Cancer, Facebook, and Harley Quinn’s Ass

Dear Facebook Love Your Spouse Challenge,

It’s not you; it’s me. Typically happy to over-share and post flattering photos of my beloved and me holding cocktails on decks and beaches, I’m not going to do this competitively. Like many, I am exhausted of arguments that we can’t do anything if it alienates, triggers, ignores, belittles, or otherwise doesn’t include everyone on the planet. But your recent “challenge” made me mindful of how my newly widowed, freshly divorced, or not perennially-euphoric-about-her-spouse friend might dry heave at seven separate updates of Bernie and me being, well, Bernie and Me. Also, if you’ve ever read EMB (now B&B), the early years are more a tribute to my husband than Suicide Squad is a 2-hour homage to Margot Robbie’s ass.

I realize I just compared Bernie to a perfect posterior. And though he’ll appreciate that, it’s probably not what your Challenges intend us to do. Seven days of Prove You Love Your Spouse means posting pictures holding Solo cups in dorm rooms, cutting the wedding cake, blissfully unflattering moments with the first baby, and then finally the whole family at the beach/on the boat/in front of the Eiffel Tower. I don’t have any of these (where I look fantastic). So forgive me if I don’t play.

Truth be told, I avoid anything that smacks of audience participation. I ignored the Ice Bucket Challenge. I have zero interest in riding a bike from P-town to kingdom come– even in the name of Cancer. I won’t come up on stage or whoo hoo. I will raise one limp arm for The Wave. When asked to high five my neighbor in spin class, I’ll give an enthusiastic slap… but secretly I’m irritated to be pulled into her endorphin moment and peer pressured to touch her gross, sweaty hand.

It’s not you. It’s me. I’m outwardly sunny, inwardly a little bit awful. Recently, a beautiful friend who I honestly enjoy introduced me as “the nicest mean person I know.” And I started wondering when that happened. Thing is, Facebook, Cancer made me kind of a jerk. Touched with scary disease at a young-ish age, I was launched prematurely into that personality given to older, barely-tolerating-you characters (Dowager Countess, Emily Gilmore, most of the cast of Steel Magnolias). Breast cancer knows no “remission” and so there is a might-be-dead-next-year slogan stamped in the darkest parts of my psyche no matter how favorable my five-year statistics. So I do not pretend to like or join in or ride or run or care if I don’t.

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A sweet neighbor keeps offering up inventive ideas for Family Fun. My consistent answer: “That sounds tiring.” Others might promise to visit that lighthouse, take that cooking class, or brave that water park teeming with Pseudomonas, even if they never would. But like the Dowager, I won’t feign enthusiasm for their exhausting activities for entertainment and betterment. The Olympics are on! And someone needs to hold down this couch.

And so, Facebook, when you playfully challenge me to Prove My Love for My Husband, my answer is, “Nope.” I wonder if other Cancer victims have adopted this gave-at-the-office sort of approach to peer pressured pursuits, no matter how silly or innocuous or feel-good they might be. And I honestly adore seeing Kodak moments of the people I love as they post seven days of lovey doviness. But my inner Cancer bitch (is this a thing?) prefers me on the sidelines, even if a teeny part of me knows that if I enter any Love Your Spouse Challenge… I. WILL. WIN. Because it’s Bernie, a husband lovelier than Margot Robbie’s butt.

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They’re probably asking her if she does SoulCycle…

 

 

Sing, instead

On Wednesday, one of my loveliest friends invited my boys and me for an evening of… song. Not music. Not a concert. But song. We had only a few details, but even my smallish boys didn’t balk at the idea. Maybe smallish boys also wanted to escape the ALL CAPS political discourse of angry adults? Hmmm. But the Lees were immediately down for this.

The venue was a Quaker meetinghouse. The group: strangers. The leader was a television actress my kids knew well, having recently Netflix binge-watched ten seasons of her oh-my-Gods. Her workshop is based on the truth that everyone can sing. Her workshop is magic because she can direct a room full of strangers to sing in four part harmony within minutes. Want to feel good about your fellow citizens? Hold hands and a melody with them.

We floated out of that room in an entirely different mood. Immediately I knew I needed the Olympics to begin already. I want triumph stories and personal bests and schlocky theme music that’ll make you want to buy a new pair of sneaks, or get back in the pool. I want to see strong bodies from all corners of the planet inspiring and challenging each other to do impossible things. Side by side. Together. High-five-ing. I need a good lump-in-your-throat National Anthem singing moment. I want our shouts of U-S-A to feel like a unifying chant of victory rather than a fear-mongering dirge of exclusion.

We are all suffering from Don-illary/Trump-ton fatigue. My (mostly lefty liberal) social media threads are like protests from petulant children making 11th hour arguments for a later bedtime. But why? But why? Are all of these articles—there’s, like, one every hour– kind, necessary, and true (dear friend Lisa’s criteria for gossip-spreading or reposting)? Who knows? What I do know is that we already have plenty of reasons to find Trump repellent. And everyone already knows that oodles of people who wouldn’t break bread with him, trust him in a business deal, or believe his handicap at Mar-a-Lago are voting for him anyway. And the but why? but why? protestations land on the same ears as the SAHM holding her ground and her Chardonnay.

Friday, August 5th, friends. Opening ceremonies. No Hillary. No Trump. Nothing but strong bodies from all corners of the planet. And us: staring in the same direction shouting U-S-A in spite of a media maelstrom that bombards us with angry opinions insisting we couldn’t possibly agree about anything. When, duh, we can. Even people voting for Trump agree that he might be the most odiously orange pseudo-politician in our shared history.

Olympics, people! And until then, let’s swap out the umpteenth post about why your candidate is just the worst for unlikely animal friend videos and people bumping into stuff playing Pokémon Go. We keep promising ourselves (and we promised Nancy) that we’d do better than this. We demand that our politicians engage in bipartisan discourse, we applaud leaders who encourage us to listen to each other, and then we go back to our little screens and shout into the echo chamber.

Let’s sing with each other, instead.

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(Relieved Teddy didn’t ask her why she cheated on Chandler.) 

Vampire Cycling

Last night’s insomnia was sponsored by Moth in the Bedroom, Cousins Who Could Not Catch Moth in the Bedroom, and Necessary Confirmation of Death for Moth in the Bedroom. Coffee will be my best friend today as I help Zealot Sister’s kids shove ten days of accumulated summertime ephemera into too-small suitcases and drive from the Cape to Logan airport. Today is my last day making sure four kids have three squares. Today is my last chance to create memories that will outlast the stretches of time these cousins don’t see each other. Today is my third day of spinning.

I’m at it again: the loathsome exercise I burn more calories complaining about than doing. This is my first experience at one of these boutique cycling torture classes and so far I’ve learned that the price of spinning is directly proportional to the volume of the dance track. It’s also darker than a nightclub. A physically perfect, fast-pedaling lunatic guides us up and down simulated hills, encouraging us to risk certain facial trauma to include arm exercises. I fake my turns on the resistance knob.

“Woo fucking hoo, you crazy batch of minivan moms. You just cycled absolutely no where in Dracula’s exercise studio,” I scream-think as I dismount early, too pooped to stay for the cool down set accompanied by base-heavy Beyoncé orgasm riffs. I’ve seen you Soul Cycle sisters on Facebook all sweat-dreamy and thankful. That’ll never be me. And honestly, I wonder what the hell is in your water bottles. Almost always chipper and annoyingly upbeat, at the 43rd minute of group exercise I hate everyone. Replacing venomous retorts to, “HOW WAS YOUR RIDE?” with normal responses requires the strongest level of verbal Spanx for me.

It’s also possible I’m tired. Graduation season with late night parties, umpteen speeches, and too many Chardonnays was followed by a whirlwind trip to the Poconos for Taiwanese Family Camp. Which is totally a thing. A thing that we did. Bernie was their keynote speaker and somehow managed to give a lecture about Plastic Surgery that included only two sets of boobs and one severed arm. Our kids got to see their Dad at his bow-tied, smartypants best, and then we raced to the Cape where Grandparents were waiting with Zealot Sister’s kids for fireworks. It’s been three squares for dozens of people since then, and the occasional wee hour insect hunt and murder.

After this round trip to Logan, summer really begins for me. Theme: get your own damn sandwich. Also, naps. And let’s be honest, more spinning at Dracula’s Rave. Because all of us should aspire to the physique of these fast pedaling lunatics. Left right left right left right left right.

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But where would a VAMPIRE want to cycle? — B/Spoke studio designers, apparently

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dreaming

In the dream, Joe picks me up like a little girl… high over his head… beaming at me with an imp grin like he might toss me up to the ceiling.

“Put me down,” I tell him. “You’re going to pop my implants.”

Joe laughter. Loud, unbridled joy guffaws from Joe. I’ll miss that the most.

Joe’s last will and testament directed The Stockpeople to join the extensive Burke clan and other good friends to celebrate his life. So we did just that, meeting in gorgeous Shoreham, his childhood home. We came from all four corners of the country to live like nuclear Stocktons before there were any husbands or babies or faraway jobs. The only thing missing was a golden retriever. It was exhilarating and exhausting, full of giggles and tears, ocean panoramas and pink skies. It was perfect.

My favorite eulogy was from Nancy. With classic Burke humor and love, she reminded us that Joe’s bigger-than-life persona included a larger-than-human ego. Joe was quite aware of his handsomeness, seductiveness, magnetism, and crowd-wowing abilities. He wasn’t perfect (who is?), but we adored everything about him. I read The Joy Vacuum out loud. I couldn’t get through that without ugly, gasping tears. But Joe appreciated things that were real… even if they were messy. So there was that.

I miss them already: Erin’s not-aware-how-stunning-they-are daughters, the overtall boys, the staggering beauty that accompanies the Burke genes. Why didn’t we do this sooner? We kept asking ourselves that. Joe probably had, too, as he traveled thousands of miles to visit everyone– one last time. Did he know we’d do it? Did he know we’d quit work early, board planes and ferries, rent houses, and buy cases and cases of wine? Maybe not. But if he knew we did (and we think he knew), it was just what he had imagined. We loved each other all over again and for the first time.

It was supposed to rain. Instead: this.

Joe's Sunset

One thing Joe did beautifully in his later years was to live soberly, with purpose, mindfulness, awareness, and kindness. In the past five years, Joe had introduced me to a handful of people I now call friends. If Joe thought you should probably know so-and-so, he’d broker the introduction, and then watch with great satisfaction as it all played out the way he knew it would. At his own memorial service, we could feel him mayonnaise-smearing his joyful love all over us, forcing us into a huge Dagwood sandwich of piled up people—messy and delicious.

*          *          *

At least an hour late, the Burke family pulls up to the Stockton home, noisily spilling out of the family car. Joe’s body fills the frame of the doorway, and announcing in his made-for-radio voice he bellows, “THE LOUD FAMILY IS HERE.” I’m 11. He picks me up, beaming at me with an imp grin like he might toss me to the ceiling.

I don’t want him to put me down.

YOU’RE NEVER TOO FAT FOR YOUR REUNION… by Steve Safran

I’ve heard there are some people who won’t attend our high school’s 30th reunion because they are “too fat.”

Ridiculous.

I am plainly twice the man I was in high school. I am heavy and balding and need glasses and look absurd next to the high school graduation picture of myself (which was always, and remains absurd). Anyone not attending the reunion because they are fat– and I suspect few are– should just take a look at the rest of us.

Hi. We’re 48. We’re doughy and dowdy and victims of the ‘80s. We were On a Road to Nowhere while busy Not Starting the Fire and being In Your Eyes. While we Just Said No, Frankie Said Yes. We Rocked the Casbah, at least as much as one could in suburban Boston before 11pm. Now we’re achy, and our feet hurt, and it’s not because of the Diamonds on the Soles of our Shoes, either.

At first blush the 30th reunion seems like one you might skip. Surely the 25th is a more widely acceptable marker of time. But the 25th wasn’t that big a deal, with all of us loosely connected by social media. Here’s why the 30th is so interesting: many of us are the age our parents were when we smeared soapy SENIORS 1986! on the back of the family station wagon.

It’s 2016. We have become our parents. (And at least two of us have become grandparents.) Sure, there are those in my class who have younger kids. A couple even have toddlers, God bless ‘em. My goal was to be “40 and diaper free” and I beat the mark handily. But the bulk of us are parenting teenagers.

To me, the 30th reunion is where it’s at. It’s life affirming. All the pretty girls who dated the jocks arrive on the arms of far nerdier husbands. They look at those guys, shake their heads and chuckle: “What was I on?” Successful men and woman happily discuss life, not caring a fig for those who used to tease them. There are guys who peaked in Junior year, doing shots with beer chasers, the ones who never left, the ones who won’t shut up about LA, and the ones who got fat/skinny/rich/lucky/weird/cool. It all just sort of worked out.

You don’t believe in karma? Go to your reunion.

You’re not the success you hoped to be? So what? We’re Generation X. There are books dedicated to our underachieving. Downplay it if you’ve got it, commiserate if you don’t. We don’t care. Are you healthy? Kids good? Sox win today? Great. Let’s get a drink.

You’re fat. I’m bald and farsighted. She lost her job. I got cancer. He didn’t make it on Wall Street. That guy? You don’t want to know. It doesn’t matter. We’re here. Our kids? It’s their time now. Their graduation pictures are on Facebook, and they look young and pretty and perfect. We’re soft and wrinkling. We’re carrying the weight of the world, a mortgage, tuition payments, fantastic and failing relationships, and nearly two decades of Dunkin’ Donuts.

I’m fine with that. You should be, too. Let’s get a drink.

Happy 30th Reunion.

safran

Moderation

I’ve been drinking too much. Or too often. Either way, this hangover is telling me I need to cool it. This hangover is also suggesting a Bloody Mary.

Starting with a weekend jaunt to New York and culminating with last night’s police assistance to find my iPhone right where I left it (in the Uber), I’ve been ping ponging to events that include maybe one too many drinks in formalwear. Bernie and I have also been doing this low carb thing, so although we look fabulous, we have all of the tolerance of a sophomore at a field party.

It’s Gala Season, y’all. And when your dearest friend has been planning an event for, like, a year… and then 800 people attend and donate nearly $200K to champion homeless children, that’s cause for some school night celebratory drinking! So that’s what we did. And with a renewed devotion to the Home for Little Wanderers and vows to be better, more generous humans we toasted and clinked and gibber gabbered until my best babysitter was texting, “um… ETA?”

Tom was kind enough not to make me do babysitter math in my wine-infused, iPhone-less stupor. And really, not even the vat of Chardonnay I drank last night left me feeling as adrift as losing my phone. Thankfully, the Uber driver answered my 27th call this morning and just returned it to me—with the blank check, ID, and credit cards untouched. I gave him $100, five stars for his Uber rating, and a hug (which might have boosted mine).

When we were newly marrieds, Bernie lost his money clip… twice. Each time, it was right before the holidays and canceling the credit cards meant an unpredictable batch of online Christmas purchases was, too. His absent-mindedness had less to do with wine, and everything to do busyness. Both times, losing his money clip was a little nudge from The Universe telling us that we were trying to do too much all at once, forcing us to sit down, retrace steps, and spend umpteen on hold hours with customer service to protect our checking account from criminals. To this day, whenever I misplace something important, I take an inventory of the calendar items that seem so necessary, but aren’t.

So, I hear you, Universe. “No more mid-week drinking!” might be a hollow promise for a Thursday afternoon, especially after you returned my phone and valuables. And I should have learned this lesson with Ran so many summers ago when I realized I didn’t actually have the stamina to celebrate with gallons of Prosecco every time I greeted an old friend with my new hair. Even Dad and I made a hungover vow nearly twenty years ago that No Wine Shall Be Uncorked After 3am. Of course the corollary rule is that Uncorked Wine Must Be Finished, and the Stocktons are better known for that one.

Because Graduation Cere-mania follows closely on the heels of Gala-palooza, I’m thinking Moderation needs to be a bigger part of my party persona. Or I’m going to need one of you to whip up some Bloody Marys. Extra horseradish.

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My Twitter Followers Love Cheese… by @steviesaf and @mewhinney

We haven’t done a back and forth in quite a while. Steve tells me Twitter is having a birthday, so we got all data nerdy about it.

Twitter turns 10 this week, and I’ve been on it for eight of those years @steviesaf. Twitter Analytics shows you lots of data about your audience, and I’ve find out some very interesting facts. Like how big I am among people who buy cheese.

I have about 1,200 followers and Tweet 2-3 times a day. My “engagement rate,” that is to say “people who vaguely care about what I tweeted” runs between 1-3%. This sounds awful, but is actually not bad and probably is as interesting as people find me in real life. I get about 2 “likes” a day.

That’s some good raw data. But Twitter Analytics is a real gift. You can find out a lot more about your followers. For example: 30% of mine claim an income of $250,000+ a year. Still another 30% claim $175K+ a year. And 20% of my audience admits a net worth of more than one million dollars.

So, as we can see, I have an audience of total liars.

Not surprising for a tech and news guy, around 80% of my followers like tech, business, politics and general news. But two-thirds like comedy! So I have a pretty good lock on the funny tech guys. And if you’ve ever met an engineer, you know finding 800 of them who think you’re funny is pretty good. (Or a lot of movie quotes, ed. note)

59% of my followers are guys. No surprise there. Pants humor skews male. I’m biggest in Massachusetts, New York and California (what’s up Silicon Valley!), but I rate in Texas, Florida and Illinois. Political campaigns should consider courting my endorsement.

Best of all, Twitter Analytics knows a frightening amount about what you buy. My followers’ biggest purchase is cheese (65%) and I love them for it. 87% of my audience, my top category, is into buying “premium brands.” So, my biggest takeaway is that @steviesaf is synonymous with “overspending on crap.”

Let’s see Britt (@mewhinney) top that.

 

Given it’s my blog, and I have ultimate editorial power and last word privileges, you’d think I could totally top that. But I can’t. Twitter Analytics did the loser-cough thing when I opened the program. I’ve only lured 527 followers to @mewhinney since I first logged on in 2009. Admittedly, I’ve only been active since I found @OhNoSheTwitnt and developed a GoT-themed girl crush that hasn’t subsided. People who stop by really don’t “like” me very much at all. Though I’ve had silly Facebook threads run over 100 comments long, I’ll only earn a “heart” or two a day on this harder-to-crack site. My meager 2.6% engagement rate is probably inflated by other weirdoes with insomnia (e.g., @steviesaf).

72% of my followers love comedy, writing, and music, and their income is equally stratified among levels quite south of the 1%-ers. And though a very small percentage of them own fancy homes, most of them wouldn’t scoff at a Chanel bag. Only 9% are vegetarian, which may have something to do with me constantly bashing liquefied salad diets and yoga.

Twitter Analytics can help you combine all of your demographic data into an amalgam of your typical follower. Mine is a California apartment-dwelling, dairy-loving comic with great taste. @13spencer should be hanging on my every word.

Every once in a while a huge account, like @CulturedRuffian, will post a dollar value that correlates with the worth of his Twitter-ing. Mine amounted to little less than one Jimmy Choo. And not even a boot, to boot. I’d love to know how someone with thousands and thousands of followers is surprised, delighted, disheartened, or aided by this demographic data. I’d also love to know who is buying all of this cheese on line.

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The Joy Vacuum

Every photo picks at the wound. Every memory aches. Every time I think of you, gone, I stop breathing. But then I smile. And then I cry. And then I go back to Facebook to find your community—your ministry of fun and kindness—to pick at the scab some more. This is where we are today, Joe. Scab picking.

You’d want me to write about it. That I know. You told me some of your best writing flowed through tears. Where you are now is beyond the effects of flattery and clever words conceding your awesomeness. But here on our little island home, we still need them. I want to fill this huge hole, this joy vacuum, with thousands of words that say, “Me, too! I loved him, too! He was the best, most human of humans.”

You were one of Dad’s best friends. The two of you, so different except for the irreverent joy you brought to every room. The two of you, so smart and loyal and hilarious. The two of you, holding court, poking fun, quick to hug, slow to end the party. Booming voices, huge laughter, enormous personalities… the Heroes of my Youth.

It’s so quiet, Joe. Jay and Heather told us about your perfect day. The best haircut, the promise of Spring, and the choice to walk home. (You’re Home now.) That helps us. So does your manifesto from July, presciently outlining this exact moment. There was no “glide path” for you. Neither fear nor anger at Nature’s timetable, you planned the ultimate road trip. I’m happy I was on one of the stops. Reading one of your essays feels like a visit with you, but actually pressing Burke flesh is food.

We’re a little bit more like you today. We’re making plans to be with each other and do the things we say we want to do… or at least figure out if we really want to do those things. We’re reaching out to everyone in your joy orbit to grieve together and marvel at the girth of your Spirit, the enormity of your Love. I think you’d like that.

Before I was born, you promised Dad to help paint my nursery. There was so much discussion about the wall paint, Chris thought that was my name. I’ve been WallPaint since birth. Except when I was Mewhinney. Or Blondie. Or whatever popped into that clever, fun-loving noggin of yours… and usually stuck. We could fill pages with the silly monikers you gave us. We’ll probably do that. We’ll do lots of things to make you feel closer. Anything to make the joy vacuum suck less.

I miss you viscerally, Joe. Though you had made peace with moving on, I wasn’t ready. But we’ll get there. Just a few more scabs, Joe. And then we promise to get to the hugs and giggles and some sort of serenity. Benny is going to help. Look at this kid so obviously infused with Joe-ness.

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Me too! I loved him, too! He was the best, most human of humans!

I love you in that forever kind of way… your admirer, your friend, your Mewhinney, your WallPaint.

 

 

Grief, the sixth sense.

Stabbing Myself in the Back… by Steve Safran

I lied.

I said I wasn’t going to write about cancer anymore, but the after-effects have become overwhelming and it’s time to share a little more.

So here it is. My back catches on fire.

Ok, I mean that figuratively, because this “burning back” feeling has a name: neuropathy Neuropathy is common in chemo patients– about one in three get it. Think of it as pins and needles, only the pins are sticking you from the inside and the needles are hot enough to push through steel.

It comes in attacks, and there’s generally no way to know when. I have a few indicators: I’m more prone to neuropathy when I’m hot. Even having hot soup can bring on an attack. I get more attacks when I’m tired. I get it if I’ve been walking. So as long as I don’t move or go to sleep, I’m fine.

Now, I’ve had all sorts of side- and after-effects from chemotherapy and I’m happy to make the trade in exchange for the not-having-cancer bit. However, I’m finding the nerve damage to make for a terrible Catch-22.

Some background: During treatment, cancer docs want you to keep eating. This is to keep the nausea at bay. Also, nearly every local loved one is delivering casseroles, soups, baked goods, and lasagnas. Unfortunately, eating is the last thing you want to do during and after chemo. But they recommend 2,000 – 3,000 daily calories and avoiding an empty stomach. You know that lightheaded, skipped lunch, nauseous feeling when you’ve slogged through a busy day on coffee alone? Imagine that times chemo.

But they say you need to eat. And you can eat anything. Really? 3,000 calories of Ben and Jerry’s? OK, you’re the doctor. So I ate. I ate without joy. I ate in bed. Not good.

Truth: I’m heavy. I’m 5’7” and weigh 230 lbs. Not quite Homer Simpson, but more than the standard, doughy “Dad Bod.” My ideal weight is 150-175 lbs. When I found out I had cancer, I weighed 226 lbs. When I was finally declared cured, I weighed… 227 lbs.

I put on weight while I had cancer.

If I can’t lose weight on cancer, what chance does Weight Watchers have?

So now, with “remission” and NED (no evidence of disease) notations in my medical chart, it’s time to get back into shape. Only– the neuropathy. My energy is low. The cure? Exercise. The bad cholesterol is too high, the good one is too low. The way to reverse that? Exercise. My blood sugar needs to come down. The remedy? You get it.

Except as soon as I start moving, my back, legs, and shoulders start a conflagration suitable for a Fourth of July bonfire. Get your marshmallows on your sticks, kids. Stevie’s on the treadmill.

Oh– did I mention what else helps neuropathy? Exercise.

I’m taking a fibromyalgia medicine they give those poor folks who are in a constant, unrelenting nerve pain that I cannot imagine. I get bouts of the fire needle attacks, but they go away. To feel like this all the time? Insane. I’d rather vote Trump.

I’m going to try swimming: cooler water, less pressure on the joints, less overheating. Maybe it will do some good. My Body Mass Index indicates I’m certainly buoyant enough.

The list of things that happen after cancer is getting long and, unfortunately, interesting. It may be time for a book. Working title: “Cancer: So, You Think The Disease Was Bad…”

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MY 2016 MIXTAPE FOR YOU… by Steve Safran

It’s time for an annual tradition: the Valentine’s Day mixtape. Last year’s was well-received, so now it’s an annual thing. This ancient rite dates back to the 1980s, when it was the height of romance to give a mixtape to that special someone. Also, it was free. (Minus, of course, the price of a good tape. Maxell was my choice.)  Here, then, is my 2016 Mixtape for You. Although I have linked the songs here to their YouTube versions, seek out these songs and listen on a good stereo or some great headphones.

SIDE ONE

  1. Happy Days” (Squeeze) A fantastic return to form for the band that will always make my mixtapes. This is off their new album, “Cradle to the Grave,” which came out this year – Squeeze’s first album of original songs this century. “Happy Days” is a simple ode to packing the car and having a great weekend trip. I read a great piece this past year on how the band’s ‘80s greatest hits collection “Singles, 45s and Under” is possibly the world’s most addictive album. Damn right. This would fit in perfectly.
  1. For Once In My Life” (Stevie Wonder) It’s Valentine’s Day, after all, and this is Stevie at his Wondermost. A little guitar riff at the top and then right into it. Try not to smile when you think he’s singing this right to you. How this isn’t a top wedding song, I’ll never know.
  1. Two of Us” (Aimee Mann and Michael Penn cover The Beatles): This is such a perfect, compact treat. Rarely do covers of Beatles songs match or exceed the source material. But I like that spouses Aimee Mann and Michael Penn duet on this – having real life sweethearts sing this one makes it, I dare say, better than the original. Plus, come on, Aimee Mann and Michael Penn. Top that.
  1. Life On Mars?” (Played as an elegy to David Bowie) Bowie’s dead, and that sucks. It led to one of the greatest spontaneous tributes I’ve ever heard. After Bowie’s death The organist at St Alban’s Cathedral outside London played Bowie’s “Life on Mars?” likely unaware it was being recorded. It is a perfect elegy. Try not to tear up.
  1. Two Hearts” (Phil Collins) OK, it’s Phil, and don’t give me crap about it. Phil announced he’s going to make a comeback album, and the Internet exploded with hate. Revisionist nonsense. Phil Collins is great. He’s a fantastic songwriter and legendary drummer. Phil wrote it with Lamont Dozier, part of the legendary Motown team of Holland-Dozier-Holland. It’s peppy, very Motown and it avoids Phil’s tendency toward cloying writing in love songs. Listen, dance, repeat. Side one is over.

 

SIDE TWO

  1. Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright)” (The Tufts Beelzebubs cover Bob Dylan) The bad breakup. The bitter end. The desire to lash out. The sarcasm. All of that is in Dylan’s original song. But the ‘Bubs take it somewhere else. In this slow, deliberate, harmonious cover, they turn it into a song of regret and longing. I love when artists take a song and turn it on its head. The a cappella is wondrous. How did they arrange this? Valentine’s Day can suck. Let Dylan and the ‘Bubs help you through it.
  1. Smile” (Nat King Cole) This has just terrible, awful advice. “Smile, though your heart is aching. Smile, even though it’s breaking… You’ll see that life is still worthwhile if you just smile.” Are you kidding me? “Just smile?” And yet, what a song. Did you know Charlie Chaplin wrote it? So what if it is the least empathetic advice you could give to someone. It’s still touching and damn if you won’t tear up.
  1. The Boys Are Back in Town” (Thin Lizzy) Huh? What’s this doing here? OK, mixtape maker’s privilege here. I had a mix to listen to when I was getting chemo. This led it. It was my “get psyched – here come the poisons for your body” song. Coping mechanisms are weird things. You have your treadmill mix, I had my chemo mix.
  1. Layla” (Derek and the Dominos) Eric Clapton wrote this to steal George Harrison’s wife. There’s no way around it. It worked. Patti Boyd divorced Harrison and married Clapton. But, this being the ‘60s (and early ‘70s) things were cool. Harrison and Clapton remained friends, and Harrison even went to the wedding. Patti Boyd must have been something. She inspired at least 11 songs including “Something,” “Wonderful Tonight” and “I Need You.” But “Layla” is the best and most scandalous of the bunch.
  1. Moonlight Serenade”  (Glenn Miller Orchestra) As I noted last year, this has to be the last song. Nothing comes after “Moonlight Serenade.” Back from the war, you’re boozy and tired, your last Lucky Strike about to burn your lips. What was her name?  Do eyes really come in amethyst? She was, what, a nurse? You shared a dance with her, anyway. “Hattie,” was it? Maybe she was USO. Her phone number… MAyfair6-31… Oh, Hell. Someone has poured you into a cab, and your last recollection of the evening is that the band, oh, what a band, played “Moonlight Serenade” as you danced with… Christ… “Maddy?”
Maxell

Happy Valentine’s Day friends!