Omicron

We’re tired of this pandemic, but too bad; it’s not over. Here is one functional way to approach the coronavirus at this (omicron) stage of the game:

The vaccine + booster is like a slice of magical Swiss cheese laid on top of you. Pretty good protection (how effective against omicron is not yet known), but there are those holes, so the protection is incomplete. A second slice of that cheese (the masking slice) on top of the first slice cuts the number of openings considerably, but still not completely (though highly effective against any variant). Add a third slice (the physical distancing slice) and there is hardly a hole in the protection. Frequent hand washing helps. This “targeted layered containment” concept is taken directly from Michael Lewis (2021). The Premonition (pp. 92-93). WW Norton.

The virulence, transmissibility, and vaccine resistance of the omicron variant is unknown, but it seems to be a fast-mover and is a reminder to be as safe as possible. As with the currently predominant delta variant, it is likely that anyone, vaxed or unvaxed can be infected and can infect others.

Mr. Natural says, “Take heed.”

I found some photographs

Clearing out a drawer
I found a few photographs.
There were some good ones
And I stuck them in my suitcase.

Among them were photos of Leslie, Pov Lon, David, and Keo on the front porch; my Mom/Grandmother Mary and David in our kitchen; Leslie and Baby David; and David and his siblings.

I looked at these pictures of life and I realized I’d helped take care of four of those people in the last days of their lives. My Mom, Leslie, Keo, Phana. What sadness. But I’m glad there were not more than those four. Here they are with some of the photographs.

Photo: Leslie, Pov Lon holding David, Keo on the front porch (Keo and Lon had been in a war, concentration camps, and refugee camps until about two months before this photo was taken)

————-

My Mom I’d known all my life. She was about 70 when she died in the cottage behind Leslie’s and my house. David, Leslie, John, and I were with her every day. John and I were with her when she passed sometime in a long night.

When she was first diagnosed with small cell cancer of the lung I worked to understand the natural history of that disease. I mapped the likely metastatic pathways of her specific tumor type and the manifestations of metastases so that I could be sure to prevent or treat early any resulting problems (like hypercalcemia or spinal cord compression) or at least understand those problems. That became the basis of a book on end-of-life care in which I mapped the 18 most lethal tumors and associated problems.

A month or so before she passed, my Mom and I journeyed together. Among the things that happened that day (What a day!) was that she forgave herself. After that her pain lessened and her suffering was much less – all the way through to the end of her life.

How my Mom died: http://ckjournal.com/how-my-mom-died

Photo: David showing his Grandmother how to play golf

—————

Leslie and I were together for nearly all of the years since we were 16. She died in my arms at Baylor Medical Center.

In Leslie’s last month I would read to her when we were in bed – first from my blog (the traveling parts), and when that became too difficult for her to track, I would read from Little Golden Books and similar books I had stored in David’s closet. I realized that everything I read was related to going home, finding a safe place, and the like. Books I read to my sweet Leslie included:

Melanie Mouse’s Moving Day
The Fuzzy Duckling
The Shy Little Kitten
The Pokey Little Puppy
Home for a Bunny

Once when I was in David’s closet looking for another book to read to Leslie I saw a book titled, These Happy Golden Years. I burst into tears.

From my journal: Dying is often not easy. These were hard times for her. She underwent profound changes starting at almost exactly 6pm that last (Thursday) night. She went to surgery about 1:30am Friday morning and she passed away back in her room surrounded by pure love about 4:30am. (I’m actually not clear on times, and maybe even days.) I was with her, embracing her, whispering words of love, of remembrance, people she loved, people who loved her, the Song of Ruth…

We are fulfilled. Nothing is undone between us. We have loved and been loved, lived our beliefs, had a happy home, had a beautiful son, had a grand partnership with one another, had many adventures, and so much more—really, it’s been amazing!  

Photo: Leslie and David

—————–

Keo I’d known since she was about 10, when she and her Grandmother lived with us for a few months in 1985. When she became so sick with cancer I went every day to Keo’s apartment. It was a hard time. Keo was ready to die, but nobody in her family was ready for her to go. She begged to die. I spent time with her and her husband and mother on her last day. She was 39 when she died. A few days before her passing I sang this song to Keo:

Keep on walking where the angel showed
(All will be One, all will be One)
Traveling where the angels trod
Over in the old golden land

In the golden book of the golden game
The golden angel wrote my name
When the deal goes down I’ll put on my crown
Over in the old golden land

I won’t need to kiss you when we’re there
(All will be One, all will be One)
I won’t need to miss you when we’re there
Over in the old golden land

We’ll understand it better in the sweet bye and bye
(All will be One, all will be One)
You won’t need to worry and you won’t have to cry
Over in the old golden land.

(Robin Williamson)

Some of Keo’s gripping story is here: http://ckjournal.com/keo

————-

Phana (David’s sister) I’d known since she was four. She was in her 30s when she passed. I took her to chemotherapy almost every week in Dallas and in Houston, to other appointments, and we hung out with David, Charles, and John in San Francisco. We spent many hours together in the car, infusion room, and elsewhere. We shared a lot. When she was close to dying, I thanked her for helping me through my grief from Leslie’s passing. Phana understood immediately. She died right around Christmas while I was in Berkeley.

Photo: David, Chhouen, Phana, Soda in front of our house

Once John and Phana and I were at the corner of Judah and 9th) in San Francisco and Phana was vomiting in the gutter. In just moments a young woman from a clothing store across the street came over with a bottle of water. After Phana passed, I went to that store and thanked the woman. I’m still thankful for her

————–

I’ll try to be around and about.
But if I’m not,
Then you know that I’m behind your eyelids,
And I’ll meet you there.”

(Terence McKenna)

We are all veterans now

We’re all veterans now. Some of us were on the front lines – nurses, doctors, housekeeping staff, respiratory therapists, etc. (and their families); some were in less danger, but not in the rear – police, outreach workers, grocery store people, and so on; most of us were in the rear, doing things like wearing a mask, distancing, etc. (though some died – body count = more than 500,000); others were shit-birds – anti-maskers and anti-science types, MAGA brown shirts (red hats), and the dumb-asses walking around with their penises hanging out – I mean their masks covering their chins(!) and noses uncovered.

So, Semper Fidelis, Brothers and Sisters. Welcome home (just as soon as you’re vaccinated). Deepest Gratitude to all who worked on the front lines. Sorrow for all who were lost. Grief for all who Mourn. Thanks to all who did their part – staying home, masking, distancing, helping neighbors and friends (personal Thank You to Monica, Janet, Sherry, and others for helping us!). And fuck off to all whose “personal freedoms” were/are more important to you than protecting others from disease. 

There are always shitbirds – in every organization or group of any size, every race/ethnicity/tribe, universities, police departments/faiths/churches/synagogues/ministers/rabbis/imams/all of ‘em, military branches, neighborhoods/cities/ counties/states/countries… did I mention families and sometimes couples? Always people who don’t pull their weight, who take more than their fair share, who talk better than how/what they do, who bow to evil/follow liars/, and so on. You know who they are and so, I guess, do they.

What a journey! Damn! Thank YOU!

 

After the Hill Fights

I suddenly remembered that this happened – 54 years ago in 1967.

We had been in a days-long battle, part of something called the Hill Fights (near Con Thien). It’s kind of a blur, but it seems like I spent most of my time there with 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, mostly hooked up a machine-gun team. When it was over for me I was taken back to Dong Ha, kind of a front of the rear place where they had things like a mess hall, hospital tents like a MASH unit, occasional rocket attacks, a little post exchange, and other stuff I guess. I went to the post exchange, but they wouldn’t let me in!!! Said I wasn’t squared away or some kind USMC BS – and they said I had to unload my weapon! My flak jacket had (someone else’s) blood on the front and it had got to smelling bad and I surely smelled bad on my own, too, with sweat and smoke, etc. But still, I was unhappy. I needed some goddam cigarettes.

It was evening by now and I went over to the hospital tents where there were piles of discarded equipment from men who’d been shot or whatever and I was shuffling around in all this gear like helmets, packs, boots, flak jackets, web

At Con Thien, photo by David Duncan

 

gear, and so on. Some of it was pretty bad, too – blood, shit, everything on it. Seems like it was a misty evening, but I can’t be sure. Even at the time I could see how surreal this all was. I found a cleaner flak jacket and left mine behind. I’m sure I got some smokes, though I don’t know where from.

I’ve never been able to keep it straight what happened when in the Hill Fights. I know it was April into May, but I wasn’t there the whole time. I remember the mortar fire; how glad I was to be using an M-14 vs M-16; the un-fucking-believable volumes of fire, incoming and outgoing; the man who died as his guts fell out of his back when they turned him over; the man lying there covered in blood, smiling and shooting me the finger because we’d just saved his ass and he had what looked like a million dollar wound; the helicopter spinning around and hitting the ground hard; carrying the last dead Marine out of the downed chopper while the NVA were firing at us and the chopper coming in to pick us up; I keep kind of fixating on a trail that followed the contour of a hill, but it was just a trail. And now I remember about the piles of gear.

I know this: when Jeff and David and I were in Vietnam in 2005 we were happy to visit Thuy Bo (Dodge City to us, near Hill 55) where our company had operated for about six months and where some serious fire-fights happened. But where the Hill Fights were, Khe Sanh, 861? “No. Those are killing fields,” Jeff said.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hill_Fights

 

Busted flat in Baton Rouge… what does that look like?

He was surely one of the few students at his high school to ever flunk the last English paper of the senior year, but he just could not get it together to write the paper. He thus flunked the paper, the course, and the year. It was a fitting end to a sometimes dismal high school experience.

He left home without telling anyone anything and took a bus to Grand Saline, Texas with a “plan” of working in the salt mines (he was kind of a dramatic kid). The salt mines had been closed for some time when he got to Grand Saline, so he got a cheap hotel room. The room was up a long, straight flight of stairs and there was a loop of wire in lieu of a doorknob or lock. It was a very cheap room.

The next day he hitched a ride on out of Texas to Shreveport and a lonely bus station. From there, a man picked him up and drove him to Baton Rouge. In Baton Rouge he ended up downtown in a bar, where a man told him he could stay in his room. Clearly, the man had plans other than sleeping and the kid said he would just sleep on the floor. At some point in the night he was awakened by the man leaning off the edge of the bed fondling him. He remembers shouting very loudly and grabbing his already packed stuff and running out of the room. He doesn’t remember where he spent the rest of the night.

In the morning the kid was walking along a downtown sidewalk when a police car pulled over. The cops put him up against the wall and searched him and dumped his suitcase out on the sidewalk. Oops, there was a pistol in there, so he got a ride to the parish jail and a few nights room and board.

Jail wasn’t bad for him. He had some cigarettes, which he shared with an armed robber, who was a badass, so the kid was pretty safe. The food was typical jail fare – peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast with astonishingly bad chicory coffee, bologna sandwiches and Kool-aide for lunch, and he doesn’t remember what was for dinner. There’s nothing to do. Talk, scheme, worry, pace, space out.

The charge was vagrancy. He went to see the judge, who asked him what he was doing in Baton Rouge. He told the judge he was looking for a job at a golf course. The judge asked him if he was a golfer and when he said, yes, the judge asked what a “round robin” is and the kid gave the right answer. “Not guilty.” The suitcase and its contents were not registered in, so apparently the po-po got a pistol.

Not far from the parish jail there was a Toddle House – a 14 stool café serving breakfasts, hamburgers, waffles, and so on. The kid was sitting there trying to decide whether to have his hamburger with or without lettuce and tomatoes (five cents more with and he was pretty much busted flat, enough that a nickel made a difference) and when the waitress took his order he blurted out “with!” It was a really, really good hamburger and decent cup of coffee. While he was sitting at the counter the waitress and cook were talking about needing someone to work nights. The kid joined in and volunteered that he could do the job. The cook/manager, Chuck let him work that day to get a sense of what he could do. He did okay and the waitress, a sweet Cajun woman named Jenny liked him, and so he got the job.

Chuck took him to the Florida Street rooming house where Chuck and his partner, Vince lived. He got a room for something like $12 a week and just like that he was set up with a job and a place to live. He worked as cook and counter man and everything else 7 pm – 7 am usually seven nights/week for $0.85/hour to start and eventually to $1.35/hour. He was in a weird place in his mind and working like that was no problem. On days when Chuck and Vince were both off, the three of them would go out drinking at one of those bars that open at 6 or 7 am.

Photo from https://restaurant-ingthroughhistory.com/2014/03/02/toddle-house/. Thank you!

Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues

You can tell by the way she smiles

Bringing meals, shopping, and so on

We’ve passed the half-way point in this 12 week journey through vertebral fractures – Less than six weeks before Jean can hang up the brace (part-time, anyway), start exercising, driving, and doing all those activities that are part of daily living. The pain is better, though still present. For the first 4-5 weeks, there was a lot of work to do every day, throughout the day. I was flat-out too tired to cook along with everything else. Like the pain in Jean’s back, the work has lessened. Saying that is the purpose of writing this.

We tried to send thank you notes to everyone who brought dinner or otherwise helped out, but have realized that when writing letters by hand, one does not then have a record of what was sent. Haha, I’ll just have to rely on my memory.

Here and now, we are again saying Thank You! Thank you friends, family, and colleagues – who came through in so many ways. In particular, thank you for the many meals left on the porch, for the brief get-togethers outside, for the shopping, for the support that had effects beyond the doing.

What happened with the meals you brought and the shopping you did was that I could help Jean rather than expend energy on cooking, clean-up, shopping, etc. Thus I was fresher and more able to keep the house in passable shape, stay up on laundry, run essential errands, give Jean cannabis balm massages (part of the comprehensive pain management program going on over here), do all the things that require lifting, bending, carrying, etc., and in the past few weeks go for walks on the MLK Middle school track (up to three laps now).

Jean is doing more and I’m more rested. Thank you! What a year we’ve all had!!!

A song of gratitude

Morning

Thinking about all you’ve gone through in these past few years… nights and days in the hospital, procedures, anesthesia, exotic medications (and my God, the number of med changes and always getting it right!), hair loss, pain, uncertainty, pandemic, the fires, social distancing (you, who thrives on socialization), trump, insurrection, so on and so forth (and leaving out some significant things for several purposes).

We come to what may be a transition point – Vaccination Day! – and I reflect on what you’ve gone through and how you’ve done it and what can I say? What can I do? Except to write this small tribute to my partner, my lover, my Shaman Princess. Except to sing this song of gratitude…

I’ve been there/here throughout.

Christmas 2020

I’ve seen you in the fire.

I’ve seen you when hope was far away.

I’ve seen you put your head down and march forward.

Forward!

We’ve both been afraid.

Some good loving throughout.

Some good times woven all through.

Together!

And here we are,

Forward into our future, into our Golden Light!

Sunset, last week

As I said earlier, some things have been left out, yet the sum remains the same. This is a beautiful life and I am filled, suffused with gratitude and respect.

 

Getting old: supplication

This is the first of a series or maybe just a couple of posts on experiences in ageing in America.

I was deeply involved for many years with caring for older people in hospice and community health. I often discussed with patients/families how they could mobilize their personal resources such as family and church for help in their illness or disability. My wife, Leslie and I were concrete resources for many people. I have also published material on this in books, journal articles, and have presented info at national conferences. So I know what I’m talking about – but, alas, I didn’t really know, though I gave accurate information.

Here is some of what I’m learning in the crucible of ageing:

The most common refrain among those who need help is “I don’t want to be a burden.” Now I realize (actually, it got real-ized for me) that:

Being old in America means becoming a supplicant

And a supplicant is hardly ever a good thing to be.

It’s like being a beggar.

Some people, myself included, don’t often ask because they don’t like being a supplicant, a beggar – and that is what it sometimes feels like. Right now I’m on the phone and internet trying every avenue I can think to get a covid vaccine for my wife and me because we’re 70+ years old at high risk for complications of the disease and the treatment. I’m even working on signing up at the VA! And that, my friends is quite a comment on vaccination clinics through county health departments here in the Bay Area and my provider, Kaiser Permanente.

Next up will be Getting old: being a refugee in my own country, America.

Van camping

Warning: Boring Alert (but there’s a pandemic going on, so your calendar may not be full).

This is a short story of a van.

Sleeping platform in couch mode, but no pad. Hello Serene Life! The black and white section at back of sleeping platform extends out as a table.

I’ve been in Berkeley five years now and because of a stellar public transportation system and Jean’s sharing nature, haven’t needed a car. However, except as a necessity, buses and trains aren’t at all a good idea these days. So I got a California DL and a 2020 Toyota Sienna van. In more or less order:

Get van. Get three part folding mattress that fits cargo space when second and third row seats are removed.

Couch mode

Take out second and third row seats. The third row seats can fold down inside a cavity in the van, but I took them all the way out to get extra storage. A difference between 2020 Siennas vs. 2021 is that in the latter the second row seats don’t come out because of airbag placement.

Caught by Jean, tangled up in a fleece

Build a sleeping platform with storage underneath. Someone had given me some nice ¾” cabinet grade plywood, and I collect scrap lumber, including some nice redwood. I built a sleeper/couch/storage platform designed to accommodate 12” high storage boxes. One nap showed us this was too high and our travel plans have changed, so I changed parts of the sleeper to give us 8” high storage space and enough headroom to sit on the “couch” or sit up on the bed when the couch becomes the bed. The floor is weird and lumpy from some hardware that is impossible for me to remove. I’ve leveled the floor some and Jean donated a small Turkish rug, but the floor is still a little lumpy.

Make curtains – Jean used some Indonesian ikat for curtains between front seats and sleeping, etc. area. We got precut light blocking panels for other windows for complete privacy when we want it. Just the thing for stealth cam

Bed extended

ping. Candy pointed out that we should have a God’s eye. She’s right.

We don’t currently plan on doing much cooking. I have a Jetboil water heater that I used backpacking. It quickly boils 2 cups of water, which is enough to make two cups of strong coffee or two servings of oatmeal with fresh or dried fruit or two freezer bag meals. http://ckjournal.com/backpacking-food

Get portable chemical toilet and put it in. Will use bungee cord to secure it when traveling. We don’t expect to travel any four-wheel type roads, so sloshing shouldn’t be an issue. Brand is Serene Life.

In couch mode, there is plenty of room with the toilet and ice chest present. With the bed extended, it’s tight with the toilet and ice chest, so for sleeping we’ll advance the front seats as far forward as they will go – another 10-12 inches (below photo).

Bed extended, toilet in place, seat forward. A little tight, but waaaay better than public toilets.

Test run. We’ll likely go

to some friend’s place near La Honda. But right now California is locked down pretty tight because of covid, so it will be a few weeks before we can go.

Vehicles of mine I’ve slept multiple nights in:

The van

The VW van was a true magic bus. We didn’t need much storage space because we didn’t have much to store. Had a mosquito net big enough that I just draped the whole thing. Another night near Hippie Hollow, our little ghost town in Nevada, Oklahoma while terrible tornados whirred and buzzed and roared all around…

The Campry was a Toyota Camry with the back seat partially removed so I could put my legs through a hole into the trunk and thus sleep lying down, not the most comfortable bed, but fine for a night at a trailhead, in RMNP, Weminuche Wilderness, Wind River Mountains …

… and here I sit, in my Campry, dry and warm as can be. It rained all night and I was cozy and semi-comfortable. http://ckjournal.com/wind-rivers-2009-north 

Peter and I were walking along what used to be the Santa Fe tracks running through Berkeley; like David and I walked along the Santa Fe tracks in Dallas.

The RAV4 was a cozy home for me sleeping at Keo’s hospital, Jeff’s land, Jim’s lake house, Bryce’s ranch, and psytrance gatherings in Texas and Oklahoma.

Now the Sienna.

I don’t have a friend who feels at ease

She was softly crying when we awoke. We held one another for a long while and then Jean told me she’d had a dream – she didn’t know what happened in the dream, except she was alone. We lay there awhile, then I picked up my phone by the bed and played An American Tune by Paul Simon as we continued lying there in this foggy morning where smoke and fog mixed to hide the Bay and even the hill near our home. This deep sadness.

And I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
or driven to its knees

(From An American Tune by Paul Simon)

We talked of life and love and death and aloneness. We talked some about David, Jean’s husband and Leslie, my wife. We talked about aloneness. We talked about here we are, tears, sadness, and love mixing…

Here we all are – David Leslie Jean me; Leslie me Jean David; Jean me David Leslie… for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part…

9 am outside of Monterey Market on “Orange Wednesday”

And I dreamed I was dying
And I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly
And I dreamed I was flying

Into the sweet bye and bye.