Lebn is the title of my memoir. Several people who’ve read my most recent Lebn chapters have said that the violence, death, and other unfortunate karmas in the life of Martin Bock are not attractive reading material. The title word means, among other things – Blessed. I can certainly understand that sadness heaped upon misfortune might not be just the thing for the night table. But I want to hint at where the plot goes and why. Here’s an example: Against cosmic odds, I am adored by – and adore – the most beautiful and grace-filled mate this side of Andromeda. It’s a fact. And that’s only the beginning. I write the chapters of Lebn to say thank you to every character on its pages. The chapter titled, Healing – below - is a rewrite of a piece that was work-shopped some time ago. This version contains several references to things described or said in previous chapters. For example, it opens when Melly, my wife, and I lived and had our home and holistic health practice in Venice Florida. Our oldest son Josh had married a woman whose life and origins formed inexplicably complex coincidences with those of my own family. Liz and my mother had both emigrated from Argentina.
My first grandson’s name is Ringo. Dialogs between him and myself were published in Best of BWW Anthology, 2013. There, I describe the impact of his first prenatal sonogram - mentioned briefly in Healing.
Also, I had planned to write Lebn in 3 parts: My style is changing and so the chapters from all sections may appear in non-chronological order – a form in which plot trajectory is implied until the climax becomes suddenly apparent. Contents of this submission:
1. Healing, a chapter from my memoir.
2. Coincidence a sketch for a theme that may either run throughout the text or be limited to one chapter.
3. Questions for BWW readers.
Part IV of Lebn, Chapter 1. It is of only mild interest to me now, how fast and easy it was to switch from, ‘What? You want to cut off my balls,’ to ‘Sure, go right ahead.’ While I was still in treatment, though, the contrast between my own newfound thoughts about testicular subtraction and the emotional reactions of my friends often triggered my laughter. I was already out of the hospital when my brother-in-law, Michael, made a sick visit. He asked, “What kind?” And a few minutes later, “how are they treating it?”
I said, “Chemo.” And he frowned, concerned. When I told him they did an Orchectomy, he shrugged. So I said, “It means they cut off one of my nuts.” And his face turned the color of the moon when it shines dimly through a cloud. I laughed. Women on the other hand, didn’t react, at least not visibly, as if one less testosterone-secreting gland in the world were a catastrophe comparable to Noah’s deluge.
If I told it all, the story of my begins with a slight but noticeable pain that came to stay in a testicle. That same week, we got a phone call from Josh.
He said in, “Looks like a change of plans. Liz and I are staying together – it’s not just temporary to get her legal in this country anymore. We’re really doing it.”
Melly’s cheek and mine abutted as we shared the phone’s hand-piece. Her nodding thrust my head up and down; and I understood her excitement. In her mind, one word was lit up like a Vegas neon sign, Grandchildren, Grandchildren . . .
She crooned, “Josh that’s so wonderful!”
“Yeah well we decided. And then she got pregnant.
“Oh honey, that’s just wonderful.”
“Well, I don’t know what you think about this but we talked about it, and if you want to live near us – you know – help us take care of our kid . . .
Mel was packing before we hung up. With sold our houses – even our home – the one we bought for cash.
Neither of us was paying attention when I said, “Baby, I don’t think either of us has what it takes to start all over – we’re just too old. if we do this - good chance we’ll lose everything and go bankrupt.”
Six years later, my prediction turned out to be right on the money. But if either of us had listened to me before we moved back north from Florida, I would have been dead within two years. Mel and I lived with her brother until Josh & family went to Massachusetts. We moved to a nice Condo close by. I didn’t’ start over – get my new acupuncture practice up and running. We didn’t know where we were going. And it was becoming a regular torture that my prostate gland had grown bumpy, hard and irregular – like a big Jerusalem Artichoke. The pain caused by long, extended terms of urinary retention is really something! I had been to doctors who told me it was nothing to worry about, but if it got worse, that I should go directly to the emergency ward. Believe me, if there’s anything worse than not being able to pee, it’s having a tube run up the urethra to make peeing possible.
It took about six months for Josh and Liz to buy their home in Leominster. It was the house where Johnny Appleseed was born and raised. By then, my sense for architectural detail, real estate value – investment in general – was occluded.
We bought a place three miles from Johnny Appleseed Lane, but not before I went for an appointment with a distinguished urologist. Her office was in Mass General, which is one of the top 5 Hospitals in the country. Euphemistically, urinary retention is an extremely uncomfortable condition that is not considered critical to the advancement of a surgeon’s career, nor to the patient’s ultimate wellbeing, unless he’s unwilling to come into the emergency room for catheterization. Once was more than enough for me. And so, when prospects looked all too good, for a 4th round of the excruciation and embarrassment of trying to walk with a tube the diameter of my thumb, stuck all the way from a collection bag outside, through the urinary outlet into my bladder, I was referred to a hatchet faced doctor who responded to her patients with a studied absence of bedside manner.
She rattled off a long line of what I took to be her best urological questions. She said, “OK. Before I do an examination, is there anything else?
“I’m sure it’s nothing,” I said. “I mean it wouldn’t be the first thing I’d look at if it were one of my patients. But I’ve had a slight pain in my left testicle for over a month, um, maybe several months.”
She said, “Yes, it doesn’t sound like anything.”
I said, “I’m sure it’s nothing.”
She said, “It doesn’t sound like much.”
“No, ” I said, “but you asked.”
“Well if you want me to work it up, you’ll have to make another appointment. I am just swamped today. And my daughter . . .”
And there, she faded off into yet another of the long confessions that people have, since I was 5, felt compelled to lay at my feet. Something about the Doctor’s parental inadequacies, which were brought into sharp focus by her overcrowded practice, and she hinted? Implied? That I was, by virtue of being there, a part of the problem with her kid.
She did her exam, very precise, professional, and cold. She said, I didn’t feel anything unusual.” She agreed with my GP’s diagnosis and prescriptions and I was on my way out the door. My hand was turning the knob.
It’s a curious thing that in 2003 - the birth year of my first grandchild, Ringo – a Doctor’s office in the hospital where the gold standards other medical facilities lived by were created, still sported a traditional, Oak-paneled door with a round knob. I remember the twist of that knob as The Pivot – the spiral turning into this current octave, my life.
I’d already tagged her, The Battle Axe. Before the knob had gone all the way around to its stop, she said, “You know, as long as you’re here, I might as well write an order for you to get that thing scanned. I’m sure it’s nothing. But you’re here.”
I went down in the elevator with an order for a bilateral, testicular sonogram in hand; and ended up gowned in a tiny, darkened room, in the bowels of Mass General. There was hardly room for the exam table, sink, chair, stool and the wheeled cart upon which sat the kind of sonogram apparatus that had taken such good videos of my Ringo’s exquisite, in-utero Tai Chi.
After about 10 minutes, the door opened and I was in the presence of a very attractive young woman, whose outer appearance was, like Melly’s, matched by an aura of essential kindness – what I think people mean when they say, ‘Inner Beauty.’ She was ash blond and pink-skinned. When she came through the door, her face and the small visible portion of her chest , was blushed light red. I saw the situation from a distance: It was late. The guy who usually did scans on intimate body parts of men had gone home and she had been assigned me. In a close, concrete room was an old man in nothing but a hospital Johnny; and a mid-twenties female in full hormonal bloom, whose task would include the manual positioning and manipulation of his sexual organs, over the course of twenty minutes – ten with any luck. And what was in my heart right then was the need to ease her embarrassment.
I said, “You know, this is all going to work out for the best. Where do you want me?”
The solar flare that leapt across her complexion belied her best shot at a smile. “On the table? I don’t think we’ll need the stirrups?”
“Do you want me to do something?” was answered with the compression of yet more blood into her upper body.
While I was still in search of good things to say, to help her along, she got down to business.
“How long have you been doing this?”
Rouge flowed across her cheeks. She said, “Not very long. I’m just learning.”
“Oh?” what are you learning?”
Her flush deepened to crimson mortification. My chatter must have distracted her, because she had put more jelly on parts of my scrotal territory that had already been explored.
But, in for a penny, I thought . . . “What do you like most about your work?” And right there, I knew not just intuitively but from the jerk of the probe across my perineum that it was not, given the circumstances, the right question. But she soldiered on. And so did I.
At the end, she turned to leave. I said, “Thank you so much.” And there it was – the perfect fireworks finale, blotched across the nape of her neck. Oh well.
Back upstairs, the Battle Axe’s lair was safe, neutral ground. Until I noticed, several times, that the receptionist looked away when I turned toward her. The heavy woman who came to usher in the next patient, frowned when her gaze meandered, as if casually, in my direction. After a half hour, The Battle Axe came to me in the waiting room. She said, “There seems to be something wrong with the scan. I’d like you to go down for another one. But I’m sure it must be a glitch. We just want to make sure.”
I said, “Sure.” And went down.
This time when she came in, her eyelids were not doing very well at damming her tears, a few of which had passed the barrier and were on their way over her collar bone.
“They told me it’s probably just a glitch.”
“Oh,” she said, “I hope I made a mistake.”
“What kind of mistake?”
Her eyelids had ceded victory to her tears. Her upper shirt front was soaked.
“I really don’t know what it could be. But I’ll just make sure to do a better job this time.”
“Thanks,” I said.
She muttered, “Don’t mention it.” And I couldn’t tell if she meant it literally or in the colloquial sense.
We were both silent after that, as she carefully moved and probed the soft parts that hung quietly below my pelvic diaphragm.
When she handed me a napkin to wipe off the jelly, she said, “I really hope it was a mistake. These things happen.” Her face was up a notch, from pearl sheen to gray. “And since you asked - What I like most about my work is to help people get well.” And her cheeks made it all the way up to light pink.
Ten minutes later the Battle Axe said, “We only have to take the left one. You can function perfectly well without it. There’s nothing to worry about. But every minute counts. It’s Friday afternoon. I can’t get a table before Monday. Come at 7 o’clock in the morning and I’ll do you first thing.”
“Thank you,” I said. And I meant it.
“You will be in good hands,” she said.
When the hatchet faced urologist sent me down for an ultrasound that neither of us thought I needed, she saved my life. But my healing began, in a tiny, darkened room, with a lovely woman who wanted me intensely, during the few minutes I knew her, to be well.
If I’m willing to put up with some abuse, I can talk with scientists about just about anything. I have found that even the most ingrained physicist will give ESP the 5 minutes of invalidation it deserves. Life extension to 10,000 years? I’ve got the lowdown from over 10 Gerontologists on why not.
But! The exception is a singular subject to that merits only a hand movement response. It’s that gesture that kindness dictates should be done out of sight of it’s target - the one where the forefinger is pointed toward the gesticulator’s temple and twirled in circles. It is meant to demonstrate the addled condition of the brain in question. I have caught in my peripheral vision, more than once or twice, when I’ve said the magic word – Coincidence. And no wonder. What would happen if a hypotheses to test the notion that, here and there, non-randomness underlies theoretically impossible event intersections showed Significance? Well, if there were – not saying there is – something there t confirm nonrandom coincidence, then for science that would be the end of the ball game. (Bww readers. I will put examples of experimental method here. )
In scientific circles, for mention of Coincidence I get the surreptitious, screw-loose finger circles.
Here’s the problem as both coincidence advocates and antagonists will agree, but interpret differently: The scientist says that given the odds, a seemingly complex convergence would sooner or later have to happen to someone. The person in the middle of a complex convergence says to the scientist – OK then, how come it has my name on it. (By the way, that sooner or later business, ignores that the odds often require a stretch of time far longer than the consensus prediction of the lifespan of our universe. Just saying.)
Literature also has a problem with gratuitous coincidence. I said to a publisher, “I can’t write the coincidences of my life in my memoir; or even mention such things on the book jacket of my novel.”
He said, “Why not?”
“Because it stretches credulity. I’d lose my credibility.”
So here goes –
But first, before I dive in, an admission: I am fascinated by coincidences. I own the URL’s coincidencecenter.com, and .net. (Under construction.) But I really don’t have a clue, let alone a hypothesis. And it’s too easy to say, in retrospect, if not for that, then this would not be. But we don’t know. Do we?
So many of the important junctures of my life seem to turn on the intersected axes of coincidence piled atop coincidences, in what theorists call Third level Events. Mathematically speaking ,these are defined by odds that are meaningless. And yet, in my opinion, “Meant to be,” doesn’t come close. But nothing else does either. So far.
There are some serious advocates, among them Arthur Koestler - The Roots of coincidence; Carl Jung -Synchronicity.
OK. So I’m writing a novel in which one of the main characters is a so called AI – Artificial Intelligence.AI hacks itself into and hides in the server of a secret, quasi-governmental “agency.”
The second main character is a young man who’s had brain cancer since he was four. Jason is of great interest to the AI. In the first chapter, Jason inadvertently hacks the entire, Vermont, Integrated, Electronic Patient Record System. Also Jason’s grandmother, Margot, is his primary caretaker; and heads the “agency” that’s been hacked by AI. (I do not wish to discuss, here my novel, as such. Except to say I’m aware that gratuitous synchronicity kills novels. In non-fiction, as in memoir, the claim of coincidence, without evidence, makes the entire work non-credible.) But I also believe that safe writing kills a book as surely as a plot loaded with unaccountable coincidences.
Level 1: the novel’s main theme involves the hacking of computer networks, one of which is in Vermont.
Level 2: The novel is riddled with, um, riddles and puns; and other change-of-pace inanities.
Level 3: The Grandmother’s name is Margot.
Level 4: She was the Secretary to the “Agency’s” head.
Note, I wrote the chapters in which these characters appear before the coincidences that came afterwards.
Note, To protect certain players, I cannot mention several further event intersections that put even longer odds on impossibly long odds. I am glad to discuss these events in secret.
Level One: About a year ago, I get a call from my son Davi. He has a friend in Burlington who wants to discuss an urgent matter that I know something about. Would I be willing to meet with the guy?
He’s in his – 30’s? – Tall, good looking, walks with a white cane tapping out the space in front of him. We Talk for over an hour. I like him. We’re winding down so I ask, “What do you do?”
He is a key administrator; and programmer for The Vermont, Integrated Electronic Patient Records System.
I tell him the hack that Jason pulls off without knowing how to write a line of code.
“What do you think. Could it be done that way?”
Level 2. In the novel, Margot’s boss has been testing her job-adequacy by asking her riddles, as a main part of what occupies their time, for many years. In one scene he asks, “How do you tell your ass from your elbow?”
(Margot’s answer is in the chapter.) In the interest of authenticity for my writing, I decide to Google, How to Tell ass from Elbow? I’d like to know its history.
At the very top of the search page there’s a site titled, “Can You Tell Your Ass from Your Elbow Test?
I open the site. And yes, there’s really a test for this. It’s a screen montage of about 50 photos of Elbow creases and Ass cracks. Right off the bat, I get it, that it would take a better man than me to guess correctly. But suddenly! A pop-up window pops up. My Mac’s preferences deny pop-ups; but anyway, this one offers a special browser that does all sorts of tricks Google never thought of. I close the site. And then I Google that site’s Name + Reviews.
Turns out that everyone who’s ever downloaded the new browser has infected their computer, that slows to a crawl or quits after it’s sent everyone on the contact list a version of itself.
I Google further for Ass-Elbow stuff – I still want to know where “he can’t tell his ass from his elbow,” came from.
I find the legitimate website that originated the Test. (Apparently, the Hacker-Browser site, um, lifted the test from its place of origin and is using it, to attract traffic for digital virus fodder.
The very nice people who made up The Ass- or Elbow Quiz are Stupid Stuff.org -traffic http://stupidstuff.org/ where, as of February 19, 2017, one can still find the original Ass or Elbow Quiz - http://stupidstuff.org/ass_elbow/
Levels 3 and 4.At the top of the Ass or Elbow Quiz page, the author’s were so kind as to insert this note of interest:
Note: This page was originally developed as a training aid for our secretary,Margo. ”
Okay, so they dropped the “T” from the end of Margot. But still.
(Oh and by the way, according to the sooner or later it had to happen to someone argument – given enough time, the “T” would be there.
Now here’s the question I wrestle with in all of the above. In the chapter titled, Healing, I’ve only scratched the surface – under which lie the sea of documentable coincidences that led me to the Battle Axe’s Office. Omit any of those intersections and I would not be here in the flesh, to write the story. Should I gamble the credibility of Lebn, in which I hope to cleave to truth, on the synchronicities that saved my life. I haven’t added it up. But the it’s a very long, list of Coincidence Levels.