Monday, June 20, 2011


I recently hurt - or as we trained and toned middle aged athletes like to say - “blew out” my knee.  I was running across the tennis court - all right, not running but moving as quickly as I’m capable of - and as I lunged for the ball - all right, not so much lunged as started to fall down - my foot “stuck” - obviously the shoe’s fault - and my leg twisted and the next thing you know, there I was, writhing on the ground, making a very big deal of it; in my mind comparing myself to a hall of fame running back, stopped by a dozen defenders at the goal line, thinking that in a moment I’d get up and soldier on - score!! - to cheers and adoration.

Only when I got up I couldn’t put any weight on my leg.

There is an odd, mixed feeling to be injured doing something you really like.  You find yourself thinking - oh, good, I don’t have to do this for awhile -- coupled with - Oh, god, when will I be able to do this again?  You realize you’re going to have some extra free time on your hands which is nice.  You have no idea what you’re going to do with it which is bad.  What if you’re forced to take up golf again?

Around where I live, when one is a middle aged tennis warrior and one is injured, there is really only one thing to do and that is to go and see Doctor Stu.

Beside being an avid tennis player, Dr. Stu is an orthopedic surgeon of note and has traveled with The Davis Cup Team as medical advisor.  Dr. Stu was a Division I middleweight wrestler in college.  For those who don’t know, wrestling is a sport where you train until you puke and then puke till you make weight. Unless it’s to gain it, most middle aged tennis players gave up on making weight long ago.  At sixty, Dr. Stu still greets every new day with two hundred sit ups and three hundred push-ups.  When Dr. Stu comes to play tennis he does so wearing ominous looking, black metal braces on both knees.  He wears a black, rubber shirt and has a towel around his neck.  He bounces up and down and rolls his head from side to side like a prizefighter, all the while swinging his racket in front of him as if he is going to seriously decapitate some flowers.  You just know, even if he loses the match, Dr. Stu is capable of taking you down and pinning you at set point.

If Dr. Stu weren’t a doctor, he’d be beating up linebackers in the NFL.

It’s always interesting to see friends in professional mode.  You realize they actually do something besides hit the occasional tennis ball, shoot the shit and drink beer.  You realize they are, when they have to be, serious people who do serious things.  As one who has never done anything serious in his entire life, I’m always somewhat embarrassed and very impressed.  My only serious talent is in trying to make people slightly chuckle.

Dr. Stu’s waiting room is filled with injured, middle-aged white people of which I am one.  There are casts on wrists and ankles.  There are people on crutches.  There is a woman in a neck brace.  Where do people like this hurt themselves, I wonder - the supermarket?  Was there a rugby scrum on isle 5 near the frozen foods?  I’m suddenly reminded of my father, who at the age of 70, farted and broke a rib.  So it goes.

For an orthopod, Dr. Stu’s magazines leave a lot to be desired.  Women’s Home Journal.  Redbook.  People.  You can never tell what medical practitioner is going to have decent reading material in his waiting room but you really expect a guy who deals with joint injuries to at least stock Sports Illustrated.  On the other hand, my friend, Paul, who is a dentist, tells me he spends a hundred bucks a month on magazine subscriptions and they’re usually gone from the office by the end of the week.  I would call this stealing but as magazines often walk out offices with me, I consider it borrowing until next time.  It all goes on your health plan anyway.

When I finally get in to see Dr. Stu he pokes and prods at my knee, measures it and twists it.  He makes doctors sounds. 

Mmm, he says, poking. 
Ahh, he says, prodding. 
Does that hurt, he says, twisting? 

Yes, no, I dunno, maybe, ahhh!!!, I say.

Let’s take a look, he says and he takes me down the hall to some machine that shows a picture on a computer screen.  He operates this miracle machine himself.  Amazing!  Just another thing I can’t do.  Look, he says.  Where I see shadows.  He sees bone and ligaments, cartilage and padding.  He sees wear and tear.

Tsk, tsk, he says - not so much criticizing me as the aging process. 

Dr. Stu proceeds to drain my swollen knee.  Do you like needles, he says, taking out a six inch syringe.   I like needles only slightly less than I like electroshock treatment. 

This won’t hurt much, says Dr. Stu as he dabs my knee with what he says is a numbing agent.   Much.  What is much to a man who once wrestled Dan Gable?  What is much to a man who once had a colonoscopy done without sedation or anesthetic, just so he could watch the procedure on the screen along the with the gastroenterologist.  He liked it - he thought it all was interesting.
One - two - !

Dr. Stu doesn’t wait for three - he sticks you on two and a half as if you’ll be so surprised you won’t feel a thing.  It’s a nice gesture but unnecessary.  The examination room is small and the table is against the wall. I have nowhere to run.

Take a look, Steve, this is really interesting. 


I have been staring at the ceiling since “much” and I decide to venture a quick look.  The glass tube attached to the syringe is filling with fluid.  Fluid from my swollen knee.  My fluid.  

I feel faint.

Hmmm.    Not bad, says Dr. Stu.  Pretty clear. 

He likes the fluid in my knee so much, he decides to take two more syringes full.

          --------- to be continued.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


There are dog people.  There are cat people.  There are tomato people.  There are tomahto people.   I  like dogs.  I only sort of like cats.   Dogs are eager to please.  They want your company.   There is the faithful dog in the movie Up, that to me, epitomizes dogs perfectly. 

“You will throw the ball!  And I will chase the ball!  And I will bring it back to you!   Because I am your dog and you are my master.  And I love you!!!”

Throw a ball for a cat and he’ll look at you like you’re not just crazy but stupid.

Cats are self involved.   They want what they want when they want it and it never occurs to them say thank you.    All right, yes, if you pet them they purr.  But they only let you pet them when it suits them and they will stop purring at a moment’s notice.

Having said that, cats are interesting.  Even memorable.   In retrospect, the dogs in my life, aside from a few quirks and sillies, seem wonderfully the same.  

“You will throw the ball!  And I will chase the ball!  And then we will lick our balls together!”

The cats in my life have been distinctive, each one so unique they might be of different species.  Two in particular. 


Bullet was a snow white cat that appeared out of the woods when I was in my late teens.  I have no idea who gave this truly elegant cat the ludicrous name of Bullet – perhaps my step-father who was prone to doing things like giving my mother snow tires for Christmas.   

At first Bullet came no closer than the edge of the yard.  If you even looked at him, he was gone.   He began to come closer.   He was obviously a stray and my mother put out food for him.  He ignored it.  He would always ignore it.  But he came closer still and we could see now that he had crystal blue eyes.   Someone ventured – again, probably my step father, who was a mad scientist - that snow white, blue eyed cats were congenitally deaf.   

Like a scout in hostile territory, Bullet finally crept into the house one day.   And ran right back out.   And came in again.   Went a little further.   And ran out again.  And came in again.  Out.  In.  A little further each time.

Because my grandmother was there.  She was in a first floor bedroom, very ill, very frail, bed ridden with an unknown virus that would eventually lead to the cancer that would kill her.   She and Bullet actually looked alike.  Illness had turned my grandmother’s hair snow white, had made her blue eyes incredibly bright.

One day Bullet went into her room.  He stared at her a moment.   He ran out.  He came back in.  He jumped up on the bed.   My grandmother reached out a hand.   He sniffed.  He lay down.   He allowed himself to be petted.  He purred.

Bullet became my grandmother’s cat.  They communed on a daily basis for at least a year.  He would spend the day, leave at night.  Where he went no one knew.  If you tried to even approach him, he was gone.

On the day my grandmother finally went to the hospital, Bullet ran from the house.  He never returned.



I was in my early 20’s and had lucked into the best communal apartment on the upper west side of New York.  Four bedrooms, big kitchen, bigger living room.  Great roommates.

Barbara.  A social worker.

Art.  A financial wizard in the making.

Larry.  An aspiring comedian. 

Pete.  The lone knucklehead of the group.  Prone to waking up in the morning and screaming profanity because he couldn’t get his underwear on.  Prone to throwing a frozen hamburger in a frying pan, turning the flame on high and then going to take a shower.  Prone to walking up to strange girls in bars,  being ignored and then walking back to tell  you – “ah, they were playing hard to get”.

(I pitched the TV idea for Friends fifteen to twenty years before it happened.)

And Kilroy was there.   He belonged to Barb.  

He was vicious.  He was insane.  He was prone to feline epileptic fits.   He’d be standing in one place and for no apparent reason would suddenly leap three feet in the air, yowl like a banshee, bounce off a wall or two and then run into another room.  

He liked to piss in your shoes. 

He had never gotten out of an oral phase.   He would climb on female guests who would mistakenly think he was cute.   He would proceed from their laps to their chests where he would start sucking at the cloth over their breasts, while copping free feels with his paws.    The female guest would finally  realize what he was doing and pushed him away in disgust and alarm.  

Of course, this happened to all the men in the apartment.

Barb, usually a sensible woman, adored Kilroy.  Art, her husband to be, detested him.

One spring day when Art come home from work.  Kilroy was sunning on the window sill.   Art and I chatted a moment and then, turning, Art saw his hated rival.

Hah!, said Art.

Where upon Kilroy hissed and leapt backwards –-- out the open window.   

Art and I looked at one another.  We were five floors up.   Neither of us gave a shit about the cat but we both loved Barb.  

Oh, fuck, said Art.  

We went running out the door.    We went running down five flights of stairs.  Expecting to see a cat turned to flattened dog food, we ran out the front door and down the brownstone’s steps.    To find Kilroy....  

Standing there.   His legs were shaky his eyes were crossed.  You could almost see the cartoon stars and birdies circling his head.  He looked as if he was ready to regurgitate a huge hair ball or was working his way up to a particularly violent fit.   But this wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.    

He was seemingly unharmed.

We waited a while to make sure he wasn’t to explode.   When he didn’t, we got him upstairs where he retreated to Barb’s closet. 

Later that evening Barb asked us – Is Kilroy acting a little strange to you?

No, Art said.  Why?
As opposed to what, I said.
Mmm, said Barb.

We distracted her by sending out for Hagen Daz.   

She fed some to Kilroy who lived an incredibly long time.