We’re not celebrating Thanksgiving until the weekend; the children were in school, our friends are working, Stella and Al are taking turns going down to London.
Tonight I cooked a big pot of soup and wondered what the people back home are doing. I stopped attending extended family holidays after my grandmother died in 1994. Since it wasn’t fair to spend the time with in-laws if I wasn’t going to see my own mother, the boycott became comprehensive.
When I moved away I didn’t know if I would regret all those dinners I refused to attend. I took my children not to a new world, but the old one, and somehow this makes sense right now. This is a beautiful small city. I have my kids my work, my bicycle, my boat.
Thanksgiving has always been about friends. It is amazing that some of them flew all the way across the world to be with us.
Stella always asks what we’re thankful for, and it is a good question.
What is the most important thing? I am profoundly thankful to live in a place where everyone is entitled to health care.
Right after they arrived Al was reading the local newspaper and stumbled on a blazing controversy:
Santa has defended the choice of a punk band to switch on the Christmas lights in Cambridge.
Father Christmas, who will join the band’s Captain Sensible and Dave Vanian on the balcony of The Guildhall for Sunday’s switch-on, emailed the News to say he was looking forward to the event.
“I have no problems at all in sharing the balcony with The Damned,” Santa said.
Unfortunately we missed the penultimate moment, though we did see the Ice Queen parading through town on stilts as we walked by on our way to Grantchester.
Before the trip Stella went over to Kill Rock Stars and asked Toby to suggest some cd’s to bring as gifts. She showed up with Shoplifting and Milk Man Deerhof, which we have not yet opened, and the phenomenally brilliant Stereo Total which is now on constant repeat.
We didn’t realize how much we miss the constant stream of new music that is the Pacific Northwest.
Tours are about endless train rides through beautiful landscape you never get to stop and visit, long hours idling at the edges of interesting cities you do not have time to explore. Someone is always sick, or sad, or agitated. You run out of clothes, or you packed too much, and you miss your home and miss your friends even when they are right in front of you. Because your attention is distracted by the job at hand, which is getting to the next event on time.
I’ve been in the opposite position many times and fully understand that luck and life intervene more often than people can predict. But I still wish I had more time to spend with my friends, aside from a few stolen moments in a crowd.
This trip featured countless fragmentary conversations with old beloved friends and new exciting strangers, hectic drives and train rides between events, epic efforts to acquire the goods and services I can’t find in the UK, and more fun that any person should be allowed to have.
At some point dashing up and down the east coast, I met Johnny to talk about the next tour (and hand over the cover art from Gabriel). He brought Lauren, the writer he is suggesting I go on the road with. We ate vegetarian dim sum and had an incredibly uplifting conversation about the nature of our work and the state of the publishing industry.
At one point I said that I was born a bureaucrat and Johnny said that he self-identifies as one too. I am always so pleased to meet practical people.
Just before the KGB reading Felicia from Small Spiral Notebook handed me some packages; she said that a fellow named Bryan had dropped them off earlier. I peered at the bundles – they were labeled in Gabriel’s handwriting and I closed my eyes.
It could not possibly be true that Gabriel had an artist friend hand-carry packages from Portland to New York City, to be dropped off in a bar in a vague hope they would find me, right?
Beyond that, he absolutely would not send all the original art for the book via that route, right?
Hmm. Well, wrong. Gabriel is such an interesting young man.
After the reading someone tapped me on the shoulder. When I turned to look the man said Do you recognize me?
It was a breathtaking shock, but yes, of course always, anywhere: I would have known him in a second.
It was Byron Number One, misplaced since the 1980’s – what an amazing surprise and welcome reunion!
During a tour layover Pam and Jeroen took us to Brighton Beach, where we visited a Russian grocery store and a Japanese dollar store. I hustled through grabbing as many pencils, chopsticks, and character bags as could reasonably be stuffed in my suitcase.
We ate pastries stuffed with cherries and cabbage and walked down to Coney Island, which although closed for the season was still thrilling. I forgot to take my camera or would offer a picture of me in front of the Shoot a Live Freak game.
On the way home we stopped to browse in a series of flea market stalls, and I found a genius holiday gift for my small boy: sword fighting puppets (shh, don’t tell him). One of my companions bargained with a Russian guy to get $15 off the asking price; I am capable of haggling for steep discounts on cars and houses but lose the skill entirely when it comes to antique toys.
I’m on tour to support Mamaphonic for the next few weeks. Baltimore, DC, CT, NY, multiple events in each location.
Look for updated dates and venues on the Soft Skull site.
This morning I had an appointment in yet another special section of the Medical Oncology Clinic. There is zero chance that the variety of cancer that went marauding through my neck will recur so this particular annual check-up is never worrisome.
In fact, I generally avoid it whenever possible. But the drugs that replace my lost organ are not yet widely used in this country, and I had to go to the specialist to receive authorization.
Except it was more like a tribunal, or a court-martial. The appointment was conducted at a round table in a conference room, with five doctors staring silently as I reeled off all the facts one more time.
I am really bored with this whole narrative. Now that my new scar has settled into a dull red glow I can smack some makeup over it and proceed with life.
We can all go back to pretending that I am healthy.
Now I need to pack, and I am not at all prepared for this trip. My wool coat lost a few buttons and this town is so small I was not able to find adequate replacements; it was easier to go buy a new coat. But the only reasonably warm option that I could find is quite frumpy and rather huge, which is at least somewhat amusing.
I feel like that kid who falls in the snowbank in A Christmas Story. Now I need to find a shirt or two and throw them in a suitcase. Or something.
I was halfway convinced that the whole surgery was a mistake, that I was a fool to let them cut me. But today I received a letter from the doctor verifying that the lesion was in fact cancerous.
In Seattle I had the best private health insurance available, and access to the finest medical centers and physicians. In Portland I went to a perfectly adequate HMO.
The thing on my face was large enough that it must have been there for at least four years, if not longer, and no doctor of any specialty noticed it.
I haven’t had a tumor that large since I was first diagnosed in 1983, and there is absolutely no acceptable reason that it was allowed to grow. I trusted my doctors to exercise their professional skills and look after me, but it took a move to a nationalized health care system for anyone to notice that I needed surgery.
The system here has many faults, including appalling wait lists and incomprehensible scheduling systems. But the actual care I have received has been of a much higher standard than what I encountered back home.