The End of Wings Week

Those readers who are not familiar with Defector will not have the context for this image, but don’t worry, I’ll be back to regular Ramblings shortly.

By the way, Defector is great. It’s the answer to my lament back in the day: Deadspin, I hardly Knew Ye.

Carry on!

Donald, it is not incredible.

Someone tried to shoot Donald Trump today.

“It is incredible that such an act can take place in our Country,” he wrote.

It is not incredible. His and his pals have worked very hard to make sure that assassins are well-equipped in this nation.

You made this world, buddy, and the only reason you are still here is because the shooter missed.

1

The Actual Spelling is FU

Here’s a frat house near Kansas University:

I failed, with my wee phone camera on a day where sweat was my main wardrobe accent, to capture just how much this place screams MONEY. This is the place rich assholes send their asshole kids to learn to be better assholes.

In this frat, the residents will have a chef to cook their meals, maids to clean up after them, and will learn nothing of independent life.

But we know that Harvard does not produce the best lawyers, it produces lawyers that know other Harvard lawyers. This is the system. The building you live in during your college years matters more than the education you get.

2

Fresh Air

I’m taking a long train trip right now, and there are stops designated as “fresh air stops”. In this context, “fresh air” means there will be time for people to get off the train to smoke.

1

iSassin

The Official Sweetie and I have been thoroughly enjoying a thriller on Netflix. It features high-end assassins doing high-end assassin stuff for high-end assassin payoffs. These killers live well, if not necessarily happily.

One of the sponsors for this show is an online housekeeping service that offers to clean your house for less. “I fired my housekeeper!” one customer gleefully says.

Uh, good for you, I guess. Some giant company is putting a lot of advertising muscle into driving down what housekeepers earn, and then taking a slice of what is left and keeping it for themselves. The business model is based on the premise “there will always be enough desperate people to work for shitty wages and make us rich.”

This is also known in Silicon Valley as “disrupting a market.”

So while watching these two things juxtaposed, I started to think: what would happen if Silicon Valley decided to disrupt the murder market?

There is a story I will likely never write taking shape in my head, and I’m on a train right now, and almost by magic my literary muscles are suddenly flexing after months of quiet. The story’s basic shape is that a suave international assassin suddenly finds himself competing for work against bargain-basement thugs who are considered disposable by their clients.

Then instead of limos his clients start sending Ubers with drunk and shitty drivers, and instead of fancy hotels they put him in AirBnB’s with all sort of privacy intrusions.

At the end of act one, Javier decides he needs to kill iSassin.

Here is how such a story might begin (if the dialog is a little too conveniently twisted to include the phrase ‘disrupt the murder market’, well, that would be something I fixed if I actually wrote this, but I’m not going to):

iSassin

For Javier, there were five kinds of kills, each to accomplish a specific purpose. If the client simply wanted someone to not be around only longer, a “natural” death was called for. Or perhaps a tragic death, a terrible accident, would earn the client sympathy they might find useful. Of course, simple murder — a gunshot, swift and clean, or a cut throat — might fit the budget of the client. Occasionally Javier was asked to make things messy, to make an example of the victim.

Javier’s favorite type of kill, however, was the shocking, humiliating destruction of a person, a death that would be talked about with hushed whispers and the occasional laugh. Javier wasn’t just killing a person, he was killing what they stood for.

Today he was in a particularly good mood. The Senator would be found, apparently dead of a heart attack, wearing nothing but lipstick, a codpiece with spikes on the inside, and a massive rubber dildo standing tall and proud from his rectum. The senator’s associates in government and in the clergy would try to suppress the news, but of course they would fail.

He sipped his Islay single-malt and smiled as he looked out over the cityscape from his apartment high above the grime of the street. His lights were off, and he sat in darkness, watching the city lights, listening to Brahms and thinking he should turn it up a little louder. He took another sip of whisky instead.

His phone purred softly on the hardwood table by his soft leather chair, as another phone pinged to indicate a deposit had been made to an account in a bank far away.

Before he answered he engaged the voice encryption app and entered the key they had shared for the after-job call. “Hello, Meyer,” he said.

“Congratulations, Mr. Rodriguez.” Meyer said. Of course that was no more his actual name than Meyers was the name of the man calling him. “My supervisor is well-pleased.”

“Always glad to be of service,” Javy said. “Is there anything else I can help you with?” Meyer’s organization, whoever they were, had been steady customers for a while.

Meyers hesitated. “Actually, Mr. Rodriguez, I have some bad news. My supervisor has decided to cut some costs, and I’m afraid you are one of those costs.”

“So… he or she has decided to not engage in this sort of business anymore?”

Meyers hesitated again. “No, it’s not that. It’s just that your services are frightfully expensive.”

“Are you trying to get me to lower my price? This is a high-risk business, and not just for me. Sloppy work could get you in trouble as well.”

“Oh, I agree,” Meyer said. “But what can you do? My supervisor recently discovered a service called iSassin. Have you heard of it?”

“I-what?”

“iSassin. Apparently some Silicon Valley money guy has decided to ‘disrupt the murder space’. Quietly, of course. Most of the people listing themselves there seem perfectly competent.”

“Perfectly competent until something unexpected happens. This is bullshit and you know it.”

“Welcome to the future, Mr. Rodrigues.”

2

Trump is a Felon

Trump has been convicted of being a liar and a cheat. Some people are howling about it, saying with some legitimacy that this was a simple bookkeeping lie that got expanded into a felony only because it was election-adjacent.

I’m not buying that, but it shows there is one thing everyone agrees on: Convicted felon Donald Trump has done much worse. I look forward to him facing the music for those things as well.

2

Making a Difference

I got a text not long ago, from the Democratic Party, asking if maybe I’d be interested in running for local office.

I did not say no. I didn’t even ignore the message. A thought occurred to me: maybe a white older guy with post-chemo hair could be an electable surrogate for the under-represented.

It’s sad that such a thought should even occur. But I have strong feelings about how things should be. My hometown police are already reluctantly giving back some of the military gear they’ve collected (an armored car!), so I’m not alone there. Imagine how many school breakfasts that armored car could have bought.

We should feed our residents, starting with children. Let’s help people addicted to drugs, rather than wait for them to commit crimes and throw them in jail, at astronomical taxpayer expense.

Let’s build houses for people with no place to live.

“But that’s expensive!”

Yes. And in a city like San Jose with no real profitable businesses, that’s a problem. (That was a joke, son.) But actually it is a problem, unless you tax the rich. There are individuals in this town that could pay for it all with pocket change. But if they don’t volunteer, well, it’s time for them to pay for the people and community that made them rich in the first place.

If those rich assholes decide to move rather than pay, San Jose loses nothing, because they’re not paying much now. Whoever buys their houses will pay more property tax than they were paying.

What could I do as a tiny voice at the bottom of the policy pyramid? I don’t honestly know. The way cities tax the rich is through property taxes, and in California those are carefully controlled at the state level by Proposition 13. But I think I could matter to the people in this city.

The thing is, I already have a job – a job I simply can’t afford to leave. A tech job, and though I’m well-paid I’m also making billionaires richer.

Tax me. Tax those billionaires even more. It is time to fundamentally change the way we value work.

Prop 13 was born because soaring property values were leading to a situation where people who had lived in their homes for a long time were being taxed onto the streets. I do not disagree with the foundational goal of Prop 13.

But as time has passed, the flaws in the ideal have become apparent. The biggest problem is that if you own a rental property, you can keep jacking up the rent, but your tax liability hardly moves at all. In that situation, Prop 13 is working against the people who only want to say in their homes.

Rental properties should either not be protected by Prop 13, or perhaps more simply the property value should be based on rent collected, and not on the assessed value at all. The property is worth what it makes, after all. You could add some complexity and make the valuation based on net profit rather than gross, which would theoretically reward landlords who maintained their properties, but that seems like it would be subject to abuse.

This would be very bad for the economics of owning rental properties, and would ideally also be bad for Air BnB nonsense. The prop 13 tax relief was meant for the people who live in their own homes. I am completely behind that. It’s the other assholes getting rich off Prop 13 that we have to take down.

Any office I might run for would have to work with the existing tax structure, however, so the above is not actually a campaign plank. We will just have to find some other way to tax the rich. Maybe a tax on gas-guzzlers not used for business, offset by free public transport. Still working on that.

There will be future episodes where I spell out my campaign platform more specifically. I’d be afraid to run, if I weren’t too liberal to ever get elected.

2

The Third Horseman has Arrived

I am not a Bible scholar, but like any real Bible scholar I can cherry-pick passages to comment on. Here is some version or other of the Christian Bible describing the third horseman of the Apocalypse:

“(5) And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. (6) And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.” (Revelation 6:5-6)

Other versions replace “penny” with “a days’ labor”. In other words, this passage doesn’t say there will be no food, it says that working people won’t be able to afford it. I’ll let “the oil and the wine” speak for itself.

The third seal is some guy on a horse telling us that a time will come when there exists a calamitous situation known as “working poor”. That a day’s wages cannot feed your family. Sure you can take the passage to mean that there will be shortages that drive up prices, or you can recognize that in one of the fattest nations on Earth the children of working parents don’t get enough to eat.

That guy with the balances in his hand reminds me a lot of the people arguing against living wages. The whole thing is framed as economics. That horseman is on the board of directors at Amazon, and Uber, and almost everywhere else. The horseman is working hard to make sure that bonuses to executives aren’t reduced because they have to pay the people who make them rich enough so those people can survive.

3

The Home I will Likely Never Build: the North Side

I know I told you last time that I couldn’t wait to tell you about what is downstairs, but I want to take a brief side trip first. We came in through the garden on the south side of the house (there’s probably a small cemetery tucked behind some trees; that’s where you’ll find me soon enough), and I’ve shown you how a home built of earth embraces the sun.

This is at its very core a home that celebrates craft, and the hands that built it. The first thing you saw on your visit was ironwork made by a human being. The signs of humanity are all around you now, and everywhere, if you look closely, you will see the personal marks of the people who built this home, whether by stacking adobe bricks or programming the elevator. The tiles in the bathrooms reflect the minds of the people who created them.

I hope, of course, that this will inspire the residents of the home to create their own art. This home is inspirational, or at least aspires to be. On the north side of the home is the less glamorous, less cozy space where actual magic happens.

I imagine it is a large space, perhaps physically separated from the main building. The floor is open and the light is from the north, coming in through large windows that can be blacked when necessary.

This might be the first structure built, to provide the space and means for the artisans and craftspeople to build the main home.

It smells like clay in here, like paint, like sawdust. The kiln, in its corner, is perhaps the only tool with a fixed location. One day the wood shop might be deployed, the tools needed for that day rolled out and carefully leveled, while on other days it might be the potters wheel or the bench for the glass blowers.

OK, the kiln, the glass furnace, and the forge for iron work are probably all fixed. But on any particular Tuesday this might be a photo studio, or a robotics lab. I delight in the fantasy that we, the residents of this home, will ultimately decide that we need two studio spaces.

There is also, on this side of the house, a very large vegetable garden. Unlike the sanctuary enclosed within the walls on the south, this garden grows food and is based on two principles: 1) we are obligated to make the most of the waste water from the house, and 2) tomatoes are best when eaten within minutes of harvest. That goes for other vegetables as well, but tomatoes are the poster child of “better fresh-picked”.

Space allowing, a modest orchard seems like a good idea as well.

In a previous episode I flew past the kitchen, which is essentially a studio with tools devoted to the medium of food. I am flying past it once again, because I have nothing to offer in that place except vibes. Kitchen science is real, and while I embrace it, I am not going to extend it, except for the hand-crafted cabinets.

The home — our home — is not just filled with the work of artists and artisans, it is where those people live. Where we live. Writers, painters, architects, musicians, and on and on. This is where we celebrate the accomplishments of our peers while we challenge one another. The studio here is never empty, there’s always something going on in the kitchen, and the garden is well-loved.

That last sentence reveals the depth of this fantasy, but understand: I believe it.

3

The Home I will Likely Never Build: The Elevator

I have a house in my head. There was a time I even owned a patch of land near Santa Fe I imagined building it on. But things change, and that land now has a completely ordinary home on it, and the home in my head, not constrained by any physical reality, continues to evolve.

This home, from its inception, has had stairs. Elegant stairs, with wood and wrought iron or whatever materials the artisans choose to use.

But not everyone can take the stairs! There has to be another way to move between the levels of this house. So there’s an elevator. But the elevator can’t just be a convenience begrudgingly installed for our less-abled friends; it has to be awesome, and fun, and every much a part of the experience of living here as all the other features.

It has to be a place the kids will ride, just for the fun of it. And while the rest of the house you have seen emphasizes old-world materials and design, the elevator is a place to let technology come to the front.

When you push the call button for the elevator, you realize it is already on its way. The doors slide open, and you step in. You turn to face the closing door, as you have been long-trained to do, and as they slide shut you feel as if the elevator is made of glass. You can see the other people nearby who have decided to take the stairs for some reason. On your other sides you see the walls of the elevator shaft.

It’s obvious this is video, of course, but it’s as immersive as you can get.

For the moment you choose to go up. There is a button to push, or you can just gesture, or you can say “up”. As the elevator starts to rise, the view in the video moves with you.

But in fact, the video is moving much more quickly than you are, and between the actual levels in the house, you catch, and hear, and maybe even feel, a different, in-between level.

Perhaps, on the way up, you pass through the sky domain of Pegasus, or right through the middle of a battle from Lord of the Rings, or just a beautiful beach. When going below ground, it might be Dwarven mines, subterranean lava rivers, or Mario Brothers plumbing as far as the eye can see.

How many different virtual floors will there be? At first, only a few. But I imagine some of the kids that ride that elevator over and over to absorb every detail of those floors will eventually be inspired to add floors of their own. One hundred years after my passing, that elevator will be a hell of a ride. By then, those same kids will have upgraded the hardware and I’m a little afraid of what that elevator might become.

Which makes it very important that you can control what you see. There are probably secret ways to control which thing you see, and absolutely non-secret ways to turn off the whole feature and just get to the damn floor you asked for with minimal fuss. The elevator will remember that you do not appreciate the malarkey.

There is a potential for creepiness here, so let me address it. The elevator recognizes you, and knows if you don’t want the show or if there are particular virtual floors you dislike. The elevator will not, indeed cannot, tell anyone or anything else about you. The house in its entirety shares that philosophy. There will be no Alexa within these walls.

What I love about the elevator is that it can see the future*. It is built to be a project that grows over time, as generations add the software and the hardware to make new levels real. But those first primitive virtual floors will still be there, and the aging great-aunt can smile when a level she made goes by, even if her offspring have eclipsed her with their fancy new tools.

I have thought a great deal about how the people who build this place can leave their marks, but I need to find more ways that the occupants of this place add to that legacy. The elevator is just the first step. This building is an evolving, living monument to the people who interact with it, in particular the people who make it their home. What will you leave behind? And will it be a secret?

I’ve sent you upstairs, but while that is an awesome place, it is not especially ground-breaking. Mini-kitchen, wet bar, dumb waiter from the main kitchen, deer-antler chandelier — the place to shoot pool and get loud and watch the Big Sports Game. The view from the windows, north and south, is breathtaking (terrain allowing). But it’s the stuff any good architect could pull off. From here there is one more level up, onto the roof, closer to the stars.

You will really love it up there; the desert sky is breathtaking, but there’s more of interest if we go down.

3

The Home I will Likely Never Build: The Common Room

After a peaceful stroll through the garden, and an appreciative look at the sun-facing side of the house, you have now walked inside. I recently discussed the overall philosophy of the architecture, but so far all you really know about this room is that it has floors, a fireplace, and a predictable assortment of furniture.

The trick with structures that live only in your head is that they are always changing. Without getting too specific, however (there will be no floor plan), I would like to share with you the room I have long imagined as the lungs of this home. (We will find the heart later.)

It is a large room, but the acoustics are surprisingly soft. In part this is because there are very few truly flat surfaces. The walls curve gently; their corners are rounded, suggesting they were carved, rather than constructed. The base colors are earth tones, reflecting that the walls are literally constructed from earth, but everywhere are bright splashes of color.

A staircase sweeps up one curved wall, its treads richly-stained hardwood, the bannister held by a lattice of cast iron, perhaps created by the same artist who made the gate that was your first introduction to this place. You can check for the artist’s mark on their work if you want to be sure.

There is a small door that leads to the space under the stairs. It matches the stair treads. Under-stair spaces have always been a little bit magical and mysterious to me (I grew up in a home without one), so I want to turn these spaces into hidey-holes, comfortable enough for a visiting grand-nephew to roll out a sleeping bag. Every under-stairs space should have at least one secret compartment, trap door, or other hidden surprise. Lights that respond to secret gestures, things like that.

“Secrets” are a feature in this home, even if everyone knows them. (Or do they? The possibility that there might be more secrets is pretty intoxicating. I will encourage the people who make this home to put in secrets not even I know about.) The secrets are the source of legends, stories that are passed through generations, gaining momentum with each retelling.

You have already met the fireplace and the cozy furniture that circles it. Behind the sofa there is a large table, magnificent and wood. It feels like it was made exactly for this place (it was – the craftsperson left their mark), and affords plenty of space for a great feast or a Warhammer game, or whatever tabletop games the kids are playing now.

Perhaps beneath the table the tile of the sun-warmed section of the floor has given way to wood as well, durable hardwoods that will last for a century (with a little care), but already the floorboards creak a little under your tread. Pure artifice, but the kind I enjoy; a reminder of the rustic foundations of Southwestern architecture.

And in every Southwestern home, you must look at the ceiling. Exposed beams, as round as they were when they were trees, cross the ceiling, supporting a lattice of wooden slats above. This is the most simple and iconic ceiling style, in other rooms you will discover the many, many variations on this simple theme that are possible. Here, the dark wood of the ceiling gives the room a cozier feel, more intimate despite the room’s size.

Over the table is a chandelier – perhaps also wrought iron, perhaps not (we will save the inevitable deer antler chandelier for another space). It creates a brighter pool of light even when the subtler lighting for the rest of the room is dimmed.

There is music here, as well. There is a sound system that does what all good sound systems do, but without being gaudy about it. Speakers are discrete but effective, and can get plenty loud when the need arises. The vinyl collection will probably live in a different room, closer to the heart.

Sound, but… huh. No television. There will be places for watching TV in this house, but this is not one of them. And when you really start looking hard, you will also see there is no plastic. That tells you two things: this room is built to last, and this room is a fantasy. But ultimately the goal is to employ no material that won’t still be viable 100 years from now (solar panels grudgingly excepted).

Of course with a big banquet table there must be a kitchen nearby! On the far side of the room from the curved glass wall is a curved adobe wall with a bar that communicates with the kitchen just beyond. The “main kitchen,” we will call it. (You have already seen the outdoor kitchen.)

While I will leave the details of the kitchen to the architects, from the common room you can get some of its vibe: Windows letting in northern light, stone countertops, and hand-carved doors on cabinets specifically crafted to follow the easy contours of the walls. Modern appliances, island, breakfast nook, and all that. A bright and comfortable place that still feels hand-crafted.

The curved south face of the house is also one of the walls for the “hallways” that extend to either side of the common room. On pleasant summer nights there is no wall at all, and the bedrooms open directly into the garden. Doesn’t that sound nice?

Perhaps later we will explore a bedroom or two, but “nice chambers, fireplaces maybe, quiet as only foot-plus-thick walls can grant, beautiful and varied ceilings, breezes” sums them up pretty well. For bathrooms, “hand-made tile, good light, elegant fixtures built to last, easy to clean” is the bullet list. The water reclamation system is actually more interesting than the water closets.

But around behind the stairs going up, you find two things: elevator doors, and stairs going down. I am very excited to tell you about both of those things.

3

Sunday is Pill Day

I may have mentioned before that I have cancer. Barring a medical breakthrough, I will always have cancer. There is no remission in my future, just control.

This means I have a lot of different pills to take, at particular times of day. So I have one of these:

It’s a weekly pill planner. During chemotherapy, I had the primary medicines to fight the cancer (roughly four of them), the medicines to fight the side effects of the primary medicines (variable from 4 to 8, depending on how I was responding to the medicines), and the medicines to fight the side effects of the medicines that were to fight the side effects of the primary medicines.

And also the pills I was already taking for other stuff.

Not all of the medicines listed above are in pill form, but you can see that things were pretty complicated. Now that chemo is over, the pill regimen is more routine, but it is still an important part of every Sunday afternoon that the Official Sweetie and I sit down with a paper bag filled with pill bottles, open up all the little doors in the pill planner, and fill it up.

For a while things were complicated enough that it really did take two people to work out the rules for each day and get the right meds teed up. Now, it’s not so complicated that a single person could do it.

Except for the part when all the little doors are closed, the pills ready for another week, and Official Sweetie and I exchange a high-five and a kiss, and say, “another week.” Another week survived, is what we mean. It’s a moment of thankfulness, a moment of celebration. Another week of life. It’s like having 52 birthdays a year.

Here’s to another week, my friends.

6

The Home I Will Likely Never Build: Stepping Inside

I have had a dwelling living in my head for my entire adult life. The place I want to build, the place I want to live. It has magic in it.

I have described the garden, and the first impression of the home you get looking from the garden. But so far I have ignored the most important part of any home: the people.

Fundamentally, a house provides shelter, comfort, and security for its occupants. But we all know that a real home does much more. A home also brings people together, it inspires, it creates joy. Much of those influences come from the people, rather than the structure, but still it’s worth asking, “how can a structure encourage that community?”

I have seen “dream houses” that are filled with architecture that looks, honestly, pretty cool. Angles and light, and big open spaces that will be drafty and acoustically awful. The “wow” you feel wears off for the living in it. (Note: I have never lived in one of these places.)

Some of these places seem more a celebration of the architect than a great place to live. The Home I Will Likely Never Build shall never forget that it is in service to its occupants and guests.

There are people here. Importantly, there are children here. Modern architecture seems to forget them, but no one loves a secret passage more than a ten-year-old. The children that ride the magic elevator up and down will grow to be the kids that enhance the elevator.

There is laughter here, and cocktails, good food, and honest joy. There are fires to gather around, and perhaps even singing. Somebody’s got to play that banjo in the corner. A structure cannot force people to be contemplative or communal or even nice. But it sure as heck can give extra juice to people who are already inclined that way.

It is autumn as you step into the house from the garden. The glass walls are closed, and the setting sun is throwing its last ruddy rays into the room you find yourself in.

From the outside, you saw how the house worked with the sun. Now, you feel the weight of the place. You feel the earth. The walls are thick, even the interior walls. Sound does not pass through these walls. They hold heat the way our planet does.

(Originally, I imagined this house being made with straw bales. But glorious mud has been here forever, doing what mud does. This is an adobe house, with steel structural reinforcements — unless a qualified architect changes my mind again.)

You take off your boots, and the tile is warm under your feet, exactly as you expected. You are a little nervous now, walking into a home that is obviously lived in. You are in a large open space. In front of you a cushy couch faces a fireplace where piñon has largely gone to coals, delivering a steady warmth to the room. There are childrens’ boots on the hearth, gently steaming.

The tile is not uniform. A few of them are sculpted, or embossed, with images or motifs or geometrical patterns, or something else. I don’t know exactly what makes those tiles special; that’s up to the artist entrusted to make them. I will demand that whatever the artist creates, it won’t annoy bare feet, and it will still work after 100 years of barefoot traffic. We will appeal to science to find the best material for the job.

On this day, perhaps there are people playing scrabble on the low table between the couch and the fire. Perhaps someone is reading in a side chair, and you tiptoe quietly past, or better yet grab a book of your own. Like the seasons, like the weather, life is ever-changing; you and the house adapt.

There are rugs on the floor. They are nice rugs, but not so nice you’d feel bad getting mud on them. Still, you shed your boots and leave them in the heap by the door.

Stocking feet, platforms, Birkenstocks, or stilettos, walk on what makes you feel good. The floors here will not judge.

There is laughter upstairs, and we will get there eventually. But first you have to really see the room you are in. This episode was more about the philosophy of the home than the execution. Next time, I will try to pin down the whirling ideas in my head and describe a room.

3

Vegetable Science

I am Vine. That means retailers on Amazon can offer me stuff in exchange for a product review. The theory is that Vine members can provide impartial reviews and drown out the paid shills. There are Vine members who don’t understand this, and there are retailers using Vine to dump inventory.

But as a part of this program, I explore categories I would never look at otherwise. It’s fun; I’ve learned about tools I never knew existed, and seen many, many useless things.

One of the categories I can explore is “Professional Medical Supplies”. And in categories like that, there are items that are obviously for one purpose, but can only be sold for another purpose. Syringes with hypodermic needles is an obvious example.

CLEARLY, these items are not meant to inject stuff into humans. They are for injecting stuff into… maybe… vegetables?

Perhaps you are a neatly-bearded scientist who needs to inject blue stuff into a zucchini. Have we got the tool for you! Or maybe it’s broccoli anchored to a chemical stand, with a needle up its butt, and you need to inject some red liquid:

I have to give props where due. Most sellers would not have bothered taking the above photos. The shallow depth of field in the top photo suggests that an actual photographer was involved. With lights and everything.

The entire effort is to support a fiction: that this product is for injecting colored liquids into vegetables, and not human beings. It’s a respectable amount of work to support a transparent lie that everyone knows from the get-go is a lie.

But now I wonder now how a floret of broccoli clamped in the air with a needle up its ass will respond to red fluid.

4

Today I got the answer, which was… no answer

I have some stories from the last few months of chemotherapy. I intend to tell them here someday. Maybe even soon. That first day I learned what “Red Man Syndrome” is. It’s pretty rare, apparently. I have marks on my skin, slowly fading, that are echoes of the burns inflicted on my veins. I have thoughts, now, about hospital food.

But today was, I thought, the beginning of the next chapter. I sat down with my oncologist to discuss life after chemo. I expected he would schedule another scan to measure the success of the drugs, as well as a shift in regimen to fit my current circumstances. Instead what I got was much less… page-turny.

There is one number I live and die by, and that’s PSA. That number is very low now, and apparently as long as it stays low, I’m just coasting. I will never not have cancer. Remission is not to be hoped for. But if that one number stays low, then I may have a chance to die from something else instead, preferably a long time from now.

I was expecting today to hear “Here’s our plan of action!” and instead I heard, “there will be no action for the foreseeable future.” That’s actually a GOOD THING (I keep telling myself). Much better than “shit, I guess we better try something else.” On the other hand, the fact that there will be no full-body scan recognizes that even though we know there is cancer all over the place, exactly where doesn’t matter. That information is not actionable.

The number, PSA, will be measured every month for at least the next year, when I go in for my bone-strengthening goo (the goo slows the spread of cancer in the bones, as well as shoring up damage from the chemo). After that, the measurement might be quarterly.

It’s going to be very difficult for me to not obsess over the number (the measurement on the blood sample taken this morning STILL ISN’T IN YET), but perhaps it will be even harder for the Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas. The number will be good until it isn’t, and we can drive ourselves crazy anticipating that ominous measurement, or we can just get used to the fact I have cancer and always will. The barbarians are in the forest, and it is only a matter of time until they rush the gate again. All we can do is watch closely and be prepared for when that happens.

The chemicals I ingest each day are getting nicknames: “Abbies” and whatnot. This is my life now, being gently awoken each morning by Official Sweetie to take my Abbies while my stomach is empty. Filling the pill planner each week (more about that later). Going to work like nothing ever happened. Maybe even writing again. Who knows?

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