The Absurd Epistolary Adventures of the Astonishing FartMan chronicles the amusing escapades
of the lovable, stinky, and obnoxious Cape & Tights Super Hero, and his maudlin Alter Ego, W____,
as they learn to cope with Stage IV colon cancer, each other, and their annoying fellow human beings.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Hook in the Water

From: The Astonishing FartMan
Sent: Thursday, October 28, 2010 1:19 PM
Cc: R_____ ; S_____ ; Ba______ ; Be______ ; B______ ; Li______
Subject: your paintings

Dear S______,

I hope you don’t mind that I’ve cc’d some others on this reply so that they can follow the link to the images of your artwork, which I finally got a chance to take a good look at.

The pieces shown there are all quite different from each other, but somehow it's obvious that the same single artistic sensibility produced them all. They are each lovely—coherent, unified, composed, beautifully and harmoniously colored, and expressive yet restrained.

Speaking of art, last evening we went to X_____ Gallery for a talk by P____ M_____. He is the fellow who curated the L____ show in which S_____ had a piece of her work. Interestingly, or rather I should say the opposite,  uninterestingly, M_____’s short talk was enitirely a rambling commercial about his “art organizing” efforts (getting grants, putting together cooperative exhibitions between various galleries in different places, etc.), and he said not a sinlge word, not one word, about art itself, his curatorial aesthetic, or any such thing.

Heaven save us from P_____ M_____ and all the other “community organizers”! But they will undoubtedly survive and prosper long after everyone has forgotten what they are supposed to be organizing, long after there’s nothing left worth organizing! I am sometimes amazed by how seldom “art people,” like M_______ actually talk about (or even look at) the ostensible subject of their occupation. It is as if art is in service of their occupation, rather than the other way around.

Oh well. The evening was enjoyable anyway as we did meet the man (W_____ G______) who owns X________ Gallery, and the woman (S______ K______) who owns the physical building there that houses X_________ Gallery and several other art facilities, including R_____ Gallery. S_____ K____ also has her own studio there. We talked with her and G_____ a little about their work, which in both cases was interesting to me for reasons you might surmise if you cared to investigate what kind of art they do. (It's all about death!) And we saw the work currently on view at X_________ Gallery by B____ H_____ and by H____ B_____ (both of which were not at all my cup of tea and actually were offensive to me on several levels), and the work by E_____ M_____ currently on view next door at R____ Gallery (which I liked much better).

Changing the subject abruptly: Our daugher, J______ arrives tomorrow evening for another visit, not really so much to visit us, but more to see this fellow, T____, an old high school friend of hers with whom it seems on her last visit she reconnected and cultivated a budding romance. Really, I don’t mind at all that she’s coming to see her friend more than to see us. S____ and I have a fond hope, faint and unreaslistic perhaps, that she might have such a pleasant time with her old friends when she’s here visiting that she would decide to move back to Houston!

So I won’t mind much if J____ and this fellow fall in love—assuming of course he’s a good man—and consequently she moves back here. On the other hand, if they did fall in love, it seems just as likely that he would move to the city where J___ lives because, although T____ has a high-fallutin' job as the Culture Editor for X______ magazine, of the two romancers, our daughter has the more stable, promising, and remunerative career right now.

J___ also has cast a hook in the water for an old Yale classmate, a doctor who’s a reconstructive cosmetic surgeon here at Med Center, so maybe I should be rooting more for the doctor than for the Culture Editor, (notwithstanding that I think our culture these days needs editing even more than our bodies need reconstructing), because if they really did hit it off, it's more likely that J___ would move here than he would move there.

J_____ would kill me if she knew I was gossiping so crudely about her; we must be sure to keep the gossip within the circle of us old farts.

I apologize for writing such a long and crotchety email. It’s what I’m doing to excuse myself from working while sitting here in a Starbucks in the Village where S____ cruelly abandoned me this morning right after my first visit with my prospective new super-duper liver-scooper surgeon, Dr. J_______. I await S_____’s return from a meeting down the street at the musuem.

Speaking of livers (weren’t we?), Dr. J_____ said that, in addition to the spots on the right lobe of my liver, of which I was previously painfully aware, he’s pretty sure he sees a spot or two on the left lobe of my liver, which is news  to me, not good news, and changes my prognosis significantly and maybe my treatment plan, too.

Of course, my question is, if Dr. J_____, who is a surgeon and not a radiologist, could see what he was pretty sure was a spot on the left lobe after looking at the images for only about thirty seconds, why the heck wasn’t that spot noticed by the radiologists who have been looking at exactly the same THREE image studies (CT, PET, and MRI) for the last two months? I wish these doctors would all get on the same page, and get their story straight, so I could climb down off this roller coaster and not be compelled so often to mix the heck out of my metaphors.

Okay, with that bit of additional whining out of the way, I absolve you, just this one time, from the usual obligation to respond compasionately to this most recent of my persistent complaints.

Hope you and me and S____ can get together soon; meanwhile I remain . . .

Your friend,
The Astonishing FartMan

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Nth Metaphorical Red Hot Poker

From: W____
Sent: Saturday, September 25, 2010 2:49 PM
To: R_______
Cc: Family; Friends
Subject: Chemo Round 1

Hey D_____,

Made it through the first cycle of chemo.

Now that it's over, I guess it wasn't all that bad--compared to some other, more primitive, forms of torture.

Monday thru Wednesday, when I was actually getting "infused," was easy.

But then Thursday, after crashing off the dexamethasone, I spent the whole day on the sofa impersonating a softly moaning, smelly, steaming pile of moist and lukewarm dogturd. No intense pain, just totally fatigued, bone sore, headachy, with wave after wave of nausea, with every stimulus unpleasant: sound, light, smell, touch, heat, cold, everything--everything unpleasant. And because every stimulus is unpleasant, there's no good way to distract oneself from the soreness and the nausea. Boooorriiiing!

Nausea combined with complete boredom made Thursday seem interminable.
Hypothesis 1: If the patient stays sick long enough, sooner or later boredom--both for the patient and for all else involved--becomes one of the essential elements of serious illness.
Friday was better, and today I hardly feel any effects of the devil juice.

The bad thing now is knowing that I have to repeat this process every two weeks for several months. And they say my chemo regimen is one of the easy ones! Heaven help those who have to go through worse.

Speaking of the contemplation of worse suffering, I'm definitely learning a few important life lessons, such as:

Lesson 1: When someone is in the middle of suffering badly, it does not necessarily make him feel better to tell him how much worse off he could be.
Okay, I confess that Lesson 1 is something that I myself needed to learn, since I have had the habit of telling people to count their blessings, to quit whining, and always to thank their lucky stars.

But now I've learned, through recent firsthand personal experience, that when I have, metaphorically speaking, a red hot poker stuck in one eye, I would appreciate it please if no one would tell me how extra-ordinarily, fan-tastically, glo-riously fortunate I am not to have a red hot poker stuck in my my other eye.

That reminder, even if true, does not make me feel better.

The thought of a second red hot poker does not make the first poker stop hurting. Instead, the contemplation of the possibility of additional red hot pokers scares the bat crap out of me, tends to dissolve my spirits, and makes me seem to feel physically worse.

So please do not ask me to be thankful about the absence of the second, third, fourth, and nth red hot pokers.

Eventually, I will probably come around to being properly grateful for the absence of all those additional metaphorical red hot pokers some people like to keep telling me about. Indeed, given the fact that things probably will get worse for me before too long, I am thankful that things aren't already worse. I do know "things could always be worse." But please, do you have to remind me!?!?

Whiz. Moan. Whine.
Whiz. Moan. Whine.
Whiz. Moan. Whine.
There! I got that out of my system, and boy do I feel better!

So, folks might fairly wonder, what words help and encourage? Words like: "I'm here for you." "Hang on, we're pulling for you." Or simply, "I'm sorry you are suffering." That helps!

It is also encouraging to be reminded, not of the lurking hypothetical evils one has thus far managed to avoid, but of the real positively good things for which one is truly fortunate: "You are lucky to have such good friends." "You are blessed to have such a good wife." That helps!

Forgive me for being such an unsportsmanlike crybaby about all this. You, D____, are one of the blessed ones who naturally always says the right thing! And, contrary to the impression all my whining might have created, I am deeply grateful that so many people are worrying about me and praying for me. So I mention the above partly to have the human relief of pouring unthinking tears onto a welcoming shoulder and partly to offer from firsthand experience a piece of possibly useful information that you can pass on to those you know who might be in the position of wanting to give moral support to someone going through a rough time.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Thumos? What the Heck Is He Yapping About?

Dear Blog Readers,

Here's a goofy email my alter ego, T. A. FartMan, just sent to some obscure political pundit.

(Yes, I know The FartMan doesn't like me to refer to him as my alter ego, even though he calls me his alter ego. Well, I say it cuts both ways.)

Anyway, the boy clearly has too much time on his hands, and I don't quite understand why he's so big on "attachments," since all he ever does is complain about being attached to our chemo pump.

What a crybaby!

And if he doesn't stop with this snooty political philosophy crap, which really has nothing to do either with cancer or with farting, I swear I'm gonna start looking to hook up with a new Super Hero.

As a big favor to me, please leave lots of comments telling T. A. that if he wants me to stay on the job as his alter ego, he should never post anything like this ever again.

Thanks for your help.


From: T. A. FartMan
Sent: Tuesday, September 14, 2010 9:23 PM
To: Peter Robinson
Subject: Mansfield and the Loss Our Own Thumos

Mr. Robinson,

Questions/thoughts for Mr. Mansfield:

At the end of Segment 2 of your recorded talk with him, Mr. Mansfield suggests that his undergrads, who have been taught, wrongly by others, to doubt that the United States deserves its prominent powerful place in the world, might help themselves by learning something about how that power and prominence came about, an especially relevant question since as Mansfield says, "it's their own country involved."

The difficulty is with that word "own," which has lost most of its power.

Ideas like ownership, one's own, one's own property, one's own family, one's own wife, one's own country, i.e., the everyday common sense ideas and inclinations arising from the fundamental human glue, thumos--which, so I think, holds families and societies together--have been proclaimed crass, mean, gauche, and unenlightened, not only in a theoretical philosophical sense, but as a practical matter.
Nowadays, it is considered wrong ever to say, "That's mine." It's no longer wisdom to think or to practice "To each his own." Instead, we are supposed to be willing to share everything indiscriminately with everyone--money, honors, sex--because no one can possess for anything an "ownership" claim more justified than anyone else's. Property ownership is said to be a result of unfair power disparities. Family attachments are said to be outmoded conventions. With the de-humanization of thumos, and therewith the emasculation of manly integrity, the loss of a capacity for truly righteous anger, and the suppression of the noble instinct to rise hot in defense of one's own, we are losing the psychological capacity for enduring attachment--whether to family or country, whether to people or principle. Students learn from their modern teachers that there's nothing worthy of caring much about, and certainly nothing worth fighting for.

Worse, we've descended so far into a darker deeper cave that we modern westerners are losing even our attachment to the very idea of attachment itself. Formerly, so I thought, human nature sought human attachments, and the business of choosing one's attachments was perhaps the most important practical human activity. But now among our most well-educated youth, human nature is so corrupted that it seems a common view that to feel a deep lasting attachment to anything is to suffer from an uneducated lack of a proper cynicism.

The fact is, attachment, the set of expectations and demands regarding a thing one considers one's own, is selfish, and thus our human attachments all inevitably involve some portion of disappointment: Being ignorant youngsters, misguided by their previous teachers, your students almost universally had attached themselves to the new left, which seemed to them to be seductively idealistic. But then, if they were unfortunate enough ever to be paying attention in their classes, the new left quickly taught them that there is no truth, that there is only power, with the result that they could no longer be attached to anything as true, neither to a person nor to a principle. So they are giving up on all attachments, and float unconnected from here to there to the next person or place, to wherever a fleeting pleasure might carry them.

How do you dig your students out of that cave?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Being Nice Can Be Soooooo Tiring

From: The Astonishing FartMan
Sent: Wednesday, September 08, 2010 6:14 PM
To: SZ
Subject: Re: W____'s Trip to the Oncologist
Hey SZ,

Yes, being nice to everybody can be sooooooooo tiring for me!

Not exactly sure where they'll do the chemo--probably either at B____ Clinic or M________ Hosp. My oncologist works out of the Clinic (he's on the faculty of the College of Medicine), and also practices at M_______, so the chemo might be done at either place.

The chemo is done on an outpatient basis. The way it works is, once every two weeks for 3 months, I'll go to the clinic for a few hours, and they'll dose me with a chemo cocktail while I sit in a LAY-Z-BOY recliner. Then they'll hook me to a portable infusion pump, which I get to take home and carry around with me for 46 hours while it hits me up with more devil juice. Two days later, I go back to the clinic, and they unhook the pump machine.

If all goes according to plan, after we finish the 3 month course of chemo, then they're going to cut some pieces out of my liver, and then we'll do another 3 months worth of fortnightly chemo.

Sounds like fun, huh?!?!

The Astonishing FartMan

Back to Being Our Usual Argumentative, Obnoxious Selves

From: The Astonishing FartMan and His Alter Ego W______
Sent: Wednesday, September 08, 2010 12:27 PM
To: Undisclosed Recipients
Subject: First Trip to the Oncologist

Hey folks,

We saw the oncologist today, and all things considered, we got good news.

Yes, darn it, as previously reported, we do have Stage IV colon cancer which has found its way to our liver . . . however, the oncologist kept emphasizing that, although our cancer is "Stage IV by definition," our overall picture is much better than the typical Stage IV. It is very treatable, and his "realistic treatment goal" is "long term disease-free survival."

Hey, we kinda like the sound of that.

So here's the plan, which is subject to change depending how things develop:

On Sept. 20th, we will start with two or three months of once-every-two-weeks chemo. Fortunately, the spot on our liver is in a "good" place that is amenable to surgery. So after the first course of chemo is over, the tentative plan is then to cut out a nice chunk of W____'s liver in the area where the cancer had taken up residence. Then after the liver surgery, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, we'll have another three-month course of chemo.

We have a lot of confidence in the team of docs looking after us. The oncologist especially we like, not only because he clearly knows his stuff and is up-to-date on the latest research, but also because he is perfect to serve as our "big picture guy" to coordinate all the other various pieces of our care and treatment. He said that W____ should always call him sooner rather than later, right away, about anything that is bothering us.

So, thanks again for all your prayers and well wishes. (Keep 'em coming!) It looks like we're going to get to hang around for a good while, which means that--instead of FartMan having to be extra-nice to everybody so you'd all have fond memories--he can go back to being his usual argumentative, obnoxious self.

T. A. FartMan and W______

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Just Because I'm Crying

From: W____
Sent: Sunday, September 05, 2010 11:19 AM
Subject: Happy Birthday to Me!

Hey J_______,

I just now opened my present from you and your mom. A New Kindle! How COOL!!!! I feel so cutting edge! And it will be great to be able have all the classics at my fingertips!

Your card touched me deeply. You understand things so well. I feel like you know what we're going through, and that lets me know we aren't going through it alone. Of course, your message brought some tears to my eyes, but--as I tell your mom--just because I'm crying that doesn't mean I'm sad.


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Come What May

From: W____
Sent: Thursday, September 02, 2010 8:35 PM
To: P__
Subject: Re: Ladder


No rush on returning the ladder. I probably won't be climbing on it for a while.

We meet with the oncologist on the 8th, and that's when we'll get a more complete idea of what's the plan. There's been talk about chemo, which sounds like no fun, but is better than throwing in the towel. It's probably gonna be tough because the dern cancer has got into my liver and maybe some other places, too.

Come what may, we're determined to make the best of it and to remain grateful for life's blessings, of which I've had more than my share, but would not object to receiving a few more!

We will definitely let you know if there's anything you can do to help us out.



Saturday, August 21, 2010

Mostly Worried About My Dear Sweet Wife

From: W____
Sent: Saturday, August 21, 2010 5:17 PM
To: St_____
Subject: Update

Hey St_____,


Monday afternoon they did surgery taking out a chunk of my colon, removing along with it the two cancer masses residing therein, and stitching the two ends back together.

Pathology reports, CT Scan, and PET Scan confirmed colon cancer, with four lymph nodes involved, and one or two small spots on the liver. Supposedly the cancer cells are not exotic, and are slow-growing, which is a piece of good news.

By Wednesday afternoon, they had sent me home, and since then I've been been recouping pretty well. Right after surgery the pain from the cutting was through the roof, but now I can get by with an occasional Tylenol or, more rarely, a Tylenol/codeine.

I have an appointment at the end of the month with the surgeon for a follow-up, and then an appointment with an oncologist first week of September. That's when we'll get the complete picture about how bad my situation is and what can reasonably be done to improve things.

I feel amazingly good. Perhaps it's endorphins, or adrenalin, or, as Young Churchill wrote, the exhilarating sensation of having been "shot at without [much immediate] effect." Maybe I had become gradually sicker over such a long period of time (five years or longer) that I had forgotten what it feels like not to feel like crap all the time. It seems that getting those nasty tumors out of me has provided a great relief to my body. The basic level of vitality--my spark--seems better than it has been in years. If it weren't for the twinges from the surgery, I would feel like going out dancing!

S_____ and I might have a tough road ahead of us, so you must forgive me in advance if I burden you with more than I'm an justly entitled to ask. It's just that you are such an honest and reliable fellow, that I know if I push something off onto you, it will be done as well as can be done. I promise not to be impossibly frivolous in my requests.

So, the bottom line is: I am doing okay. A little scared about the Great Unknowns, but not terrified. Still grateful for all life's blessings, of which I've had more than my share, but would not object to receiving even more. Determined to make the best of things. Mostly worried about my dear sweet wife.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Out of the Blue

From: W____
Sent: Sunday, August 15, 2010 11:51 AM
To: St____ M___
Subject: Out of the Blue

Hey St____,

You always say, and I think it's true, that even though we go a long time without hearing from each other, we always pick up as friends with you and B____ right where we left off. Well, this time I have some not-so-great news and a favor to ask.

Wednesday I experienced a gastro-intestinal event that led to an ambulance ride to M________ Hospital. After a couple of days of poking, prodding, and pictures, the docs informed me that I have colon cancer, with a couple of lesions on my colon and a couple of spots where it has migrated to my liver. (I'm now a leading candidate to be the 2010 Poster Boy to remind everyone to get that colonoscopy they've been putting off.) The docs have let me out of the hospital for the weekend, but tomorrow (Monday) they've got me scheduled for a PET Scan to see more definitively what is going on and then the plan is to do surgery tomorrow afternoon to take out a big chunk of my colon. After that, we'll have to see what's possible and do the best we can.

The favor: You are one of the two or three people in this world I would trust with both my soul and all my worldly goods, and for that reason I've told S____ that you are a person she should turn to in case she ever has a problem that you might help her figure out.

As much as possible, S_____ and I are trying to have a "normal" weekend together to calm and strenghten our spirits for what's ahead, but things are a whirlwind for us right now as we try to get ourselves organized to manage things over the next weeks and months, so we might not be able to talk with you in person for a few days. Still, I wanted to let you in on what's going on, and if I get a break from the doctors tomorrow, I'll try to give you a call.



Thursday, August 12, 2010

An Ambulance Came to My House

From: W____
Sent: Thursday, August 12, 2010 8:04 AM
To: Undisclosed Recipients
Subject: W____ Is Out of Action for a While

Fellows and Fellas,

Yesterday an ambulance came to my house, bringing entertainment to my neighbors and me to the M_________ Hospital ER. I had experienced a gastrointestinal event, about which you will be spared the disgusting details, but which involved much blood and some passing out. I'm better now, on whomperjaw anti-biotics and anti-fungals, but it seems they want to keep me here for a while, so I'll miss G____'s talk today. I'm guessing I'll be out of action for at least a few days.