Saturday, October 28, 2006

Me n' My Oscopy

We all have a number of things which remind us of the continuum along the life path. Seeing someone walk down the street in a Capt. Midnight jacket, the kind that forty jars of Ovaltine and $10 would have won in 1958, or maybe cruising along the hiway and be passed by a 1964 Chevy, all tweaked, tuned, painted and made to be joyful. Those are the kind of passages which lend themselves to, at the very least, a minor bit of introspection. Most folks tend to engage in introspection more as they age, I think: who ever heard of a 23 year old pondering the meaning of life unless it was in a Dylan song? I find the way to the future is sometimes paved with the cobble stones of yesterday.

Your correspondent, in his medical gown,changing room
Thursday night at the HBO theater, on 42nd and 6th Ave., in the W R Grace building, or what used to be the Grace / NYU building, there was a presentation of a photographic award. The Eugene Smith Foundation was started after his death in the late 70s. Smith, a curmudgeon of a genius, worked for every great magazine from the 1930s, thru the 70s, but mostly he worked for himself. Even if you don’t know the name, you probably know his photographs (sound familiar?). The two children in a garden, from the back walking hand in hand in a moment of utterly perfect innocence. Sweaty, gritty soldiers in World War II, taken from a very up-close and personal point of view: for Smith there were no telephotos: there were subjects, their space, and the way he found himself inside their space. He did over 400 assignments for LIFE, and ended his career in the early 70s working on the first real pollution story of the modern age: Minimata. (a story of a Japanese town’s pollution and how people living there were trying to carry on their lives. When Smith passed away, the foundation was started to create a bourse for a young, working photographer. The past few years, the award has been $30000, a goodly sum for the most starving of free-lancers. Competiton is intense, but people are undivided about the value of, in the age of shrinking magazine budgets, letting a photographer stay in the field for three to six months or so..and to let them delve into their work with a bit more time and thus, depth.

It is also a gathering of those in the photojournalistic community and a chance to catch up, albeit briefly, with friends who you rarely see. Amongst the attendees last night, in the “Overflow Room” (I arrived later than the first two hundred people) was a woman who I had briefly known 25 years ago at the ICP (Int’l Center of Photography.) She was, at the time, a rather unhappy, 27ish woman who, in some kind of feigned attempt to become my pal, kept nuddgying up to me, asking me all sorts of questions, some of which even bordered on photography. I’m a pretty fair sport at these kind of public events, but it came to the point that each time I would go to the ICP for some soiree, she would pursue me to a point beyond anything fun or amusing.

For the next 25 years, she remained unseen by me, until Thursday. There she was, in the second to last row of the Overflow room, wrapped in her heavy coat, the same kind of sour face which had pursued me those years, looking perfectly unhappy. Now, rather like a deflating tire, she was shorter, wider, though perhaps slightly more stable. Our eyes never crossed, though I later saw her with a plate piled high with the cheeseredpeppercelery nibbles that are the mainstay of well attended, mildly underfunded events (Let the record show they did have Bass Ale and Urquell Pilsner, a shout out for the beverage committee!) I was reminded of stories my Uncle Jack Goodman, born & reared in Brooklyn but for 60+ years of Salt Lake City, whose used to recount to me stories of his first job, as a radio broadcaster on the scene for WNYC during the late years of the Depression, broadcasting from the New York piers, as luxury liners would leave for England the le Havre. Most of the time the departures were seen as big events: starlets, empresarios, tycoons, all went by boat, and they all walked the plank UP into the ship. The press room eats were very often the only thing which the sometime journos would get to eat all day, so covering the sailing of the Mauritania was more than news, it was dinner. Last night had that minor moment of desperation, when I wonder if the woman in question was otherwise going to eat. She was well turned out, wrapped against the cold (Editors note: she may very well earn half a million a year as a stock analyst, we just don’t know). Yet it was another of those momentary reminders that it was a Half a Life ago.

After the procedure, relaxing in the gurney.

The other reminder of that fact was this week’s trip to the doctor for a Colonoscopy. Since the death of Katie Couric’s husband 8 years ago, and her very public backing of early detection, the mere fact that we can mention such a word in polite company shows how the world has evolved. I almost feel like mentioning the word Colon Oscopy makes me part of the new Old generation. You don’t mind even using in polite conversation with total strangers. Ok, that sounds a little gross, but really it isn’t. In fact you might wonder, as I did in the waiting room, why a med student would jump into Gastro instead of Brain surgery or something else which might land a guest spot on House. What is the attraction to the digestive tract, other than we all have one, and we all hope it keeps operating ? Nominally, as NASA would say.

A Gurney-eye view of the overhead light

You wanna talk gross, forget the procedure: it’s the “Prep” which should be put on the Homeland Security shortlist. You mix 4 quarts of water in a gallon jug, with lots of electrolytes (I thought that was the stuff we used to clean silver dishes in chemistry class) and which has the effect of cleaning out your system. Having not eaten Monday (they have a 3 day prep, and my exam was Tuesday, so I was well ‘into’ it) I started drinking this stuff, flavored a little bit to the positive side with Crystal Light Iced Tea flavor mix. Well trust me, it doesn’t taste like any Iced Tea you want to get chummy with, but I was able to drink and drink and drink. You have to basically ask your body to just float down the hall. But it’s a challenge to drink that much. The only solution I could use to forget I was being pursured by the nausea monster, though, was to read, up close, a very nice recipe for slow-cooked Beef in the current issue of Cuisine at Home. Somehow, if I kept reading about the spices and slices, I could jug that awful liquid crap.

But we do what we need to do, and there I was, hours later, in the changing room ready to go. You realize that it’s not exactly a Given that there is nothing wrong with you. Ok, you feel good, no real physical oddities, nothing showing up on your own body radar. But you could always end up with one of those unfortunate results, the kind where the doctor turns the lights off to tell you so it doesn’t feel like youre such a spectacle. Then into the room, on your side, bingo, in goes a probe (can you find these used, on eBay?), make a few groggy (they zap you with drugs, of course) bad jokes asking the Doc to change the channel BACK to Espn…this Discovery Health Channel isn’t what its cracked up to be! Recovery, minutes later, is accompanied by some juice and two peanut butter crackers – and they taste, truly, like Manna, since you haven’t eaten anything for 40 hours.

Modern Manna, in the form of peanut butter crackers
But as this is only my second time on the Camera Wagon, (every five years, people, do it like clockwork!!) I was quite happy to dress again, and skip out, confident in the doctor’s reading of my lower tummy. It’s a nice tummy – OK, -- needs work, but it’s my very own, and for all over us, especially over 40, it’s time to acknowledge you’re a grown up, and get yourself checked. Next cocktail party maybe we can compare x-rays.
We’re just sayin… David


Anonymous said...

Yes,David, I know all too well about coming to terms with the age thing. And thanks for the reminder..I guess I am not too much of in a hurry to be probed again(first time an Army doc). Getting older and seeing where possiblyI could've done better such as with career mistakes...Thanks

Anonymous said...

Hope all is okay with you, following the tests.