At the University of Illinois, sometime in the 60’s Tom and I walk into to The Red Herring coffee house in the basement of the campus Unitarian church. Tom and I are both aging graduate students in English. Secretly, we both know neither of us will complete our dissertations. Dan Fogelberg and another young man with a guitar are performing. A 60’s student lefty style crowd fills the place. Hair, cigarette smoke, patchouli smell. For a short time Tom and I stand behind a railing which I remember as being slightly, but not a full floor, above the performers and most of the crowd. Tom and I may have taken LSD earlier in the evening. I look down on the performers. Fogelberg and the other player are in a pool of light, dark haired, seated and bent over their guitars. The audience is mostly in the dark and until my eyes adjust I can not see what women might be there. I am also looking for authenticity and the performers strike me as very smooth, somehow fraudulent, probably from wealthy homes in Chicago.
I may have dreamed all or some of this recollection because I see it as still photos maybe from the same set, maybe not. I am aware of some confusions in general.
I may have the same kind of advanced prostate cancer that killed Fogelberg yesterday. News of his death came yesterday evening, personal only in the shared cancer. The news followed my misadventures with my big blue truck with a snowplow. I tried to plow three driveways--I do not know anything about snowplowing—slid off the side of my own driveway, frantically dug my way into deeper snow, packed the snow tightly under the chassis, left the four wheels suspended and the front left fender dented but still resting against a smallish dogwood. I cut down the dogwood with a handsaw. My one working chainsaw is next door in the garage, lined up neatly with my brother-in-law Jeff’s saws. I get on my knees and dig out snow from under the truck furiously. Joanne, my wife watches. My number one dog is patiently in the truck. No. I tell my Joanne, I do not need Jeff’s help. Eventually I free the truck. The driveway is a mess, deep ruts, sprays of dirt and gravel are evidence of my urgency. My hands are freezing and I am worried about my hips; both are artificial.
Later, while watching football, after returning from a pool party for children at Shawnee Inn (it is one of my AA friend’s son’s ninth birthday party. My friend is a union laborer in NYC. Other guests include friendly people my friend met on the commuter bus during daily hour and a half to two hour each way, four hundred dollar a month bus rides) I learn of Fogelberg’s death. I scurry off to the computer trying to find out if Fogelberg died from “locally” advanced cancer (mine) or simply a more generally advanced cancer. I google and google and find out that Fogelberg was 56 when he died. He was diagnosed in May 2004. March 2005 for me. He was treated with hormone therapy. Me too. He believed he was in remission. I too think I’m doing pretty well. I wonder: did he have a long course, 43 sessions for me, of radiation? I discover a questionable old news story, later discredited, that centered around Fogelberg’s mother saying the cancer was in his bones and he was getting “experimental” treatment at Harvard. Fogelberg’s mother is very old, one story says, resetting the record to somewhat straight. Mine has not been discovered as being in my bones. (a brief subsidence of restrained terror).
I go outside to prepare my wife’s car for work. I scrape off the snow and ice, fill the reservoir with windshield washer fluid, decide to take the car into the street and turn it around so she will be front out in the morning better able to avoid the new trenches in the snow. While backing into the driveway I become slightly disoriented (caught in a Fogelberg cancer fog bank?) and back directly into my big blue truck ditches. I work the car hard. It is a company car, a new dodge with fine, brand new tires. Forward, reverse, forward reverse I force it ever deeper into the ditch. Thank god the tree is gone but I will miss it and be sad in the spring, (I hope). My brother-in-law Jeff comes over. Jeff is a pressman on his way to the night shift in a printing plant more than an hour away in Hazelton. Jeff is a handy dude, like Joanne and all her siblings and for the moment he is fresh, warm and rested and most importantly,distant from the realms of his own chaoses. He takes over and soon the car is free.
A long night of little sleep follows with thoughts of cancer. Am I being too optimistic? Am I out of touch with reality? Are my doctors hiding or sugar coating the truth? I do not know the answers. I must think of other things. Like the lottery, like the marital problems of a friend, like my son-in-law’s job loss, like my own loss of a client and the disappearance of another, is my incompetence with engine driven vehicles a sign? Was last fall the last season with the Harley? Whistling past the graveyard I try hard not to think of Dan Fogelberg sailing through the summer, as the news stories say, and whistling his own way through the treacherous rocks in the Maine waters..