Wednesday, November 29, 2006

How To Be A Support Ho

So they have these free drop-in cancer support group meetings at my hospital. The social services department holds them in a conference room on Tuesday mornings during oncology clinic hours. Tuesday mornings are the only time they have an oncology clinic, so the odds are pretty good a sizable number of cancer patients will be there anyway, waiting for their appointments. And since there's usually about a four hour wait to see one of the residents at the oncology clinic, there should be plenty of time to drop in on the cancer support group.

But I noticed that whenever they announced the support group over the PA, none of the cancer patients leapt up to attend. I wondered why.

Now for some reason the oncology clinic shares a waiting room with the medicine clinic. I mean, why not with the orthopedic clinic, or obstetrics, or ophthalmology? The medicine clinic is where sick people go when they're being treated for the flu. Or bronchitis. Or strep throat. So most of the medicine clinic patients are infectiously coughing and horking and sneezing, and most of the cancer patients have compromised immune systems. And we're forced to sit together quite intimately in this huge funky crowded waiting room for four excruciatingly long hours. You would think this setup would be an excellent incentive to drive the cancer patients out of the waiting room and into the conference room, wouldn't you?

Well it's sure as hell what pushed me over the edge. One Tuesday morning early on in my treatment, my designated driver had gone to eat breakfast at the gas station across the street (don't ask) and a woman with a whooping cough sat down beside me. Not ten seconds later I found myself pulling up a chair around the table in Conference Room 1, where I joined two supportive social workers and three decidedly non-huggy-huggy touchy-feely looking fellow suportees. Nobody was coughing, so I decided to stay.

Apparently we were going around the table introducing ourselves when I arrived. Supportee #1 was an aggressive beefy red-faced man in his early fifties with a head full of thick gray hair that was obviously, in several of its rather unfortunate dermatologic details, not a wig. He was hooked up to a large rolling oxygen tank. It turned out he didn't actually have cancer; he was recovering from a recent heart surgery. But he was bored with the cardiology waiting room, which like the rest of this massively underfunded public charity Hospital For The Indigent Damned isn't graced by a single magazine except on the rare occasion when a generous Junior League lady drops by and donates her back issues of Town & Country or Polo Digest. And since his father had died of cancer 20 years ago, he figured he was entitled to a little cancer support. Let's call this guy Larry.

Supportee #2 was a gaunt, bald man with dark hollow eyes and waxy yellowish skin who appeared to be in his late fifties. He was wearing a strange black box-like device around his neck. He informed us in an emotionless drone that he was being treated for inoperable lung cancer, and that his progress, so far, had been good. Bravo! Go team! Rah rah! Let's call this one, oh, let's see, how about Curly.

Supportee #3, whom I'm afraid we have no choice now except to call Mo, was just beginning to tell us that she herself had never had cancer but she thought maybe an aunt on her maternal side once had, when Larry interrupted.

"What the hell is that box thing you've got on?" he asked, pointing to Curly.

Oh shit. Bad move, Larry. Thanks to you, we spent the next 45 years listening to Curly's droning testimony to his wife's new pyramidal business scheme hawking Wearable Personal Mini Air Purifiers.

This fetching model does not resemble Curly or his wife.

The manufacturer claims that these unattractive portable devices use a "negative corona discharge" to set up a "powerful, electrodynamically driven airflow" thereby "drawing pollutants into it and ejecting purified air at a velocity of about 100 ft/min," which is of course achieved by using "the latest microchip technology" to "help its wearer breathe cleaner air despite air tainted with allergens, germs, and chemicals."

Curly's somnific drone would have been conducive to a nice nap, if the damn supportive social workers hadn't kept interjecting loud and urgent disclaimers that these devices were NOT supported or supplied by the hospital, and that anyone interested in further information should speak directly to Curly's WIFE, who was presently milling around the waiting room pitching her woo to a helplessly captive audience.

And then, about eighty years later, probably the day before my designated resident's retirement party, it was finally my turn to introduce myself. What say we call me Emil Sitka.

I told the group my name, diagnosis, and treatment protocol. Then I turned to the supportive social worker and told her I wanted to take this opportunity to thank the department of social services from the bottom of whatever's left of my chemotherapy-ravaged heart. Just the week before, they had helped me obtain a scholarship for eight treatments of free Neulasta, which would otherwise run me about $4,000 cash per shot and which were necessary to prevent me from shuffling off this mortal coil due to a hang nail.

"Four thousand dollars?" exclaimed Larry. "Times eight? Hell, you'd be better off dead." Hey! Way to be supportive, Lar! Curly just shook his head and silently passed me his wife's business card. And then, thank the many unnamed galaxies, my assigned resident-du-jour (by now probably sporting a long white beard) paged me into exam room 24B. I grabbed my wig and fled.

So now I know that the real cancer support groups are impromptu little chance meetings in the waiting room. I've learned how to pick a fellow cancer patient out of a crowd of thousands. The lymphedema, the black fingernails, the bangs hanging over one ear while crooked sideburns grace the forehead. Our eyes meet across the crowded room and not ten seconds later we are locked in conspiracy, showing each other our ports and comparing hemoglobin counts. Soon a few others join us.

"I was diagnosed last May, but they haven't started treatment yet because I have a low MUGA score," says Suzanne. "I had a platelet transplant last week and I've felt lousy ever since," says Deborah. "I'm getting my scan results today, and I'm scared to death," says Mary. "I went through 27 weekly chemo sessions and the radiation burned me to a crisp, but look! My hair's finally growing back!" says Beth.

"They have fresh Dove Bars in the radiology vending machine," says Jason.

And like a huge supportive safety net, we pool our quarters and follow him over there.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Straight Priorities

Um, oops, sorry: I kind of forgot about this blog. I also kind of forgot to eat, forgot to sleep, forgot to take meds or go for walks or answer the phone or do laundry. And the reason is, I have become a hardcore addict.

Ha! And you thought things couldn't possibly get any worse, didn't you?

Yes, I am clinically addicted. To make matters worse, my incredibly kind, perceptive, sane son and the exquisitely beautiful genius with whom he shares his life, are the very ones who have been enabling my debilitating addiction. Sending me the stuff across state borders and everything.

For my birthday, these evil fools sent me an entire season of House M.D. DVDs. And they also sent me a book about the medicine behind the scenes. I am so addicted. My life is totally ruined.

Ok, let me just get this off my chest right now: You're right. I'm insanely in love with the Hugh Laurie character. Not with Hugh Laurie, but with Dr. House. And not in love like sex and romance and moving in together lalala stuff, but in love like: Oh my fucking god, that's actually me! That is my real true deep genuine antisocial inner self, brilliantly portrayed on the screen by this talented actor. And the kind of in love that comes from knowing that the ornery, cantankerous, brutally tactless Gregory House would completely understand why I turn off my phone for a nap and forget to turn it back on for over a month. And he'd be on my side.

(Yes, I really did. And that was before I had 428 hours of fresh episodes to watch.)

Sorry. First things first. Back in a few.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Dawning Awareness

Some days when I go out, I wear my wig. Other days I don't. Today I did. And based on the number of people who smiled at me on my daily walk to the neighborhood grocery store, I'm toying with a theory that this damn wig could be making me look a whole lot friendlier than I actually am.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Life On the Edge

So here's how a typical day might start. I wake up and take the usual bodily inventory.

Nausea? Nope. Fever? Nope. Night sweats? Nope. Cold head? Nope. Pain? Ummm, YES!! PAIN! Ohmygod!! Chest pain!!!

Ok. Ok. Calm down. Just a little chest pain. Probably nothing. Let's make a nice logical list of conditions that could possibly be causing this chest pain, and see if any of them require immediate action. Like maybe self-administered CPR, or perhaps a field trip to the emergency room for some morphine.

The list du jour:

  1. Myocardial infarction. Naturally, this is everyone's immediate first guess. Chemotherapy causes vomiting; vomiting causes electrolyte imbalance; electrolyte imbalance causes heart attack. But there are other possibilities. [decide to lie down for remainder of list anyway]

  2. Adriamycin cardiac toxicity: chemotherapy is savagely destroying heart muscle, necessitating immediate heart transplant. [Note: have kids checked for possible donor compatibility]

  3. Ulcerated esophagus, caused by combination of chemotherapy, rampant fungal infections, and vomiting. Esophagus has ruptured, causing massive thoracic hemorrhage.

  4. Caval perforation: port catheter has broken and punctured walls of superior vena cava, causing massive thoracic hemorrhage.

  5. Mediastinal tumor eruption, possibly caused by violent retching. Millions of ravenous cancer stem cells are swarming unchecked throughout thoracic cavity, greedily claiming prime real estate.

  6. Primary mediastinal tumor has metastasized to sternum, causing huge hideous incurable bone lesions.

  7. Secondary refractory tumors have formed in thoracic cavity. Probably a result of bad karma or persistently negative attitude.

As you can see, there is just never a single dull moment over here at the House O' Horrible Tumors.

Anyway, this little list is a good start; the next question is of course what to do. If I go to the emergency room, they will wisely and methodically rule out each of the above possibilities. And yet: the emergency room! Gaaaah!!! A forty-five minute drive, nine hours of waiting, packed like sardines in a dark filthy airless room with 800 cases of bird flu spewing projectile mucous droplets directly into my neutrophil-free, seriously immunocompromised lungs while watching the Saints fuck up, followed by three days of torturous tests and procedures? Please. Give me death.

On the other hand: Woo hoo, an outing! A social life! I am so terminally sick of my Boy In A Bubble routine, I'm almost gung ho for the adventure.

But not quite.

So I lie there on the bed for a while, pondering my options. Stay? Go? Live? Die? Panic? Denial? And then suddenly I burp. And poof, like magic, the chest pain disappears.

Sheepishly, I fish my hat out of the quilts and plod into the kitchen for yet another fortifying bowl of oatmeal to get me through another danger filled day of Life On The Edge. What next? It's always something. Please, do stay tuned.

You're All Invited

This happens a lot: friends and relatives will be talking to me, and will mention in passing some personal problem or worry or obstacle that has recently popped up in their lives. And then suddenly, they cut themselves short and quickly apologize. "Oh I'm sorry, I shouldn't even bring this up," they say, looking chagrined. "I mean, I know it's nothing compared to cancer."

I'm not sure they believe me when I try to tell them how wrong they are. It's not nothing, no matter how trivial, not to me anyway. I haven't relocated to some alien universe where only people with cancer have a right to complain, or feel discouraged, or depressed, or whatever.

Will anyone ever believe me if I tell them that the cancer is often the least of my worries? It's serious and all, sure, and the process of dealing with it continues to drain a hell of a lot from me. But most of the time I feel like the cancer is just annoying background noise, like living next to a freeway or an airport. Or maybe both at the same time. You hate it, yeah, but you get used to it. And it certainly doesn't drown out the rest of your life's woes.

In all honesty, I feel more debilitating anxiety over my financial disaster; deeper heartache over my foundering relationship; greater terror over the state of the world. A few weeks ago I nearly died, and it was a frickin migraine that brought me to my knees. Not the stage IV cancer or its barbaric chemotherapy. A weasely little migraine.

Maybe only people who've experienced both cancer and severe migraines can really appreciate the irony.

But please: dear friends, dear relatives, dear total strangers on the internet, don't be intimidated by this hideous cancer beast. Continue to feel free to bitch at length around me about your own personal issues and challenges! I am so tired of being the only person in the room who isn't a goddamn trouper. I feel isolated enough as it is. Please, somebody join me.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Three Down, Five To Go

Remember that famous scene in The Magic Christian where Peter Sellers has built a giant cesspool and filled it with fresh feces, blood, and other repulsive excrement? And as he tosses pound notes into the vat, expressionless business men in expensive suits climb into the muck and splash around, grabbing for the money?

That's how I feel today, except it's not money I'm grabbing for. It's that elusive and coveted state called "remission."


Oh yeah, and it's my birthday. 53.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Pardon Our Dust

Chemo yesterday. Sinking in a deep vat of black licorice jello today. Probably back Saturday or Sunday. Stay tuned.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Belly Up

Insomnia! What a pleasant surprise. Insomnia is an old friend I don't see too much of these days, thanks to Better Living Through Chemistry. But whaddaya know, look who's back. It's happy hour again at the House Of Despair! Come on in, I'll buy you a drink.

It's 2 am and the inside of my skull has turned into a dark gloomy saloon, a seedy establishment I like to think of as The House Of Despair Bar & Grill. Except there is no grill. Nobody actually eats at the House of Despair.

It's sort of like, oh, remember the Losers Bar In Naked Gun 2.5: The Smell of Fear? Where the walls were covered with pictures of the Titanic, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Ford Edsel, and Michael Dukakis? Like that.

My friend Don and I once had this brilliant idea of putting together a club act called Unhappy Hour. We were going to sing all the most tragic depressing honky-tonk hits circa 1945-1965: Patsy Cline, Webb Pierce, Lefty Frizzell, Harlan Howard, George Jones. Lots and lots of vintage George Jones. And instead of two drinks for the price of one, it would be one drink for the price of two. Like that.

So that's the scene inside my head at 2 am. And I am the bartender. I unlock the doors, turn on the neon open sign, and wait for my first customer to arrive.

As I lie in the dark waiting, the ancient floor furnace kicks on, knocking, creaking and clanging like an old jalopy trying to sputter its way up Old Priest's Grade. This means the temperature in my bedroom has dropped down below 50 degrees. And right on cue, the door swings open and in walks Worry!

Actually, it's the Worry Brothers, all three of them: Astronomical Heating Bills Worry, Exploding Toxic Floor Furnaces Worry, and Frozen Corpse Discovered Next March Worry. The Worry boys sit down and order a round of really bad cheap scotch.

As I stand behind the bar polishing shot glasses on my exceedingly unsanitary apron, I hear a barred hoot howl carrying on the back yard. I've seen this guy before, and he's big. Big enough to feed on full-grown rabbits. Certainly big enough to swoop down and snatch a helpless little four-pound dog in his talons. Lo and behold, the door swings open and hey now! In strolls my old buddy, Fear Of Large Predatory Birds Carrying Tiny Dogs Away.

Tiny dogs shivering over decrepit explosive floor furnace.

Pretty soon the place is packed. I look around and see lots of familiar faces: there's IRS Audit Consternation, and Termite Trepidation; I see Impending Relationship Doom Foreboding flirting with Dental Disaster Anxiety, while Debtors Prison Panic picks out her favorite suicide tunes on the juke box. That old bastard Flat Tire On A Dark Deserted Road Phobia huddles down at the end of the bar, sipping his Virgin Mary, teetering on the verge of falling off the wagon as usual. Yep, it's 2 a.m. at the House of Despair and the gang's all here.

Except...somebody important is missing. There's a vacant stool, a prominent one right in the middle of the bar, the traditional seat of honor. I have to scratch my cold bare scalp and think for a moment before I realize who didn't show up tonight.

And then I remember: it's my lifelong soul mate, Terror Of Getting Cancer. Irony of ironies, now that I actually have cancer, he has abandoned me. Apparently I have one less thing to fear.

But don't worry, that barstool won't be empty for long. I suspect in a few more months his big burly Stalky-Stalkerton cousin, Paralyzing Dread Of Recurrence, will saunter in, plop himself down, and refuse to budge for the rest of my natural life. And I'll never be alone again.

Bottoms up, boys! The next round's on me.

Morning After

Sunday, November 19, 2006

What A Waste

One of the drugs I take as part of my chemotherapy is Prednisone. It's evil stuff. I take 100 mg. for the first five days of every three-week cycle. It wreaks all kinds of havoc. I mean, I'm not complaining or anything; heaven forbid. The tumors are shrinking almost as fast as my bank account, and for that I am grateful.

But still. Even the world's perkiest trouper will admit that chemotherapy has its dark side, and that it destroys the body and soul right along with the malignant cells.

The worst thing for me about Prednisone is not the mood swings, or the killer migraines, or the miserable aches and pains, or the monstrous appetite. It's the fact that Prednisone is a catabolic steroid. This means it's the opposite of those anabolic steroids of which certain athletes have been rumored to partake. Prednisone actually breaks down muscles. And at this point I don't have many muscles left to break down.

One of the ways this catabolism works is that the Prednisone radically slows the healing process. And the way muscles are normally built up is, when you use them to create resistance, for instance by lifting something heavy, doing 30 pushups, or walking up a flight of stairs, the muscle tissue is microscopically torn, broken down. In normal situations, it quickly heals, and in 24-48 hours, it has rebuilt itself bigger and stronger than before.

But with Prednisone, healing doesn't happen and the muscle tissue doesn't rebuild after being torn down. Or if it does, the process is glacially slow. I can see how slow by watching various nicks and scrapes refuse to heal (this constitutes major entertainment here at the House O' Tumors these days). So I've been doing some light training with 10 lb. dumbbells, but only once or twice a week. I don't want to make matters any worse than they are.

Here you can witness as my muscle mass deteriorates over six months, a process know as sarcopenia. A combination of catabolic drugs, inactivity, and tumor cachexis have all contributed to this debacle. Believe me, I'm counting the minutes until I can get my emaciated ass back to the gym and throw some serious iron around with the big boys. It's one of the dreams that keeps me going.

Me in March 2006.

Me on September 22, 2006. After diagnosis but before chemo started.

Me on November 19th, 2006, after 2 treatments.

November 19, 2006

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Knit For The Cure!

My friend Julie once observed that I knit like a man. Maybe she was talking about the super jumbo needles I insist on using, or perhaps the way I sit: slouched down with my knees sprawling apart, snarling and cursing at the slow stubborn yarn. I tend to gallop along too fast, clumsy and impatient, focused on production and anxious for end results. I have zero tolerance for the process itself, for fine little details or tiny little stitches. I've steadfastly refused to learn anything besides the basic garter stitch; I have no desire to count or measure or do anything that requires actually thinking or paying attention; and the last thing on earth I need is a cozy for my mouse, my iPod, or my damn vibrator. So the only item I know how to knit is a scarf.

I taught myself to knit shortly after I was diagnosed, when it became clear that my former active athletic passions--things like dancing and gardening and lifting weights--were going to be off limits for a long long time. Although I still find it almost unbearably boring, knitting does allow me to indulge in my love of bright wild colors. I like my scarves long, so they flutter and fly behind me, flapping in the wind like exuberant streamers. Or they would if I ever went anywhere besides to the bathroom and back.

By the time I've finished all 8 rounds of chemotherapy, if I haven't gone stark raving mad first, I will have at least a hundred long crazy insanely clashing scarves.

Maybe I can sell them on eBay! I'll charge $100 apiece and sew on little tags that say, "This scarf was hand knit by a genuine stage IV cancer patient during infusions. All proceeds go to pay for pain pills, antidepressants, and anti-nausea medications."

The Other Diagnosis

More than any other word on earth, the word I hate the most right now is "trouper." I despise the very concept, the mere idea that it's a even good thing to be. I loathe the pressure it puts on us to be so goddamn "brave," to be cheerful and upbeat and have a "positive attitude;" and, above all, to "fight."

I'm not a trouper. I'm not brave, I'm not upbeat, I'm not a fighter. I spend an average of 2.75 hours every day crying. I cry so hard it sounds like I'm strangling, or drowning. I went to talk to a therapist, and she says I'm suffering from adjustment disorder and bereavement. Bereavement for my own lost self, the loss of the delicious life that I had worked so hard to create: the freedom, the independence, the strength, the vitality, the lust, the competence, the companionship, the dignity. All gone now . I hate what I've become. I hate what my life has turned into.

And the only choices I seem to have are: suck it up and be a "trouper"; or bury my face in my pillow and sob.

I say fuck the whole trouper business. Let them put this on my gravestone: "Her attitude stunk like day-old fecal matter, and we were afraid she would never ever ever EVER shut up with all that damn crying and whining. Praise Eternity!"

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Recent Snapshots From the House of Tumors

Tragic incident at the Crayola factory.

Dead rodent wig casually tossed on the bed after an outing: the dogs bark at it, then run away. (God help us all if it ever barks back. I have enough issues about the damn thing as it is.)

Plummeting neutrophils: Germ mask and obsessive Lysol in kitchen.

Germ mask up close. Hello, Howard Hughes!

Wacky velvet hat with purple rose.

Large mediastinal tumor in September (before chemotherapy or port installation--no more spaghetti straps for me) causing sternum and rib cage to bulge out in front. Hell YES, it hurt! (The gross bulge is completely gone now, after two treatments.)

Egghead! I love it! But am I supposed to be polishing it, or buffing it, or exfoliating it or anything? My scalp grooming knowledge is embarrassingly minimal.


More (somewhat reluctant) solidarity. But they don't know squat about scalp grooming either.

Monday, November 13, 2006

A Port In Every Storm

I have a hideous device called a "port" surgically implanted in my chest wall. The chemotherapy I receive every three weeks is so toxic, if it were injected directly into an ordinary vein in my arm, it would disintegrate the vein and blister the skin around the injection site beyond recognition. It's so deadly, the nurses who administer my chemo are required by OSHA to wear special haz-mat suits. When the evil stuff is infused through the port, it is delivered straight into one of the bigger tougher veins deep in my body, where, theoretically, it can do less damage. Knock wood.

The damn thing bulges beneath my skin and looks like a really creepy doorbell:

I also have a little card I'm supposed to carry in my wallet that announces, replete with random superfluous caps, "This Patient has a RITA Medical Systems Device Implanted." On the back it reports the catalog and lot numbers of my device, and informs avid readers that the Location of Portal is Right Chest Wall, and the Location of Catheter is Superior Vena Cava. I'm not exactly sure what I'm supposed to do with this card. Hand it out at cocktail parties? Place it on my dashboard so I can park in the blue zone? Show it to airport security personnel if my device sets off the metal detectors?

But let me tell you, the surgery to implant the device was just about the most exciting damn thing that ever happened to me. As I was coming to in the post-op recovery room, a blurry resident loomed over my face and shouted, "Mrs. Lymphopo? There's been a little problem. But everything is going to be all right, and your husband is here now."

Well shit yeah, there's a goddamn problem: suddenly I have a husband??? See, the scary thing is, I don't have a very good history with twilight anesthesia. After my first biopsy, I apparently phoned out and ordered pizza for the entire radiology department. But this time it seems I had called in the hospital chaplain and gotten myself hitched, to god only knows whom. Probably the inert appendectomy patient on the next gurney.

But thank the lucky constellations it turned out this alleged husband was only my designated driver. I guess they assumed we were married because, eww, it's just too gross to contemplate that a woman my age might have something as racy and exotic as a boyfriend.

Unfortunately, the "little problem" was a bit messier than a hasty marriage to a sedated stranger. During the implantation surgery, the blurry resident had used a series of guidewires to insert the device's catheter down into my superior vena cava, and a 5-inch piece of one of the wires had unexpectedly broken during this delicate procedure. The renegade bit of wire immediately launched itself on a gleeful high speed joyride, tearing around through my vascular system at an alarming velocity, threatening to perforate various vital veins and ventricles.

As one of my non-husbands held my hand and the other snored his oblivious way out of his post-appendectomy delirium, the blurry resident explained that a crack team of radiological surgeons had been called in, stat. As soon as they had scrubbed, masked, and snapped their polyisoprene gloves into place, I would be wheeled into a special operating room where they would use their magic x-ray vision to locate the fugitive wire. They would then apprehend the fool thing and take it into custody, hopefully before it caused any fatalities.

I guess the radiologists had never forgiven me for ordering anchovies on their pizza after the biopsy, because this time they refused to give me any more twilight anesthesia. I'm not a big fan of being wide awake during surgeries, but fortunately for all I was still drunk enough from the morning's implantation imbroglio that I didn't put up much of a fight. I vaguely recall having an extremely interesting discussion about something or other with the chief radiologist, a distinguished, handsome, and delightfully charming man about my age. As luck would have it, he discovered the idiot wire nestled in my groin, so this conversation was not without a tinge of indignity on my part.

I recovered from the consecutive surgeries without further incident (though I have yet to hear a damn word from my ex-non-husband, Mr. Appendix), and two days after it was implanted, the port was put to use in my first chemotherapy treatment:

Portal close-up with shark's tooth

A vengeful, bloodthirsty Madame Defarge knits a register of every cell that must Die For The Cause. Her relatives dread the holidays this year, as she is an astonishingly inept knitter.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Life Beneath the Superdome

I had always believed that people dying of cancer were doomed to lie awake every night with their eyelids paralyzed wide open, trembling in terror as they spent hour after sleepless dark hour staring straight up into the rosy pink asshole of Mortality.

But that's not actually the way it works.

When I wake at 3 am, the Hemorrhoids of Death are just about the last thing on my mind. No, my very first thought is always this: Jesus fuck, my goddamn scalp is cold. Where the hell is that fluffy warm terrycloth sleep turban I was wearing when I fell asleep? I rummage through the 8,000 pillows and quilts, searching vainly for the awol topper, trying not to wake up the damn dogs because then they'll want to go outside and all I want to do is cover my shivering pate so I can go back to sleep. Mortality and its frickin anal sphincter can wait until morning.

Wild sexbot jammies with garden gnomes and fuzzy warm hat

Anyway, speaking of goose bumpy scalps, today was the first time I wore my wig out in public. It's funny because I haven't been at all shy about going out stark raving bald. The minute I set down the clippers and discovered that I have an exceedingly elegant cranium, that was it: I leapt aboard the Bald Is Beautiful bandwagon and have been careening around with blazing evalgelical fervor ever since.

Nefertiti? Persis Khambatta? Uncle Fester? Or perhaps the bizarre love-child of all three.

But this whole wig business seems sort of phony and pretentious. Besides, it's a cheap little thing I got on eBay for about $7, and it feels all scratchy like I imagine a day-old roadkill would if it were perched precariously above my forehead. And I haven't really figured out what to do with various bodily protuberances, like my ears. Tuck in or poke out?

Nevertheless, it's cold today so I decided to stop being a sissy and bravely sidled out of the wigged closet. I slapped the fake bush on my bare head and adjusted it the best I could, hoping to hell I didn't have the bangs in the back or the sideburns in the front, although frankly it wasn't all that obvious to me which was what anyway, and off I headed to my friendly neighborhood Wal-Mart. I confess I went early, before church let out, or else I was bound to run into thousands of people I know.

What's that? How is it that I've come to know thousands of people who shop at the Wal-Mart on their way home from church every Sunday? Hell if I know; shit just happens, ok?

The excursion went well. Nobody stared or snickered or gasped or screamed, and the only person who even spoke to me was a polite young squirrel hunter who asked if he could cut in line because his dogs were out waiting in the truck.

What's that? How is it that I can tell just by looking at a guy's outfit what kind of animal he's been out killing? Oh shut up. Face the facts, Toto: we're not in Berkeley any more.

Self portrait with cheap wig