Saturday, March 26, 2011

What We Can Not Know

We can say that we don’t know, speaking about whatever subject it is that we don’t know. But what exactly it is that we don’t know, we simply don’t know, and we cannot know it until we get to know something about it. That is why I say we don't know what we don't know. See below Knowing What One Does Not Know.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Men's Locker Room

I have never been inside a men’s locker room until last night, and it was an experience novel enough to deserve a notice. I was there before the game when guys were changing into their uniforms, during the halftime when they came in from the game -- scratched, bruised, sprained and even injured and bleeding, and after the game when they washed and dressed up to go home. There were 13 of them, with two reserves, rough, rowdy, and rambunctious as hell -- rugby players. I was almost in their midst and found their brawn and horseplaying close enough to be menacing. I was attending The Changing Room, a play by David Storey, performed in vivid realism by the actors under the direction of Terry Schreiber at T. Schreiber Studio, in a perfectly credible replication of a changing room. I don’t generally chose to see a play on the basis of subject interest; if I did, this would have been the first to be eliminated from my list of plays to see. Men in sports by and large put me off; men -- soldiers, cowboys, longshoremen, hard hats, and athletes -- bonding in group and acting rough make me anxious. But I liked another Storey, Home, a droll play about elderly residents of a mental institution socializing in a garden, so, I got a copy of The Changing Room, and read it, and found its first act predictably unappealing; and yet by the third act, despite the lack of narrative development, I was engrossed by the vivid portrayal of all the characters, all men, including, beside the 15 footballers, two trainers, the owner, his clerk, the referee, the masseur, and the cleaner (janitor), and I was eager to see it in performance. The actors were as individualized as the characters; they mastered the North England dialect and performed their roles totally credibly, that is to say, they played with sustained drama that was intimidating and yet riveting. Twenty men on the stage were overwhelming to say the least, especially at arms length from the vantage of my first row seat in the 70-seat venue; but the audience was also predominantly men with only a smattering of women, maybe eight or nine, mostly accompanying a man. There is no question that a good writing and fine performance more than sufficed to overcome my natural discomfort with men en masse.

Monday, March 14, 2011


It makes me sick to be sick.


On Monday, 7 March, I had my colonoscopy. It is considered essential that we all have colonoscopy when we reach 50 for assuring an early detection of colon cancer. At 50 I was in good health, still in the midst of my teaching career, and it required no effort to ignore the good counsel. It was not until I reached 65 that I started to wonder if it might not be a good idea to have it done, in part observing a few acquaintances succumbing to cancer. Finally, in April 2009, I asked my doctor for a referral for colonoscopy but two years had passed and I still had not made an appointment. Last Wednesday, however, I was taken to the ER for a massive gastrointestinal hemorrhage. I received blood transfusion and then endoscopy, and colonoscopy was scheduled for Monday. I was given a fluid diet from Sunday morning, and that evening I was instructed to drink up a gallon jar of the much abhorred and justly maligned PEG (polyethylene glycol) Electrolyte solution to cleanse the colon. Mine was called GoLytely, spuriously named after Holly Golightly of Truman Capote’s Beakfast at Tiffany’s. . . so I decided in honor of my favorite Audrey Hepburn. I started imbibing the liquid, which tasted like salted sardines, while my two good friends were visiting; this made the task somewhat bearable as the situation rather pleasantly simulated drinking with friends at a pub, well, had the cup been glass rather than paper. Before finishing the gallon, my BM was clarified, and I quit. It was good that I had the preparation done in the hospital rather than at home. Next morning, I was transported to the Endoscopy Department for colonoscopy, which I quipeed “bottom endoscopy.” Thoroughly anesthetized, I was totally in the dark through the procedure. The report came promptly as I woke from the stupor -- all clear. I was certainly glad that, trapped in the hospital as I was with no escape, I got the colonoscopy out of the way after procrastinating it for 28 years. I was so euphoric that I was saying how euphorious I was.

Five days in Limbo

At the Met Opera, Wednesday evening last week, I felt light-headed and inordinately fatigued, as I watched Gluck’s IphigĂ©nie en Tauride, unable to concentrate properly as I usually do and wished I did, despite the impassioned singing of Susan Graham in the title role and of now 70-year old baritone Placido Domingo as Oreste. I was faint through the evening but stayed on till the finale. I got on the crosstown bus to 1st Ave and started walking 9 blocks toward home as I usually do but felt so weak that I had to sit down on the next bus stop bench and waited for the bus to hop on. As soon as I got home I ran into the bathroom and I had a most vile looking tarry black stool. Between 11:00 pm and 1:00 am, I had six bouts of similar stool, later ones with raspberry colored liquid, and then two black vomits between them. Over the night, I had three more similar stools, and when I got up in the morning still another. I felt no pain all through these episodes. I had a bowl of well-cooked oatmeal for breakfast, which I was able to hold. I felt weak, and, having done some reading on the matter on line, made an appointment with my doctor at 3:30. The doctor’s office is a short bus ride, but atypically I got a cab. Hearing my story, the doctor was alarmed and delivered me directly to the ER at the Lenox Hill Hospital. So started my five days in Limbo. The gastroenterologist my doctor referred me to came to see me, and I was taken to a hospital room and was rigged up with IV tubes and Foley catheter for draining the urine; and the following morning I was given blood transfusion by which time I learned that I was suffering from anemia caused by the massive gastrointestinal bleeding. I have rarely been in a hospital in my lifetime, the last one in 1985, when as a result of an automobile accident the steering wheel broke and pierced my duodenum-jejunum, and I was hauled to a hospital for surgery, where I stayed ten days in the ICU. Otherwise, I have been very healthy. But at Lenox Hill, for three days and three nights, doctors and nurses came and went, and I had my blood drawn for tests nearly every three hours interspersed with the check-up of vital signs. I had no internal pain at all and no treatment, except for the blood transfusion; all the pain came from the tests -- much ado for almost nothing, as I put it. Eventually, I was relieved of the tubes; I had endoscopy earlier and then on Monday, colonoscopy, which proved negative, and I was discharged on Monday afternoon with my right arm black and blue from multiple venipuncture needles. Diagnosis for the cause of bleeding was not known, or, if known, never given. Five days, it seemed, vanished poof from my life. The opera on Wednesday should have been another Gluck, Orfeo ed Euridice.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Ex cathedra

As the Chair of the Art Department, Swarthmore College, 1975-1981, with my "guardian angel," an oil sketch by William Morris Hunt (brother of the architect Richard Morris Hunt of The Breakers in Newport, RI, for Cornelius Vanderbilt), dated ca. 1878, a study for the figure of Fortune in the now-obscured mural in the NY State House in Albany -- From the College Art Collection.