Back by popular indifference, it’s the 2016 Holiday Letter.
I haven’t done one of these since 2012 and it’s definitely overdue. Several years ago I decided that I’d skip a year. Mary-Frances told me that I couldn’t do that and that everyone would complain – that they were too popular to skip. Well, I never received any complaints so I’m assuming that no one really cared. Which, of course, raises the question of why I’m doing one, now.
The last recorded end of year letter that I have is dated 2012 (not available online, yet) which means, by this time we had moved to Holland Street so I won’t tell that story, again. Since then I’ve moved twice and changed jobs at least three times.
As it became more and more apparent that Widget was a failure, I was finally forced to start looking for work while Mary-Frances continued to try to keep Widget afloat. I found several contracts that kept us going and am now a full-time employee. Meanwhile, Widget collapsed more and more, without my skills to back it up and is now, completely defunct (except that I still use the email address). We stayed in the rental house at Holland Street for four years until, finally, the owners decided to sell and we were forced to move so we moved to an apartment complex in Broomfield and put a bunch of stuff in storage.
It was during our last year at Holland Street that I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. This was hardly surprising. 80% of men are in the high risk category for this disease and, as it seems to run in my family – we Main men are in the top 20% of that 80%. Luckily cancer isn’t the death sentence that it used to be. In fact, if caught early enough it is completely curable so I was subjected to the latest, cutting edge technique in oncology – daily radiation therapy.
Yes, daily, as in every single day (except weekends) for a total of 42 days (43, actually, as the doctor decided it was best to give me an extra treatment). Every day for 43 days I would show up at the hospital with a full bladder (which pushes the prostate away from the bladder so that the equipment can get better access to it), would lie down on a table and would be strapped down in a body cast to prevent me from moving. I have the cast to prove it, signed by all of the technicians, whom I got to know quite well (including the blonde girl who was 6’3″ – tallest chick I’ve ever seen!) Then they would bombard my prostate with a huge dose of radiation (x-rays, specifically) which, essentially, ripped the cells in my prostate to shreds. The way it works is that healthy cells can withstand it (albeit they are damaged) whereas cancerous ones are not as resilient. So, when it comes to cell-divide time, the healthy cells divide as they should but the cancerous ones, having been smashed beyond recognition, cannot divide and multiply and, thus, die.
On the first day they played Michael Buble. On the second day they played Michael Buble. On the third day they played, you guessed it, Michael Buble. And not just Buble but the same song! Well, I had to put an end to that so I started bringing in my own music. The most common comment on my last day was that they’d miss my music. My parting gift to them was a compilation I put together of selections that I’d played during the course of the therapy.
It’s still premature to say that I’m cancer free, but we certainly put a dent into it. Prostate cancer is very slow growing and, if diagnosed at a later age then, the oncologist told me, they would simply just monitor it as most people would “outlive it” – meaning that something else would kill them before the cancer does. Frank Zappa died of prostate cancer just shy of his 53rd birthday which means that his cancer started when he was a little earlier than my age. Had he had this treatment he would probably still be with us. In tribute I played some Zappa on the last day.
One financial windfall allowed us to take a trip to the East Coast, visiting New York, Wildwood New Jersey (which has the largest collection of mid-century motels with illuminated Googie signs in the US and, probably, the world), Hershey Pennsylvania and MF’s brother Mick in Maine.
Probably the most memorable moment, for me, was the Smithsonian museum in Washington DC. While one could easily spend a month exploring all of its nooks and crannies, we had only one day. So we looked for all of the usual “must see” items: Dorothy’s ruby slippers, Archie Bunker’s chair, Fonzie’s jacket etc. which are all in the same building annex. I was disappointed to find out that ENIAC and the Apple I were not on display but the did have an Apple IIE (big deal, I have one in my storage unit).
Perhaps the crowning moment, for me, was the Gemini IV space capsule. This was launched June 3rd, 1965 and was part of a series of NASA missions in preparation for the moon landing. The primary purpose of the Gemini missions was to enable two spacecraft to link up which would be necessary in order to have the orbiting moon capsule pick up Armstrong and Aldrin after they took their lunar constitutional (thus the name – Gemini, the twins). My father worked on this mission and many others like it when he worked for AWA, on contract to NASA at the Carnarvon Tracking Station in Western Australia. This was where my brother Gordon was born, before he moved the family to Sydney, where I was born.
This capsule that I was looking at, encased in perspex to keep it fresh, sent and received telemetry from a computer that my father had programmed. It was a tear-jerking moment. I had to take a picture of it which I immediately sent to Dad.
The big elephant in the room has to be my divorce from Mary-Frances after seventeen years of marriage and, unfortunately the story of that particular pachyderm will have to continue to go unsaid. It’s long and sordid and I’m saving it for a book. Suffice it to say that we are now divorced (October 5th, 1998 – May 19th, 2016 – RIP).
When we broke up I rented a small apartment in Arvada, where I now live with the kids, part-time. I considered taking Harry – the cat who adopted me – with me but I didn’t like the idea of taking him away from his little cat friends – the brothers, so I decided to go find my own cat. That’s when I came across the Cat with No Name.
The girl at the shelter took one look at me and said “you have to take a look at this one!” He had just come in and was from an abandoned litter. He was a tiny ball of playful savagery. The girl I was with at the time instantly feel in love with him. For myself it was between him and the girl with the torn ear that I took pity to.
Well, it may sound sexist but always go for the boy cat. Girl dogs and boy cats. Boy dogs are too independent and try to challenge to be the alpha. Girl cats lie around and do nothing. Girl dogs tend to be more obedient and gregarious while boy cats tend to be more playful and their challenges on human dominance are so pathetic as to be cute.
He came with a name: Leo – that’s his secret cat name but he’s the Cat with No Name. When we got him I stopped at target to get the usual cat accoutrements and while I was inside, according to the girl who was accompanying me, everyone was stopping by to see the cat with no name.
“Cat with No Name” abbreviates to CWNN or, more phonetically, “Quinn”. So that’s his everyday name but his formal name, when being referred to in the third person is “the Cat with No Name”. Confused? Peter Ustinov explains it with a nice poem in the movie “Logan’s Run”.
“Why not a dog?” you ask. If anyone picked me as a pet person it would have been a dog. I used to follow the crowd and show open contempt towards cats. But living with them I’ve come to appreciate their place as a house pet. The truth is, I’m an animal person, but since chimps make impractical pets (I know from experience) a cat seems like a natural choice.
I see my neighbors in the apartment complex walking their dogs. Every day. In rain and snow. Dogs are high maintenance. They need to be exercised. They have to take a daily walk (unless you live in a house with a doggy door). They are completely unsuited to apartment lifestyle. If you live on a farm get a dog. If you live in an urban apartment, get a cat.
Cats are low maintenance. They take care of themselves. All you have to do is feed them and clean their box. It’s like an in and out tray at the office. If you get one as a kitten, as the Cat with No Name was, then you can see their personalities and capitalize on that.
Besides that, chicks dig cats. Forget the puppy at the park. Just keep a photo of your cat on your cell phone.
I never pictured that I’d be a divorced guy in my (almost) 50s but that’s where I am so I started to look around (or, rather, continued to look around, only this time with actual intent). I dated the girl who helped me pick the cat for a while and then hooked up with Katy. We saw each other a couple of times and then she invited me to the 40s ball (apparently held every year at the Wings over The Rockies museum in Lowry. If you filled the place with smoke then you would have actually thought that you were in a ball during the 40s (except that the Nazis were hanging with the Allies but, hey, alternate history). So that was it. We have a lot in common. We’ve been together for a little over a year, now.
There was plenty of booze flowing at the 40s ball but I was drinking coca-cola. Those of you who know me know that I held a reputation as, somewhat of a hedonist where beverages were concerned. A series of unfortunate experiences during the divorce convinced me that, perhaps I was overdoing it. I don’t want to detract too much from my biography, but we were very unhappy during the last few years of our marriage – our last photograph together was taken shortly before we saw Harry Connick Jr in concert (a fabulous concert, by the way) and everyone I have shown it to says that we both look very sad and I suppose we do. I was trying to mask mine in alcohol.
But too much is too much and I decided that I was imbibing way to much and had been for many years. So one day I decided to stop, sought out a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous and have been dry ever since. My thanks go out to everyone who has supported me during this and my other ordeals. Even those of you who haven’t done anything tangible, I know that I’m getting karmic support. In AA they present you with a token per period of sobriety. These come at 24 hours, 1 month, 3, 6 and 9 months and every year, thereafter. Every time I got one I posted it on Facebook and every time I’m amazed at how many reactions I get to it. This tells me that many of my friends and family have seen my drinking as a problem.
While I wouldn’t classify myself as a bona fide, card-carrying alcoholic – I’ve heard some of the stories in AA and I’m a lightweight in comparison to some of those guys – I do have an issue which goes much deeper than a simple taste craving for alcohol. I found that I had clearly been using it to hide from my discontent, dissatisfaction and anger at the abuse that I had received throughout my life since high school. I’m working with some people about that so I have high hopes for the new year. This year we toasted New Year’s Eve with sparkling apple juice. Health-wise, I feel great!
The kids are doing very well, all things considered. A couple of years back Alec decided to take his trumpeting expertise to the streets and joined a marching band which he is still an active participant as well as engages himself in all of the school’s music arts – the school he attends is well renowned for it’s music program – and next year he will be taking some classes in drama. My hopes continue that the family will finally have someone in theatre instead of computer technology. Cheyenne has recently turned sixteen and, as such, can start thinking about getting her driver’s licence. How fast they grow.
That’s really about it. Perhaps the biggest news is that I’ll be back in Australia, briefly during this new year. I look forward to seeing all of my family and old friends when I get there.
Here’s wishing the best to all of you. Be nice to each other.
Roger L. Main and The Cat with No Name
January 2nd, 2017