Scaring the neighbors
I think I’m starting to scare the neighbors.
The problem with this radiation deal is that after more than three weeks of it now, it’s making the right side of my head really red and puffy. Most of the beams the docs are zapping me with are coming in from that direction. The area around my right eye is scorched red and almost completely numb. It swells up — some days worse than others. The other day I looked in the mirror first thing in the morning and that eye was staring back at me like it wasn’t even part of me. It looked more like it belonged to a rabid pit bull that had eaten its way into my body during the night and was angrily looking back out at me through my own eye socket.
I don’t at all mind walking around the house like this in front of friends. The other morning, my brother Brian and my buddy Dave caught me wandering around my (very private) backyard in my underwear, brushing my teeth and just taking in the fresh morning air. Enjoying another day of life and all that. (And if you remember back to my post about my session with a nutritionist, I’m under orders to get 15 minutes of sun each day with my shirt off to keep my Vitamin D levels high. So I try to combine that time with eating breakfast and teeth-brushing). But with my close-cropped hair, scraggly beard, pallid complexion and generally dazed look, Brian and Dave said I reminded them of one of those Vietnam P.O.W.s who’d been rescued years after the end of the war but who’d refused to come back to the U.S. because staying in ‘Nam to run drugs or something was just too sweet of a gig. Substitute the phrase “brain cancer patient” for “Vietnam P.O.W.”, and maybe that’s not too far from the truth about my attitude toward life these days.
Anyway, the complexities arising from this recent change in my appearance are most pronounced when it’s time to go out into the front yard, or anywhere else in public. My options for presenting myself boil down pretty much to two choices: I can be Bad Ass or I can be Crazy Ass. I’ve included mugshots of each look so you can judge for yourself, but I think we can all agree that both options are pretty scary for different reasons.
Bad Ass looks like the guy in those annoying Brinks Home Security commercials who, for reasons that have nothing to do with how crimes are actually committed in real life, lurks outside some attractive, middle-class mom’s home as she plays in the backyard with her young daughter. Instead of just bursting through the unsecured privacy fence and attacking right then, Bad Ass for some reason waits until they go back inside the house so he can break down the front door and set off the Brinks alarm. Then, while Bad Ass flees the scene, the stone-jawed, blue-eyed guy wearing a phone headset at Brinks Central Command can alert the police within seconds and assure Hot Mom that everything will be okay. Anyway, I’m thinking my Bad Ass outfit should just come with a head-mounted Brinks Home Security horn that will automatically be activated any time I look at anyone. As scary as Bad Ass looks, I usually go out as him when I go to the hospital or run errands — because despite feeling people bristle and turn away in fear when they see me, at least it’s not as bad as the reaction I get when I go out as…
…Crazy Ass. Now, Crazy Ass looks like the kind of guy who has prepared a massive class-action lawsuit against the EPA, the Federal B.I, the CIA, the DEA, the Homeland Security Administration and the Warren Commission and has all of his allegations written up real legal-like in block letters, red-felt-tip, all caps, on the back of an ABC Liquors cash-register receipt. Crazy Ass has plenty of time to tell you everything you want to know about his blockbuster lawsuit, if you don’t mind giving him a buck so he can go catch the Lynx bus to the federal courhouse to file it. And he promises not to go past ABC Liquors and spend any money there on the way to the bus stop. In a weird way, people generally are even more afraid of Crazy Ass than they are of Bad Ass. With guys like Bad Ass, you just avoid eye contact, cross your fingers and move on. Five minutes later, you’ve forgotten you even crossed paths with him. But with guys like Crazy Ass, there is nothing BUT eye contact. Full, inescapable eye contact that is burned into your memory for the rest of your life.
All I know is that it’s a helluva choice to have to make for me. I don’t think I’m really any more vain about my appearance than the next person is. But I am the kind of guy who generally likes to smile, wave and say hello to strangers on the street or at the store and maybe even start a conversation if they seem interesting. But I can’t do that either as Bad Ass or Crazy Ass. So I’m just going to have to put that part of my life on hold for now.
There’s one exception to that unpleasant reality: When I’m inside the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, there are no Bad Asses or Crazy Asses. There are just people who are dealing with the physical effects not only of cancer but of the various treatments to kill it. We all know the deal, and even though we all may look messed up in one way or another we’re not judging each other on appearances.
Lots of people there are scared. But no one is scared of each other.
(photo credit: Dave Noland)