Posts Tagged: shopping at the used man store

A little cancer talk, and a little more talk about books.

Disclaimer:

A vintage ad for Hanes stocking.
One way to achieve discretion! A pile of books!

Bear with me, folks. This starts out heavy and ends up happy.

For readers here, it probably seems as if there is nothing I won’t discuss, but that is not true. I’ve written about losing my mother twenty years ago, but not the small cell carcinoma esophageal cancer that killed her.

I’ve only referred obliquely to the medical crisis my birth father endured five years before he finally died of metastatic prostate cancer, and haven’t written at all about the pain he suffered at the end.

I haven’t talked about my father’s lung cancer, which he was too weak to treat with surgery, so they killed off the spiky tumor with radiation and called it good. That is not what killed him (that was what they used to call galloping emphysema).

I haven’t spoken in depth about the kidney cancer and rectal cancer that were part of the constellation of illnesses that eventually killed my beloved Brother Steve; the first dealt with by removing a kidney (they were both useless but one was cancerous) and the second treated with radiation because like Dad, my brother was far too weak for any more surgery.

I also haven’t talked about how I spent a good portion of last year helping my sister deal with breast cancer. I didn’t write a peep about it. That’s possibly out of consideration for her privacy, and probably because it was all so damn hard. I don’t know. But for the record, it was estrogen-responsive, with a small, contained tumor that nonetheless released micromets to several of her lymph nodes.

Lumpectomy, removal of affected nodes, radiation, and she was done. Does that sound easy? I think if you had another kind of breast cancer, and you had to have mastectomies and chemo, it probably sounds easy. It was not. It was hell for her, emotionally and physically.

All I could do was be there for every scan and consultation, driving her here and there, waiting with my nephew during the surgery, just being present as best as I could. My nephew took her to all the radiation appointments. I came for the last one so I could watch her ring the bell that signaled the end of her treatments. 

This year.

She had six-month scans on Thursday, and everything came back with “no evidence of disease, see you in a year.” There was a little party in that imaging facility lobby in the Phil Knight Cancer Center, let me tell you, with me sending a photo of this little sheet of paper to my girls and my nephew.

Maybe that’s why we were in such good moods when we saw the surgeon. In fact, I would say that my sister and I were downright boisterous when he arrived to look over his handiwork. This has not been our mood in general while consulting with this doctor. There have been times when the atmosphere has been suspicious, disappointed, downright furious.

There is nothing like a no-evidence-of disease to lift the room.

He was explaining my sister’s minimal asymmetry and estimated her cup size. She said, “You’re good at that. I bet you’re a hoot at parties.” I said, “Yes, is that your party trick, like the guess-my-weight at the fair?” and he absolutely cracked up.

He can be boyish, this surgeon, with a gee-willikers enthusiasm for the technological gizmos that make his work easier. This attitude is sometimes at odds with the emotional state of his patients. But in general, he’s fun, for a surgeon. Perhaps that’s why he sat down facing me and said, “If you want to know what I’ve done with my spare time, I wrote a book. It’s about the fifty worst movies of all time.”

Well, I had my phone out and Amazon up in a heartbeat, and before he’d finished issuing his disclaimer that he loves bad puns, which might inhibit my enjoyment of the book, I’d found and ordered it. Then I told him I’d written one nonfiction book called Shopping at the Used Man Store. He loved the title.

So after additional exchanges of publishing information and general bonhomie, he told my sister that the physician’s assistant would be right in to check her out, and he’d see her in a year.

A year. Can you imagine? A year. We were nearly crying with relief. So we sat there, relieved and waiting. And waiting. And wondering what was taking so long.

Finally, the PA arrived, and let us know that they’d been busy looking up my book? And that’s why we’d been sitting there? And apparently now the medical staff is going to be reading about my internet dating adventures? In a book that is so explicit, frank, and unsparing that my husband—my loyal and supportive husband who has read every word of all five Gentry books, and that is a LOT of words—refuses to read it?

Well! Wow!

I came home in a panic and decided to reread the book, and I decided that was fine. It’s actually hilarious. The only problem is, I wrote most of it when I was in my forties, and published it in my fifties, and now I’m in my sixties. I’m not exactly the toothsome specimen I was back then, so reading about all these men who called me beautiful makes me think, “What, were they all blind?”

And then I remember that I was twenty years younger, in my prime, really, that second bloom of beauty many women have in their forties that gave rise to the term MILF in the first place. Which made me glad I wrote all that down, to be honest. Because that bloom is past and now I have a record of how I wasted it on a bunch of pointless internet dates.

Anyway, I have another point.

Which is that I’ve read a couple of undersung nonfiction books this past year that I enjoyed, so here they are.

June Underwood

Sculpting the Mist: Reports from Elderhood, 2019 – 2021

I believe this book was drawn from letters to her daughter, and it’s a thoughtful, intelligent look at that part of aging where everything is more fragile; health, bodies, bones, memory.  I’m not there yet, but of course I will be in ten years if I’m lucky. Part of this was written during the pandemic shutdown. I feel like the truest accounts of that strange time will be found in memoirs like this. Fiction will make it beautiful, but the strange, daily parts are best captured by regular people living regular lives.

It’s not all aging and COVID, though. It’s a portrait of a very specific Portland neighborhood—Montavilla—which I loved reading, since Montavilla has really changed in the 40+ years I’ve lived in the Portland area. The author’s love for her daughter shines through the entire book. She’s also an artist, so you have insight into her creative process.

Orrin Onken

Why Old People are Mean: Essays on Aging, Retirement, and Life

I first read Mr. Onken years ago, when my sister pressed her copy of Malady Manor on me. She said it captured the process of alcoholism and recovery better than anything she’d ever read. I was writing Kathryn Mumford at the time and my sister thought it would help. I’m not sure the story of a disbarred/reinstated attorney in Portland, Oregon was exactly key to writing Kathryn’s recovery, but I loved it.

Why Old People are Mean is a slim collection of his best Medium pieces, written after his retirement from practicing elder and family law. His deadpan sense of humor is just my style. Orrin Onken is the only reason I still subscribe to Medium.

And of course I must plug my own book! With the proviso that I am also old now! You will laugh, you will cry, you will crawl on your belly like a reptile.

cover of "Shopping at the Used Man Store" by Karen G Berry.

Shopping at the Used Man Store

This is me at my worst, which might be my best, don’t you think?

Oh, and! The good doctor’s book has not arrived yet, but I am fairly sure my husband I will both love it:

Bombs Away: Fifty Old, Bombs Away: Fifty Old, Often Bad, and Mostly Forgotten Films, in No Particular Order

I hope you enjoy all these books, and please, if you haven’t, get SATUMS because it’s so damn funny. Thank you.

Cobwebs

The good old days

Photo by Nuno Alberto on Unsplash

(Prompts: My friend Katrina sent me writing prompts every weekday in October, and I wrote a lot of stuff, some of it great and some of it not. But I thought I’d share a few of them with my sweet readers. This prompt was “The Cobweb.”)

I used to chat in an AOL chat room for writers, but you couldn’t tell based on the screen names. I don’t know what I was expecting. A Proust or two? SusanSontag777? KerouacLives? No, I was surrounded by chatters who had names with “Vixen,” “Gypsy,” “Diva,” and “Princess” in them.

My own chat name was gender neutral and non-informative. It wasn’t chosen to attract male attention, or any attention for that matter. I went to that chatroom to banter. I was a bored single mother of three young kids who worked from home, and most of my friends had moved out of state or evaporated with my divorce. My ex never took the kids and I desperately needed a social outlet.

Chat let me trade barbs and quips with other intelligent chatters. It was like going to a bar without leaving my home (or drinking, because I don’t drink much). Harmless, right?

But other chatters had other goals.

I remember a chatter with a Russian screen name—something like Anastasia—who would sit in the room and talk about her life, which involved seven children and a husband. You’d think a woman who’d given birth to seven living children would be of strong and hardy stock, but noooo. Nothing about her could be considered hardy.

How did I know? Because she went on about it. When Anastasia wasn’t describing the extreme lengths she went to in preparing elaborate European meals for her children and making them historically correct Halloween costumes based on medieval royalty, she spoke of her own extreme fragility.

This lady was dainty.

She sounded like The Princess and the Pea. “I bruise so easily,” she said. “My husband has to be gentle with me.” After seven children? Really? Her feet were extraordinarily narrow, and her shoes had to be special-ordered, perhaps from a fairy cobbler, I don’t know. Her ring size? Three, but threatening to slip off her twig-like fingers.

Her hair was bountiful, but she couldn’t wash it too often because her natural ringlets were so fine and breakable. “I have to just let it fall free,” she said, because to restrain this massive cascade of curls might cause it to, I don’t know, shatter? Does hair do that?

Anastasia’s methods were successful.

She would bat her virtual eyelashes and the men would swoon, especially when they heard that her delicacy extended to her undergarments. She announced in chat, “My panties are like cobwebs. I couldn’t bear to wear anything else.”

I had several women friends in that chat room, and we all were amused by this extraordinarily dainty mother of seven. We wondered just how her slender frame had tolerated the conception of that many infants, let alone their delivery. But the cobweb underwear was the last straw.

My friends and I began to make pronouncements in the room about how we couldn’t take a step without shattering an ankle due to extreme delicacy, how one of us cracked her pelvis by sitting down on a park bench, how breathing itself exhausted us and left us with blue lips and racing pulse. We thought we were hilarious, but we were written off as “just jealous.”

And maybe we were.

I mean, many of my chat friends were conducting their own online flirtations. Maybe they resented the successful wiles of this fecund but gossamer creature. She might have been cutting in on their action. Or maybe I was envious. I’m almost offensively sturdy. Nothing about me seems particularly fragile. I could have assumed a gauzy, misty online self, but what would be the fun in that? It was more fun to be a wiseass.

My goal was to disturb the balance in that room with my frankness. My joke was, “I’m crafting an exotic online persona in which I’m a broke single mother of three who drives a minivan.” When asked what I looked like, I’d say, “Kind of like Boy George.”

(Side note: This was true. I was at a party once and this incredibly attractive lesbian said, “Karen, I mean this as a compliment. You kind of look like Boy George.”

Boy George

And I told her thank you. Because look at him! Don’t you dare say anything mean about George).

Of course, I was frank about what was going on in that AOL chatroom. I’d point out that any female-seeming screen name with “69” in it was actually a man (absolute truth). I’d type that anyone with “Vixen,” “Gypsy,” “Diva,” or “Princess” in her screen name was fat (again, this was absolutely true). I maintained that the room was full of soothsaying convenience store clerks and mystical daycare operators.

I guess you could say I didn’t buy in.

Of course, you’d be wrong if you said that. I bought in. I can’t pretend otherwise. I want to make it clear that most encounters were fun, not romantic, and have resulted in friendships that last to this day.

And then, there were the not-so-fun encounters. I crossed paths with hoarders and psychopaths and con artists. I was even fed into the wood chipper! (that’s figurative, not literal language there). I realized that the chatroom was full of people who were typing from a very different place than I was, both physically and mentally. People had problems. And I’m not here to mock them for it.

I’ll leave it at this: There were many adventures, meetups, and debacles, some of which I allude to in this book, SHOPPING AT THE USED MAN STORE, but most will go unspoken for all time. No, seriously, I do have limits as far as what I’ll reveal, even if it seems like I don’t.

I lived to tell, even if I’m not going to.

My visits to the chat tapered off after 2003, when I got my very own stalker, which was hideous but chat was a habit, so I’d still check in occasionally. But you know, the less I went, the less I wanted to. It was a chatroom. A chatroom is an optional space. You don’t have to go there, even if you’re used to it, even if you like it. You have the option of disappearing.

I stopped chatting on AOL in 2006, after my house fire. I didn’t miss it until 2020. I was bored out of my mind during the COVID-19 shut down, so I tried Livewire’s chat. My options were fairly grim. I didn’t want to chat in any of the rooms, but I finally settled on an over-fifty chat. I soon realized that over fifty meant like over seventy. Well, okay, I have interesting friends in their seventies and eighties. I was willing to give it a shot.

I watched hopefully. Everyone on there had been on AOL chat at one point or another, but no one seemed familiar to me, so they weren’t my old gang. Someone claimed to remember my chat name from the olden days but he seemed a little drunk so I wasn’t sure.

There was a definite whiff of MAGA in the air. And, BRB, gotta put the laundry in the dryer kind of updates. Descriptions of what was in the crockpot. Enquiries after the health of pets. I was waiting for banter, that back and forth, the crackle, the spark. I didn’t see any.

I’d throw out a gambit now and then, and get some lols, but really, no one could dish it back. Not in a way that inspired me to stay. These chatters didn’t have the quick wits and astonishing minds of my old chat friends. They weren’t writers, or readers. But one thing hadn’t changed.

They still liked to flirt with each other.

These aged chatters were on the chat make, angling for attention with the old :::chat gambits:::. Only now those people were in their seventies and eighties and…nineties. Ninety year old people flinging out their :::batting eyelashes::: and @—->— a rose for you, and so on.

I watched for a while, horrified but reassured that at least one part of chat had never changed. And then I wondered if Anastasia was still wafting around the chat rooms in her cobweb underthings, beguiling the men, her tiny bird bones made ever so much more fragile by advancing osteoporosis.

Shopping at the Used Man Store –because you asked for it.

My first foray into nonfiction is here. Are you ready to jump into computer dating? This book tells you everything you need to know about all the men you could ever hope not to date while shopping at the used man store.

I wrote this book during a period in my life when I was seriously trying to find a serious prospect for some serious dating (seriously) and these were my serious results.  The book comes from my not-so-serious attitude about my adventures, because you have to laugh, or you’ll cry. No crying allowed. So grab a cart, and get ready to join me on an extended metaphor!

Did you date me, and are you curious as to how I remember you? Be prepared, I am not nearly as nice as I appeared to be over that drink!

Are you single, and hoping to read about dates that are even worse than the ones you’ve been going on lately? I guarantee you, I win at bad dates!

Are you married, and want to rub it into your single friends’ faces by giving this book to them along with the words, “If something happens to (spouse), I am NEVER dating again!” My book is absolutely perfect for that.

Or are you single, and do you want to give this to your fellow single friends, so they don’t completely lose hope in the dating process? If they can take reading it until the end, this book just might give them some hope. Or, it might just make them wet their pants, who knows.

Anyway, here it is. I hope you laugh. 

Oh, and there are other writings included–a few essays about my adventures with men outside the “serious prospect” dating period, including the worst Valentine date ever–and, a runner up. Also, exactly how to kill a relationship by traveling together. And, just a note, please don’t feel sorry for me when you read this, because I swear, I am just FINE.  

Available in paperback here: SHOPPING AT THE USED MAN STORE

And Kindle (including Kindle Unlimited) here: SHOPPING AT THE USED MAN STORE