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Janet Jackson Appreciation Day

Today is Janet Jackson Appreciation Day. If you don’t know why, Google it. It has to do with the Super Bowl incident.

In honor of that, I have compiled a list and a YouTube playlist of my favorite Janet Jackson songs. It includes major hits that you know and love, some underappreciated gems that you may have forgotten about, some album cuts you may have never heard, and some dance remixes that were among my favorites to play back in the day. I couldn’t rank them – no one ranks Miss Jackson – so they’re in alphabetical order.

All For You
The lead single from the 2001 album of the same name, this playful song wants you to both get up and get down, with a bouncy bass line and naughty lyrics like “Got a nice package all right, guess I’m gonna have to ride it tonight.” You go, Janet. Go for the “Single Mix” (sometimes called the “Video Mix”) version of this song, which is mostly the same as the album track only with a breakdown in the middle that features samples of her own “Pleasure Principle” and “Go Deep” and “Let the Music Play” by Shannon.

All Nite
There are several versions of this sultry, dance floor jam but the album cut and the Sander Kleinenberg remix are the two worth focusing on. The original has an infectious beat that just kind of makes you want to shake your hips, preferably with someone else close by. Meanwhile, the Sander mix is EDC ready, with a breakdown and build to a bass drop (starting at around 1 minute) that is best appreciated with the volume turned up to 11.

This is a great example of the infectious charm of a lot of Janet’s songs, especially her earlier work. If you don’t want to smile while listening to this, there’s something wrong with you. Don’t miss the Zoot Suit era video with a cameos from Cab Calloway, Cyd Charisse, and The Nicholas Brothers!

Because of Love
While some of Janet’s songs sound like products of their era, this one feels timeless to me and could be on the radio right now. It has shades of “Love Will Never Do Without You,” but the layered vocals and bouncy beat make it one of my favorites.

The Best Things In Life Are Free
Janet Jackson. Luther Vandross. I don’t know what else you need to know, but this song from the soundtrack of the Damon Wayans movie “Mo Money” is pure pop/dance pleasure and should be required listening at wedding receptions everywhere. And in what I’ve decided is a nod to “The Golden Girls,” they actually work in the word “thrice.” Check out the video version with vocal cameos from members of Bell Biv DiVoe.

Black Cat
Most of Janet’s work was straight ahead pop and dance, but every now and then she threw in some rock elements like the hard driving drums and guitars on this track from “Rhythm Nation.” While it may not reach the arena rock heights it aspires to, you can still do a little head banging without shame. Interesting trivia… this was Janet’s first solo song writing credit.

Come On Get Up
Although it was only released as a single in Japan, this track from 2001’s “All For You” remains one of my all time favorite Janet songs. I will be using the word infectious a lot in this list, but perhaps nowhere else is it as apt a descriptor. How do you not want to get up and dance when this comes on?

Every now and then a song and an artist come together to create a perfect statement, and this was one of those times. It not only helped to establish Janet’s identity as separate from her famous family, it solidified her position as a chart topper for decades to come. It’s hard to believe she was only 19 years old when this album came out! Even though the differences are subtle, I prefer the “Video Mix” (directed by Mary Lambert!) of the song, which strips out some of the spacy synth filigree heard on the album cut.

Dammn Baby
This single from Janet’s 2015 album “Unbreakable” did well on the R&B charts but didn’t really make much of an impact on pop radio, which is too bad. The stutter step beat, the popping bass line, and the urgent “Dammn Baby” shouts make it undeniable. The breakdown at about 2 minutes is divine, but make sure you stick around for her final “Dammmmmmmmn” at the end. It’s perfect.

Doesn’t Really Matter
This 2000 single from the “Nutty Professor” soundtrack is another that probably qualifies for the “infectious” moniker. The unconditional love lyrics are a little silly at times (“Doesn’t really matter what the eye is seeing, ‘cause I’m in love with the inner being”), but they come so fast and furious that it’s hard not to just groove along. Listen closely at the end for one of many times when Janet makes a mistake but they not only kept it, but called it out. The video is pretty cool, too, with a futuristic theme and a dance routine on a giant tilting platform that made it one of the most expensive videos ever made at the time.

Absolutely no road trip playlist is complete without this song, with its put-the-top-down, “leave your troubles behind” vibe. The official video was filmed at the Universal Studios Hollywood backlot and features a carnival theme but there’s another version that was done at LAX as a commercial for Japan Airlines.

The propulsive dance floor banger is driven by a drumline enhanced beat and literal feedback under her trademark layered vocals giving it a sexy, almost mysterious air. Check out the space vixen/leather queen video.

Feels So Right
This silky-smooth mid-tempo groove was never released as a single from the 2001 album “All For You,” but it probably should have been. The glistening production and effortless vocals make this a great jam that you’d want to play on a lazy summer afternoon.

Free Xone
We could probably start and stop with the song’s fun structure – a mellow, low-key verse that explodes into a funky, horn-fueled chorus. But the song’s real power is in its LGBT empowering lyrics that could have been the prototype for the “love is love is love” mantra that came many years later.

Go Deep
There are several remixes of this including a Masters at Work club workout and a Timabaland hip hop version that features a verse by Missy Elliott, but they don’t really compare to the original, a funky, sexy ode to partying all night. It’s one of the lighter songs from what is probably my favorite Janet album, “The Velvet Rope” (1997).

Got ‘Til It’s Gone
Riffing off of “Big Yellow Taxi,” the callouts of “Joni Mitchell never lies” set the beat for this fantastic R&B gem. The syncopated rhythm, the silky vocals, the stripped down production (complete with a scratchy vinyl sound), and the killer rap from Q-Tip make this one of my all time favorites.

I Get Lonely
The original album version is a gorgeous, sultry slow jam, but I have to tip my hat to the Jason Nevins remix, an uplifting, hands in the air, house classic that used to fill the dance floor when I was a DJ. If I was going to make a list of my top 100 club songs of all time, this one would be on it.

If (Single Version)
“If I was your girl, oh the things I’d do to you. I’d make you call out my name, I’d ask who it belongs to.” Those are some damn sexy lyrics right there. I’m including two versions of the song because they are so completely different and yet so fantastic that they deserve separate listings. The single version is a funky, dark, rock-influenced jam with a video that has one of the best dance breaks ever (at around 3:30). Play this version if you want to get lucky tonight.

If (Brothers in Rhythm House Mix)
Same song, yet completely different song. The whole thing is anchored by a driving, percussive piano accompaniment over a non-stop drum beat that made it wholly unique on the dance floor. While the original version makes you want to get down, this one make you want to get up and you can read that any old way you want to.

Just a Little While
This song is part of the reason we have Janet Jackson Appreciation Day. It was the lead single from her 2004 album “Damita Jo” and would probably have been a huge hit but it was released the day after her appearance on the Super Bowl. Yes, that one. She got blacklisted from most major radio stations and the single never reached the kind of heights it deserved. Just take a listen to the upbeat, kind of retro, buzzy bop and tell me it shouldn’t have been a smash.

Love Will Never Do (Without You)
Originally envisioned as a duet, Janet wound up singing both the low (male) and high (female) verses on this single from “Rhythm Nation 1814” that I’ve always believed is what love should feel like. It also has one of her best, sexiest videos, directed by Herb Ritts and featuring hot supporting roles for Djimon Hounsou and Antonio Sabato Jr. (before he went insane).

Made For Now
Although this 2018 single didn’t do a lot on mainstream radio, it hit the top of the dance charts making it her 20th number one. I have to admit when I first heard it I was a little underwhelmed, but it has wound up going on high repeat on the playlist I use when I need an uplift. The Caribbean influences and the Spanish language rap from Daddy Yankee are perfect for turning any dark day light.

Make Me
The Post Disco genre was an evolution of the Disco era where songs had the same kinds of non-stop dance beats but replaced a lot of the 70s flourishes with synths and guitars. Janet never really did any true Post Disco songs but this 2009 single from her “Number Ones” greatest hits album comes close. Listen closely for the lyric and sonic nods to Michael’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.”

Miss You Much
If I was ranking these songs, this would probably be a contender for the number one spot. The big production with its heavy drumbeat, massive synths, and “wocka wocka” guitar are practically perfect and the multi-layered vocals are pure joy. And of course that video… don’t tell me you didn’t try to learn the choreography at some point!

“My first name ain’t baby, it’s Janet – Miss Jackson if you’re nasty.” Iconic. I don’t know what else needs to be said about it other than the video, directed by Mary Lambert, features choreography and an appearance from Paula Abdul before she made it big on her own.

Pleasure Principle
This is another Janet classic that would fight for a spot at or near the top of a ranked list. The driving beat and the funky bass line are fantastic, but the lyrics hit almost as hard: “I’m not here to feed your insecurities, I wanted you to love me.” I want to know who she was singing that to.

R&B Junkie
Another delight that was lost in the Super Bowl BS, this old-school jam features a sample from Evelyn Champagne King’s “I’m in Love” and a funky dance beat that sounds straight out of 1982… in a good way!

Rhythm Nation
Following up on her groundbreaking, career-making “Control” album could have been a simple exercise in repeating the formula, but instead she took what she had done and turned it up a few thousand notches with hard hitting, rock-influenced songs like this plea for social justice. One of her best songs and one of her best music videos, too.

This is probably one of Janet’s most underrated songs. Released as a single from her 1995 “Design of a Decade” greatest hits package, it reached #3 on the Billboard charts but seems to have faded from most people’s memories. The delightful African/Indian influence and let’s leave it all behind lyrics make it a spiritual successor to “Escapade.” Dance music fans should check out the Junior Vasquez Factory mix.

I’m going to temporarily set aside my feelings about Janet’s brother and simply celebrate this song as the masterpiece that it is. Overflowing with anger and resentment, this was Michael’s response to his, um… “troubles” and while it could be viewed as a problematic, blame everyone but yourself screed, I’d prefer to just let it be one of Janet’s best. I have included two version of this on the playlist. The original space odyssey video, which was at the time the most expensive one ever filmed, features the iconic moments when Janet grabs her breasts and flips off the camera while the Flyte Time remix borrows Sly and the Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf)” as a base for a funkier workout.

This cut from the “Damita Jo” album was likely going to be a single but then the idiotic Super Bowl controversy kept it from ever seeing the light of day. Yet another shame because it’s a fantastic slice of sexy production and vocals that deserved better.

Someone to Call My Lover
That familiar guitar riff is from America’s “Ventura Highway” and it underpins another one of her delightful, upbeat, falling in love songs. Add this one to your road trip playlist also.

Son of a Gun
The original version of this track features Missy Elliott and Carly Simon in a riff on her “You’re So Vain” complete with “I bet you think this song is about you” refrain. Check out the spacy spoken word from Simon, “If it wasn’t for that damn cream there’d be no clouds in my coffee…” It’s pure funky fun. The YouTube video is the music only – you have to go to Facebook to see the actual music video, which doesn’t have the Carly rap but is a fun revenge fantasy. Also worth seeking out is the P Diddy remix, a which turns the song into an even funkier exercise.

State of the World
Although some could see this is a lesser version of “Rhythm Nation,” this similar plea for the world to change stands on its own with more explicit call outs of the problems of its era (and today). Also check out “The Knowledge,” which is sort of like the second half of this song.

Strawberry Bounce
I know this horse has been pretty well beaten by now, but this is yet another song from “Damita Jo” that could have been a hit if the Super Bowl hadn’t happened. Well… maybe not on the radio, because its bouncy beat disguises some truly dirty lyrics. Google them while you listen if you dare.

That’s the Way Love Goes
I’m not always a fan of slow jam songs, but this one is so perfect that it’s impossible not to get swept away in the romanticism of the whole thing. “Like a moth to the flame, burned by the fire… my love is blind, can’t you see my desire?” That’s some sexy stuff right there. I’m also including the video to the 2018 Deeprule and DJ ADHD remix that turns up the BPM but doesn’t lose any of the sultry vibe somehow.

A lot of Janet’s songs were about sex, but few were quite as explicit as this one. There aren’t a lot of lyrics to it, but the ones that are there are straight out of a Pornhub video (not that I’d know what those sound like, I just read about it). But if you can get past the naughtiness, it’s a great dance floor jam.

Together Again
Written about a friend she lost to AIDS, this song was originally envisioned as a ballad but was turned into an upbeat dance number and it is all the better for it. It turns what could have been a mawkish weeper into a joyful ode to the power of friendship.

Velvet Rope
As I said earlier, “The Velvet Rope” album is probably my favorite and the title track is just one of the reasons why. It’s got a great fuzzy bass line accentuated by bells and other sonic flourishes that give it an almost gothic feel.

What Have You Done for Me Lately?
“I know he used to do nice stuff for you, but what has he done for you lately?” Yes, Janet had other albums before “Control,” but this lead single put a stake in the ground for her musical direction and a stake through the heart of her former nice girl image. Heard now it feels very 80s, but in all the best ways.

What’ll I Do?
Janet hasn’t done a lot of covers, but her version of a fairly obscure 1968 song by Stax Records artist Johnny Daye shows that she could have done it more often. The syncopated drums, the lush guitars, and the “hey hey hey” callouts make this the kind of song you want to sing along with while you’re cooking dinner. Not that I’ve ever done that.

When I Think of You
Is the music video done in one long take? Well, no, but it was done in only five, with staging done by the legendary Michael Kidd. The song is another one of those bouncy, smile-inducing “I’m in love” jams enlivened by synth horns and a dreamy vocal.

Another example of why “The Velvet Rope” is one of her best albums, this track features a hypnotic trip-hop beat under a whispered/guttural vocal about demanding not blaming anybody for your problems except yourself. “Check in the mirror my friend, no lies will be told then, pointing the finger again, you can’t blame nobody but you.”

You Ain’t Right
A lesser-known album track from “All For You,” this stands out for its insistent, fuzzy bass beat, spacy flourishes, and tight, multi-layered harmonies. If you’re looking for a good “F-you” song, this one will suit the bill just fine.

You Want This (Video Mix)
Another woefully underrated gem, this one would absolutely be near the top of my all-time favorites list. Featuring samples from The Supremes’ “Love Child” and Kool & the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie,” it’s got lush vocals over a driving dance beat that makes you want to move. The cheeky lyrics are a delight – “By the time I’m through with you, you’ll be begging me for more.” Check out the video version which has a rap throwdown from MC Lyte that isn’t featured in the album track.

Minneapolis: Blasts from the Past, Maid-Rites, and Prince

Why do I write about the travels I take? Part of it is because I have been doing travel writing for nearly 20 years so even though I didn’t take this particular trip to write about it, not writing about it seems weird and incomplete.

But the bigger reason is that I don’t remember anything anymore. Seriously, it’s like a big void up there for anything that isn’t right in front of my face so writing about my travel helps me with my fading recall skills. I go back and read some of these posts from a few years ago and some of it surprising. I did that? Huh. Okay…

So with that in mind, my adventures in Minneapolis and Chicago, mostly for my own reading pleasure but for yours also if you are bored and there’s nothing on TV.

Every year I go to Chicago around Memorial Day but this year I decided to add a couple of days in Minneapolis, specifically to go see Paisley Park, the former home and creative epicenter for the genius that was Prince. Those who know me know that I am a huge Prince fan – kinda crazy about the whole thing – so I figured that coming to the Midwest and NOT going would be downright stupid.

The uneventful flight into the city was a little late and traffic around the core of Downtown, where every single street is undergoing some sort of road construction, seemed to be conspiring against me. I was worried that I wasn’t going to make it to a planned dinner on time but I managed to check into the hotel and rush back out again to St. Paul so I didn’t really get a chance to pay attention to Minneapolis yet. I hadn’t been there since I was a kid – I think we did a choir competition or something there? (Karla will know) – but my first impression is that it looks like every other Midwest Downtown. I’m sure it’ll be lovely when they finish putting back in all the streets and stuff that they have ripped out for whatever reason (this becomes important on Day 2).

In the end though, I was only a few minutes late to the Red Cow, where I was meeting high school friends Jill and Dawn. These two were part of my choir set of friends so they were the ones my parents approved of. (As opposed to the drama friends, who were the ones that I went to bars with when I was 15, who were always viewed with suspicion by Pauline and Vern).

I haven’t seen either one of them in a decade or more so there was a lot of catching up to do – children (graduating college, ouch), jobs, relationships (my part of that piece of the conversation was brief), and the usual musings on the nature of friendship. I didn’t have a lot of friends in high school but the ones I did have were deeply appreciated and we all slipped quickly back into familiar rhythms that erased the better part of the last 35-40 years since we roamed the halls of Linn-Mar High. Here we are, with them looking lovely and me looking like the Crypt Keeper.


The Red Cow is a fancy burger joint in a cute neighborhood that looked like the kind you’d see springing up around a college, even though there wasn’t one right there. Although we were tempted by the caramel-bacon “puffcorn” (like popcorn but without the husks, Dawn helpfully explained) and the tater tot stroganoff (don’t ask), we started with homemade potato chips and French Onion dressing, which were good but the chips had that homemade thing where they aren’t quite as crispy/crunchy as the heavily processed and preserved kind that you get in bags from the supermarket. So more like potato chews? But they were good and the dip was fantastic.

I considered the Royale (pork belly, brie, and tomato jam) and the Cowboy (cheddar, onion rings, and root beer pulled pork!) but ultimately went a little simpler with the Patty Melt, with caramelized onions and Swiss on sourdough. The burger was thick and juicy and the flavor of it melded well with the toppings. A success except that I forgot to get a picture. Oh well. You have seen hamburgers before.

After bidding the ladies adieu, along with promises not to wait another ten plus years to see each other again, I went back to the city, relaxed a bit, and then went out to a couple of gay bars that were near to my hotel. The Brass Rail is sort of a lounge type space with a bar, couches, a small stage (with a stripper pole natch) and that’s about it. Apparently Tuesday night in Downtown Minneapolis is not exactly a hotbed of activity so I was one of four people in there watching the final moments of The Voice.

Chris Blue? Really? No, really?

So I went next door to the Gay 90s (sure) and there were not many more people in there but it was an interesting place. Supposed there are 6 different bars in the building but only two were open – the “Happy Hour” bar, which was just a bar with a jukebox, and the “90s Bar,” which had a small dance floor and this, presented without comment.


No, I didn’t ride it. But I know some people who would.

I had a big day planned for Wednesday so I retired and then got up early-ish to go on a mini-road trip.

I was planning on starting at the Mary Tyler Moore statue, which is on the Nicollet Mall, a street of shops and restaurants. Well, that’s where it usually is. Where it is now was a mystery to the guys that had the entire street ripped up in the aforementioned construction nightmare. I’m sure it’ll be lovely.

Foiled there, I headed toward my second stop, the Mary Tyler Moore house – or at least the house that was used as the exterior in the show.

Actually it turns out I wasn’t heading there. I was heading in the opposite direction. See, I mentioned the road construction thing, which was EVERYWHERE, and apparently nobody bothered to notify Google Maps. So I head toward the on ramp to the freeway I needed to take and it was closed so I had no choice at that point but to get on a different freeway. No problem, Google Maps said, just go to the next exit about a mile down the road and turn around.

Except that exit was closed also.

The next exit is another two miles so Google Maps points me there and miracle of miracles it is open! Then Google Maps tells me to just get right back on the freeway in the opposite direction.

Except the on ramp wasn’t there anymore.

I got to see a lot of Minneapolis adjacent to the I-94. It’s nice.

What should have been a 12 minute drive took almost 45 but I eventually made it to the house and here is my photographic evidence.


And yes it’s for sale if you’re interested.

Next on the agenda was lunch, in which I drove 60 miles for a sandwich. But not just any sandwich, a Maid-Rite. This was a beloved part of my childhood, these Midwest-staples are loose meat sandwiches that have a unique taste that is hard to describe. Unfortunately St. Cloud, Minnesota is the closest place that had a restaurant so that’s where I went. It made me very happy – totally worth the drive.


Back south I went to the tiny town of Darwin to see the World’s Largest Twine Ball.

Now, there are many of these balls scattered around and all of them claim to be the largest in some way, shape, or form. Heck, the biggest twine ball in Branson, Missouri was the thing that inspired the original Plucky Survivors trips I took with Mary. While musing about what I would do for my birthday, I joking said, “Maybe I’ll just go see the biggest ball of twine” and Mary said, “Cool. Can I come?”

This one claims to be the biggest made by one man. Francis A. Johnson started it in 1950 and worked on it every day for four hours for 23 weeks. It is 13 feet in diameter, 40 feet in circumference, and weighs 17,400 pounds.


I love random roadside ephemera like this. I’m not sure why it makes me happy other than perhaps it is a comfort that my obsessive compulsions are nowhere near as crazy as other people’s. Then again, I have accomplished nothing as impressive as a giant ball of twine.

Next stop was in Jordan, home to Minnesota’s largest candy store, which is called… Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store. So not very original, but points for simplicity.


The place is a cavernous facility with what seems like acres of every type of candy you can imagine, from stuff they make there to name brands to retro confections to sweets from all over the world. It was a bit overwhelming, not just in its scope but in its overall je ne sais quoi, which took the candy colored theme, put a few sticks of dynamite in it, and exploded it all over the store. There was an Incredible Hulk statue, a phone booth from Dr. Who, random records that would start playing as you walked by, and more.


Then add in all the parents with all of their children. Parents… really? Is this really where you want to take your hyperactive four year old? An actual overheard conversation: Parent: “What do you want?” Child: “ALL OF IT! AIIIGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.” The latter was delivered at a volume and high-pitched frequency that made a heard of gazelle at a watering hole in Africa all raise their heads at once.

I’m not saying don’t give them candy – I’m not a monster – but maybe you go and pick out a few things and bring them home?

I had a headache within five minutes so I blindly reached out and grabbed a few things and left. I got mint-flavored malt balls, chocolate chews, and some chocolate/caramel fudge, all from the homemade section. I had a bite or two of most of it and none of it was all that great so I walked away disappointed.

Next stop was a nearby casino because I’m me. It was a casino. Not much else to say about it except they only had blackjack for table games so no three card poker for me.

For dinner I went to a place called Revival, which serves southern fried goodness. Now, I have been disappointed with southern restaurants in the Midwest before – a visit to one in Chicago almost brought me to tears once. And I’m a total fried chicken, BBQ, and southern cooking snob. But this place was great.

Appetizers include classics like pork rinds with cheese sauce, pickled shrimp and pigs feet, fried green tomatoes, and johnnycakes but I was sure I wouldn’t be able to get through any of that and have room for the main course so I just headed straight for the fried chicken.

It comes in a variety of heats, and I’m not talking temperature. The southern fried is regular with no heat and then you can step up to the Tennessee hot and if you’re feeling especially adventurous you can go with the poultrygeist, which uses ghost peppers to make it especially fiery. I went with the regular southern fried because I have already had problems with my esophagus and didn’t feel like burning it out of my body. That and sides of mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese.


Again, southern food snob, but it was as close to perfect as you’re going to get in Minneapolis. The chicken had a thick fried coating on it, done crunchy, with succulent meat. The mac and cheese also had a crunch in its top and then gooey goodness underneath and the mashed potatoes had a thick chicken-fried gravy on top. Excellent all the way around and I ate way too much food.

That evening I went out to a couple more gay bars (there are a surprising number of them in Minneapolis). Lush is a loungy, trendy space with a big bar, low-slung couches, and a nice outdoor patio. The Eagle/Bolt is a pair of bars, both trending toward the butcher crowd but packed that evening with a group of youngish people celebrating someone’s birthday with drunken karaoke. It was surprisingly fun.

The final day in Minneapolis was the best because that’s when I finally made it to Paisley Park.

Located about 20 miles to the southwest of Minneapolis, the facility was built to Prince’s exact specifications in the late 1980s. It originally contained four recording studios, a TV production studio, office space, living quarters, and more. After Prince died, they kept most of it the way it was but have converted some of the spaces to a wide-ranging museum honoring his life and his work.

This is the place where nearly 30 years of his creative genius was brought to life. Diamonds and Pearls was recorded here. The Sign O’ The Times concert film was shot here as was most of the movie Graffiti Bridge. Pretty much everything he recorded from 1987 on was done here at Paisley Park. And it’s not just Prince. Everyone from James Brown to Aretha Franklin recorded here.

And of course at the end of his life, this is where he was living and where he died.

Although, to be clear, I am choosing to believe that he is still alive, living on an island somewhere being followed around by two hot dancers who just randomly strike poses behind him whenever he stops moving.

The building itself is pretty boring from the outside…


…and unfortunately they don’t let you take pictures of the inside, but as soon as you walk through the door you immediately see the kinds of detail that only Prince would think of. The walls of the lobby feature giant murals of him, multiple versions of his symbol, and a wall full of platinum and gold records.

I took the VIP tour (of course), which gets you more access and more cool stuff, but I’m not sure which parts of what I did were on the regular tour. Don’t risk it – it’s totally worth the $100 bucks.

Just beyond the lobby is the atrium, a sunny space with a giant Prince symbol on the floor underneath four pyramid shaped skylights. The walls are painted a fluffy blue with clouds and doves arching up toward the glass ceiling. In fact, on the second floor balcony overlooking the space are a pair of cages with Prince’s actual white doves in them. Right off of the atrium is a small kitchen with a lounge space, some tables, and a big TV.

This was one of Prince’s favorite spots in the building, where he would often sit, write, talk, or meditate and let the sunlight shine down on him. That’s why they chose this space for the urn that contains his ashes.

Or the ashes of whoever is in there because, Prince… living on an island.

Surrounding the atrium are a series of offices that have been turned into exhibit space themed around some of his albums. The Dirty Mind section has a guitar from the era and a hand-written notebook of lyrics. The Sign ‘O The Times room has costumes, instruments, and the concert video (which is amazing and I am hoping they are going to re-release it at some point).

Also along here is his private office, all done in rich gold tones with a surprisingly small desk in a corner. I know he wasn’t a big man physically but you think of Prince in outsized terms and so this seemed incongruous.

A black-light lit meditation room leads into an editing room, which has a giant purple couch and a full suite of equipment. They showed some clips of concerts, backstage stuff, and more and our guide told us that he recorded everything on video… every concert, every pre-show sound check, everything. I read recently that the people responsible for going through the vault of his unreleased material has barely made a dent in it in the year since he died. I got a little light-headed thinking about it.

Next was Studio B, which is still all analog, the way Prince preferred to record (he’d digitize it later). I lost track of which albums they said he did there, but it was a lot of them, although he hadn’t used it as much recently. Why? Because that’s where he kept one of his ping pong tables. He loved ping pong, which makes me happy. They even let you play if you are so inclined. I declined at first but the tour guide goaded me and I did surprisingly well. I’m sure Prince could’ve kicked my ass.

This is where they also let you get interactive. You can get a souvenir photo in front of one of his signature purple pianos and, if you go on Thursday, you can step into the control room and actually record yourself singing over one of Prince’s songs. I did Raspberry Beret. They give you the photos and the recording on a flash drive to take with you.


Then it’s on to the main studio A, much bigger, with lots of wood, tapestries on the wall, and isolation booths. Inside the control room are the synth and drum machine that created much of the sound for Purple Rain and a lot of his other signature songs. There’s a big boom mic hanging over the master control panel because Prince would often record by himself so he had to do everything. Interesting tidbit – he liked to sing sitting down when he recorded.

Outside the studio is a wall of influences, both artists that influenced him (James Brown, Santana, Jimi Hendrix, etc.) and those that he influenced (everyone from Sheila E. to The Time and beyond). It made happy for some reason that the closet people to him in the mural were Wendy and Lisa. I don’t know why.

Next was a big, high-ceilinged room that started its life as a basketball court. Later it became a dance studio and now is being used as the Purple Rain room. There are costumes, murals, the piano used in the movie (complete with scuff marks on top of it from his heels), a motorcycle, and more. Adjacent to that is another room that has been converted into spaces for his two other movies, Under the Cherry Moon and Graffiti Bridge.

The final stops are the cavernous sound stage and the adjacent night club. The stage has a huge projection of Prince performing live on one wall and various stages set up with memorabilia and information from his various concert tours. There’s also his powder blue Bentley and purple Prowler on display. This and the neighboring space, a lounge with a VIP area, mixing turntables, and lots of couches, was where he’s have his frequent dance parties that would sometimes go until dawn.

And of course the gift shop. I bought a bag, a hoodie, and two symbol necklaces. That I didn’t buy 12 t-shirts, a slouchy cap, posters, and coffee mugs is shocking.

Being as much of a Prince fan as I was, it shouldn’t be surprising that I thought this was a phenomenal experience. I only got teary eyed twice – once when they pointed out the urn and once when they showed the small selection of tributes fans left on the fence for Paisley Park after his (not true) death. Prince made me understand the possibility of music and I was blown away to see a little bit of how he lived and created.

They say more will be added over the coming years so I fully intend to go back someday.

I headed from there directly to the airport, blasting DMSR and Let’s Go Crazy at full volume.

On the next update, Chicago!

Sweet Home Chicago Day 2: Battle of Porkinator

We shall call today the day of way too much food.

As many of you know, I love food but food, often, doesn’t love me back. It’s all the glorious consequence of having a significant chunk of gastric system removed in order to get rid of cancer and while I am able to eat pretty much whatever I want, I am not able to eat a lot of it at any given time. Occasionally, however, circumstances make me try to push my limits and today was filled with such circumstances.

I started my day with a drive out to Westmont, Illinois, about 20 miles west of Downtown Chicago for the Red, White, and BBQ festival, billed as the biggest barbecue championships in Illinois. The day was absolutely perfect for it –blue, sunny skies with only a few wispy clouds high up and temperatures in the mid-70s.They take over a park and have dozens of competitors, food vendors, carnival rides, live bands, and more.


This is so completely Midwest in all of the best ways right down to the VW Bus converted into a giant beer keg and the fried Oreo, Milk Way, and Twinkie stands.



Like most BBQ competitions, the bulk of the actual BBQ is reserved for the judges, leaving the wandering crowds to lick their lips as they walk by the rows and rows of cookers. But they still had several BBQ vendors and I decided to sample as many as I could before I passed out from the meat sweats.

The first was from Fire Water BBQ and I got their pulled pork sandwich. The meat was perfect – tender, smoky, and absolutely delicious even without sauce, which was pretty good, too – maybe a little on the vinegary side for my tastes. The only disappointment was the bun, which was so pedestrian white bread that I just shoved it aside and dove into the pork.



Next I went to Uncle Bub’s Hickory Smoked Barbeque and tried their pulled chicken BBQ, sans bun, and a side of macaroni and cheese. They went a little heavy on their sauce, as you can see by the picture, but it was good not great. I would’ve cooked it a little more and cut down on the sauce but now I’m just being picky. Despite the not-found-in-nature orange color of the mac and cheese, it was delicious, with a creamy tang.



Even though I had only had a few bites of each, I was already approaching full but then I saw the sign… this sign…


That would be pork topped with pork topped with PORK topped with CHEESE! COME ON!!

I requested a smaller version of it and this is what I got:


Note that their version of smaller was to put a little less pulled pork on the bread at the bottom.  It was impossible to eat without making a giant mess of myself, so I kind of attacked it with a knife and fork and got the general idea.  There was smoky, vaguely spicy pork on the bottom, thin slices of juicy smoked ham above that, and then huge chunks of chewy bacon topped with tangy pepper jack. It was an almost religious experience.  I may have cried a little at one point.

Unsurprisingly, this is where I started to feel as though what is left of my stomach trying to launch itself out of my body. It didn’t, but boy it wanted to.

Although there was more, I decided to be somewhat reasonable and head back into the city to visit the Chicago History Museum. Located on the north side of town, this sparkly, modern facility tells the full history of the city, from its early settlers through the good (largest trade port in the Midwest, architecture, entertainment, agriculture) and bad (the fire, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, the 1968 riots) with pit stops along the way at everything from the railroads to fashion to Abraham Lincoln.


It was all well done and the presentation was top notch but interestingly the best exhibit had very little to do with Chicago at all. It was called The Secret Lives of Objects and it had various things in a stark, black-walled room, and placards in front of each that were written as if the object itself was talking. For instance, there was a phone booth, and it started out something like “I used to be everywhere; on every street corner.” Then it went on to discuss what happened to the phone booths in general and how this particular one got to the Chicago History Museum. There was a booth from a famous nightclub, a bell that had been on a prison camp, and the table on which the documents were signed that ended the Civil War. Fascinating.

Right around the corner was the Second City theater and I headed there for the “Best Of” show, a rapid fire succession of short sketches and improve that was as reliably entertaining as Second City has always been. I loved the show that played in Vegas at the Flamingo for many years and this reminded me how smart and talented this troop of entertainers is. I could never do improv – I can’t even think of things to shout when they ask for suggestion from the audience.

“Name a place” they say, and I start going, “Well, I could say Los Angeles because I’m from there but that’s a little boring and obvious so maybe I’ll say Savannah, because I love the city so much, but what if they don’t know Savannah like I do and they wind up just doing ‘Gone with the Wind’ accents? Okay, so how about I say something offbeat like Tuscaloosa or Poughkeepsie…”

By now they are already done with the improv that they were asking for suggestions to fuel.


I headed back to the hotel and took a much deserved nap and then woke up hungry, believe it or not. On my jaunt yesterday I had noticed a place called Chuck’s – A Kerry Simon Kitchen. I love Simon’s restaurants in Vegas. His KGB, which closed recently, served up the best burgers in all of Vegas as far as I was concerned, and his Carson Kitchen in Downtown, is a delightful gem of farm-to-table foodie goodness. In addition to being an amazing culinary wizard, the guy is also pretty remarkable in that he is fighting an advanced form of MSA, which is sort of like MS but worse. He has been confined to a wheelchair for awhile now and reportedly has to get fed through a tube but he continues to oversee his restaurants as he can and you have to give him props for that.

The space in the Hard Rock Hotel is modern and kind of bland but the food was fantastic. I had more pork… come on, I’m in the Midwest!… in the form of an apple cider maple glazed pork chop and a twice-baked potato. The chop was thick, insanely juicy (which is not always easy to do with a pork chop), and both sweet and tangy with the maple and apple cider creating a delicious blend of flavors. The potato was an ooey, gooey, cheesy, bacony mess and I loved it. I have no idea how I found room but I ate more than I thought I was capable of eating.


The night ended with fireworks shot off of Navy Pier over Lake Michigan. What a good day of way too much food)!





TYOLD Day 27: What’s on TV

Kind of a failure today in a lot of different ways but especially in the Differently department.  The best I could do was try to work through some of the junk that was piled up on my DVR and watch things I had never watched before.

The only one worth mentioning is The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – the movie with Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, and lots of other very British actors and actresses.  It’s a sweet little film, although it tries a little too hard at times to be a sweet little film.   But the storyline that Tom Wilkinson has is lovely and the acting is impeccable across the board so I’ll give this one a solid B+.

I can’t believe they are doing a sequel, though.  Odd.

This is so boring that I’m not even going to post it on Facebook.  So there, nyah.


Every time I look in the mirror, the scars are a reminder.

I have been struggling with them; the scars.  I think they are ugly.  I joke it off by saying that I look like an assistant in a magic act that went horribly awry, but really I feel freakish and disfigured.

But I think it’s less about the way I look and more about the things they make me remember.

I’ve been remembering stuff the last few days.  Some of it innocuous, like the weird buffeting of the wind coming through the open window of the cab as I rode to the hospital.  Some of it oddly specific, like the deep magenta scrubs the nurses were wearing in the operating room.

Some of it isn’t fun.  I remember waking up briefly the night of the surgery.  Red is what I remember.  It was as if I was looking through a gauzy red drape.  I wanted to move; to reach up and push it off my face but it was as if someone was sitting on my chest, pinning down my arms.  I know now that this was the ventilator tube down my throat and the paralytics they gave me to keep me from struggling against it (too late, it turned out).

When you have a portion of your stomach and esophagus removed and the remains sewn back together, they have to make sure that everything is holding together the way it should.  Having things leak in there would not be good.  So to check this they wheeled me to a room with a big machine that sort of looked like a giant industrial tanning bed.  They had to move me from the gurney I was on into the tanning bed, which I remember hurt in ways that I had never hurt before, and then the bed started tilting until I was effectively in a standing position.  I had to drink a small cup of blue dye – shocking, bright blue.  It tasted like battery acid – or a least what I would expect battery acid to taste like. The machine whirred and thunked as it took pictures of the dye going down what was left of my esophagus as we all crossed out fingers that the pictures wouldn’t show my insides looking like a bright blue water wiggle.  Apparently it was fine.

I’m pretty sure that was Sunday.  It was not long afterward that things were going downhill, with severe abdominal pain, a high fever, and so on.  I remember being in a hallway and Dr. Frenchy came up and said “We’re going to take you back into surgery.”  In retrospect I probably should’ve been concerned about this but I wasn’t.  I was too far out of it at that point and I merely did my best approximation of a shrug and off we went.

Just in case you are new to this particular bit of the story, it turns out that at some point I had pulled on the feeding tube that was sewn into my intestine and sticking out of the left side of my abdomen.  It tore the intestine and waste was flowing into my abdomen.  I had developed sepsis – a severe infection – and if it had continued for much longer I would’ve died.

I remember being in the ICU after the second surgery.  There was a guy in the next room that was “altered” and in distress, or at least he thought he was.  He was calling out “Nurse… nurse… help… nurse… help me…”  This went on for hours.  The nurses would go in an check on him and find nothing wrong and then leave.  And he would start again almost immediately.  “Nurse…. nurse…”

I lost track of the days but at some point they moved me from one ICU room to a different one in a different part of the hospital. I’m sure they told me the reason but I don’t remember why.  All I really remember is that it seemed like they were taking me to a different county and that every time the bed hit a bump, it would send shockwaves up through my body that were like electricity.

They had me do a second session in the tanning bed for reasons that I don’t quite remember.  I do know that when they were getting ready to move me from the gurney to the machine I said, “Um, no, we’re going to do this my way.”  I had them stand the tanning bed up and then I basically sat up and stepped into it.  It hurt less.  Not by much, but less.  It still tasted like battery acid.

Even after all this time and distance I don’t want to talk much about the hallucinations. Brought on by the massive amounts of painkillers they had me on, and the fever most likely, they were vivid, impossibly real, and usually like something out of a horror movie. I’ll share one to give you a flavor… at some point I felt sharp pain in my feet and legs.  I know now this wasn’t real because I had an epidural and was effectively numb from the chest down, but it seemed real at the time.  I raised my head and looked down and where the lower half of my body should be was machinery – metal gears and cogs and pistons, all gnashing together like a meat grinder, literally chewing up my legs.

Believe it or not that was one of the less disturbing ones.

Those 13 days in the hospital still haunt me.  I know I should simply put it behind me and be grateful that I survived, but it’s not as easy as all that.  Especially not today.

The surgery was one year ago today.  August 17, 2012.

My actual birthday is a couple of weeks from now but I think this day will join the others that have become more important to me.  June 12 – the day I found out I had cancer.  February 16 – the day Mary died.  January 10 – the day I found out I was HIV positive.  August 17 – the day I got my scars.

If you haven’t listened to Pink’s latest album “The Truth About Love” you really should.  It’s an amazing blend of pop/rock sass and deeply personal, painfully honest songs about love, friendship, and humanity.  One of the songs, “Time Bomb,” has the following lyric:

“I don’t want to be flawless
When I go, I want the cuts to show”

I’ve been trying to embrace that; the idea that adversity makes us stronger and the things we have survived are the things we should be most proud of.  I still think my scars are ugly but I am determined to get to the point where they are not just reminders of the bad but reminders of the good as well.

So to that end, I reluctantly share this:


It’s been an interesting year.  How’s that for understatement?

Let’s tally it all up, shall we?  Four surgeries, three endoscopies, three PET scans, 17 days in the hospital (6 of which were in the ICU), ten different doctors, around two dozen separate doctor’s office visits, countless blood draws and other diagnostic tests, roughly $1.5 million in medical bills, and innumerable dealings with the insurance company to make sure that I only had to pay a relatively small portion of that amount.

This is the sum of it; my year with cancer.  It has been both more and less than all that in different ways.  Numbers can’t begin to shine a light on the dark, stupid, funny, weird, depressing, divine, and mundane twists and turns that have been a part of this particular calculation.  The same, I’ve found, can be said of words, which despite my flowery best efforts, have been a constant exercise in inadequacy.  Describing what I have been through is like trying to describe art: no matter how often you rush back to the thesaurus, you kind of have to see it to fully appreciate it.

Over the last few weeks I have put the final touches on this particular canvas with an endoscopy and a biopsy of a cyst on my back. The former showed no signs of cancer (yay!) but did show esophagitis (inflammation of my esophagus) and food residue in my stomach some 15 hours after I had last eaten (boo!).  That basically means that my gastric system has not recovered from being chopped apart last year and things are not working as effectively as they should.  What do we do about it?  Not much to be done, unfortunately.  I am doubling the amount of acid blocking medication in an effort to quell the acid reflux that is causing the esophageal irritation.  This is important because otherwise I’m back on the same path – esophagitis begets Barrett’s, which begets cancer.  I’m also going to work with a nutritionist to try to find a food strategy that my body can tolerate better than the one I have now, which is “if it doesn’t make me nauseous, eat it.”  The idea that nausea and abdominal pain and difficulty maintaining a healthy weight could be constants for the rest of my life is a bit bummer-ish to be sure but like the rest of it, I’ll deal with it.

The biopsy of the cyst also came back negative, although getting to it wound up being more of a production that I expected it to be.  Billed as a “minor” surgery it involved multiple nurses, a full-on operating room, and lots of unpleasantness.  I will say this: if you have a choice in the matter, avoid being awake when they cut things out of your body.  I didn’t feel pain – well, not at first – but I felt pulling, tugging, and digging, which is just gross on every level.  It was bigger than they thought it originally was so there was more of all of the above than expected and closing me back up involved stitches and hot glue and… well, I’ll leave it at that.

I did tell Dr. Frenchy, who was taking a scalpel to me for the fourth time, that that he really needed to stop cutting me open.  He said “You really need to stop having stuff wrong with you.”  I thought that was fair.

So with those results I can say, now, officially, that I am cancer free.  Of course that doesn’t mean that I’m done with the whole thing.

As everyone knows, cancer has a nasty habit of lurking in the shadows undetectable until it reappears when you are least expecting it.  This happened twice with Mary, both times after several years of “no evidence of disease.”

Overall the 5 year survival rate for esophageal cancer is about 15%, but that is because most cases are not diagnosed until it is too late to do anything about it.  The theory is that I had stage 1B, which is when the cancer has advanced into the first or second layer of tissue in the esophagus but has not breached the esophageal wall or gotten into lymph nodes.  The 5 year survival rate for that particular bit of nasty is about 80% overall and goes up to nearly 90% for people who had the surgery like I did.  So there’s a chance that it will come back but not a big one.

But this particular bit of nasty is particularly nasty and often very aggressive so we have now entered the period of my life where I will be watched very carefully, like a bug under a microscope or a pregnant Kardashian .

Why is this person famous?

This means visits to Dr. Wile E Coyote Super Genius (aka my oncologist) every four months for the next few years for follow up tests and scans plus an annual endoscopy with Gastro-Guy pretty much until I drop dead from whatever eventually kills me.

Beyond the physical part of it, I often find myself reflective.  No, not shiny, although sometimes I am a little after I have shaved my head.  Instead what I mean is that I am looking back on all of this (and more than just this) to try to glean some sort of meaning.  As I have said in previous posts, I kept expecting cancer to make me a better or somehow different, more patient, kinder human being but it really hasn’t. I’m still an easily irritated grouch most of the time.

But if, as Oprah likes to say, we are the sum of our experiences, then I have added a great deal to my sum over the last year and I am determined, at the minimum, to take something valuable from that equation.  Maybe it’s trying to make myself less of an easily irritated grouch or maybe it’s a promise to myself to complete things that I have left incomplete or maybe it’s embracing the knowledge that I am stronger than I thought I was and therefore can take on bigger challenges… I don’t know.  We’ll see where it goes.

I feel like I am starting over in many ways – like the reset button has been pushed and now I have to play a whole new game. Will it be merely a continuation of what came before or will it go to new levels that I hadn’t ever discovered? It’s intimidating as hell and also intriguing.  I’m going to be 47 years old in a few weeks, I’m basically broke, I have a job instead of a career, I don’t own property other than my furniture and clothes, and I don’t have a family, a pet, or even a house plant that depends on me.  Do I take that as an opportunity to reinvent or do I take what I have and build on or do I simply make peace with the pieces that I have and stitch them into a more satisfying whole?  Again… I don’t know.

What I do know is that I don’t want to be sitting here, reflective, but of the same scenery, a year, or five years, or ten years from now only to have someone tell me that the cancer has come back. If that ever happens I want to be able to scream and yell and cry over all of the parts of my life that I will miss.  I want to feel as though dying would be more than just the cessation of life but a loss of a life worth living.

I don’t expect to change the world or even radically change myself, but I think that if I can take one thing away from the sum of four surgeries, three endoscopies, three PET scans,  17 days in the hospital (6 of which were in the ICU), ten different doctors, around two dozen separate doctor’s office visits, countless blood draws and other diagnostic tests, roughly $1.5 million in medical bills, and innumerable dealings with the insurance company to make sure that I only had to pay a relatively small portion of that amount it is this: I really should be better at math.

Or at the very least, I should be willing to try to be.

Would You Look at the Time!

It seems like just yesterday I was complaining about how long I had to wait before I could get my next set of tests – you know, the ones that would (in theory) tell me if I’m living or dying. There’s no way I could wait until June, I thought. That seemed entirely too far away for something as big as that.

But then I went and blinked and look at that… it’s June, already. As Kathy Najimy says in one of my all-time favorite comedy sketches, “Time is rocketing.”

I feel that lately; time, rocketing. I don’t know if it’s because I was so keenly aware of this metaphorical clock, loudly ticking down to the thumbs up or thumbs down verdict that will come with this set of tests, or if it’s just the inevitable thing that happens when you get older. Time seems to go by more quickly than it should or at least ever did when we were younger. How could it possibly be June already? How is it even conceivable that we are halfway through 2013 already? Who could possibly imagine that I am 46 years old, facing the possibility that I won’t make it very far into 47. Weird.

And if I do make it into 47, it’ll be time for my 30 year high school reunion next year. Weird again some more.

This came up during my recent trip to Chicago, or rather a side trip I took to Dubuque to see a friend from childhood, Patty. Patty and I knew each other mainly from choir and various plays we did together like the musical version of “Some Like it Hot” called “Sugar.” She played bandleader Sweet Sue while I failed miserably in my one attempt at drag with the Tony Curtis role of Joe. And while there were video cameras and an appearance on the local morning show in 1983, no, there are no videos of it on YouTube – I checked.

Patty, myself, and another friend Tasha also went as a threesome to our senior prom. We had burgers at the Tic Toc Lounge and went bowling before the dance and, if I remember correctly, also visited a friend in the hospital and ended up at another friend’s farm. Welcome to Iowa.

Sometime after bowling but before the farm.

The photo gives me pause as many from this era do. With that much hair – more than either of my dates, it should be noted – how could anyone not have known I was gay? Including myself!

During my go ‘round with cancer last year, Patty stepped up in a way that moved me, sending a steady stream of laugh-out-loud cards and gifts to keep me amused. When I complained on this very forum about not being able to eat pizza anymore, she sent me a pizza shaped Christmas tree ornament.

I met her at the Dubuque Maid-Rite shop and had one of my favorite sandwiches from childhood – still just as good as I remembered – and then the two of us went to the charming little town of Galena to watch a friend of hers play ukulele in this offbeat little bar. We joked and laughed and did remarkably little reliving of old times, thankfully. I don’t have the fondest memories of childhood so I’m perfectly content not to rehash it.

One the way over there, I engaged in some other reminiscing as I played out some bits and pieces of my Plucky Survivors adventures with Mary. I counted cows of course (she would’ve won) and even took an unscheduled side trip when I saw a sign for the Woodbine, Illinois Glass Museum. It was a building that wasn’t much bigger than a converted two car garage (which may in fact have been what it was at some point in its life) with a gift shop and a one room “museum” filled with all manner of glass vases, bottles, sculptures, jewelry, doohickeys, doodads, and more. The story, as told to me by the jovial older gentlemen that got up out of his recliner to give me a tour, was that his wife had started collecting glass trinkets decades ago and it had grown to this, with thousands of pieces from around the world.

It was the perfect Plucky Survivors roadside attraction – an even blend of silly charm and breathtaking beauty. I mean, it’s a garage full of glass but some of it was so intricately, artistically created that it almost hurt your heart to look at them.

Friends (both real and imagined), a Maid-rite, a ukulele concert, and a roadside glass museum. Perfect days like that don’t come along very often, I have to say.

But the point I was getting at was the whole passage of time thing. Both Patty and I don’t think it’s possible that next year will mark 30 years since we graduated from high school. I can’t figure out how more than three years have gone by since Mary died. And I certainly can’t believe that it’s June already and now I have to go get a little test done.

That test – the PET scan – is scheduled for this Thursday, by the way; results by next Monday. In theory, one of two things will happen. If the spots that were there in the last PET scan either aren’t there anymore or haven’t changed since that scan, then I don’t have cancer. What is causing the spots will still be a mystery but if they haven’t gotten any bigger or spread any further then it isn’t cancer. I’ll probably have a biopsy of the cyst-like object on my back to be sure and will probably go in to see Gastro-Guy to try to figure out the abdominal pain I am having, but cancer should be off the menu at that point.

If the spots have gotten bigger or there are more of them, then it is cancer. And not just cancer but stage 3 or 4 metastatic esophageal cancer, which has roughly the same chances of survival as those given to people who fall into industrial meat grinders.

I really don’t think that’s going to be the case. As I have been stating for quite some time now, I think something is wrong but I don’t think it’s terminal cancer. I don’t feel good, by any stretch of the imagination, and I don’t know what terminal cancer feels like, specifically, but I don’t think it’s this. My guess is that Dr. Wile E Coyote will give me a passing grade on the cancer part but it may not end the “What’s Wrong with Rick” poking and prodding.

But if I’m wrong… well, let’s not go there quite yet. Let’s watch Kathy Najimy instead, shall we?

The Countdown

Nothing much new to report, other than that “nothing new” is at least something, which is to say I haven’t dropped dead.  Apparently that’s a concern when the frequency of posts on here diminish.  I hadn’t really thought of it but I guess it makes sense: when one is writing about one’s travails with cancer, ceasing to write about said travails could cause a wee bit of worry.  Sorry about that.

But really it’s more because I’ve been busy with work, work, and my other work and there hasn’t been much in the way of cancer-related developments.  I’m still getting woken up frequently by nausea, which I believe is the new gastric wiring’s way of telling me I’m having acid reflux, and I am still experiencing frequent random pains in my upper right abdomen.  The good news… and I know that once again I am stretching the definition of that phrase to its breaking point… the good news is that neither have gotten any worse in the last three weeks since I posted last.

There is one new-ish thing, I suppose.  I’m sure the thing on my back is just a cyst, but its location – a direct line straight back from where I’m having the pains in the front – is troubling.  It doesn’t hurt, specifically, unless I’m leaning back against it too hard and I don’t think it’s getting any bigger, although I’m not precisely sure about that last point.  I have to put myself through Cirque du Soleil worthy contortions to see or feel it (which I do CONSTANTLY when I’m not around people) so I’m probably missing the subtleties of the situation.

I know, I know, you’re all saying “go to the doctor and get it checked you dumb fu#@!”  I am and I will… in about 3 weeks.  That is the grand bargain we have all made, me and my doctors, which involves waiting until the first week of June to go back in for all the tests that will show, hopefully definitively, whether I have cancer or not; whether I’m going to live or die.  Yes, it sounds overly melodramatic and I suppose it is, but that’s what’s going on.  Those who know me well know that I embraced by inner drama queen a LONG time ago.

Drama queens, by their nature, are not good at waiting.  Neither are drag queens, but that’s a whole other story.  Oddly though, I’ve been remarkably calm about waiting.  Some of it has to do with how busy I am at work, work, and my other work but there is definitely an aspect of shrugging acceptance of (or perhaps blind resignation to? insane denial of?) the fundamental realities of the situation.  If there is cancer, there’s nothing that can be done about it and confirmation of that information is news I’m happy to wait for.

In the meantime I’ve been going about my business and pretending as if it is all going to work out fine.  I’m going to Chicago next week around Memorial Day.  It’s one of my favorite cities in the world and late spring is the perfect time to visit – after the ridiculous winter and its insanely frigid temperatures and before the stupid summer and its insanely high humidity.  There will be sightseeing and relaxing and eating of Chicago dogs (my first since the surgeries – we’ll see how that goes).  I’m also going to be driving somewhere to get a maid-rite – a “loose-meat” sandwich, Midwestern favorite from my childhood that I want to have one more time before I die, regardless of whether that’s 4 months or 4 decades from now.

And yes, going to get a maid-rite will involve driving well over 100 miles from Chicago to another state but it won’t be the first time I’ve gone that far for food.  Does anyone remember the Hillbilly Hot Dogs from Plucky Survivors See America 2008: The Plucky Shall Rise Again?  Yes, Mary and I drove roughly 250 miles round trip for a hot dog.  Totally worth it.
I don’t want to get all philosophical about food, but the long and the short of it is this: if it’s food that is eventually going to kill me, then damn it, I’m gonna have me some food I love before I go and I’m not going to let thing like state lines get in my way.

Other Chicago diversions will include the annual Memorial Day parade, Navy Pier, a trip about 20 miles south to the Horseshoe casino naturally, and the International Mr. Leather competition, which is always a hoot.  I will take lots of pictures.  Well, maybe not of the guys in leather.  Well, maybe not ones that I’ll share with you.

After I get back I will send an email to Dr. Wile E. Coyote Super Genius (aka my oncologist) and have him start the approval process with the insurance company to get another one of those $7,500 PET scans set up.  This will be the third time in a year that I have to go get radioactive.  I’m thinking it’s going to stick one of these times and I will have superpowers. (I’d like mine to be the ability to cure cancer, thank you very much)  It will probably be scheduled for the first week of June and I will have the results the following week.  So I have about a month left of shrugging acceptance, blind resignation, and/or insane denial.

But there will also be Chicago dogs and maid-rites, so all in all I think it’s a fair trade.

The Million Dollar Man

I keep waiting for cancer to make me a better person.

To be honest, I feel a little cheated – like I should get one of those “and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” t-shirts.  “I got cancer and feel as though it should have fundamentally changed who I am as a human being but all I got was…”

I’ve talked a good game.  After all, I have a lovely wall hanging borrowed from my good buddy Damocles above me and so I have woken up in the mornings and thought my positive thoughts and tried to not waste time on sweating the proverbial small stuff.  I have attempted to be more patient and less quick to anger and more tolerant of the needs of others and less judgmental about people in general.

But here’s the deal: there are some really annoying, stupid, fucking people in the world and they bug the shit out of me.

See?!  People who have cancer shouldn’t say things like that.  Okay, I may not actually have cancer but I have had cancer and still might have cancer and if I do it’ll be terminal cancer and so it all falls into the same big cancer bucket and that bucket is yellow and has stuff painted on the side of it like sunflowers and inspirational sayings like “Keep on shining!”  My bucket is black and dented and says “Bite me.”

Someone said I was brave the other day.  They were marveling at the idea that I could deal with all the cancer drama and still come in to work every day and stay relatively sane and even-keeled throughout it all.  I responded by saying that I really just didn’t have a choice in the matter.  I would LOVE to sit on the couch and watch TV all day and disengage from every last aspect of cancer, my life, my job, and the world I general but I have not figured out a way to turn that into a thing that provides me with a paycheck and health insurance.

Speaking of which, I recently became a million dollar man.  Yep, with the $81,000 hospital bill from this last surgery I have crossed the $1 million mark in terms of medical bills since all this started last June.  I am Steve Austin only instead of a bionic eye and super speed I have chronic nausea and a frequent sharp pain in my upper right abdomen.  I wonder if I can fight crime with either one of those things.

Now, granted, I don’t have to pay a million dollars – health insurance is good for something, I guess – but my out of pocket has been a wee bit on the expensive side.  How expensive you may ask?  Well, last weekend I went to Palm Springs to try to relax and I stopped at one of the Indian casinos on the way home (gambling relaxes me, shut up) and I won a fairly ridiculous amount of money on a slot machine and the first thought I had was, “Now I don’t have to put my hospital bill on my credit card!!”

This is what $13,500 looks like.

But back to the whole brave thing, which I am most definitely not.  The people in Boston who ran toward the places where bombs had just gone off were brave.  The people in Texas who were pouring water on the fertilizer plant fire to give a little more time for evacuations from nearby buildings even though they knew it was going to blow up were brave.  Me?  I’m too busy whining about not being able to eat a greasy hamburger anymore to be brave.

This is what I’m talking about.  I know cancer doesn’t change people.  But despite that knowledge I was expecting – still am expecting – that cancer is going to change me.  I think it should make me into a better, braver, more interesting human being – one that does volunteer work and rescues puppies and shares insights about the meaning of life with knowledge-seeking young people and never, ever, ever gets annoyed at all the stupid fucking things people do!

Instead it has done exactly what I predicted it would do.  Awhile back I wrote about how cancer merely amplifies a person’s inherent qualities; it makes them bigger and brighter and puts them in more stark relief.  So before cancer I was impatient when things didn’t happen as quickly as I wanted them to, petulant when I didn’t get my way, and quick to anger when people didn’t live up to my expectations.

So now, I’m just a barrel of laughs!

Maybe it will be different when I finally know for sure.  The tests said I have cancer but they are not infallible.  The surgery said I didn’t have cancer but it is not infallible.  The oncologist says wait until June and then run all the tests again because if there isn’t cancer then woohoo you’re probably cured and if there is cancer then boohoo you’re probably screwed.  Perhaps then, armed with the knowledge that I have either survived cancer or am dying of cancer, will I be able to finally be that better person I keep hoping I will become.

Or maybe I’ll just go print up those t-shirts.

King of Pain

On the evening of September 11, 2001 I decided I had gotten my fill of the horror show repeating in an endless loop on every channel on the TV and needed a drink, damn it.  I couldn’t bear the thought of West Hollywood – I rarely can – and many of my regular haunts weren’t open so I decided to go to this little hole-in-the-wall in Silver Lake called Cuffs.

Stolen from flickr. If you own this and want me to remove it you are way too overprotective of stupid shit like this but okay, I will.

When I say little hole-in-the-wall I mean that almost literally.  It was built into the side of a hill and was tiny – about the size of an overgrown two-car garage, which I think the building may have actually been at some point in its life.  Inside there was enough room for a bar that could only have stools on one side of it, a couple of pinball machines, a couple of video game machines, and two single stall bathrooms.  Legal occupancy couldn’t have been more than 50 people although they were known to often cram more people in there than that, especially during their notorious after-hours where lewd and lascivious behavior was routinely ignored (and perhaps even encouraged) by the staff.  Not that I ever took part in that kind of immoral and illegal activity, of course.  I would never!  Shocked!  I’m shocked!!

Anyway, that Tuesday night the place was the complete opposite of the after-hours debauchery with a handful of people all standing or sitting around lost in their own thoughts.  You could sort of see them replaying the day in their heads – every now and then someone would visibly wince or shake their head and then reach for their cocktail.

I got a beer and was playing pinball when “King of Pain” by The Police came on the soundtrack supplied by the CD player behind the bar.  It was a completely unnecessary dance remix version with the requisite pounding drum beat, over-synthesized embellishments, and looping lyrics.  As it built, the opening line repeated over and over…

“There’s a little black spot on the sun today…; There’s a little black spot on the sun today…; There’s a little black spot on the sun today…”

“Yes, there is,” I thought.

I had that song in my head when I woke up yesterday.  It was actually there when I went to bed the night before, but it was stuck inside that weird little cul de sac in my brain that holds on to song snippets and won’t let go.

At least this song made sense in terms of why it was there in the first place.  Sometimes they are so random and weird that I can’t imagine how they crawled inside my head.  I’ve often theorized that I have some sort of version of that myth where you can pick up a radio station with your dental work; mine is often tuned to a 70s rock station apparently because I can explain no other way that a song by Creedence Clearwater Revival would be running around in my brain.  One time the song was so random that I didn’t even know the song name or even the lyrics; I had to call Mary’s husband Steve and hum it to him over the phone until he could identify it.

So anyway, there’s that song in my head and the opening line, “There’s a little black spot on the sun today…” and there I am, watching the news from Boston and once again thinking, “Yes, there is.”

The reason I had that song in my head?  Because there’s pain.  Upper right quadrant of the abdomen near the liver, you know, where the suspect lymph node was located.  It’s not bad, but it’s there most of the time; worse when I push on it, which I guess I shouldn’t do, but I was because it was as if I could control the level of it.  In that moment I thought, “I am the King of Pain.”  Hence the cul de sac loop.

Could be nothing; just more post surgery stuff, I’m sure.

“There’s a little black spot on the sun today…”