For two reasons, I only made two calls today. First is that I’ve been feeling that its difficult to really pull together a great write up of some of these calls if I’m rushing to get too many done in a day, so I dont think i’ll be doing many more entries that have tons of calls. Secondly, today I reached “Bird” in my phone book, and my parents are the first two names. These two conversations really hit on some sensitive topics, I hope you go hug your parent after reading it.
1. Bob Bird
The Last Time We Spoke: This is my dad, and we speak almost every day. I must note though, due to the topic being the focal point of our conversation, I will tell you now that he was diagnosed this past summer with brain cancer, after collapsing at work in a seizure, the day before my birthday. He regained consciousness a few days later and had surgery to remove the tumor, which was located in the memory center of his brain. At this point, we learned that it was Gleobastoma, the most aggressive form of brain cancer there is. He has been undergoing radiation treatments and chemotherapy for a number of months now.
When I Called Today: My Dad immediately asked me how “the show was last nite”. I had no idea what he was talking about, I didn’t play a show last nite, but due to his condition, and its affect on his memory, it often takes me a few moments to realize what he’s asking me lately. He was referring to the Jane’s Addiction show I attended last nite, and he was excited to hear about it because Perry Farrell has been one of his favorite artists for a long time. Like father like son, this one was my bad, whoops! He then stated that my memory didn’t fail me, it was simply that I was “being so zen-like, and in the moment right now, that the Jane’s show just simply didn’t exist to me anymore.” Good cover for me Dad, Thanks.
I remarked that Jane’s seemed bored on stage, and that I was slightly let down because there was no passion with their performance. My Dad starting a long rambling recollection of Bob Dylan playing live, and how he was scared to do it, then he segued into talking about how excited he is that I play shows all the time because he has seen the opposite from me since a young age. He says he loves seeing my passion for performing with Those Mockingbirds, and even though he’s told me it a million times before, I never get tired of hearing him notice it in all its subtle detail.
We started talking a bit about money, and while on the topic he stopped talking to try to remember a word, it was “check”, and once he had found the word, he couldn’t finish his sentence because he didn’t remember why he was talking about checks, now that he found the word. Shit like this breaks my heart to hear every day. I recollected his sentence for him and we carried on.
The next topic was painting. My Dad has been a painter for the majority of his life, he went to SVA, and has created hundreds of pieces, many of which were created as collaborative pieces with his wife, Olga, to whom he was married for the past 13 years. He informed me though, that Olga stopped painted when she found out she had cancer 7 years ago, and never picked up a paintbrush again, she died just a few weeks after my Dad’s surgery. He isnt letting it be that way for him, he would love to just paint for the remainder of his life, and that my brother and I should “either write a book about his art, or get a fancy curator to see his work”, however he doesn’t want this done until a few years after he dies.
(note: i am recounting a lot of this in the way it was said, which is very scattered, to illustrate the way my Dad speaks)
Seemingly jumping right to a new topic, he tells me that on the walk he took today, he realized how much garbage there is on the side of the highway, and that he’s starting to think he should stop trying to make nice landscapes and just paint garbage and highways, since thats what surrounds him, just like the mountains and trees surrounded the painters who created all those great Chinese landscapes. I find this to be an extremely insightful burst of inspiration and I hope he actually does this.
We start talking about his first seizure, and he describes that he was so drugged up that he “didn’t know what was happening for days”, I remind him that I was there because he’s telling me about it as if i wasn’t the whole time, waiting at his hospital bedside for him to wake up with my brother and sister in law.…. he forgets what he was saying…. then somehow ends up back on topic mentions that he didn’t say happy birthday to me cos he was “out” during it and apologizes and asks if anyone wished me a happy birthday that day. “yes dad, of course they did.” him: “oh good, well im sorry I couldn’t” me: “its completely okay”
He goes back to talking about being on painkillers at the hospital and describes the feeling by singing a short tune… “da da da da da”
Then wraps the tune up and states “hopefully my egg (the tumor) is gone” he nervously laughs and says he” feels positive in a way, but feels…” and then trails off, not finishing the sentence.
I kind of get lost in trying to put what he’s saying back together, like Humpty Dumpty, and while im tending to these shattered sentences, my Dad says that the moment seems a tad “un-zenn-y” because im not saying much and asks me if im not paying attention to him. i don’t know what to say.
Quickly changing topics again, he mentions that he wasn’t sure “who” he was going to be when i called, i asked what he meant and he said he could be, depending on his mood : Bob Bird, Robert M. Bird, Buddha Bob, Fu-Ling-Yu or Sum Dum Fuk, and he cant quite be sure of which “mood will surface” since “they cut part of his head out”.
Btw, in case you were wondering, both Fu and Sum are painters. (sidetone: My father has been a student of Chinese culture for his entire life, and these names are referring to himself, not to be mistaken as a racist joke at others.)
I asked him if he had anything to say to everyone asking how he’s feeling having brain cancer. He said, each personality he mentioned above, deal with it in different ways, and he trusts himself to switch between them when needed, and that he’s fine because of this mentality.
He then stated for me a sum up of his approach to having cancer…
“I don’t think you need to have beliefs from a religion to make yourself okay, you just need to be open to this moment, and take in the magic of each day and appreciate that, instead of thinking about what you don’t have, or what someone other than yourself thinks you need to be okay. If I can appreciate the magic around me, It doesn’t matter to me that memory isn’t working, or that my arm is shaking.”
The Verdict: None
2. Cheryl Bird
The Last Time We Spoke: I speak to my Mom almost every day as well. Last night we spoke and she revealed to me that she believed that she had cancer for the past 2 weeks, but apologized that she didn’t say anything to anyone yet because she was waiting for a doctor’s follow up visit to get some concrete information and didn’t want to put more on my brother’s and my mind, while dealing with my Dad’s situation. My Mom epitomizes selflessness.
When I Called Today: My Mom was taking her dog up to the Mills reservation in Cedar Grove for a walk, because the weather was so fantastic in NJ today, she described it as “heavenly”.
I asked her if she ever met Sum Dum Fuk or Fu-Ling-Yu, she mentioned that Sum Dum Fuk was credited for many of his painting years ago, but that she never met Fu-Ling-Yu but that she finds that new persona pretty hysterical. She asked me how I am before I could ask her about her health, and I told her I was very stressed out, as usual. She says “he thing about life and stress is, not to worry about anything, cos if its worth worrying about it means its something you cant change, and since you cant change, don’t worry about it. if its something you CAN change, then just change it…and don’t worry.” Then she tells me, that maybe I just drink too much coffee.
I start asking her about what she told me last nite about her recent doctor’s visit, and tell her I am glad she doesn’t have cancer, she says “I will be sure in about 3 weeks, but I’m not worried anymore”
She then uses the opportunity to tell me i need to quit smoking. yes…. i really do, and I know I do. I just…. haven’t.
I tell my Mom that I’ve gotta go, and she says she thinks im “awesome” even though she “hates that word” she tells me she loves me, and i say i do too and thats it.
The Verdict: Hear that? My Mom thinks Im awesome! seriously though… This health scare is too close for my brain to handle right now. I don’t even know what to possibly say about it.