Cancer is not funny, but…

After several years of undiagnosed medical problems, my poor dad went through hell this last year and managed to make it through emergency life-saving surgery, cancer, chemotherapy, infection after infection, weight loss (think concentration camp style) and more. No epiphanies ensued about the connection between nutrition and health however, and as he chowed down recently on hot dogs one afternoon, I looked at him and thought, you are definitely a medical anomaly.

My poor mother, on the other hand, went through hell by proxy watching him suffer and feeling as helpless and frightened as the rest of us. (Now that he’s going to live, I think she wants to murder him.)

Now cancer is NOT funny. But if you don’t laugh you won’t be able to stop crying.

For example, when my dad was in a ward that was part of the emergency department waiting to be readmitted, there was another man in his 70s on the other side of the curtain. My dad said he could handle the nausea, the feeding tube, the inability to sit up by himself. What he couldn’t stand was this man screaming and yelling all day and night. The poor soul (as my mother would call him) was delusional from all the medication administered and shouted loudly and incessantly, awakening my poor dad whenever he was lucky enough to drift off. One night he couldn’t take it any more and told me that he pulled open the blue curtain and looked the guy straight in the eyes.

Buddy, listen, he said, I’m with you. I don’t want to be here either. But this screaming is not helping either of us. You understand?

The man stared wide-eyed at my father in silence.

Did he stop screaming? I asked when my dad told me the story.

For about five minutes. Then it started again.

When I told my friend Cathy this story she said the man probably hallucinated that my dad was a dog with devil ears and flashing red eyes hissing that he was going to take him down to hell.

After he was finally readmitted to a semi-private room, his new room-mate was an elderly woman who had suffered a stroke and couldn’t speak. My dad had told me that he was very moved by how tenderly and patiently the son, who visited daily, would speak to his mother. I happened to be there on one such visit and felt that it was awkward to be a few feet away from such private and personal moments between mother and son. My dad and I were silent during this visit out of respect (or so I thought). My dad seemed to be as touched as I was listening to the conversation on the other side, and as I wiped away my tears, he looked up at me and said “I had a fantastic omelet this morning.”

Once my father was finally able to eat again, his world revolved around food. He would summon my mother upstairs in the evenings with extreme urgency where she would be told to sit down and take notes. He would then dictate what he wanted to have for breakfast the next morning.

Around this time, they were happily able to attend the wedding of the son of close friends even though my dad was barely able to walk. Throughout the entire meal, my mother told me she would look over and see my dad shoving nuts in his mouth between the generous courses (he’d brought his own supply). They had to leave early because he was too tired and on the way out of the hotel passed the sweet table. My dad couldn’t resist and started to load up for later but was interrupted by a waitress who told them the table was for another wedding! My mother of course proceeded to tell my dad’s story and the waitress immediately authorized him to take whatever he wanted.

On the way home,  my mother looked over at her husband in the passenger seat and saw him inhaling a chocolate eclair. (I’m worried he has a parasite she confided in me.)

The unfunny parts of cancer are simply to painful to tell. Everyone knows how impossibly bad it is seeing someone else suffer and wondering about the outcome. Time stands still and is replaced by fear. But it also replaced by love. Such as the time I gave my father a sponge bath (I had listened to my mother complain about the fact that “the man refuses to bathe!” too many times). If not for cancer, would I have ever had the chance to wash my dad’s bony shoulders and back with a warm wash cloth? And gently clean his feet before putting on his slippers and helping him back to his hospital bed? I was given the opportunity to parent my parent and it was no less wondrous than bathing my newborn babies.

Now that my father has gained weight, he has fashion fits because none of his pants fit him any more. He also can’t stop thinking or talking about what he’s been through. While this is healthy, it’s driving my mother insane. Anybody who sits next to him at any social function is privy to the most intimate details of his medical journey not excluding the size of his prostate which, as he likes to remind his listener, has always been “bigger than average” “huge.”

As I told my mother one afternoon after yet another intimate prostate discussion, those are some big matzoh balls.


Rumble at the High School

Last night was Orientation Evening at Sam’s high school for parents to meet their child’s teachers and learn about the different subjects. Imagine hundreds and hundreds discombobulated parents walking around trying to follow their teen’s “day one” schedule condensed into 15 minute classes spread out all over the cavernous building.

Most of the parents walked around with a neatly printed time table that their children had prepared to guide them for the orientation session. Samuel gave me this.

It was hot and humid for late September but that didn’t stop me from wearing my new boots. Yes they are that fabulous. I mention this because maybe my hot feet contributed to my hot head later in the evening.

Class 4 was Secondary 3 English with “Mr. Stein” – a young boob of a too-earnest-soft-spoken neophyte that had “I’m going to get eaten alive” written all over his forehead. I happened to run into Liz at this session as her son is in the same class. We sat next to each other and I felt like I was 15 again sitting next to my best friend in high school. Except that I had a Grande coffee from Starbucks on my desk (which I knocked over on the course syllabus and which Liz helped me dab dry with various receipts from her purse).

I knew a little about Mr. Stein’s English class as Samuel had come home last week and told me that the students had been asked to reenact a time when one of their parents had lost their temper. They had to repeat the language and tone that their parents had used.

That got my immediate attention and I stopped washing the dishes in near paralysis.

What? I said. Are you joking? What did you say? (I asked, holding onto the counter for support.)

I talked about the time you got mad at me and Emma in the car for fighting. And you kicked me out the car. Sam said.

He must have seen my pallor because he said, Relax, mummy. That’s NOTHING. The kid after me stood up and said in a dead pan voice: Go to your room, you fucking piece of shit. You are useless. Get out of my fucking sight. You useless fucking piece of shit.

See? Sam said.

You’re a good mom.

So this good mom was with less than a dozen other moms in the class listening to Mr. Stein. Or trying to listen to Mr. Stein as two of the not-so-good mothers had brought their 14 year old daughters who sat in the back and whispered and chatted the entire session.

One of their moms gave them “the look” (shut up or else) a couple of times. Then I gave them “the look” and even Mr. Stein found the testes to give them a lenient “girls please” with a weak smile. Eventually I turned around and said to them “go outside in the corridor if you want to talk”. They looked at me with all of the animation of a burned out toaster and stayed where they were. And continued whispering and chatting.

Liz, whom I had assumed was not bothered by these bothersome two a few feet away, erupted politely at the end of the session and said aloud “it was very difficult to hear and concentrate with these two girls talking the whole time”.

I got on board and repeated I think something similar and glared at the errant mom who glared back at me. I held my gaze and we “took it outside.”

I’m sure they’re not the only ones who talk, said this teased-hair mom.

Well, I replied, they are the only ones here aren’t they. And they’re not even supposed to be here.

I had no choice, she replied.

Well, they should not have been sitting there whispering and disrupting the session, I said. But this is not about them, this is a parental issue.

Is she the mom of one of your friends? teased-hair mom says to one of the girls. I want to know who I’m talking to.

WHAT ON EARTH does that have to do with anything? I yelled. We are talking about YOUR disruptive and rude daughters!

By this point, Liz had disappeared (I’ll talk to you later, Liz) on her way to her son’s next class probably about three miles away.

I made it to my last class of the evening. Secondary 3 History with Monsieur Charlesvoix and realized that my heart was racing for the first 10 minutes from the near rumble after English period.

Monsieur Charlevoix told the class of parents about his course and at the end went around the room asking us who are child was.

Samuel, I said.

Oh yes. Sam, he said. Sits there (pointing to the back of the room). Very cool kid.

I wanted to ask the teacher if Samuel talked in class.

But, like a truly good mom, I decided to leave the high school with my self-righteousness in tact.

This morning I woke up and realized why one of the teenage girls last night had looked familiar to me. We had run into her on Oxford Street in London of all places this summer where, recognizing Samuel, she had thrown her arms around him. What this means, of course, is that there is very small chance that they might end up falling in love, getting married, and I might have a second rumble with her teased-hair-mom. I just won’t wear my boots and hopefully she won’t recognize me at the wedding reception.

Nobody does crazy

Last year I received a call from a woman who said she had “millionaire taste and a middle class budget” and wanted to redo her three bathrooms and kitchen over the coming year.

“Lois” had my immediate attention and we arranged to meet.

Her sister answered the door one late Sunday morning and led me to the kitchen at the back of the house where Lois and a man were sitting at the table. Eating.

Even sitting down I could see that Lois was quite large and quite tall.

She was what my late English grandmother would have described as “not a beauty.”

The man was also quite large, although shorter, and would have been described in a similar manner by Nan.

While the man and the sister picked from the various plates on the table, and nobody offered me even a coffee, one of the three family dogs sat on Lois’ lap.

It was a non-descript little black mutt that Lois stroked and kissed after every sentence or every few seconds. Whichever came first.

Whenever her sister got up for anything she would walk over to Lois’ lap and also give the small dog a kiss.

These dogs are our children, Lois explained to me (I guess my face was not as expressionless as I’d hoped).

When Lois spoke, her sister and the man listened as obediently as the dogs.

It was obvious who the head of the household was.

And the dog was sitting on her.

Whenever they spoke I was reminded of George Costanza’s parents on Seinfeld.

They were loud and adversarial, even when discussing the cream cheese.

The two sisters lived upstairs (and shared one bathroom) while the man lived in the basement and had his own bathroom.

There was a powder room on the main floor that the sister used to apply her make up.

I still wasn’t sure if they were three siblings (they shared the common physical characteristic of weight if nothing else) and, if not, whose husband lived in the basement?

And why?

The fact that the first bathroom renovation had to be completed before the two women left on their cruise holiday did not clarify things.

Eventually I figured out that it was Lois’ husband that lived down below. By this time I realized it was probably a good arrangement for everyone.

I returned with my contractor the following week prior to which I had warned him that they were all a little odd.

When we arrived, it was like we were in another house.

They were NORMAL.

When we left, my contractor commented that he didn’t know what I was talking about and that they seemed like very nice people.

We ended up redoing their powder room and the husband’s bathroom.

By now, the dogs had started to lose their canine minds from the coming and goings of the workmen. And the workmen were not far behind.

It was a very stressful place to be as somebody had forgotten to tell the clients that home renovations entailed people being in their home.

And this was very difficult for all of them.

The Costanza’s became sullen and resentful of our presence.

One time I asked the husband to walk over a few feet to where we were standing in the basement bathroom so that I could ask him something.

“No,” he said and walked upstairs.

The same somebody had also forgotten to tell them that bathroom renovations entail removing the existing toilet from the bathroom.

Every day, sometimes more than once, the husband would ask the contractor, “When is my toilet coming back?”

At one point, a drawer to one of the vanities had to replaced by the manufacturer, which was arranged by Ben, my contact at my bathroom supply store. Ben had the honour of meeting Lois and her sister as he was the one who had given them my business card.

He tried to speed up the service call by telling the guy (who he knew well) that “two hot sisters” lived in the house.

After he’d been to replace the defective drawer, the guy called Ben pissed off. Or frightened.

TABERNAQUE, he’d yelled through the phone to Ben.

This renovation story does not end well (despite that both bathrooms were stunning in the end).

One Friday night, Lois called me at home and let me have it about how unhappy she was with the contractor and his workers.

She screamed and swore and swore and screamed for a good 45 minutes.

The following week I had reached my limit and told her I was quitting.

She was astounded.

I mentioned that I didn’t appreciate being called and yelled and swore at.

She was even more astounded.

I never did that, she said.

I reminded her of the telephone call.

But that wasn’t TO YOU, she said.

That night she called my contractor and told him that she’d fired me.

After that experience, I coined a new expression.

Nobody does crazy like the Jews.


You may have noticed the typo in my blog address “discombulated” as opposed to “discomBOBulated.”

My blog TITLE is fine.

My blog ADDRESS ain’t.

When I tried to change it I couldn’t because DISCOMBOBULATED already exists. Apparently I’m not the only one with this affliction.

So I guess that’s that.

This discombobulated blogger has a discombobulated blog site address.

Which kind of fits.