Category Archives: Mortality

Hot Air

My Dots

So, I went to see ol’ Doc McTigue Monday for a couple of puzzling little dots on my scalp. My general practitioner told me a few months ago the dots might be pre-cancerous growths and set me up with this town’s renowned dermatologist. Every time I told someone I was going to the dermatologist, they’d say, “McTigue? She’s the best.”

Which I love because it begs the Q.: What criteria determine who’s the best doctor in this or that field? Natch, such a ranking is easier here in B-town because there’s McTigue and a handful of other skin plasterers. Acc’d’g to Angie’s List, there are fewer than ten dermatologists around these parts. But people back in my beloved hometown of Chi. used to say the same thing about their various docs and, as an example, there are some 212 dermatologists in Chicagoland; at least that’s the finding of a review site called A couple of years ago, Chicago mag ran its listing of the best specialty MDs and came up with a dozen top dermatologists. That’s more than exist in total in Bloomington. So how could anyone say So-and-so is the best? Yet they did all the time.

Anyway, if one can trust word on the street, M. Kathleen McTigue puts all the other Bloomington dermatologists to shame. That’s why it took a few months for her to see me. At the time I was scheduled I asked my primary doc if perhaps urgency might be called for in the case of my possible pre-cancerous dots. Like, shouldn’t he call for an ambulance with a police escort to get me over to Bloomington Hospital immediately? Or maybe even have me medevac-ed to the Cleveland Clinic or Johns Hopkins?

“Nah, don’t worry,” he said.

Naturally, that’s when I began to worry.

So, all through August and September and October I fretted that my scalp was turning into a fertile field for a dizzying collection of tumors. Would I become something like the Elephant Man? I refrained from googling skin cancer and melanoma because I knew I’d find photos that’d put me off my feed for days at a time. Big Mike’s Dictum No. 3,047: Stay away from the internet as much as possible when you’re diagnosed with this or that malady or even only told you may have it. In fact, especially when you’re told you may have something, don’t go digging too deeply into the web for info. You may not have the disease but the sheer terror, horror, and hysteria people throw on the interwebs surely will shave years off your life.

I started asking myself how long I had left in this mad, mad, mad, mad world. Do cancerous scalp dots kill swiftly or will my demise be lengthy and tortuous? I even started growing out my hair — that is, what’s left of it on my pate. I’ve got hair in spades all around my body, in my nose, my ears, and even on my toes. Yet my coconut is as near to billiard cue ball-ness as it can be. What nature hasn’t deprived me of, my barber clippers do.

I’d stopped shaving my dome with a razor a while ago, when my dots first appeared. That’s how I discovered the dots, as a matter of fact. I’d slice them open while shaving my scalp. I got tired of drawing blood so I settled on running my barber clippers over the expanse instead. Set to low, the clippers made me look less like Michael Jordan than, gulp, a cancer survivor.

At least I wouldn’t be slowly bleeding myself to death.

I’d noticed my incipient baldness as far back as the age of 22. For some odd reason, I’d decided to look at the back of my head, bouncing the image off a hand mirror to the bathroom mirror. To my horror, I noticed the foliage was shockingly sparse back there. I’d read later that a balding man loses the vast majority of his hair between the ages of 18 and 24. I would be, I concluded, a balding man. That realization is my gender’s analog to the female finally accepting that her perky breasts one day will be saggy. It ain’t a happy day for either sex.

Perhaps my thinning wool has been the cause of my coming fatal battle with cancer. That’s what I was thinking as summer turned to fall and I waited to see McTigue. If only I’d worn a baseball cap as I manned third base for my Sunday afternoon pickup baseball games on the Lakefront back in the ’80s and ’90s. But no, caps made my head hot. I went capless and now the price would be a horrible death.

Of late, my dots have been becoming more like lumps. Well, not lumps, exactly. Maybe something like how Uluru (Ayers Rock) appears from space.

Uluru from Space

Uluru Or My Dot?

My Ulurus, I’ll admit, scared the bejesus out of me this summer. How many would there be? And how big would they grow? Worse than a horrible death, would they become so gross and unsightly that people would think I’m an old man?

Kill me now, please!

So I started growing my hair out even more, to a Curly Howard-esque coif, the better to hide them. And I pointed them out to my regular medic. That’s how I wound up at M. Kathleen McTigue’s skin factory.

She’s a hoot and a holler, I’ll tell you. She slapped me on the back and told me what a magnificent beard I have. (She has impeccable taste, I might add.) She told me to strip to the waist and then whipped out her special flashlight. She pored over my skin like a chimp inspecting a new tennis ball. All the while she kept up a patter that seemed more a tummler‘s than a medical specialist’s. She whacked me on the back one final time and told me I had nothing to worry about. My dots-turned-Ulurus were nothing more than “wisdom markers.”

Translation: Old age growths.

“You’re like an old battleship,” she said. “You’re getting full of barnacles.”

Gee, thanks.

And that was that. She pumped my hand, grinning, as if she were sending off a beloved uncle on a sea cruise. She muttered a few instructions to her assistant and then she was gone as quickly as she appeared. The assistant dutifully handed me a pamphlet before leading me out the door.

As I walked to the car I flipped through the pamphlet. Its title: “The Care of Aging Skin.”


Hot Air

Saying Goodbye to RE

Attendees at Saturday’s memorial service for Bloomington fixture RE Paris recounted tales of the book addict’s life.

The gazillions of books she’d amassed throughout her years on this planet have been donated by sons Eric and Nick to several orgs. I was allowed once to peek into her basement where she kept her literary trove. I thanked her to never force me down there again — the sheer number of stacks and piles and the certain nightmare of accounting for all her tomes made my head spin and I’m dizzy enough as it is.

RE eventually did inventory all her books and then she put them up for sale online. It was her dream to run her own book selling outfit and before she died in July she’d accomplished that, actually making a living at it. She also dreamed, acc’d’g to Steve Volan, who’d read her business plan, of taking over the old white house on College Ave. that now serves as HQ for the Monroe County Dem Party. She wanted to open a combo book shop, cut flower shop, cafe, and all-around third place there. She would live in the garret above the operation.

Her plan, sez Volan, was impeccable and, I learned Saturday, her brother-in-law (who is rolling in dough) was willing to finance the place. But the congestive heart failure that she didn’t even know she had cut both the plan and her life short.

The most touching — and apt — line came from RE’s sister, who lamented, “She was a wounded bird.” Nothing could top that for encapsulating the life of Miss Ruth Ellen Paris.

RE Paris

A Young RE

Anyway, the aforementioned Steve Volan served as emcee of the memorial. It must be said he did a fabulous job of mixing reverence, respect, and gentle humor throughout the proceedings. The memorial, ironically, turned out to be life affirming. Kudos, Steve.

And farewell, RE.

Mortality’s Mug

Speaking of mortality, this next story has to do with my own.

Let me preface it, though, by confessing my pockets are the worst place imaginable for my money for a couple of reasons:

  • No. 1 — From my own undisciplined, instant-gratification POV, the sound of scratch jingling in my pockets is a clarion call that demands I spend it. I’m a drunken sailor when it comes to the USD. It’s clear I don’t like the feel of money in my pocket — or, for that matter, in my wallet, cigar box, sock drawer or even under my mattress — since I work so assiduously and quickly to empty said receptacles of funds.

Empty Pocket

  • No. 2 — From a more mature, sober-sided perspective, if a profligate spender like me actually has a pocketful of currency,  she or he (me) will continue to engage in the self-sabotage of not putting aside money for a rainy day. I always respond to that charge by saying, Yeah, but what if it never rains and I’m stuck with all that money, huh? Anyway, money in my pocket ≄ money in my future. Money, by my gut take, is not for tomorrow; it’s for today.

Okay, got it?

The presence of The Loved One in my life is a welcome fix to that character shortcoming. She, to borrow a line from that noted philosopher Mike Ditka, throws around nickels like manhole covers. She labors mightily, setting up a budget for us and making sure we keep to it. She researches investments, shifts assets from here to there, and otherwise cracks the fiscal whip around Chez Glab/TLO.

In that role, she has discovered that buying our toiletries online in bulk actually saves us dough in the long run. For instance, every once in a while I’ll find on my desk a newly-delivered box of several dozen units of Tom’s of Maine underarm deodorant (either Woodspice or Lemongrass — they both pleasantly enhance my bouquet).

Now then, the other day a box arrived containing a few dozen packages of Williams mug shaving soap. (See, I loath grocery store shaving cream because it stings my handsomely sensitive face — remember, one of my goals in life is to avoid pain and unpleasantness at every turn).

Williams Mug Shaving Soap

The Harbinger

As I emptied the big box and stashed the soaps in my toiletries drawer, I realized that at my age several dozen shaving soaps will probably last me until the end of my life.

Imagine that! Think of any product you buy regularly and then imagine not having to buy it again because, well, you’ll die before you need to do so.


I was hoping for some more romantic, even literary late-life symbolism of my mortality. Think of Michael Corleone sitting in his garden, reflecting on his life. Or any number of statespeople, famed artists, or saintly figures deciding to get to work on those memoirs.

From "The Godfather: Part III"

Michael, At The End

Not so with me. I have be forced to grapple with humanity’s saddest and most challenging realization via the delivery of a bunch of shaving soap.


Critter Commemoration

Let’s stick with mortality. Yesterday, people took to the streets again in Ferguson Missouri, to express outrage over a fire that partially destroyed a makeshift memorial to slain black teenager Michael Brown.

Ferguson’s mayor wants the world to believe that the fire was accidental — perhaps the lit candles ignited a cardboard sign or a teddy bear. The people in the streets want the world to believe the fire was started intentionally — several have claimed they smelled gasoline as the fire burned.

In any case, the memorial was comprised largely of stuffed animals.

Brown Memorial

Before And After

Where did the practice of placing stuffed animals at spontaneous memorials come from? The first time I recall seeing it was in the photos of the memorial set up for Princess Diana back in 1997. I figured the whole teddy bear thing made sense in her case since she was, after all, a princess and it’s the infantile among us who are most prone to mourn the passing of princesses.

There also were scads of teddy bears and stuffed animals littering the sidewalk at the Michael Jackson memorial. Again, it makes sense — and you don’t need me to explain why.

Companies that sell teddy bears and other stuffed animals have even begun marketing their products specifically to the grief-stricken. And, in fact, one firm offers a “teddy bear cremation urn” that can be personalized with the name of the deceased. Pardon me while I shudder.

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 11.57.20 AM

Many of these are products, mind you, are geared to customers who’ve lost adult loved ones. I suppose I can understand getting all teddy bearish if you’ve lost a kid, but sending a teddy bear to the funeral home where your 66-year-old uncle who died of coronary artery disease is laid out seems to rather trivialize his memory, no?

I know this: After I turn in my timecard if anybody attempts to memorialize me through the use of a teddy bear (or, almost as bad, a crucifix) I’d want to come back and haunt the holy bejesus out of them. Too damned bad I don’t believe in an afterlife.

The Pencil Today:


“Whatever poet, orator, or sage may say of it, old age is still old age.” — Sinclair Lewis


Ray Bradbury‘s dead, of course, but the real shocker was realizing that up until Tuesday he was still alive.

As soon as I heard the news, I began to wonder who else I assumed took the big nap years ago but is still alive. Here are some examples:

  • Carol Channing — Musical theater actress

Carol Channing

  • Cloris Leachman — Former beauty queen, TV actress, neighbor of “Rhoda”
  • Claes Oldenburg — Sculptor

Oldenburg’s “Batcolumn”

  • Andre Previn — Conductor and composer, former husband of Mia Farrow
  • Gloria Vanderbilt — Rich woman
  • Don Pardo — NBC TV booth announcer
  • Johnny Mathis — Silken-voiced balladeer

  • Andrew Greeley — Roman Catholic priest and author of envelope-pushing novels.
  • Yogi Berra — Baseball great and malapropist
  • Ravi Shankar — Indian sitarist
  • Ornette Coleman — Jazz musician

Ornette Coleman

  • Burt Bacharach — Wrote music for Hal David’s words
  • Hal David — Wrote words for Burt Bacharach’s music
  • Doris Day — 1950s song and movie icon
  • Maureen O’Hara — Stunning film actress, appeared in “The Quiet Man”

Maureen O’Hara

  • Carl Reiner — Comedian, TV pioneer
  • Stan Lee — Comic book author and publisher, former president of Marvel Comics

Lee Co-Created The Fantastic Four

  • E.L. Doctorow — Author of “Ragtime” and many others
  • Jasper Johns — Painter

Jasper Johns’ “Three Flags”

  • Fats Domino — New Orleans singer-songwriter, famous for “Blueberry Hill”
  • Richard Coogan — TV’s “Captain Video”
  • Professor Irwin Corey — Comedian, scatter-brained and erudite TV and film actor

Professor Irwin Corey

  • Herman Wouk — Author, wrote “The Winds of War” and “The Caine Mutiny”
  • Olivia de Havilland — Film actress, sister of Joan Fontaine
  • C. Everett Koop — Ronald Reagan’s Surgeon General
  • Ernest Borgnine — “Marty” and McHale
  • Zsa Zsa Gabor – Duh.

Zsa Zsa And One Of Her Many, Many, Many Husbands

  • Vera Lynn — British singer most famous for her rendition of “We’ll Meet Again” at the end of “Dr. Strangelove….”
  • Marvin Miller — Labor economist, union leader with United Steelworkers, transformed the Major League Baseball Players Association into the highest profile union in America
  • I.M. Pei — Architect, designed the pyramid at the Louvre, the Bank of China Tower, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Javits Convention Center, and many others
  • Celeste Holm — Stage and film actress, Karen in “All About Eve,” won the Academy Award for “Gentlemen’s Agreement:
  • Barry Commoner — Scientist and professor, ran for president for the Citizens Party in 1980
  • Kirk Kerkorian — Owned MGM studios, helped develop mega-resorts in Las Vegas
  • Phyllis Diller — Self-deprecating comedienne

Phyllis Diller

  • Joan Fontaine — Film actress, Academy Award-winner for “Suspicion,” sister of Olivia de Havilland
  • Janet Waldo — the voice of Judy Jetson
  • Patty Andrews — one of the Andrews Sisters
  • Otis Bowen — former Indiana governor
  • Pauline Phillips — Born Pauline Friedman, was “Dear Abby”, twin sister of Eppie “Ann Landers” Lederer

Dear Abby

  • Marjorie Lord — The wife on “The Danny Thomas Show”
  • Efrem Zimbalist Jr. — Star of TV’s “The FBI”
  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti — Co-founder of City Lights bookstore, published Allen Ginsberg and many Beat writers, stood trial for obscenity for selling “Howl”
  • Pete Seeger — Revered folk singer
  • Louis Jourdan — Suave, debonair, French actor in American films and TV shows

Louis Jourdan

  • Al Molinaro — Owner of the drive-in on “Happy Days”
  • Nehemiah Persoff — Film and TV character actor, usually a tough guy or an ethnic type
  • Kitty Wells — The first woman singer to top the country music charts with the song, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels”
  • Marge Champion — American choreographer and dancer, married to Gower Champion
  • Doris Lessing — Nobel Prize-winning South African author
  • Edward Brooke — The first black man elected to the United States Senate, from Massachusetts in 1966
  • Joseph Wapner — You know, Judge Wapner: “I know you’ve been sworn and I read your complaint….”
  • Alan Young — Wilbur on “Mr. Ed”
  • Frederik Pohl — Science fiction author
  • Jerry Maren — One of the Lollypop Guild guys in “The Wizard of Oz”

Jerry Maren

  • Henry Heimlich — Developed the eponymous maneuver
  • Sun Myung Moon — Religious lunatic worshiped by the Moonies
  • Ken Nordine — Creator  of “Word Jazz”
  • Richard Adams — Wrote “Watership Down”
  • Ray Harryhausen — Mvie special effects genius, worked on “Mighty Joe Young,” “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms,” “It Came from Beneath the Sea,” “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers,” “Mysterious Island,” “Jason and the Argonauts,” and One Million Years BC”
  • Denton Cooley — Heart surgeon, implanted the first artificial heart in a human being
  • Roger Angell — New Yorker writer, author of “The Summer Game”
  • Mickey Rooney — Duh.
  • Jayne Meadows — Actress, married to the late Steve Allen

Jayne Meadows & Steve Allen

  • Yusef Lateef — Jazz musician, teacher, and composer
  • Chris Economaki — auto racing announcer, dubbed “The Dean of American Motorsports”
  • Nanette Fabray — Film, theater, and TV actress, comedic partner of Sid Caesar, also appeared in sitcom “One Day at a Time”
  • Stan Musial — Baseball great
  • Noel Neill — Lois Lane on TV’s “Superman”

Lois Lane And Her Man Of Steel

  • Dave Brubeck — Jazz pianist and bandleader
  • George Schultz — Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State, Richard Nixon’s Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of Labor
  • Lou Harris — the first professional pollster hired by a presidential candidate, John F. Kennedy
  • Hugh Downs — Former “Today Show” host and commecrail pitchman for elderly-oriented products and services
  • Abe Vigoda — Fish on TV’s “Barney Miller,” Tessio in “The Godfather”

Abe Vigoda

  • Al Jaffee — Mad magazine cartoonist, specialized in the back-cover “fold-in”
  • Daniel Berrigan — Anti-war, pro-civil rights Roman Catholic priest, was on the FBI’s ten most wanted list
  • LeRoy Neiman — Painter, portrayed sports scenes, favorite of Playboy’s Hugh Hefner
  • Nancy Reagan — Protector of Saint Ronald Reagan’s legacy
  • Jake LaMotta — The “Bronx Bull” and subject of the Scorsese film, “Raging Bull,” former middleweight world boxing champ
  • John Glenn — Mercury astronaut, former Ohio senator

John Glenn Being Loaded Into Friendship 7

  • Esther Williams — Olympic swimmer who parlayed her sports success into a B-list movie career
  • Monty Hall — Host of “Let’s Make a Deal”
  • Ben Bradlee — Former Washington Post editor, oversaw Woodward & Bernstein’s Watergate investigations
  • Chico Hamilton — drummer, jazz bandleader, appeared in “The Sweet Smell of Success”
  • Patrick Macnee — Steed in TV’s “The Avengers”
  • Helen Gurley Brown — Former Cosmopolitan magazine publisher, author of “Sex and the Single Girl”

Helen Gurley Brown

  • Eileen Ford — founder of the world famous Ford Modeling Agency
  • Baba Ram Dass (Richard Alpert) –Hallucinogenic experimenter, yoga and meditation proselytizer, author of “Be Here Now”
  • Wavy Gravy (Hugh Romney) — Hippie clown, founder of the Hog Farm, Woodstock emcee
  • Barbara Hale — Della Street on TV’s “Perry Mason”
  • Jack Klugman — Oscar on TV’s “The Odd Couple” and Brenda’s father in the movie, “Goodbye, Columbus”

Jack Klugman

  • Bill Macy — The husband on “Maude”
  • Judith Crist — Film critic

Now, don’t be surprised.


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