Category Archives: hope

The Unimoose

BuhlMiniRR1961-1962 boys
I’m the one closest to the camera. At least that’s about how my hair looks now.

When I was a kid growing up in Pittsburgh, each Christmas we went downtown to Buhl Planetarium to see the miniature railroad exhibition. It was pretty great. The exhibit included several trains running along tracks and making lovely clickety-clack sounds, houses, cars, people–everything on a teeny scale. It was always a delight.

MiniatureRailroad lady
They continued holding the exhibition faithfully until the year Mrs. Godzilla Humbug Spoilsport busted in and stomped on everything. She got coal in her stocking that year, fer shur.


So imagine my surprise when I arrived at the hospital in early December for one of my daily zaps and discovered a whole Christmas village set up on a table in the lobby. It only had one train, but it was merrily clickety-clacking along an oval track.

TIC Christmas train townFrom a distance, it was absolutely charming but upon looking closer, I discovered an odd assortment of elements. There were a couple of Hallmark looking houses, a Lincoln Log church, a fort made of blocks with a chimpanzee on its roof, a train station (nowhere near the train) with a bride and broom in front of it, a chicken coop, a polar bear, some pandas and, of course, Santa and a moose having a cookout. I could smell the hot dogs and ‘smores.


TIC Christmas moose

All I could think was, “Why not?”

I grew up with certain cultural prejudices, certain beliefs that things were a certain way and set in stone. But even now I am discovering how wrong I was about some things. For example, the Virgin Mary, not her son, was herself the Immaculate Conception with her immaculacy having been brought about at her conception by virtue of the birth of her son. (Huh?) Somehow that made it possible for her to get pregnant without exposing herself to a) a doorknob, b) a toilet seat, or c) sperm. I’m no scientist but I have a hard time swallowing that. I contend that either Mary was a liar or doorknob and toilet seat sanitation left a lot to be desired in those days. At any rate, despite what my high school sex ed instructor said, that was entirely possible, a good thing, and much to be admired. (Uh…all right. If you say so.)

But lets move on.

Somehow, this son of hers came about and grew up to be a carpenter and really swell guy. When he wasn’t building oxcarts or cobbling tables or creating sperm-infested doorknobs, he spent his time telling people to be nice to each other, which so enraged the Romans that they nailed him to a cross. (Come on now.)

But wait. It gets better.

Even swell guys die, and he did, but three days later he got better. He arose from his pallet, single-handedly and in true Superman style moved a five ton stone blocking the entrance to his tomb, popped into an impromptu supper with a few of his mates, then sailed off to heaven a la ET, and now we commemorate that equally hard to swallow tale by worshiping a bunny wearing a bow tie and carrying a basket full of plastic grass, chocolate eggs and jelly beans. (Say what???)

So what have we learned? Miniature train exhibitions are often not what they seem, love and marriage might go together like a horse and carriage but sex and pregnancy are another story, and people do not like being told to be nice to each other. Oh, and as long as sugar and plastic are involved, people will swallow just about anything.

If you have issues with any of that, I offer an alternative. I give you the Unimoose.

moose on unicorn

The Unimoose is wise. He is strong. He has courage and a wicked sense of humor. He can make you smile and stop taking yourself so seriously. He can help you take a step back and see that so many things in your life are good, so many things in you are good. He can see into the future and assure you that this, too, will pass.

Since 2017 has sucked worse than wet socks on a cold day and stale potato chips in rancid onion dip, the Unimoose has donned his hat and scarf and straddled his glimmering pink unicorn to ride bravely into the future and bring you hope. Such a teeny word, just four little letters, but for me, at least, it makes all the difference.


Fairy Dust

I think one of the reasons that I never got very tall, aside from genetics, since my father is 1/16th hobbit, is that somewhere deep inside me there is a small child who refuses to grow up. Perhaps a tiny fleck of Tinkerbell’s fairy dust danced its way into the biological stew when I came into existence. Whatever the reason, my abiding love of dolls and fairy tales also wraps its loving arms around Merry-go-rounds.

Me Merry-go-round

We used to go to a lot of country fairs and carnivals when I was a kid and there was always a Merry-go-round. I was born a horse fanatic, so even fake horses turn me on, but sometime when I was still pretty small, my dad pointed out the intricate hand carving and painting as well as the real glass eyes on the magnificent steeds gracing an antique Merry-go-round we happened upon. I  became addicted on the spot.

vintage merry go round

When I’m astride a Merry-go-round horse and the mechanical band strikes up its off-key tune and the horse finally starts moving, up and down, slowly at first then a little faster, I can close my eyes and just for a moment imagine that I’m on a real horse, riding through a meadow, feeling his powerful haunches pushing me forward into the future as the wind gently blows my hair into the past. There’s something beyond fantasy and fairy tales in the elegance of a horse’s slim but powerful legs. A shod hoof even lazily aimed can crush vulnerable human bone while at the same time, the horse’s muzzle is softer than a satin pillow stuffed with the finest eider down. Contradiction, thy name is equus.

The big difference is that real horses move forward and backward and side to side while Merry-go-round horses just go up and down, round and round. As Joni Mitchell sang so beautifully, “the seasons go round and round and the painted ponies go up and down.” So here I am sitting in my little Japanese house, not a horse or Merry-go-round in sight, and yet I feel like I’m on some sort of perpetual carousel ride. Four entire seasons I’ve felt the painted pony go up and down and yet it doesn’t go anywhere at all except around and around. The six months of chemo hell are finally done; the horse goes up. Dr. Gloom-and-Doom says I will continue to feel awful for at least three, maybe six months; the horse goes down. He says my tumor markers continue to fall; the horse goes up. He says I have a very rare type of cancer; horsey goes down. But the likely outcome is the same as for more common cancers and my hormone status is good; horsey opens a bottle of wine. But my staging is advanced; horsey sprains an ankle. But my 10 year survival rate is around 80%; horsey opens a rare bottle of cognac. But, and here’s the kicker, my particular type of cancer doesn’t form tumors. It spreads much like fairy dust and is nearly impossible to detect, so there is a slim chance I will be on and off chemo for the rest of my life; horsey has an aneurysm and someone fetches the shotgun.

I don’t know why this happened to me. Cancer is not some sort of divine retribution for some hideous thing I may have done in this or another lifetime. I am not being punished, and therefore I have never asked, “Why me?” Cancer has no intention, no goal, no target, no soul. It just is. In the end, I may be paying for that fairy dust that went into making me what I am and I am still grateful for that. The challenge now, though, is to figure out how to get up every day and wonder, not the starry-eyed wonder of a child looking at the painted ponies, but the perplexed wonder of trying to read something in a language you don’t understand. You can stare at it all day and it will never make any sense. I am hoping that, in time, I will be able to shrug my shoulders and walk away.