Saturday, April 02, 2005

Three Things


The pink plastic flamingos gather in a pat outside an oversized contemporary house in the rural woods, leaning and a-flame, gathering as if at tea, conversing at the mouth of the driveway. Perhaps they are there to welcome. Stoic, still, blushing with no sense of coolness, landmarks of kitsch or misunderstood highbrow art – take your pick – like a piece of Warhol art, a parody, iconic; or perhaps just really, really bad taste or really, really good taste – I don’t know.

Perhaps those who live in this house promote an artist life style, with the fake fowl a sign that art is larger than the commonness of everyday; that perhaps a Cristo of the lunatic fringe art world lives here and perhaps there are conspiracies of art just like there are conspiracies of everything else. Perhaps right now someone in this house is contemplating a plan to put these birds everywhere through the New York Botanical Gardens, or throughout the Cloisters in the Bronx – pink flamingos – a pat of them everywhere. “What is their meaning?” people would ask. “What is their purpose?”

I roll by the house slowly, for I do brake for cultural anomalies. I look in my rear view mirror and see the birds at various angles, slanted, almost animated with conversation, suggesting a certain exotica that is foreign here in this snowy New England climate. But this a) stain of human taste or b) cool parodic high art – pick one – just diminishes as I drive away.
Perhaps they are returned from the south guided by some migratory urging, part of a resurgence of flaming, plastic, pink flamingos, up here in the north to mate and bring us a revival of pop, cult art.


We have assembled around this table many times before and we have often recited lines from our favorite movies. One of our favorite moments is when one of us repeats in his worst (or best) Austrian accents a line from an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie: “It’s not a tumor.” You have to say it just right. It is definitely in the telling: “It’s not a tumor.” Drop the voice and close the back of the throat as you say it. Try it next time a friend complains of a headache. “It’s not a tumor.”

The only thing is though, this time it is a tumor. It is an anaplastic astrocytoma, a brain tumor. It is a brain tumor in a fifteen year old girl. It was discovered after this girl fought for years with a form of lymphoma. They had hoped it was in remission, but it spread. The headaches, the dizziness – she thought it might be nutritionally based, since for a while she was concerned about losing weight and wanted to be really thin as she progressed through high school. She wanted to be thin, and so she thought that was the reason for the dizziness. It spread like jam throughout her cortex, radiating fingers of the disease, defying true measurement like most cancers. These are cells that grow out of control, without a plan. Who would have thought that growth could kill? It is the flip side of everything, it seems, that always gets us: it is a fifteen year old with anaplastic astrocytoma. Now it’s more procedures, more waiting, more experimentation – it is a race to kill off this pat of cells, like a pat of pink, plastic flamingos multiplying, the ultimate of tastelessness in a disease. The rapaciousness of the disease is alarming.

“It’s not a tumor,” I tell her, trying my best not to invoke Arnold’s voice, but I can’t help it. It is a tumor and it is not as funny. Still, it makes us want to laugh. This cancer, this thing, sits in her head waiting but there is a complete desert in this waiting. “You need support groups,” “You need to visualize the disease,” “You need to personalize it,” “You need to vocalize what you are feeling,” “Try journaling,” we all tell her.

“Need?” she thinks. The concept of need is a million miles away. She is only fifteen. Have I said that already? She has already gone through chemotherapy; she has had lymph nodes removed. She knows the sickness brought on by the poison they pump into her. Every cell of her body has a memory and remembers this. She knows the tiredness like the dimensions of her bed, like every single square inch of her bed that she will now know even better. She knows boundaries. She will gather up her strength and muster enough saliva to spit at the disease. She will live.

“It’s not a tumor,” she says to me in her best Arnold voice ever. She is lying of course, but we love her so much that we laugh anyway.


During the early days of spring I drive to work very early in the morning. In part, this is to get a jump on the day, to begin my day with a regimen of exercise, but mostly because I love to open the day in the same manner that I love to close it: alone. This does not make me anti-social. It is not because I dislike people though the thought does cross my mind occasionally, but rather it is because the diffused sunlight as it rises and sets creates for me a sort of confessional. It creates a place where I must account for everything and to so, I must do it alone.

Have you ever noticed the flat stillness of the sky in the evening as the sun begins to set? It is small and delicate like the nape of a woman’s neck. It begs for relating to – the dripping purple clouds, like paint that has not yet dried, like fantasy artwork. It creates a space around me that is like a confessional.

The rest of the day – the fat middle where everything happens at lightning pace, the part that unfolds billowing like a flag – that is yours. Mine is the start of daylight and its dissolution – grand tutors of temporality. They are mine alone and are my gods and truth be told, sustain me.

This winter is a sort of cancer – the great overgrown dearth that follows us like a shadow: overgrown despair, overgrown bleakness crowding out everything. This has the tendency to make living so stony, like flaking shale, coming apart in your hands. It seems so much more geologic than it needs to be.

M C Biegner 4/1/2005


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