Last Saturday night and on into the early morning Sunday was one of the best — and worst — nights of my life. The night was replete with psychedelic highs and muddy dub step lows, simply brought on by the music. The only weed I consumed was second-hand, hotbox-delivered dankness that was shockingly prevalent in that fairly small room. Yes, this was my first real hiphop show and there is no doubt I was the oldest person in the room. For every one of the many reasons I was glad I was there, there are at least three for the sweet knowledge that I’ll never have to do it again. All in though, I would not have missed this show for anything. I got to see one of our sons launch from being a regionally well-known DJ into the outer edges of hiphop stardom. After all, he was standing toe-to-toe with hiphop mega-star, Chuck D, of Public Enemy fame and DJ Lord, whose turntable talents have helped craft Public Enemy’s sound since the late ’90s.
If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know I call it like I see it, boldly owning it when I’ve done something I shouldn’t have done. Let’s rewind the tape back to some time in 2006, and a phone conversation I was having with our son, Adam. The one when he told me he wanted to pursue a music career after getting some kind of a music degree in college. That was back in my unenlightened days when being a DJ meant spinning records on the radio. I knew Adam didn’t play any type of instrument and I never had heard him exhibit any noteworthy singing ability, so I started to form the words, “Don’t you have to have some kind of musical talent to have a music career?” Somewhere in the middle of that ill-contrived and woefully knee-jerk sentence was when Jill started miming a slicing motion across her throat, wild-eyed and willing me to shut-the-hell-up.
I knew Adam had been working on developing his DJ skills and I should have realized just how serious he was about collecting vinyl record albums and using them to deliver his art. Adam and I went down to our barn one day and I presented him with my entire, well-taken-care of album collection, consisting of a few hundred pristine vinyl records. I thought he was going to cry, he was so overcome with joy and appreciation. I remember thinking, “Damn, he really does love these records!” and I really had no idea what he was doing with them. Since that day, and up until Saturday night, I have seen Adam perform a few times. I get what music mixing is all about. How you can take a Tammy Wynette song that meters 85 beats per minute and mix it with an Ozzie Osbourne song, also at 85 beats per minute. And, when you come out the other end, the whole is bigger than the sum of those two parts. I get all of that.
What I didn’t see was how he was ever going to make a career out of this. How was he ever going to make any money, have a great health insurance policy, a 401k, a pension plan or a paid vacation? All I could see in my future crystal ball was a 40-something man still waiting tables and trying to juggle family commitments. It just didn’t compute for me. Thankfully, Adam is one of the least money-motivated people I know. His wants to be happy. He wants to be surrounded by people he loves. He has an easy smile and a big heart. All these characteristics are to be cherished. He also has a shiny, 24-karat work ethic. He has kept his nose to the hiphop grindstone for well over ten years, perfecting his turntable skills, writing lyrics and beats and trying to find a way to be in the right place at the right time.
This article in Creative Loafing Atlanta tells the story about how the planets aligned to make this past Saturday possible. All the hard work. All the sacrifice. All the creative juice, the calendar and the place — ALL lined up. I’m reminded of a quote I once read, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Being lucky is a good thing in the music world, I’ve found.
Here are my take aways from the show:
• Even though this is my first hiphop show, I now can tell the difference between sophomoric rap (the first opening act) and really good, sharp, percussive rap (like the kind Adam does).
• I heard the word “fuck” used more times than you’d hear it used in one of Dr. Carlton Savory’s operating rooms.
• I was shocked that 90% of the audience was caucasian. Turns out old school R&B shows are highly frequented by African-American audiences and hiphop shows are primarily attended by white folks. Who knew?
• Although it was loud in there (and I came prepared by taking my Hearos), the sound was really quite great.
• I couldn’t believe how much sound can emanate from the hands of a world-class DJ (DJ Lord
). I give that man mad respect!
• After seeing this show, I know Adam is on a straight up trajectory toward something great. I couldn’t be prouder of him. I can’t wait to see what will happen next…..as long as I don’t have to go see it.
Riding in to work this morning I was listening to the radio and the Christmas song, “Sleigh Ride,” came on. The strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion swirling in my head like a Colorado snowfall. I became aware that I was playing the percussion parts on the steering wheel. Beat for beat, especially the
My underarms also began to get moist. I was that 16-year-old boy with moderate adolescent acne on the stage at Hardaway High School, watching George Corradino’s direction, surrounded by my friends, who were also nervous, waiting for their parts to play out.
We had so much fun traveling to football games, marching at Falcons half time, playing drum cadences at Christmas parades, pep rallies and concerts. I didn’t realize at the time that all this fun was giving me a wonderful education. The love of learning music continues to be one of the greatest gifts of my lifetime, right up there with reading.
As I drove this morning, thinking about all the ways music has influenced my life, my relationships, my every waking moment and even a couple of my idiosyncrasies. Especially the one where I pay attention to when my windshield wipers are perfectly on, or off, the beat and the times they leap — just ahead, or lag back ever so slightly from — the beat of the music. If it is raining and I’m in my car, I will most assuredly be thinking about windshield wipers and whatever music happens to be playing.
At Arnold Junior High School Larry Kirkland was my first band director. He was a wild man. Beat me with his baseball bat “esque” paddle. Threw a metal music stand over the heads of the clarinet section onto the wall where my head had been before I hit the deck. Despite his borderline psychotic demand for perfection, there wasn’t a single person in that band that would have hesitated to take a bullet for him. He died of a heart attack while in his 20s.
George Corradino was my band director at Hardaway High School. He was tough, but we weren’t afraid of him. We wanted to do well so as to not disappoint him. Like when you don’t want to disappoint your dad. Mr. Corradino still plays gigs around town and I saw him last night. He is still a handsome man with more talent in his little finger than most people have inside their whole being.
I thought today just how much my life would have gone missing without my music education in our public schools. I’m happy that our newly “PhD-ized” Dr. David Lewis is a musician and feels strongly about the good that comes from music and arts education.
Music gives me goosebumps. Music makes me happy. Music makes me sad. Music makes me angry. Music provides the back beat of my nearly 62 years of life. I owe my love of music and my arguably impeccable sense of rhythm to music education in the Muscogee County Public Schools.
I finally figured out to easily embed media files into my blog posts. I like the way this is looking, as you can either skip the file altogether, listen to it while you read the post or come back to it later. This song is by a new folk rock/indie rock band named Dawes. The song is called “A Little Bit of Everything.” I really like it. Sort of Jackson Browne. Sort of Wallflowers. At least those great performers come to mind when I hear this new music. If you want to listen now, you know what to do.
When you are first diagnosed with cancer, shock is the first order of business. When they start sticking you with needles and you begin to see the bills roll, the “awe” starts to kick in. As you becomes a seasoned warrior, you start to get angry about just how much time, money, opportunity, energy and actual tissue you have lost to this damn disease. In my last post, I reported that an adrenal ablation treatment, although hugely successful, shit-canned another of my organs. Killed it. Rendered it useless. Cooked it with microwaves. Between the adrenal gland, an entire disc in my spine, my left kidney, 12 lymph nodes and my thyroid, I’m running with a few less organs than the good Lord saw fit to give me at birth.
So here I am, almost exactly 5 and a half years into life with renal cell carcinoma, when the Internet said I’d have only a five percent chance to be here, I find myself in a situation where I want just a little bit more of everything, and this song resonates with me.
Here are the lyrics to the song:
“A Little Bit Of Everything”
With his back against the San Francisco traffic
On the bridges side that faces towards the jail
Setting out to join a demographic
He hoists his first leg up over the railAnd a phone call is made, police cars show up quickly
The sergeant slams his passenger door
He says, “Hey son why don’t you talk through this with me?
Just tell me what you’re doing it for””Oh, it’s a little bit of everything
It’s the mountains, it’s the fog
It’s the news at six o’clock
It’s the death of my first dog””It’s the angels up above me
It’s the song that they don’t sing
It’s a little bit of everything”
An older man stands in a buffet line
He is smiling and holding out his plate
And the further he looks back into his timeline
That hard road always had led him to today
And making up for when his bright future had left him
Making up for the fact that his only son is gone
And letting everything out once, his server asks him
“Have you figured out yet, what it is you want?”
I want a little bit of everything
The biscuits and the beans
Whatever helps me to forget about
The things that brought me to my knees
So pile on those mashed potatoes
And an extra chicken wing
I’m having a little bit of everything
Somewhere a pretty girl is writing invitations
To a wedding she has scheduled for the fall
Her man says, “Baby, can I make an observation?
You don’t seem to be having any fun at all”
She said, “You just worry about
Your groomsmen and your shirt-size
And rest assured that this is making me feel good”
I think that love is so much easier than you realize
If you can give yourself to someone, then you should
‘Cause it’s a little bit of everything
The way you choke, the way you ache
It is waking up before you
So I can watch you as you wake
So in the day in late September
It’s not some stupid little ring
I’m giving a little bit of everything
Oh, it’s a little bit of everything
It’s the matador and the bull
It’s the suggested daily dosage
It is the red moon when it’s full
All these psychics and these doctors
They’re all right and they’re all wrong
It’s like trying to make out every word
When they should simply hum along
It’s not some message written in the dark
Or some truth that no one’s seen
It’s a little bit of everything
As we prepare for our eldest son’s wedding a little later this month. I realized that Michael is giving Janice “A Little Bit of Everything.” Marriage is way more than the ring.
The joining of their two lives has made me look back on my life and my vows to Jill. Living with cancer has made me want so much more — time, experience, travel, dinners, breakfasts, quick glances when someone in the room says something we both find funny or poignant, grandchildren, walks on the beach, pillow talk, time with our children, time with our parents, time with our friends, time with our pets, the smell of our pine forest, garden dirt, cold drinks in July, the occasional snow ball fight, a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g that gives me more face time with the people I love. That is what I want. And, we’re fighting like crazy to make it happen.
Please accept my apology for leaving you all hanging. The pressures of helping to run a business, keeping up with all of the landscaping I’m responsible for (especially with diminished physical capability) and the sheer joy of returning to life have had me blocked beyond belief. Under normal circumstances, my brain lights up when I touch the keys on my MacBook Pro. Much like me, my “S” key is beginning to show some wear. Am I living my life too safely? Command-S is the keyboard command to save. Caution has been at the very front of my consciousness AC. After Cancer.
In the last post I described the adrenal microwave ablation procedure performed by Dr. Nishant DeQuadros and his team and anesthesiologist, Dr. Mark Pinosky. In order to assure us that no heart muscle damage or other cardiac damage had occurred with the 300/200 blood pressure spike during the procedure, Dr. DeQuadros ordered a full cardiac workup. Echocardiogram, treadmill test and lab reports later, the good news is that I suffered no damage from the spike in blood pressure.
So, all that was left was a follow up scan called an arterial phase CT scan with contrast. I had that scan done last Thursday, October 2 and was happy to have been able to have an immediate consultation with Dr. DeQuadros after the scan.
During that meeting he told us that he was looking for a short list of things (margin around tumor and adrenal gland, margin around pancreas and color (degree of dark shading) of fat layer around the site of the ablation) that would indicate how successful the procedure had been. He scored a trifecta with excellent skills, a great team and an anesthesiologist who reached for and got his hands on exactly the right mix of medications and mad skills to keep me from either cardiac arrest or stroke while the procedure was being completed under very scary and trying circumstances.
The tumor appears to be dead. The adrenal gland has been banished to a growing ash heap of my internal organs. Pitched into the black ether of my insides. A perfect gut shot, suitable for TV replay on The Medical Channel (if there is such a thing). My joints ache. I don’t move as well as I used to. My hair appears to be holding on, but irrevocably grey. Parts of my feet are numb. I get completely freaked out sometimes by a phantom pain, worrying that something is knocking on my cancer door again.
In spite of all this stuff, I could be arguably NED again, for more times now than I can remember. If I could live with all of these and maybe even a few more encumbrances for another 30 years, I’d take it and run! Chances are, we haven’t seen the last of this ugly disease. I’m ready for the son of a bitch, if it decides to come at me again.
Meanwhile, I will get to witness the marriage of our eldest son on October 25, wish my father a happy birthday on October 23 and get tuned up for my favorite holiday when we host another Thanksgiving Day dinner. With just a few modifications, life could really be good for us next year.
I’m waiting for a cardiac consultation before we can leave the intensive care unit to go home. I’m fine after the microwave ablation and my medical team here at Midtown Medical Center did a great job in spite of what turned out to be very dangerous circumstances during the procedure. I will write about this at length in a few days. For now, and since I’m typing on my iPhone, I wanted to thank everyone for prayers and concerns. May God bless you all for all those prayers.
In the spirit of complete transparency, I need to mention something at the top of this post: I am working on a new digital magazine publication for the Georgia Fraternal Order of Police. For the past several weeks I have been immersed in all kinds of things about law enforcement officers — LEOs. I have spent a great deal of time talking with members of the Georgia FOP who wear badges from either police, sheriff, marshall, campus police, military police, customs, corrections, CIA, FBI, ATF or homeland security.
Some of the stories we are targeting for future publications seem so much more important right now as our country has been watching the turmoil in Ferguson, MO and how that turmoil is spreading out from there to larger cities with large blocks of people who aren’t white Americans. There has been a great deal of discussion of the use of military gear and BDU-type uniforms, and whether or not to use vest cams to protect both the alleged perpetrator and the LEO involved in a dust up.
That has nothing more to do with this post than to give you a look into my mind over these past few weeks that culminated with the thing that happened out in our parking lot on Friday afternoon. I am really upset about it. I’m upset because I did something that my head told me to do, but my heart was tugging me in the other direction. Here I sit on Sunday afternoon looking back on my weekend and I’m sad that I might have missed an opportunity, and instead I might have perpetuated another stereotypical profiling episode that just didn’t have to happen.
I got a call on my cell phone late in the day on Friday and was notified about a group of young black men in our parking lot. The caller said they looked like they were just hanging around and might be up to no good. I grabbed my sunglasses and walked out our office front door and around the building so I could check them out. I made a pass by them on the way to do something I dreamed up so I could get a good look at them and try to determine whether or not I should approach them and inquire about what they were doing there.
A couple of them were shirtless and they were kind of lounging up against a car that I didn’t recognize and the other one was sitting on a parking bumper watching me. My heart told me that they were probably waiting on someone who was doing business with one of our tenants. My head told me to engage them and see if I could detect some kind of threat. As the property owner of that corner of our block, I have a responsibility to keep the place safe, well maintained and well lit.
So, this white boy, against the alarms ringing in my head that were telling me these kids were just waiting on their mother, who was probably inside paying off a short term cash loan from one of my tenants and the reason they weren’t in the damn car is because it was hot as the hubs of hell out there on that asphalt. But no, I didn’t process that and walk on.
“Hey guys, you waiting on someone?” I said.
“Nuhuh,” mumbled the disgusted looking one with the reddish tips on his hair. “Someone in there?” I gestured at the loan company building. He mumbled something else that I couldn’t understand and I swear to God I could hear what he was thinking: “Listen you white asshole. My mother is inside paying a bill. Me and my boys are just too hot to sit in that car so we’re waiting here in your damn parking lot in the shade. You got a problem with that!!?!”
I am so sorry that I didn’t do what my heart wanted me to do: I should have gone over and sat down next to that angry looking young man and talked to him about what has been on my heart since this latest racial flash fire has boiled up in our country’s streets. I wish I could go back and ask him if he’d be willing to talk to me about my fears about about the anger that is boiling up around us and about his righteous indignation at feeling like he’s always got to explain himself.
I cannot imagine what it must feel like to be a young African American male and to see the look of mistrust or downright fear in people’s eyes as they are looking at you. If I looked up in my rearview mirror and saw blue lights and heard the click, click, click of boots walking up toward my car window, I would probably injure myself getting into whatever position the LEO told me to get into. Whether or not I was doing something wrong, my first thought would be, “Okay, I know how this is supposed to work. If I do what they say to do, everyone will be safe and if I’m guilty, I’ll have to pay for what I did. If I’m innocent, they system will take care of determining my innocence and I’ll go on back to my life.
That young black man that sees that same splatter of blue lights is bringing a whole different set of thoughts as he decides what he wants to do. I can’t put my head there, because I’m a white man who has never been subjected to any type of racial profiling. I’ve never had to explain to anyone why I was walking, sitting, standing, driving or doing a single damn thing. I can’t imagine how that must feel.
I know one thing, black men need to help rear their children. I have so many African American friends who are just like me except for the color of their skin. They are married to great women, they are terrific fathers to their children. Their children are educated, law-abiding citizens who are contributing to all the good things going on in our country.
Are these young black men who d0n’t have a father at home, imprinting on people at school or out in the streets who are not good, law-abiding citizens? Is this where that thuggish behavior comes from?
It should be obvious by now as you read this rambling column, that I have absolutely nothing I can contribute to this ugly situation. I am, however, going to look for every opportunity to engage with people and try to talk about these perceptions we have about people simply because of the color of their skin. There should never be a reason why someone should fear or feel anger toward someone they don’t even know.
To those young men in my parking lot on Friday, I am so sorry that I didn’t treat you like a human. I am so sorry that I didn’t offer you a bottle of water and a place to sit where it is cool while you waited for whomever you were waiting on. I am just so sorry I didn’t lead with my heart.
Now, let’s look at the other side of this. Let’s say you are a hairdresser and the newest thing in video games is a game where the people holding the controllers are racking up points bludgeoning you with tire tools or shooting you right in the middle of your well-coiffed forehead. And, they get extra points if your recently blown-off skull lands in that dumpster in the alley.
When an LEO comes upon a law being broken, his or her main job is to control the situation. Get people on the ground, while watching others standing around and might be involved with the perpetrator. They’ve got to watch for weapons, call for backup, watch the crowd, protect themselves and the innocents around them. That job is almost impossible, even if everyone is completely doing what they’re told to do.
Now, what if that perp decides he’s innocent and isn’t about to do what that cop just told him to do? Chaos happens. We see this now almost around the clock on TV. LEOs have one of the most difficult jobs on earth and that job is getting tougher by the day.
May God continue to bless the people whose job it is to keep us safe and protect the rule of law. May God also bless those whose tough upbringing hasn’t given them the proper tools to live safely in this world. I don’t have any answers here. All I have to offer is a hopeful prayer that we can figure this out.
I’ve been wrasslin’ with myself for the past few weeks about this blog. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that the number of posts I make is inversely proportional to my general state of health. If I am sick and scared, I write. So, in these darker times of my life, my writing is selfish. I write because I need to write. To cope. To push away that creeping fear that is crawling up the various parts of my body that have been left numb and tingly from surgery, drugs and radiation.
When I’m feeling well, I get back to my life and my writing is harder to come by. And, I’m busy at work. We’re launching a new digital magazine this fall that is for and about Georgia’s Fraternal Order of Police members. Building a new publication from the ground up is really exciting!
This is my conundrum: I know that a few thousand people have closely followed my journey with cancer. When I don’t write, I know people miss hearing from me. I feel like I’m being selfish again. I am sitting in an infusion chair at JBACC with a needle in my arm, hydrating and preparing for CT scans of chest, abdomen and pelvis tomorrow. Being here, surrounded by stuck figures, it is hard not to think about the disease that has made our lives so difficult for the past five years.
My “God-is-choosing-my-next-adventure” story has taken a decidedly upward turn. We are now six months out from the decision to stop taking Votrient, the drug that is helping to save my life. Continuing to take the 800mg daily dose had become impossible to deal with. The drug healed me (for now) but was making me sicker than the cancer.
My tumors are gone. I’m able to eat and have gained back 60 of the 100 pounds I lost. I was able to go whitewater rafting this past Saturday and I am able to think clearly without pain and without those heavy-handed cancer drugs. Wednesday is the day when I’ll know if we’re still NED (No Evidence of Disease).
If you’re one of those that wants to see more regular posts, please forgive me for not writing. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to write less about cancer and more about our business growing and going. That would make me very happy.
The past couple of weeks have a circle of life kind of time out here in Seale, Ala. I spent quite a bit of time during the past few days working on a speech that I delivered to my Rotary club on Wednesday, I folded down the screen on my MacBook Pro Saturday morning and stepped out into a Chamber of Commerce kind of day. Breezy, cool, dry air filtered through a canopy of trees in fresh, full leaf against an impossibly blue sky. The grass needed to be mowed and I needed some solitary time with my thoughts to ponder the difficult task of telling the story of my five year tug of war with kidney cancer in just 20 minutes in the presence of 250 or 300 of my fellow Rotarians.
Izzy, our Golden, and I walked down to the barn for me to get the mower and for her to dance circles around me, snap her teeth and crowd my legs with her body, itching to get as many square inches of her bulk against as much of my legs as is geometrically possible. She’s a low tech, high touch creature. When she’s really happy, she leaps around and loudly clicks her upper and lower jaws together. I’ve never seen a dog do that. Her lips are curled back and her teeth are bared in what, to the casual observer would appear to be a bit of aggressive dog face. That look, only for a second, interrupts her usual open, wide-eyed, grinning self.
I unlocked the door to the barn and took a right into my shop. There was a fertilizer spreader tipped against the mower and when I moved it out of the way there was a dark, still 4 and a half foot rat snake curled up in the shadow. He or she took a leisurely slide and eased its body into a small diamond-shaped hole in the metal tread of a ramp I use to roll heavy things into the bed of my pickup truck. The snake’s head was small enough to get her moving through the hole, but the mass of its body stopped moving forward when it became larger than the inner dimensions of the grate.
I gently picked up her tail and her underbelly, on my side of the grate, to see if I could pull her out. She was calm, but I could feel the rhythmic ripple of her muscles trying to propel her through the grate on the side where her head was. I laid her back on the concrete floor and as I reached up to remove my sunglasses, a rotten smell assaulted my nostrils as my hands passed. I left her, called up Izzy and we headed back to the house for me to wash my hands and to get a pair of work gloves out of the garage. I’ve been around a few snakes and I don’t remember them smelling bad. This one smelled like she had been rolling in road kill.
She could not have been happy about me pulling her backwards out of the hole, against the grain of her dark brown scales, but she let me pull her out. I could hear the scales clicking against the steel of the grate as she gave in to the sensation of being pulled. Although I’m skeeved out by snakes, I’m drawn to their elegance. Efficient, understated movement. Smooth, usually scent-free skin.
My plan was to catch her right behind her head just before she was completely free from the hole in the grate. It didn’t turn out that way, because once most of body was free, she back-peddled on her own and her head quickly joined her tail on my side of the grate. So, I had a hold of her just ahead of her midway point. She seemed to appreciate me pulling her free, tongue flicking and moving slow. We walked out of the barn and I gave Izzy the Sit/Stay command. Izzy dropped down onto her haunches and watched me walk with the snake until she lost sight of us around the corner of the barn. I left the snake at the edge of the woods fifty yards south of where I found her and headed back to the barn, where Izzy still sat waiting for me to free her from her command to stay. What an awesome dog!
This past Saturday, I spent some much-needed time on my tractor bush hogging a field. The grass needed to be cut and I needed some thinking time with the muffled thrumming of the diesel engine coming through, diminished by 15 decibels by ear protection I wear when I’m on the tractor. On a westerly pass, a huge turtle moved out of the 10″ tall bahiagrass and into a mowed strip. Thankfully, I saw her and stopped the tractor, picked her up and took her back to the woods, safely out of the mowing zone.
Last night as we drove onto our property after an evening out with the McKnights, our headlights lit up a beautiful gray fox out under the pecan trees. What a cool thing to see.
On another note, I know it has been a while since I’ve posted about my cancer journey. I was the guest speaker at the Rotary Club of Columbus last week. Our son, Nicholas Riddle, was there and used my iPhone to video Marquette McKnight’s introduction and my speech. The video has been uploaded to my YouTube account page and is in two parts.
I continue to thrive after I stopped taking Votrient, at Dr. Pippas’ recommendation. My hair is returning to the color brown. I have gained back some of the 100 pounds I lost and I’m sleeping like a baby. Hallelujah!