1988. While I was living in New York, my mother was dying of cancer. Liver cancer usually takes a rapid toll, but she had lived for almost three years since her diagnosis, a testament to her amazing life force.

It was a Thursday in Manhattan and I had indulged in my two favorite activities; smoking pot and going to a movie by myself. Stoned out of my mind, I went to see the tear-jerker, Field of Dreams. My eyes still red from pot, pollution and tears, I returned home to my loft to see the flashing light on my answering machine. It was my sister calling from Toronto. My mother had gone into a coma – this could be it. Get to Toronto now. I had been commuting from New York to Toronto for months to visit my mother in a palliative care facility. But now she was in a coma? From what? Cancer doesn’t put you in a coma – unless her morphine drip had lulled her into total unconsciousness. Although nothing can bring you down faster than learning your dying mother is in a coma, I was still buzzed and had to get it together to book a flight, pack and leave for the airport.

Mind racing, heart breaking, emotions percolating, I quickly packed a suitcase; jeans, tee shirts, dress pants, shirt…as I reached for my socks it hit me. Should I be packing for a funeral? Then, I will be needing black socks. No. If I didn’t pack black socks it meant there was hope. After all, I could always buy black socks. But maybe I should take them just in case? No. I needed hope. But maybe I should be prepared. Making a “life and death” decision with a flight to catch while crashing from a high and recovering from Kevin Costner’s reunion with his dead father made the socks choice even more difficult. But hope won out. No black socks.

I arrived in Toronto late that night. The next morning, I was at my mother’s bedside and learned she had gone into a diabetic coma. Diabetes was the only thing she didn’t have. But her mother, (my grandmother) was diabetic – which I have since inherited (but that’s another story.) Then, I remembered that during previous visits my mother had developed an unquenchable craving for sweets. Unaware that adult diabetes had kicked in at 71, we all plied her with candies and sickeningly sweet Vachon “Ah Caramel” Jos Louis snacks. There are chocolate people and butterscotch people. She had become a caramel woman and when you’re dying of liver cancer any indulgence is permitted.

For two days and nights I stood vigil with my sister and aunts emotionally preparing for the end. Where was she? I always wondered where you go when you’re in a coma. Is it like being under anesthetic, you’re just not there – or you’re deep inside your mind swimming in a vacuum of darkness? I still spoke to my mother, giving her updates on my life in New York and provided Walkman and earphones in case she could hear soothing classical music. In retrospect, I should have cranked up some Aretha Franklin to jolt her back to the surface.

On day three, she was back. Miraculously, my mother had come out of her coma, not realizing she was even in one. No more caramel for mommy. I went back to commuting from New York to Toronto feeling like I had attended a dress rehearsal for grieving. Due to her strong will and the love and support that enveloped her, my mother lived for another year. To this day, black socks signify “hope” because I didn’t have to wear them until December 29, 1989.

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I’ve had musicals produced on Broadway, Off-Broadway, Radio City Music Hall, across North America, and won a musical theater award from Stephen Sondheim. So, when a New York friend recommended me to a Producer to write his big new musical I thought, “Could this, be it? Could this be a big break to write a new musical for an actual, real-live legit Producer with Broadway credits – who, (small world,) I had met at a Christmas party a few years before. He shall remain nameless. But just let me say, it was a three-part name that evoked chuckles since it sounded like a Mel Brooks character with a paisley ascot and cigarette holder. But I was thrilled to have been hired to write a musical based on the life of one of my favorite sixties female singers – who shall also remain nameless.  She was a pop icon with an incredible story to tell.

After researching the amazing life story of this sixties singer, I pitched the Producer my fresh take on the material that was imaginative and as edgy as her life. He loved it! I signed a deal memo to get paid a small amount up-front. Since this was a big show and a very marketable project, I could make a fortune in royalties should it ever see the neon lights of opening night. My musical theater career hopes were high. But I’d been to this rodeo so many times before, that I had, “caution” branded on what was left of my soul.

As I began writing the treatment, the Producer (with the pretentious name) was re-opening the famed, Encore Dinner Theater in Tustin. The Encore was the pride of this small city outside L.A. and had been dark for thirty years. e05683acdbfe63d20d6f1107354b5a9d55b4807ee0927f3cdab122a7b5978ebd3cfa5d0a87c3d7bf_car_4x3Now, it was premiering a new Christmas show, “Tis the Season.” I was invited to attend opening night and the chance to see what my new Producer could produce.  I hit the freeway for Tustin that was about an hour drive past malls and car lots into the cookie-cutter burbs of Orange County. I imagined searchlights scraping the sky, a bulb-popping marquee and royal red carpet. Arriving in Tustin, I pulled into a non-descript strip mall. The searchlights were headlights of minivans and the marquee could have been advertising a mattress sale. Maybe the red carpet was at the dry cleaners next to the chicken take-out. But upon entering the lobby, I was relieved to see that it appeared to be a real live theater where I was greeted by the Producer and his small polyester entourage. Stepping into the house, I was impressed to see carpeting, chandeliers, red banquettes and tables with crisp white tablecloths. The stage was a good size with a small orchestra pit and red pleated curtain with a sparkly Christmas logo.


Amidst the buzz of excited Tustinians, I was seated at the Producer’s special table where I was introduced to his family as the writer of his new musical. Among folded cloth napkins, shiny silverware and glistening wine goblets, there was a program and menu. I leafed through the program and perused the list of festive and familiar Christmas songs. I checked out the large cast and noticed that none of them were Actors Equity.  Oh well, since L.A. is an industry town for Film and TV, many stage actors were non-union. I flipped to the menu featuring Christmas dinner choices of turkey, chicken or roast beef. In the spirit of the holidays, I ordered the turkey. Little did I know there would be a bigger turkey onstage.

Suddenly, the audience began to hush as the chandeliers began to rise. The lights dimmed. A spotlight hit the orchestra pit and illuminated a small orchestra poised for the overture. The conductor raised his arms and pointed his baton at a solo trumpet. The first few notes of, “The Christmas Song” blared out of the pit. Every note was flat as my Diet Coke. The orchestra kicked in, not unlike the tinny, eager sound of a High School marching band.

Onstage, lights up. A trap door opened and out popped two young children. With shrill voices and wide-eyed awe, they explored their parents’ attic. Suddenly, the ghost of their dead grandfather appeared, played by an elderly actor who must have been out on a day-pass from the Home. Ghostly Grampa invited the kids to go on a journey through his wonderful memories of Christmases past. This was the plot (for lack of a better word) and a clothesline on which to hang a parade of popular Christmas numbers. And off we went on a magical tour of dead Grampa’s holiday nostalgia.

The squeaky orchestra kicked in, and so did the chorus. Something was odd about this musical theater chorus of about two dozen. Nobody was attractive. Usually, one of the joys of musical theater is getting lost in the fantasy of taut dancer bodies and sparkling smiles. This chorus looked like a Tustin police line-up. And the chorus girls, dressed in scanty elf costumes made me think that maybe I should have ordered the roast beef. Behind their plastered smiles you could feel them counting beats as they shuffled through choreography that was reminiscent of the dance floor at my Bar Mitzvah. I flashed a smile to my Producer across the table and jammed a dinner roll into my face. My turkey dinner arrived during, “March of the Wooden Soldiers,” which basically described the entire cast. Pass the cranberries.


I quickly scanned my program to see if there was an intermission since I didn’t want the lights to come up and have to comment on the first act. It was hard to tell what was the finale of the first act until the chandeliers began to descend. Shit. Intermission. Maybe if I choked on a turkey bone, I wouldn’t be able to talk about the show while receiving the Heimlich Maneuver. Instead, I dove into my dinner trying to keep my mouth so full of turkey that I couldn’t comment. Pass the cranberries. But having been in show biz my whole life, I knew how to lie through my teeth that needed flossing.

I envied the chandeliers. They got to escape up into the ceiling for the second act. Good thing I had finished my dinner, because my jaw-hit the table when, as a salute to Chanukah and the three Jews in Tustin, the dead grandfather took the kids for a fun-filled romp through a cemetery. From bright greens and reds, the lights faded into hazy  shadows and misty dry ice as Grampa Ghost escorted the children to the graveside of an old army buddy who was killed in   World War II.                         

With a funereal underscore, he introduced the innocents to the Holocaust, explaining cattle cars packed with Jews rattling toward chimney-smoking extermination camps. Being Jewish, it was nice to see an acknowledgement of Chanukah. Instead of this, they could have put potato latkes on the menu. screenshot_13But from the Sugar Plum Fairy to Hitler? Oy vey! I wanted to remove the knives from all the place settings to avoid an audience mass suicide. This portion of the show was like licking the sweet candy of a Tootsie Roll Pop and discovering the chewy chocolate center is a turd. After the dry ice wafted over the pit and into chicken dinners, the lights shot back up and “Fa la la la la la,” we were back to a happy sparkly Christmas!

I strained to read my program in the dark to count how many numbers were left. And then, the chorus shuffle-ball-changed into a tableau of the Nativity featuring Mary, Joseph, the three Wise Men and a sheep that looked like it would rather have been on the menu.

A robed actor stepped out of the biblical ensemble and recited the story of Jesus. It was his moment to shine with a monologue that went on longer than the new Testament. It had so many dramatic pauses, that nobody could tell when he was finished – which explained why, when he was done, all you could hear was the sound of a single clap. But thank you, Baby Jesus, the orchestra kicked in with a festive all singin’ all sort of dancin’ finale. The chandeliers descended. Applause. Whistles and cheers. The company bowed and peered through the glare of lights to see if their friends and relatives had finished their Apple Brown Betty.

All of a sudden, my Producer rose from our table and ascended the steps to the stage. Holding a piece of paper in his hand, he thanked the cast and audience for celebrating the re-opening of the Encore Dinner Theater. Glancing at the paper in his hand, he began to introduce a celebrity in the audience. I craned my neck to see who it was. He went on to announce the credits of a writer who had a show on Broadway called, Candles, Snow and Mistletoe. I wrote that show. I looked around, wondering if someone else here, was involved in it too? Suddenly, I was hit by a spotlight. Like a deer in headlights, I stood, smiled and waved at the audience. My Producer glanced at his paper and went on to say, “…and he wrote the hit movie, A Fish Called Wanda.”


It was then, that I realized it was my resume that he had in his hand. Let me explain. When I worked for HBO in New York, I had the privilege of collaborating with John Cleese on a comedy behind-the-scenes segment for his movie, A Fish Called Wanda. A man from another table leaned over and proclaimed, “A Fish Called Wanda is my favorite movie!” I replied, “Mine too!” Hey, I was in Tustin. Who’s to know I didn’t write it?

Back onstage, my Producer introduced another celebrity responsible for a delightful evening – the chef! The spotlight searched for the swinging kitchen door and a white-aproned chef entered. As he bent over to bow, he was introduced as having just recovered from rectal cancer. Glad I didn’t order the chocolate mousse.

Opening night subsided into air kisses and changing-the-subject farewells. I thanked my Producer for a one-of-a-kind evening and ran for my car. So that was the work of the Producer of my new musical – that never happened. Pass the cranberries.






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                                    Warning: The following contains graphic material

With a Foley Catheter bag strapped to my leg, off I went to my original Urologist appointment where I was expecting him to remove the catheter and see what happens. But, nooooo. He was cautious that after three catheterizations, I still couldn’t void and suspected it was my enlarged prostate. I protested that it was the same prostate I had a month ago when I could pee. In fact, I’m the only adult I know who sleeps through the night. He theorized it was a combination of my two surgeries with anesthetic and slightly enlarged prostate; typical for a man my age. He recommended a procedure called T.U.M.T. (Transurethral Microwave Treatment) – a 45-minute office procedure where he sticks a catheter with a microwave antenna into my dick to heat and shrink the prostate accompanied by a thermometer up my butt to register the temperature. He almost had to pick me up off the floor at the thought of it.

My knees tingled at every word of research that I read about the procedure while I reached out to friends in the medical profession for their opinion. But T.U.M.T. seemed to be the next line of treatment without having surgery which caused these complications in the first place. I asked the Urologist if I could have a twilight sedative, but since it was an office procedure he would only prescribe Norco. Norco? Was he fucking nuts? I’d been on Norco for a month for my tongue. I was on Norco when he invaded every hole I have – and I was still screaming. I asked for Valium.

Three days, one valium and two Norcos later, I had a catheter with a heated microwave antenna so far down my urethra into my prostate, I think I was picking up HBO. And with a thermometer up my ass, I felt like a Thanksgiving turkey.

hqdefaultBy breathing and chanting I got through the 45-minute procedure. But when the doctor inserted catheter #4 he had to scrape me off the ceiling. Between meds, antibiotics, catheterizations and T.U.M.T. the he felt it should clear up my Urinary Retention and I could change my name to Flo.

Catheterized for the fourth time was now a painfully familiar experience. The strangest part, was that the only way I knew I peed was if the bag strapped to my leg grew heavy. I could only forget the equipment was there, when I was asleep. But waking up every morning, I would peek under the covers and there it was, flesh and tubing that never failed to make my legs tingle with clinical creepiness.

A week later, the big day of bladder testing arrived. The doctor had instructed me to have the catheter removed in the morning, drink gallons of water and come back in the afternoon. He wasn’t there at 9AM, so the nurse removed the catheter and told me NOT to drink a lot of water – just my usual amount so I wouldn’t stress my bladder. So, all day I drank only three glasses of water and an ice coffee followed by a weak stream and drips that did seem to relieve me. At 4PM my doctor warned that he had instructed me to drink a lot of water all day. And I warned him that I’d rather jump out his window than be catheterized a fifth time. But happily, the scan showed my bladder was 85% empty which made him satisfied not to catheterize me. Yay! But since my voiding wasn’t based on maximum water, I felt I passed the test but failed the exam. I was thrilled to have a Penis Unchained, but remained cautious about if/when I would return to a normal stream.

After having my dick invaded and my prostate fried, there was still one part of my anatomy down there that was still working. And then at 3AM my testicle woke me up screaming, “WHAT ABOUT ME?” It felt like someone kicked me in the right nut and the pain was spreading to my abdomen and my back.

cqkdhtp7bbi0lj2qv67uI feared I hadn’t been voiding enough and maybe I had a kidney infection. As the pain quickly spread, I called an Uber and went back to Hollywood Presbyterian. Driving me to Emergency, the Uber driver wanted to know what was wrong, and will now be forever haunted by details of my bladder, prostate and right testicle. It was 3AM Monday morning and my fourth time at Emergency. The doctor touched my right testicle that was so painful like putting a hand on a stove. She took a urine sample, blood and sent me for an Ultrasound with a Russian technician who must have worked for the KGB since it felt like she had my right ball in a waffle iron. “Very inflamed,” she stated. Ya think? The bladder scan showed I was about half empty, like I just won second prize on a bad Urinary Game Show. The loser gets Catheter #5. Results showed I had a Urinary Tract Infection; no surprise since I’d been catheterized four times. The doctor gave me a morphine drip for breakfast, prescribed an antibiotic and sent me home.

By now, my neighbors were asking, “How’s your bladder?” Friends prayed for my prostate and Buddhists were now chanting for my testicle. For the next few days, I wore an athletic support for the first time since eighth grade, iced my ball and took the antibiotics. And then, the next morning, halle-fucking-lujah I PEED! IMG_7332Never thought the sound of a constant stream would sound so sweet. I conquered tongue cancer. I  just triumphed over Urinary Retention – but now I had a UTI. I called my Urologist for an appointment. The good news, I could finally pee. Bad news, you could play tennis with my right ball. But now that it was a different symptom, I needed to see my Primary Care Physician for insurance authorization.

Thursday, I saw my Physician who cupped my swollen ball and ordered blood tests and an ultrasound. I just had both those done three days ago! He didn’t trust Hollywood Presbyterian and so Friday morning, I went for more blood work. The Phlebotomist put me in a chair by the window. She told me to wait…and disappeared for twenty minutes. Sitting there, trying to stave off my needle phobia with thoughts of puppies and rainbows, I finally went looking for her. She forgot about me and had decided to take a nap! That evening, I went for my second ball ultrasound. Because it was an upscale facility in Beverly Hills, it was almost pleasant. After the technician removed her hand from my testicle I said she owed me dinner.

Saturday morning, Eddie came over and we were supposed to spend a beautiful day together. But I had a fever of 100.3, my back was in spasm and we could have played volleyball with my right testicle. Fearing maybe I had a kidney infection, Eddie took me to Emergency at Hollywood Presbyterian for the fifth time. IMG_7225

More blood, urine, and the ultrasound showed my testicle had gotten bigger because the previous E.R. doctor put me on an ineffective antibiotic. This doctor prescribed a stronger antibiotic and said I could go home. Five minutes later, she came back and said that I couldn’t go home.  My heart rate was up to 120 and all other symptoms showed I didn’t meet the criteria for release. I would have to be admitted. But my insurance didn’t cover Hollywood Presbyterian. I was being moved to Los Angeles County General in East L.A. It’s the hospital in gangland you see on all the cop shows where they dump the bodies. In all these years, I had never been hospitalized and never been in an ambulance.Ambulance on a white background Now, I was being transported to a small, dingy hospital that looked and smelled like a Motel 6. Having bonded with the ambulance team over my testicle, they cautioned me to make sure the hospital staff washed their hands and that I didn’t get scabies. Then, they wheeled me toward a ward where I expected to be a gang member’s bitch. But I was gratefully alone.

Sunday morning, the hospital Urologist asked to look at my testicle. I told him he was the only one in California who hadn’t. He recommended an antibiotic via I.V. which actually sounded like a good idea, rather than two pills a day. The Cardiologist, however, was concerned that my heart rate was still high. They said I might not go home till Tuesday. That night, they brought me a homeless roommate who had a psychotic break on the other side of the curtain at 4AM. He settled down Monday morning and I spent the day trying to convince him it was 2018. The Urologist came back in, squeezed my slightly softened ball and said I could go home. The Cardiologist came in and said I couldn’t go home due to my rapid heart rate. They gave me meds to lower my heart rate and that afternoon, was told I could go home. I was also told by various doctors and nurses that my testicular swelling would go down in 3-5 days, 3-5 weeks, 3-5 months, 3-5 years and never. I was released Monday afternoon with a new antibiotic prescription for Doxycycline. 156_4_Diagnose.Related.Bipolar-Misconceptions.SS_.156.Pill-Bottles.ts-103583538

The next day, I saw my Urologist and the bladder scan showed I was still voiding. Yay! Whew! He squeezed my ball (who hasn’t?) and said to keep taking the antibiotic. He told me it could take a month for the swelling to go down. Thank you. At least now I knew what I’m dealing with and could stop doing a ball-check every five minutes. Two days later, my Primary Physician called at 8AM and said he just saw my culture report and that I was immune to Doxyclene. He wanted to put me in the hospital that afternoon. This time, after dealing with months of medical misinformation, I rebelled, I refused. I insisted the two doctors get on the same page and get back to me. That afternoon, my Urologist’s assistant said my doctors had talked and were putting me on a third antibiotic. “Should I still take the Doxy?” She instructed me stop taking it. My Primary said take it for three more days. The Pharmacist said to finish it. I rest my case. During this time, I had a fever for ten days that fluctuated from 100 to 102 degrees with nightly sweats that required changing my sheets twice a night. But lo and behold, the new antibiotic had me peeing bubbles and my fever finally subsided.


It was the first summer in thirty years that I didn’t go to my beloved cottage in Canada. But with all the surprise complications from tongue to testicle, it was a wise decision to stay in L.A. where I had the care of my doctors, the love of my boyfriend and the support of family, friends, neighbors and Buddhists, who all helped me through pain, pills and prayers. I was told I was strong, brave and courageous. But I dunno. You never know how strong you can be until you’ve had part of your tongue cut off – or how high your pain threshold, until you’ve had microwave antenna slammed down your dick into your prostate. I’ve always been a man of action and you just do what you have to do to get through it.

I am now feeling human again. My private parts, which, after writing this are now my public parts, have returned to normal, my energy has returned, I’m putting on weight and am filled with gratitude that it had only been two and a half months whereas, so many people suffer through such health issues for years.

I’m forever grateful to have survived the summer of 2018.




Having to go back into surgery for Tongue Surgery – the Sequel would set my full recovery back another three weeks. But I was grateful they were going to try to get it all this time to avoid follow-up chemo or radiation. Since they left me waiting eight hours last time, I insisted I was first on the menu at 7:30 AM. So far, the most painful part was the nurse telling me I looked like Woody Allen. My surgeon didn’t cut away that much more of my tongue – it was microscopic and in the same area. And as I went through the same post-op cycle of healing again, I was relieved to discover the wound was not visible (unless you French Kiss me) and my speech was not affected.

Believe it or not, throughout the entire ordeal I was never scared or depressed. Maybe because we’re living in a time where you can’t say, “It can’t happen to me.” I just had to rise to the occasion to do what must be done. I was lucky to have the love and support of family and so many friends, neighbors, Buddhists and especially, my boyfriend who rose to every grisly occasion. Because of our age difference, we joked about him feeding me with a plastic spoon someday. Blink. He was!

And then along came, “It’s always something.”

(Warning: The following contains graphic material)

One of the side effects of anesthetic is Urinary Retention. I think it’s listed on page 875 of the waiver you sign listing all the ways anesthetic can kill you. For my first surgery, I couldn’t pee for twenty-four hours. Knowing that most people leave a hospital worse than when they went in, I thought, “Great, they gave me a urinary tract infection.” But I was flowing fine once the anesthetic had worn off.  Following this second surgery and anesthetic, I experienced Urinary Retention again. Being unable to “void” I thought, like the first time, it would pass within 24 hours as the anesthetic wore off. On the doctor’s recommendation, I took a hot bath and paced circles in the living room. But by 8:00 that evening, the pressure on my bladder was crippling. There’s nothing like bladder cramping to make you forget you’ve just had your tongue cut off for the second time. So, I crawled into the car and drove myself to Emergency at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital 515472117-hollywood-presbyterian-medical-center-emergency-rooms-hospital-driveway-ambulancewhere I had to be catheterized. Tongue surgery in the morning and catheter insertion at night. (Won’t be recommending that on Yelp) Like most men, I am squeamish about sticking anything into my dick and can’t believe any guy would want to have a Prince Albert. But after screaming and hyperventilating, the Foley Catheter was in there with the ecstatic relief of flow. The nurse asked if I wanted to leave it in. Having never been catheterized and knowing the anesthetic had not yet worn off, I told them to take it out – and drove home with a smile on my bladder. But all through the night my brain said, “Gotta pee.” My bladder said, “Not gonna happen.”


In the morning, I made an emergency appointment with my Urologist. I was surprised the bladder scan showed I was full after they drained me last night. I would need to be catheterized again. Because I was an emergency case, the doctor had to keep leaving me for scheduled patients before he drained me. But first came a series of tests.

I’ve never been a big fan of the prostate digital exam, which is a technical term for, “Let me stick my finger up your ass.” The doctor thought my prostate was large and needed to measure it. I think he went to Home Depot and picked up a gang of day-workers (with their truck) and they all went up there to measure. After what seemed like an hour of Journey to the Center of My Prostate, he said it was only fairly large for a man my age. And then he announced he would need to look down my dick with a camera. I think it must have been an IMAX camera because it was off-the charts pain – like a hot wire stuck down my pee hole. The nurse was telling me to relax. I wanted to say, “How about I stick a hot poker up your wazoo and see if you relax, bitch!” But I held my severed tongue. And then they catheterized me for the second time in twenty-four hours.” I asked, “How long do I need to wear this?” The doctor replied, “Two weeks. I’m going on vacation.” “Because you’re going on vacation I have to pee into a bag strapped to my leg for two weeks?” He said, “If you want to have the catheter removed next week, come in and one of my nurses can do it.” I wished him Bon Voyage and went home with another bag that didn’t match my shoes.


It creeped me out wearing a catheter. And in 103 summer heat I could have boiled tea in the urine bag strapped to my leg. The only upside was being able to pee while watching a movie. But I was constantly reminded there was a tube down there and my knees rarely ceased to tingle. After a week of pinching and tugging on my poor sore penis, I made an appointment at the Urologist for Thursday at 9AM. The nurse wasn’t sure if I should have it removed or wait until my doctor returned next week. She phoned his colleague who would call me at home with advice. I drove home to Hollywood from Beverly Hills, walked in the door and the new doctor called. He said, “One week is fine. Take it out yourself, drink plenty of water and come in to see me at 3PM.” Excuse me, “Can you go back to that, ‘take it out myself’ part?” He instructed me to simply snip the hose that’s inflating the balloon in my dick and it might even fall out. I hung up and delicately followed his instructions without fainting and started drinking water from 11AM to 3PM. I returned to his office and the bladder scan showed there was nothing in my bladder. Say what? I drink a thimble of water and have to pee. He said it hadn’t processed yet and to leave the catheter out. Free at last! It was the Fifth of July and my penis was having its own Independence Day!

But when I got home. Nothing. Couldn’t pee. I was up every few minutes during the night but my bladder was on strike. I knew there was a gallon of water in me that could back up into a kidney infection. So, the next morning, I returned to Emergency for Catheter #3. I drained. I sighed.  I went home. That same afternoon, my tongue surgeon called to say, congratulations! – my biopsy was negative. I’m CANCER-FREE!  I would not need chemo or radiation! cancer_survivor_ornament_roundI would have jumped up and down with glee, but I had a bag strapped to my leg. Instead, I sobbed. The words, “cancer-free” brought more tears to my eyes than, “I have cancer.” I think it’s because for a month, all my focus went into dealing with physical pain and I didn’t have time or energy to process emotional pain. I cried for two days. I cried through the movie, Ant Man.

It was just so unfortunate that normally, this would have been it. A celebration of being a cancer survivor. But with me, nothing is ever normal. Tongue cancer – let’s cut it out. Oops, sorry, gotta cut out more tongue. Oops, sorry. Now you can’t pee and have to wear a catheter. As if those weren’t enough surprises, my next visit to the Urologist would have given the Marquis De Sade a boner. (To be continued)



    WHAT I DID…  

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Male suffering with pain in the urogenital system.                                                                            

Part I

I never really thought of myself as a “survivor.” Then again, I’ve survived as a free-lance writer in Toronto, the neon canyons of New York and the Tinsel Town trenches of Hollywood. I survived the AIDS epidemic living in New York City in the eighties, lived through a bear crashing through my kitchen door at the cottage and survived a mugging in New York – only to be felled by the sting of a Wasp allergy in the woods.

I’ve been relatively healthy my whole life, afflicted with little quirky things, like having my eardrum perforated while in the throes of making love – followed by a procedure using bellows to blow my ears out through my nose. (see blog post). For acid reflux, I survived a Nasal Gastrectomy where, without anesthetic, they threaded a camera through my nose, down the back of my head and into my stomach. And, like one of those carnival prize booths with a crane claw, I had a chunk of my stomach pulled out through my nose. With sciatica screaming down my leg, I ran from a New York back specialist when his X-ray showed a pen lodged in my spine from a marker that had been left in the x-ray table. (see blog post) I caught Fungus Tongue performing in Godspell, when a tainted cup was passed from Jesus to his disciples onstage at the Last Supper. I know it was Jesus. I was sleeping with him. I temporarily blinded myself tripping on magic mushrooms (see blog post). Medication from two gum surgeries gave me 24-hour amnesia. Sneezing after a hernia operation almost blew my groin off. And I’ve had so many Colonoscopies, I could perform one on myself.

So, when I opened the gift of type two Diabetes that my family genes had bestowed upon me, I was grateful that I could manage it with two pills a day, a sugar-free diet and trips to the gym. Because there are a lot worse things you can get out there. And then, came one of the worse things you can get out there…cancer. Tongue cancer. Ick. Ew. Owch. I  have now joined the club of cancer survivors. And with all the horrific complications that trickled down from it, I am proud to say that I survived the summer of 2018.


I’d had lesions and a sore tongue for two years, and nobody could tell me what it was. Doctors and dentists suspected it could be from my tongue rubbing against a silver crown. I went to an Ear, Nose Throat doctor who did a biopsy and it came back benign. Yay! But the side of my tongue continued to be painful throughout the year. So, I thought, this time, I’ll go to an Oral Specialist. I was recommended to a passionate doctor at UCLA. He was very enthusiastic about finding out what was going on as he peered into my mouth with a dozen students craning for a peek. One of the nice things about getting older is not giving a shit so I said, “I’m gay. Can I perform oral sex…er, not on you?” He told me I could put my tongue anywhere and recommended another biopsy. But it was out of my insurance network and I couldn’t afford to return.

So, I went to a third Oral Surgeon. He performed a painful tongue biopsy and scheduled an appointment for Wednesday. But 8AM Monday morning he called and asked how I am. “Probably not very well, if you called me at 8AM on Monday.” He told me the biopsy came back positive for “Squamous Cell Carcinoma” the most common type of tongue cancer. He wanted to see me in his office by 10AM. My ears were ringing like the Cathedral at Notre Dame and my tumbling stomach could have been center ring of Cirque Du Soleil. Within four hours of the biopsy result I saw the Oral Surgeon who immediately sent me to the original E.N.T. doctor who would do my surgery. (He was also a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon so I was hoping for a two-for one neck touch up.) Surprised that benign had turned to cancer in a year, he set surgery in motion. A piece of my tongue had to be removed. But first I would need a series of tests.

That night, still trying to process being diagnosed with tongue cancer, I went to my part-time movie research screening job. I was an hour early at the multiplex and decided to sneak into a theater and watch anything that would distract me from having my tongue cut out. With twenty-three screens, I snuck into a random theater – and stopped in my tracks. It was the horror movie, “Truth or Dare” and the scene I walked in on, was a screaming woman with her tongue cut out. Really?

The next day, I sprang into action with all the necessary tests. First, blood tests and MRI. For someone who is a needle and noise phobe, the MRI had me lying inside a banging metal tube with a syringe in my arm for an hour. MRI-scan-roomAll I needed was for them to put a tarantula on my face and I would have had a trifecta of all my phobias. More needles with radiation for a PET/CT scan, EKG, more blood work, chest X-rays. All my tests came back clear that it had not spread and that I caught it early enough – but the cancer had to be cut out of my tongue.

I kept the news within my inner circle so that my tongue would come out of the closet at my pace. I was so fortunate to have my loving and dedicated boyfriend, Eddie at my side and the support of family, so many close friends, neighbors and my Buddhist community. I knew some people would be hurt that I didn’t inform them, but it was exhausting keeping up with all the phone calls of concern, texts and emails to report on how I was doing.

I had surgery on June 13 for removal of part of my tongue.  I was scheduled for 10:30 AM and was hooked up to an IV drip at 8:00AM. I told the nurse I was a syringe sissy and would be looking at the wall, pretending this wasn’t happening. She said, “Good, because there’s a real mess here with blood spurting everywhere.” If that wasn’t bad enough, due to an O.R. delay they kept me waiting in pre-op for eight hours of dread where I was privy to a day of hearing about Mario’s hernia, Carlos’ soccer knee and Linda’s hysterectomy. Finally, at 5PM they wheeled me into surgery. Instead of dread I was thinking, “Let’s cut this this fucker out already!” For anybody who has been through surgery there’s that smooth, silent rolling ride in a gurney staring up at the fluorescent hallway lights on the way to the O.R. Then, they lift you like a slab of meat on to the operating table. operating_room-PHS-3044-1280wI used to dread general anesthetic. Having a stranger pull the plug on your consciousness is the closest you can come to death. But for this procedure, I certainly didn’t want to be around.

Recovery was slow and painful and vials of Norco only took me from pain to soreness. I couldn’t swallow or chew for almost ten days with a diet of apple sauce, yogurt and protein shakes. The scarring is on the side of my tongue and not noticeable and hasn’t really affected my speech. But it hurt to talk, like I’d bitten my tongue with every word. Blood started to fill my mouth during the healing process and I was literally spitting out pieces of my tongue into the sink. But the doctor assured me this was normal, it’s scabs coming off. Who knew a moist tongue could scab?

After two weeks of writhing in agony, popping pills, and losing twenty pounds, my doctor thought I was healing well and expected a 95% full recovery rate (They can’t commit to 100%.) He wanted me to avoid further treatment of chemo or radiation, but couldn’t confirm it until a biopsy came back in another week. Then, just as I was healing, I learned they found another tiny spot. I would need to go back into surgery.


(To be continued…)


I’d been to a lot of new and interesting places; lost in a volcano, stoned at African Lion Safari with monkeys shitting on my windshield. But one place I never thought I would be, was stepping through a metal detector at a New Jersey Correctional Facility.

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Maybe there were some people who were used to this experience but my sister and I were strangers in a strange land as we emptied our pockets. After being frisked by a gum-snapping security officer my sister placed into a plastic dish her car keys, coins, a wad of crumpled Kleenex and a marijuana roach. The guard didn’t even blink. But my sister’s eyes widened, realizing she must have stuck a half-smoked joint into her pocket when she was cleaning Jeremy’s room.

We were buzzed into a common room with long metal tables, a notice board of rules and the hum of fluorescent lighting. Besides the sound of metal chairs scraping linoleum, it was surprisingly hushed as conversations between inmates and visitors mumbled off the walls. Then, into the room strode Jeremy in a baggy orange jump suit. Back then, orange was not the new black. Orange was orange.

mejOyyEYPGIgXRxWwCQnRaAWe had been worried about his wellbeing incarcerated amidst the general population of prisoners. But Jeremy claimed he was having a wonderful time meeting new and interesting people. Apparently, fellow inmates seemed to enjoy his philosophical rantings and for all I know he may have been serving fishes and loaves to the multitudes in the cafeteria. We bade our farewells and while the rusty wheels of justice slowly turned, my sister returned to Toronto to continue jumping through international legal hoops. I returned to Manhattan. The Messiah episode was stressful and a distraction and I was weeks behind in my writing projects. So I rented a car and drove out to a friend’s vacant farmhouse in Pennsylvania.


After a seven-hour drive I climbed out of the car and my shoulders dropped from up around my ears  as I inhaled the pastoral freedom. As soon as I walked in the door of the farmhouse, my phone rang. It was Connie. “He’s baaack” she informed me. I asked her, “On a scale of 1-10 how frightened are you?” “An 11,” she replied, “Please come home.” Without unpacking a thing, I turned around and drove seven hours back to New York City.

Connie and Jeremy were waiting for me in the loft. Apparently, the wheels of justice turn faster when they don’t want to get involved in an international case regarding mental illness. They had spat my nephew out the door with subway fare. I phoned my sister and concocted a plan. Since I still had the rental car I would drive Jeremy up to Syracuse, New York. She would drive down from Toronto and we would execute a nephew exchange in the lobby of a Syracuse Holiday Inn.

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The next morning, Jeremy and I hit the highway for Syracuse and I embarked upon the most stressful road trip I’d ever taken, driving five hours north with an un-medicated Paranoid Schizophrenic. About a half hour into the drive Jeremy asked, “Do I make you nervous?” “Why would you ask that?” I gulped. “Because you keep scratching your nose and you’re blinking a lot.” For the rest of the trip I drove like a deer caught in my own headlights. Two hours into the drive I pulled into a highway rest stop. What if Jeremy disappeared on me like before? What if he panicked and ran out into the highway? What if he started preaching his gospels from a porcelain toilet?  Luckily, no incident occurred and we hit the road again for Syracuse.

holiday-inn-express-and-suites-east-syracuse-2532005917-4x3We arrived at the designated Holiday Inn two hours early so I suggested we have lunch in the dining room. Jeremy was growing agitated and I tried to distract him with the pretty waitress and a salad bar. Unimpressed, he drifted outside for a smoke. Being so close to getting him home I was reluctant to let him out of my sight and joined him outside, my eyes scouring the parking lot for my sister. After a tense half hour of stalling I ushered Jeremy back into the lobby – and there she was! I finally exhaled and gave her a warm and grateful embrace. Jeremy walked past her out into the parking lot and climbed into the car. We followed. I knocked on the car window and mouthed to Jeremy, “I love you.” He never heard me. He was listening for voices on the radio. It wasn’t on. As my sister and her son disappeared down the highway, I crumbled to the ground in a river of tears of relief, exhaustion and compassion for my nephew, the Messiah.


Upon returning home to his Toronto suburb with my sister, Jeremy was diagnosed as Paranoid Schizophrenic. Decades later, Jeremy has never been medicated due to patients’ rights. It’s like telling a blind person, “If you can identify this painting we will give you help.” It’s a disease that also takes its toll on family members since there is nothing to do except wait to put out the next fire. We are grateful that he’s not in jail or homeless, but living his tiny life in a rooming house in the heart of the city. Maybe there are angels after all.


(Excerpt from, “Nut Magnet, An Autobiographical Assortment of Fruits and Nuts”)


The next phone call was from the Secret Service.

Secret Service Agent

They were on their way to talk to Connie and me. After changing my underwear, we ran around cleaning up the apartment. What do you serve the Secret Service? Milk and cookies? What does one wear to an interrogation? – a bathing suit for water-boarding? While cleaning up I discovered Jeremy’s notebook that he had left behind. It was a diary of blank pages except for the first page that read, “People can’t change. But politicians must change.” Yikes! This could be incriminating evidence. Connie suggested we hide it and offer it only if they ask for any of Jeremy’s personal belongings – so I slipped his diary under a sofa cushion.

A few hours later, two Secret Service agents straight out of Central Casting appeared at the door, their square shoulders packed into black suits with thin ties. main-qimg-a052413b5216cb23d5a08a19f76bfae8-cWhite cop, black cop. Good cop, bad cop. The four of us sat at the kitchen table. Sara Lee, anyone? The good cop explained, “We have to follow up any threat to the President of the United States. We suspect something is wrong with your nephew.” “A Messiah Complex,” the other agent chimed in.

Jeremy was being held in a jail in Newark. commuter3 Instead of boarding a bus to Toronto, he had boarded a bus to Washington.  Somewhere on the New Jersey Turnpike he approached the bus driver and said those two words you never say in the same sentence, “I’m on my way to see the President of the United States and there’s a bomb on the bus.” The driver immediately pulled over and evacuated the passengers. Jeremy was arrested for Public Endangerment, Terrorism and a threat to National Security. It turned out that being paranoid, he thought the bomb was for him and that people were trying to kill him on his way to Washington.

The bad cop’s eyes narrowed and he asked me, “How well do you know your nephew?” Trying to show I was the good uncle, I explained that I had always been Jeremy’s confidant, at which point Connie kicked me under the table. I had forgotten that the first World Trade Center bombers were an uncle-nephew team. Then, the agents asked if Jeremy left anything in the apartment that might give them some insight into his character. Connie told them that he left his watch in the bathroom when he took a shower. More questions. More cake. An agent handed me his business card and said to call if we have any more information or insights. Their black patent shoes clicked up the hallway and out the door.  I changed my underwear again. I phoned my sister and told her that the Secret Service just left, and that I just realized I didn’t give them Jeremy’s diary that I hid under a sofa cushion.” Connie was madly scribbling and held up a sign, “Careful. The phone might be tapped.” Gulp. I was running out of underwear.

For the next few weeks, I ended every phone conversation with, “…and I love the Clintons.” I thought anyone on the streets of New York wearing a trench coat or sunglasses was following me. I asked for advice from my neighbor, who happened to be a judge. He laughed and said I was more paranoid than my nephew. Jeremy’s arraignment was coming up so I called a friend who worked at Court TV and she advised that it’s helpful for a relative to show up to an arraignment. She suggested that I meet with his court-appointed attorney ahead of time, tell them the situation and try to get Jeremy into the medical wing rather than with general population.

A few days later, I schlepped out to Newark at 7:00 in the morning. EssexCountyCourthouse1I climbed the steps of the cavernous brick courthouse, passed through metal detectors and into a labyrinth of terrazzo hallways searching for Jeremy’s Public Defender. I found a short, bald man in the Public Defender’s Office that I had mistaken for a broom closet. As he packed his briefcase, I told him Jeremy was a Canadian citizen with mental problems charged with Public Endangerment and Terrorism. I pricked up my ears for legal advice but all the attorney could say was, “Oh no.” Apparently, this territory was as new to him as it was to me.

The courtroom was like a foreign land to me with vintage fixtures and banks of wooden seats where hundreds of thousands of nervous tushes must have sat over the years. I took a seat where Jeremy could see I was there to support him. UnknownAnd then, in shuffled a perp-parade of hulking tattooed men in orange suits and handcuffs. And there at the end of the line was my nephew from Thornhill. I tried to get Jeremy’s attention so he would know I was there, but from the blank look on his face I suspected he was prepping for his sermon on the mount. I strained to see his attorney confer with him since he needed Jeremy’s permission for psychiatric evaluation. The attorney turned to me, put his finger up to his head and made that crazy little circle with his finger.

From 10AM until 4PM I waited for Jeremy’s arraignment. Finally, six hours later, he was called up to the bench. He was quiet and polite. In our attempt to get him into the medical wing of the jail, the judge asked Jeremy if he would agree to a psychiatric examination. Jeremy smiled and shook his head. His attorney looked at me and shrugged. My nephew was escorted out a large oak door. I returned to Manhattan, worried that this nice Jewish boy from suburbia was now in ‘the system’ and even worse – in New Jersey. (To be continued)





Jeremy had disappeared into the glass and steel canyons of Manhattan. Maybe he was walking across the Hudson River or multiplying fishes and loaves in Little Italy.

Miracle of the loaves and fishes by Tintoretto

And then, late that night, the “Messiah” returned. He had started out on his pilgrimage to preach love to the President in Washington but got lost in the Bronx where his car broke down and miraculously found his way back to Chelsea. Having lived to tell the tale, maybe he did have the protection of angels. I was relieved that his manic energy had seemed to have subsided a little and even more relieved when he went to bed.

The next morning, while Jeremy slept in, I phoned my therapist (a prerequisite to living in New York) and explained the surreal situation. He informed me that it was probably a psychotic break that could have been triggered by the emotional break-up with his girlfriend, and that age twenty-two is when the adult brain is fully formed and mental problems, like schizophrenia could kick in. My shrink said Jeremy needed medical care – and I needed time to figure out how to get him back to Toronto.

Jeremy was a talented artist, so I figured maybe spending an afternoon at the Met would chill him out if I could avoid paintings of Christ (good luck with that), for fear his hallucinations might make him think they were mirrors.


We spent the afternoon at the fathomless art gallery where I continued to be fascinated by his bizarre interpretations of paintings. A part of me was envious about where he was, or wasn’t in his mind and to tell the truth, if I was seeing auras and hearing voices I would think I was pretty damn special too. Our outing was blessedly uneventful until we entered the cafeteria for a snack. Jeremy wanted to leap on to the table and preach love to everyone in the vast, echoing space. Needless to say, I got us out of there as fast as possible and into the streets of the Upper East Side.

As we looked for a coffee shop I tried to explain again, that he wasn’t the Messiah. I said, “Watch. The first person we pass, I’ll ask them.” A sophisticated looking woman with Bloomingdales shopping bags was approaching. I stopped her, pointed to my tall, lanky nephew and asked, “Excuse me, do you think this is the Messiah?” She looked up at him and replied, “Yes. Yes, I think he’s the Messiah.” Jeremy grinned. I thought, “Oy. Everybody’s crazy!” Over coffee, I explained to Jeremy a plan that I had hatched while gazing at a Jackson Pollock splatter at the Met. I told him that the note he left with his mother had worked. People do appreciate and miss him. I made up a story that I had a meeting in Toronto and we could fly there together in the morning. He agreed. He wanted to go home. I was tempted to look to the heavens and exclaim, “Thank you, Jesus!” but was afraid he might say, “You’re welcome.”  I booked us a flight to Toronto.

The next morning, just as were about to get a cab to the airport, I told Jeremy we were lucky to get last minute seats together; 13B & C. He became instantly agitated. He had thirteen disciples and this was a sign – and not a good sign. With panic in his eyes, he put his large hands on my shoulders and stared me in the face. I immediately visualized the headline in the Post, “Tall Nephew Strangles Short Uncle in Chelsea Loft.” He insisted he would take the bus home from Port Authority – and fled.


Again feeling responsible, I phoned Port Authority and gave Security a description of Jeremy to keep an eye out for him and hold him until I got there. They asked, “Is he a danger to himself or anyone else?” “No,” I protested. “He’s a nice Jewish boy.” Come to think of it, so was Jesus. Security explained that there is nothing they can do unless he poses a threat to himself or others. I was quickly learning how frustrating it is for relatives of schizophrenics to try and get help within the system.

I phoned my sister and confessed that I had lost Jeremy again. But hopefully, he was on a bus home to Toronto. He wasn’t. The next phone call was from my sister. Jeremy had been arrested for terrorism and a threat to the President of the United States. (To Be Continued)


(Excerpt from, “Nut Magnet – An Autobiographical Assortment of Fruits and Nuts”)

















Three o’clock in the morning in a sleepy Toronto suburb, my sister was awakened by the sound of someone downstairs. She cautiously padded down the stairs into the living room and there, sitting in front of the television was her son, Jeremy watching TV. It wasn’t on.

Three o’clock in the afternoon in the crowded, noisy, hyper metropolis of Manhattan, I was awakened from an afternoon nap by my sister’s phone call. Had I heard from Jeremy? My twenty-one year old nephew was missing – and so was his car.

My sister had been divorced for many years and Jeremy was living with her in the burbs, often sequestered away in his room. Jilted by a girlfriend, he had been acting strangely for weeks, restlessly pacing and chain-smoking in the backyard deep into the night. Maybe he smoked some bad weed or was acting out a late teenage rebellion. But he had also become increasingly withdrawn and emotionally flat. Over the years, my sister and I had grown very close as siblings and best friends. And now, a feeling of helplessness crept over us both as she read a cryptic note that Jeremy left on the kitchen counter. Since I was the wordsmith in the family, she hoped I could interpret what she feared might be a suicide note. “If I ever come back from where I’ve gone, people might appreciate me and the truth.”

Nine o’clock that evening I received another phone call. It was Jeremy. I was relieved to hear his voice but shocked that it was coming from a phone booth in Manhattan. (It was 1987). He had driven into New York City and needed to know how to get to my place at 27th and Tenth Avenue. I gave him directions to the loft that I shared in Chelsea with my friend, Connie. She owned the enormous loft on the sixth floor of a one hundred stair walk-up and we had been roommates since I moved to NYC in 1985.


A few hours later, the downstairs buzzer announced Jeremy and what was to become a surreal adventure. He made it up all the stairs rather quickly and appeared at the door. I followed as he strode his lanky six-foot frame down our hallway into our vast living room area. “What are you doing here?” I asked. His brown eyes were wide and wired as he launched into, “What do you know? What do you know? Tell me what you know! What do you know? What do you know?” I took a breath and replied, “Tell me what YOU know.” A sense of calm melted over him, “I know that I’m the Messiah. I have twelve disciples. I’m on my way to Washington to tell Bill Clinton about love in the world.”


His lips curled into a peaceful smile. Behind my desperate smile was a silent, “What the fuck?” Knowing he worked part time at a pharmacy I asked, “Are you on something? Did you take something?” He shook his head and just smiled. And I wondered how the hell he drove into Manhattan in such a manic state. Most people can’t find their way across bridges, through tunnels and the horn-honking streets of New York City in the most lucid frame of mind. I asked him where he parked his car. He pointed out the window, “On the street.” “Well, you’re going to get a ticket or towed,” I warned. He grinned, “Not in my world.” “Well, we’re not in your world,” I replied, “You’re in New York and you’re going to get a ticket.”

I introduced Jeremy to a bewildered Connie and we went to move his car into a parking garage down the block. We trundled back upstairs to the loft and talked and talked into the wee hours of the morning. Being a writer, I was fascinated by his jumbled logic of Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Dungeons and Dragons, Angels and Fairy lore and the Bible. I almost expected him to turn my water into wine as he ranted on about brotherly love, government, the universe, respect, injustice, friendship, betrayal and the sins of humanity. Something was terribly wrong. But a tiny part of me thought, ‘We’ve all been waiting for the Messiah, why couldn’t it be my nephew, Jeremy?’


His mind was on speed-dial, his convictions passionate and his rants sincere as I tried to navigate the labyrinth of his scattered thoughts. Little did I know, that it was useless trying to reason with what I would quickly learn was the psychotic break of a young paranoid schizophrenic.

It was now 5AM and the Manhattan skyline was beginning to yawn into pink. Jeremy went into the bathroom to take a shower. In all the commotion of the night, I hadn’t noticed that he had brought with him a small black suitcase. Hearing the shower in the other room, I snapped open the case. No clothing – only a candle, a notebook, a thick soft-cover book on Fairy Lore…and a gun!


It looked like a starter pistol or a bee-bee gun but I was amazed that he drove across the border with it. I heard the shower stop and not wanting to show alarm, I snapped the case closed as Jeremy wandered back into the room. I made him up a bed on the sofa. Confused, exhausted and mentally spent, I crashed out on my bed. When I woke up late morning, he was gone!

Messiah or not, my nephew was lost in his mind and on the loose in New York City. I got dressed and ran down the street to the parking garage. His car was gone. I had hoped I could track Jeremy’s license number for the police but the morning attendant didn’t have the stub to his parking ticket from the night before. I rummaged through the trash trying to find the ticket with a time stamp but the attendant chased me out of his underground lair. I staggered back up to the loft to call my sister with the news that Jeremy and his car were gone. Since he was in my jurisdiction I felt responsible. But there was nothing we could do but wait for something to happen. And it did. (Pt. II To be continued)

(Excerpt from, “Nut Magnet – An Autobiographical Assortment of Fruits and Nuts”)



northern office

It was the Eighties. It was “snowing” in our noses – especially mine, with a cocaine habit that was turning me into, “Willy Honka And The Nose Candy Factory.” As co-founder, Vice President and head writer of Asterix Productions, a company producing corporate entertainments, I was burnt out of what was left of my mind. For years, I had been writing three proposals a week, corporate shows, sketches, lyrics, speeches and award presentations while maintaining a career as a musical theater writer. Juggling more balls in the air than Cirque Du Soleil, I was often in meetings from 9AM-7PM and the only time I could actually sit down and write was between 9PM-3AM. So it was ‘coke’ that gave me the bump I needed to stay awake and keep on going.

I’d take a toot first thing in the morning just to get out the door and since the kick only lasted a couple of minutes I’d keep on snorting. Writing all those shows, I was making a good living that went up my nose and rationalized that the more I snorted, the more I could write, the more money I could make. My sinuses were clogged. I’m not a grumpy guy but my temper was growing short as I descended from the hamster wheel of artificial highs. I even took to stealing my mother’s sleeping pills to come down at night. Between weed and coke I was up and down like a toilet seat spinning out of control until I became the poster-guy for quitting.

Keeping all those creative plates spinning, the only way I could concentrate on writing my own labors of love was to disappear into the woods for a week or two. I had rented cabins up north for two years and this year, in 1983, I found a place up in the Haliburton Highlands where I rented a cabin in the woods for ten days.

My previous sojourns had been two-hour drives from Toronto, and Haliburton was almost four hours away. But to escape the eyesore of suburban sprawl you had to go that far to find those luxury items called, silence and fresh air. So, with nostrils worth a small fortune, I packed up my IBM Selectric typewriter and headed for the woods to quit coke cold turkey.

After a three and a half-hour drive, I came to a gated dirt road through the woods that lead to a cluster of cabins. The owner of the place greeted me at my car – Ditmar Arff, not a name you easily forget. He had a growling Doberman Pinscher with a spiked collar on a short leash. With a thick German accent, Mr. Arff pointed to my cabin and a homemade sauna with smoke sifting out of a chimney. A German accent, a Doberman on a short leash and a building with smoke curling out of the chimney was enough to make all my Nazi nightmares feel like they were coming true – and here I was to detox. Mein Herr handed me the key to my quaint little pine-paneled, linoleum-floor cabin a few yards away from a beautiful gushing waterfall.

I decided to embark on my rehabilitation while it was still light out. Walking deep into the woods, I stopped at a clearing. There, I put a curse on myself. I touched my nose and vowed out loud, “If you do one more snort of coke you are going to die.” “No! No! Weekends only!” protested the voice in my head. But I prevailed, “One more toot and I wish you death!” “No, no! How about Wednesdays from 6-11?” negotiated the addict voice. “No!” I commanded myself. “One more toot and you die!” It worked. The voice in my head shut the fuck up. My nose thanked my brain and I never touched cocaine again!

I don’t recall any particular withdrawal symptoms; maybe because I didn’t have enough discipline to also give up smoking marijuana that I brought along. But perhaps there was a side effect to my coke withdrawal after all – paranoia. The constant gurgling sound of the waterfall became white noise. But how could I hear branches crackle if someone was going to break in and stab me in my sleep? I decided that the only way to overcome such fear was to scare the shit out of myself, push myself to the limit and anything less than that, would not be scary. That night, I smoked a joint and happened to have the soundtrack of Psycho on my Walkman. (Who doesn’t?)

Stoned out of my mind, I put on my headset, grabbed a sharp kitchen knife and wandered out into the woods in the dead of night. Crazy? Uh-huh. But I thought it was actually a creative way to overcome fear. With Bernard Herrmann’s spooky score playing in my head, I stumbled through the pitch-black woods waving the knife in front of me in case I ran into a Nazi, bear or Sasquatch.

I made it back to the cabin alive and settled in to read at the kitchen table. Around 2AM I glanced over at the window, and there was a fat man with a red beard holding a flashlight under his third chin. But I didn’t jump. I didn’t scream. After walking through the woods, stoned, listening to Psycho, anything less than that, did turn out to warrant no more than a double-take. It so happened that the guy had driven on to the premises and couldn’t find his way in the dark. He saw my light on and wanted directions to his cabin.

I spent the week in exquisite solitude, reading, canoeing, swimming, barbecuing, hiking and writing an ambitious play called, “Kiss Me Goodnight, Eddie” – the history of America through the Ed Sullivan Show.

I’m a sunset fanatic and my cabin was facing east, so I couldn’t see my favorite end-of-day psychedelic spectacle. So every night, I would get into the car and drive to a clearing somewhere, in search of a spectacular sunset. Driving around the lake, I wondered how much a cottage cost. I’d been renting for three years and had no idea of the price of paradise.

Along a wooded country road, I passed a tree with a random For Sale sign on it and the name of the realtor, Dorothy Hewitt. I was inspired to write down the information and would call her tomorrow. As I scribbled down her number and name, a red pickup truck stopped. A skinny white-haired woman in her 60’s stepped out and said, “Hi. I’m Dorothy Hewitt. I was driving by and saw you writing down my name. Are you interested in a place?” I had always had a lot of synchronicity in my life, but this not only took the cake, it took the bakery! “What are you looking for?” Dorothy asked. Being a height and sunset freak I said, “I know it doesn’t exist. But I’m looking for a place on the top of a cliff in a pine forest on the lake facing west so I can watch the sun set.” Dorothy smiled, “Come with me, I want to show you something.” She lived down the road and led me into her living room. Pointing to a cliff across the lake, Dorothy said, “It’s the Rutherford Estate. It’s exactly what you just described. I’ll take you there tomorrow.”

The next evening, as the sun was setting, (she was no fool), Dorothy drove me to the other side of the lake. We rumbled down a mile-long bumpy, twisting, private road. At the very end, in the middle of a pine forest, was a dirt driveway. We passed two small guest cabins and at the end of the driveway, was a forest green structure that looked like Snow White could have lived there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut I didn’t want to see the building yet. Instead, I went straight to the cliff. As the sun was setting, the air still smelled like warm pine and the plaintive cry of a loon echoed across the pink-purple lake that reflected the farewell blaze of a sunny day. I had to hold back tears at the serene beauty of this magical spot.


On a path of pine needles, we crunched our way toward the house. It was an historic large green building that had belonged to a wealthy logging family. This was their dining hall and they stayed in cabins, two of which remained on this property. The enormous room had twelve French windows, a cathedral ceiling, a huge stone fireplace and pine floors. There was a complete bathroom with tub and two sinks. The kitchen with a large pantry had the original stone floor from the 1930’s that had been laid right on the ground and had buckled over fifty winters.  The place would need a lot of work, but I had the imagination to know what could be.

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I hadn’t seen any other cottages to compare. So in the next few days, Dorothy showed me other places, small, dank, claustrophobic cottages slammed up against other similar cottages. They were cheaper, winterized and ready to move in. But none had the land, the view, the privacy, the history and the drama of what was to become Heen Acres! My heart, my soul, my romanticism and appreciation of solitude told me I must have this place. And so I returned for another visit to the enchanted six acres of forested paradise on the lake. I picked up a stone and etched into a rock on the cliff, “I’ll be back.”

As a realtor, of course Dorothy told me there were other people interested in the property and the owner, who lived in Chicago, would not take a penny less than the asking price – which was all the money I had in the bank. I was planning on using my savings to move to New York. But New York would always be there – this opportunity for a piece of peace would not. Amazingly, I didn’t need anybody’s approval except for my accountant who advised that I could not lose buying lakefront property. I took his advice and not wanting to lose my dream to another bidder, I offered cash. Being superstitious, I withheld my secret for weeks while the offer was considered. And then, in early September came Dorothy’s phone call, “Congratulations, you’re a cottage owner!”


Wanting to surprise my mother and sister, a week later, I invited them to join me for an Autumn drive up north. They thought we were going for a little spin to see the Fall colors. Almost four hours later, I led them on to the property, saying I wanted to show them the beautiful view I discovered while on my trip there last month. The three of us walked the path through the woods to the cliff overlooking Haliburton Lake. My sister spotted a faded wooden sign warning, “Private Property.” She said, “We better go. The owner will kick is out.” “No, I won’t.” I said calmly. And then screamed, “I OWN IT!” Needless to say, they didn’t believe me. But after cracking a small bottle of champagne on the rocks and excitedly giving them a tour of the property, they believed me – although I could hardly believe it myself.

Three decades later, Heen Acres has become part of my life cycle. Having lived in major cities of Toronto, New York and now Los Angeles, I treasure every warble of a loon, every sun-drenched day, each breath of pine scented air and shooting stars that wink across the night sky. Every sunset, I’m perched on my cliff front row center for the best show in town.


Dorothy Hewitt died recently. But I’m sure she can hear my sighs echo into the skies, grateful for the embrace of fate that stopped me at that tree to jot down her phone number – and thirty-four years of bliss.


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