charles bronson, 2000-2013


thank you, my familiar, for giving me a reason to grow up.



on black cats of all kinds, if you feel that the universe is cold and vacant, know that there is an independent music venue in our nation's capital where, at seven o'clock on saturday evenings, hellmouth happy hour brings people together for an episode of buffy the vampire slayer on a backstage screen, drink specials, and a collective feeling, for forty minutes, at least, that all is not lost. the black cat screened two episodes when we were there a few saturdays ago, and then their jukebox had an old birthday party album in its first slot, and a cure v. smiths dance party broke out around nine. buffy anne summers, you save the world a lot.


camouflaged beast (is revealed!)

greetings from barfland, a bilious place in which i haven't spent much time in recent years; chuck has always been the sort of cat who pukes after eating too quickly, but in general he paces himself and our floors and bedding go unscathed. the scene changed dramatically on monday night after we decided to take the leap and start him on prednisone (which would rule out biopsy as a diagnostic option but would hopefully stimulate his appetite and support the effect of leukeran, his oral chemo); a few hours later he threw up all the food his appetite stimulant (mirtazapine, prescribed on friday) had coaxed into his stomach and more water than i'd have thought he was capable of holding. okay, we thought, starting a steroid regimen is rough. maybe it'll be better in the morning. we gave him his second dose, and another dose of mirtazapine, before leaving for work yesterday; he'd thrown all of that up by the time we got home. we spoke to our oncologist yesterday evening and she said it was alright to discontinue the prednisone, since he'd only had two doses. i felt good about that, at least until he was spectacularly sick again at two this morning. my sweet, stoic cat, the one who seemed slinkier than he'd been but otherwise my shadow as he always is, was absent from his customary spot on the bathroom sink (where he perches while i take my morning shower) today. now we all feel like throwing up, and joe and i are due to be out of town for a week as of this friday.

i called the specialist again this morning, full of questions from a feline lymphoma message board, and she agreed to prescribe zofran, an anti-nausea medication. she worries that his vomiting is a result of disease progression rather than a lousy response to prednisone - he might, for example, have switched up to large-cell lymphoma - and she thinks we should have his "official" one-month-or-so-on-chemo ultrasound before we go away rather than after we get back. i agree; though a technician from her office will be petsitting for us and seeing chuck every day, i hate the idea of leaving questions unanswered when his condition is changing so rapidly. i hate the idea of leaving at all, actually, but you don't need to hear about the place in my head where i fantasize about eating uncancellable travel arrangements and spending a week begging chuck to come out of the bedroom closet.

and what if he does have large-cell lymphoma? joe and i assumed that it was something we didn't need to know, since we were almost sure we wouldn't want to compromise his quality of life by bringing him across town for weekly IV therapy. there are other options, our specialist says. we could give him a $500 one-time, subcutaneous shot of elspar, a chemo drug which has minimal side effects and is apparently quite effective for large-cell; if it works (and it works quickly, she says; we'd see changes in a few days), we'd have "backed into" a diagnosis. we could then consider other oral agents, too - CCNU (lomustine), for example, or cytoxan - agents she doesn't want to put on the table unless we know what we're facing for sure. IV chemo is not the only path, prednisone is not a dead end, the decisions do not stop and grieving for the living is a waste of time.

as i waited for the train on the lower east side this morning i thought about how chuck seemed like a changeling, as if fairies had come in the night and swapped him out for their black cat. maybe he's making it easier for me, i thought, being someone else so i won't remember who i'm losing. but i am not losing. grieving for the living is a waste of time.


ye regal beast

i should have savored the feeling that i was doing the best i could for our cat while it lasted. the PARR test which was to tell us if he had lymphoma or not came back, as the veterinary oncologist warned us it might, inconclusive, so she suggested i bring chuck in again so that we could check out his blood, she could put him on the scale (we need a scale, and i'm starting to realize how stupid it is that we don't have one), and she could do a quick, informal ultrasound to see if his spleen and lymph nodes looked any better after two weeks of chemo at home with us. a tech carried him down to the treatment floor and i settled in up at reception, where a pile of custom photo books told the stories of dogs and cats who received care through frankie's friends, a nonprofit which funds treatment for animals with cancer. fridays are a big chemo day for our specialist, so i also watched e-collared dogs and cats stream out of the office and into the night, a little squadron of cosmonauts returning to their families on earth.

chuck lost two thirds of a pound between his weigh-in three weeks ago and his weigh-in after two weeks of leukeran every other day. if the treatment had been working, our vet explained when she came up to join me, he should have been gaining weight; at the very least he shouldn't have lost any more. his spleen wasn't looking too mottled, but his lymph nodes looked the same. it could be that he's one of the 20% of cats who don't respond to leukeran, or that he needs the steroid we'd be using if we knew for sure that we're dealing with lymphoma (starting a steroid regimen, she says, is "the path of no return" for diagnosis - the cells change too much to be useful). she described another test which had a slim chance of getting us closer to an answer, something about a hollow needle which would shoot another needle and grab some of his tissue, but it sounded no more promising than the PARR test. it was time to start talking about a biopsy again.

fact: the biopsy would be laparoscopic if at all possible - one of the surgeons was downstairs measuring her tools even as we spoke, she could operate on monday after a consult - and incisions would be minimal. "we wouldn't be splitting him open from chin to belly," our vet said.

fact: oral chemo administered for large-cell lymphoma misdiagnosed as small-cell lymphoma would be useless at best and possibly harmful (because of potential side effects). i am probably the only member of the family who might be in favor of IV chemo for large-cell lymphoma.

fact: some conditions which mimic but aren't lymphoma (inflammatory conditions, infectious diseases) are exacerbated by the steroids we've been holding off on giving chuck to treat the cancer we've been assuming he has.

fact: we could pay for a biopsy by emptying our savings account and getting a loan to cover the balance. that it would be extremely difficult but not impossible for us to pay for said biopsy makes me suspect that it is a test for us, not chuck, and that if we agree to do it everything will be alright.

when i worked at an spca animal hospital just after college, i once processed a client who'd booked a PTS, put to sleep, appointment for her dog. he was a massive old rottweiler, and he hopped through our waiting room like a hobby horse, like our three-legged cat, jude - he had a shaved stump where a hind leg had been and squares of grey skin all over his back, as if he'd been parked in a rough neighborhood. cancer, maybe several cancers. his person, a short, sour-faced woman, could barely look at him. we were to give PTS families as much space and privacy as we could, but we also had to keep an eye on them; we had all seen animals abandoned and terrified, their people overwhelmed and unable to stay with them in their last moments. i thought that woman was one of those when i approached her treatment room fifteen minutes later and saw nothing in the window - i sped up - and then i saw her lying on the floor, her little arms across her dog's back. and to think i thought i knew anything about anything.


ai weiwei's cube light (on its way out of the hirshhorn with his "according to what?" show when we were in washington) is pleasant from across the room. reminiscent of the beverly center in the mid-eighties, maybe. at the end of one's nose, now, it gleams like a beast; i like it well.

ai weiwei's cube light (4 of 4)

ai weiwei's cube light (3 of 4)


overhead, underfoot

In the first few days [of his winter alone in western antarctica in 1934, admiral richard byrd's] only complaint was that he had forgotten to bring a cookbook. Never having had to cook anything for himself before, he was hamstrung. He wrote in his diary about the 'Corn Meal Incident' in which he overdid the amount of corn meal in a pan and induced a volcanic reaction. 'It oozed over the stove. It spattered the ceiling. It covered me from head to foot. If I hadn't acted resolutely, I might have been drowned in corn meal.' He grabbd the pan, rushed it to one of the storage tunnels and slammed it down, where it continued to spew until it froze.

Byrd recounted these incidents insouciantly to the men back in Little America on his thrice-weekly radio calls. He could hear their actual voices but he had to reply laboriously, spelling out his messages with the dots and dashes of Morse code. His men teased him about his incompetence with the code, especially when he was asked to broadcast a message live to the Chicago World's Fair, to be relayed via Little America and then somehow translated into a firework display. 'If the fireworks are supposed to spell out what you send,' his friend Charlie Murphy told him over the radio, 'then Chicago is in for the wildest display since the fire.'

(gabrielle walker, from antarctica: an intimate portrait of a mysterious continent)