any reasonable plea to turn it down.  He was constantly on the phone, ordering his teenage son out of bed and off to school in the morning, or ordering a meal from a deli, or talking to his sister.  Doctors were in and out of his half of the room constantly, and I gathered that he had experienced

·      diabetes that had cost him an amputated foot
·      a recent heart attack
·      a mild stroke
·      other ailments

          In spite of which, he was ordering food from a deli!  A longtime resident, he knew the hospital staff, and the ways of coping with life in a hospital.  It was a relief when, early the next morning, they wheeled me off on a stretcher to the operating room.

         In the room adjoining the room of the actual operation, I chatted amiably with one of the staff, a motherly black woman of about forty who told me she was trying to stop smoking; I encouraged her and wished her well.  Then, nothing; the anesthesia had done its job.

         I woke up in recovery and was soon wheeled back to my room.  Still groggy from anesthesia, I was hooked up to an intravenous unit that was feeding me, and had a long scar and a string of stitches across my puffed-up abdomen.  When Bob finally saw me, he found me gaunt and weak, but plucky and resilient.  He had had a nightmare of trying to get through to me by phone, being switched to recovery and back to the information desk, then to intensive care and back again to info, with the suggestion that he try again later.  But once he saw me in my room, he could tell that the hospital staff were professional and efficient.  He brought a small plant with yellow blossoms to grace my bedside table.

         The next several days were memorable.  For early word of the surgery results, my surgeon had suggested that I query the hospital residents on their daily morning round, since one or more of them might have witnessed the surgery.  Sure enough, one had: a burly, deep-voiced man in his late 30s.  “A tumor as big as a golf ball.  Probably in there a good ten years.  But the liver looked fine.”  Not altogether reassuring, but later I would learn that his comment on the liver was encouraging, since that was where colon cancer usually spread next.  But all depended on forthcoming results of further tests.  I would be there several days, at the mercy of my roommate's radio.  But when I heard him snoring at night, I could ask a nurse to turn his radio off and enjoy a half night of sound sleep. 

         Hospital mores are unique unto themselves.  The key question asked of me by doctors and nurses alike was, “Have you passed gas?”  When I could finally, with a triumphant smile, say yes, a dozen people cheered.  But I couldn’t urinate.  Finally the sweetest little Asian nurse inserted a catheter into my penis, briefly causing me such discomfort that the mere thought of it makes me shudder to this day.  Finally, the golden fluid flowed.

         Visiting me, the hospital staff announced themselves by the way they entered.  On their daily morning calls the residents, a burly one and a thin one in the lead, had a bustle that was unmistakable; I recognized it before they were in the room.  Hearing them, I tensed, for I knew they would poke about my wound, causing pain; in anticipation, I learned to inhale and hold my breath until they had finished.  Once they showed up with two young women, presumably medical students also.  But when the women were out of earshot, the burly resident said to the thin one. “I just don’t know about them, I don’t think they’re for real.  When I saw my first operation, I knew at once that this was what I wanted to do: to cut.  How about you?  Were you watching it all up close?”  “No,” said the thin one, “I was always on the edge of the group, half asleep.”  The burly one did indeed strike me as a surgeon in the making: bold, blunt, forthright; I hoped he could be deft with his instruments as well.

         Everyone who came into that room wanted to jab something into me – a thermometer, a needle, whatever – or take something out.  There were only two exceptions: the nutritionist, with suggestions for easing back into a normal diet, and a social worker arranging for aftercare at home.  Both were young women, both were gentle.

          When Bob saw me again, he brought the blankets and ear plugs I had requested.  I had been shivering under thin sheets in a cool room, hence the blankets, and the ear plugs were my pitiful defense against my neighbor’s radio and mouthings.  Except for Bob, I wanted no phone calls or visitors for the next day or two, so I could get on with my healing.  The catheter had been removed, and next went the intravenous feeding; I could now enjoy the marvels of hospital food.  Soon I was walking up and down the corridors, eager to get home.

         On April 27 I was home and back into my normal diet, roughage and all.  “My patients can eat anything they want!” my surgeon had exclaimed, scornful of the dietician’s caution.  Result: cramps.  So I heeded her advice, eating mushy foods at first, and adding more substantial foods one at a time.  No more cramps; soon I was back to my normal diet.

         A visiting nurse came daily to change the dressing on my wound.  Each time it was a different nurse, but they all knew what to do.  The spots on the bandages grew steadily smaller, as the wound slowly closed.  One of the nurses told me something that has stayed with me to this day: even after a surgery wound has closed, the body continues healing within, though the patient is completely unaware of it.  I found this wonderfully reassuring.

         The wound closed; the surgeon’s job was done.  In a last session he explained my situation.  Of 25 lymph nodes removed with the tumor and examined, one had cancer.  Metastasis; they had operated just in time.  Cancer, he said, is like a fire in a house.  At first it is small, confined to one room; if, outside the room, you put your hand to the wall, you would feel no heat.  Then the fire spreads throughout the room; if you put your hand to the wall, you would for sure feel heat.  This is where I was.  Then the fire burns through the wall and spreads to the whole house: metastasis: only 10 percent survive.

         So what should I do?  Chemotherapy was recommended.  The surgeon  himself was neutral; some of his patients did chemo, some did not.  He suggested that I talk to the oncologist and hear what he had to say, then decide.  So I did.

File:Patient receives chemotherapy.jpg

         The oncologist was a friendly little mustached man; far from threatening, he looked like your favorite uncle.  In a soft voice he explained that, in my case, the chances of recurrence were 40 percent; chemo could reduce it to 20.  I would come once a week for several weeks and let them drip chemicals into my veins.  I said I would ponder the matter and let him  know.

File:Chemotherapy bottles NCI.jpg
This ... ?

File:Fruits and vegetables.jpg
... or this?

         Ponder I did not, for I had already made up my mind.  I was doing volunteer work for the Whole Foods Project, a small nonprofit advocating a nutritional approach to AIDS and cancer, and could take cooking lessons there and absorb a different, unorthodox approach to healing.  Would I rather lie passively and let them drip alien substances into me, or take an active role in my healing, learning to cook and eat vegan?  Chemo, like radiation, was the best that mainstream medicine could offer, but it involved unpleasant side effects, some of them horrendous, and would treat the symptom only, not the cause of the cancer.  For me, an easy choice: I went vegan.  When the oncologist phoned, I told him I would not do chemo.

         So I took cooking classes and learned to eat vegan: lots of fruits and veggies, lots of beans and whole grains, less salt, no sugar, no meat or dairy.  I discovered the wonders of barley pilaf, apple and sweet potato roast, sea vegetables, leeks, and millet and tempeh loaf -- all delicious.  It was easy, it was fun.  Then suddenly, one day, there were severe cramps in my abdomen.  Lying down didn’t help, nor did standing up and pacing in the apartment.  I was desperate; it was hell.  I phoned the surgeon, left a message.  Then, just as suddenly, the cramps stopped, stopped cold.  When my surgeon phoned and learned this, he was relieved.  His conclusion: my body was still adjusting to the surgery; no cause for alarm. 

         There would be cramps again, twice; both times they stopped as suddenly as they began.  After that, no more cramps.  I went out birdwatching again, and in June I marched with the Whole Foods Project in the annual Gay Pride Parade.  In the following years periodic colonoscopies revealed either nothing or a small polyp easily removed.  I had healed.

File:Gay Pride Parade New York City 2011 (5877221745).jpg
No, I'm not in this one.  But you get the idea.
Diana Beato

         My cancer story has a happy ending; many do not.  Lacking professional credentials, and knowing how people cling to their habits, I was not one to preach alternative procedures to others.  But on two occasions I did, for they involved close friends whose fate greatly concerned me.  Both listened, neither was persuaded.  They lived orthodox, and orthodox they died.  It hurt.

         I still have the report of my final diagnosis, and the color photographs of the tumor that tried to kill me.  The tumor: weirdly beautiful, I thought at the time.  Today, obscene.

Coming soon:  ???

©   2019   Clifford Browder