- John Kelso American-Statesman Staff
So much for the radio job. My voice box is gone. Don’t know where it went. Maybe the surgeon had it laminated for a key chain.
I’m trying to learn to speak these days with a battery-powered doohickey called the Electrolarynx. It’s the size of a small flashlight and it buzzes. I need lots of practice. Click here to check out the video.
“Don’t use that thing during duck season,” Ken Herman said.
My American-Statesman columnist buddy is right. Damn thing makes me sound like a duck. I could do voice-overs for Daffy at the Cartoon Channel.
My troubles started last summer in New Mexico. My wife, Kay, and I had a log cabin up in the mountains. Great way to escape the oven of Texas summer.
Out of nowhere, I was losing a boatload of weight, and fast. Every time I’d drive into Taos to pick up groceries, I’d have to stop at the handmade belt shop and ask the guy to take out another notch so my jeans wouldn’t fall down. I was having trouble swallowing. My breakfast cereal just wouldn’t go down.
The problem was a tumor that had parked inconveniently right next to my speaking gear. So today I have this hole in my neck, called a tracheotomy, that lets me breathe. I get nearly all of my nutrition through a tummy tube. Oh mom, not Jevity with fiber again? For variety, I can down just a little pudding or soup. If I put in too much it comes out my nose. So forget the cheeseburgers and chicken-fried steak for now.
Perhaps worst of all is the strain on Kay. For the last three months she’s been tending to me and nothing else. I wish so much that I could ease the burden. I’ve thought about handing her a big fat check and telling her to get on a cruise boat to Italy. Get outta here, I’ll see you when you get back. Take lots of pictures.
Even though Herman has spilled the beans on my condition, I thought long and hard about writing this column at all. I see all of these folks on Facebook discussing their ailments, and I wonder who wants to read that stuff?
The answer is simple, the people who care about you.
Since Herman put the word out, I’ve gotten hundreds of cards and letters from you kind readers. Literally. I’d say 15 to 20 pounds of cards. What surprises me? I’ve looked through most of them, and, as best I know, no one has told me to do something untoward with a rolling doughnut. See, over the years my columns have been, uh, acerbic.
Or, as Patrick Decker and Pat Adams of Austin put it in their get-well card, “Kelso, we can’t believe someone hasn’t knocked your block off before this.”
Nor has anyone told me to go back to wherever it is I came here from. I moved to Austin in 1976, but it’s no secret that I spent my little-kid years growing up in Maine. Texans look at the world as two distinct places: Texas is one; the rest of it is the other. So I’ve been told to go back to states up north where I’ve barely stopped for gas.
So I expected a few barbs. Didn’t happen, folks. I truly appreciate all of the heartfelt messages. Let me share some of my favorites. We’ll stick with funny, OK?
Have you ever bought a greeting card you thought was funny, but it’s so wrong in a civilized society that there’s no one you can send it to? I’ve done that. I bought a card once that showed a young, attractive couple, dressed for 1928 or so, next to a piano. “I hear you’re wonderful on the piano,” the card begins. The card then lists several other locations where the gal has been known to perform wonderfully, on, like the floor. Who you going to send that to? So it sat in my desk drawer for years.
Several people mailed in a card that features some dumpy schlep in a hospital gown with his butt hanging out the back. If you’ve been in a hospital you’ve worn one of these gowns, and you know they’re supposed to tie in the back for modesty’s sake, but usually they don’t. Joe Spann of Austin sent me a card that presents a similar theme. “A graduation riddle,” it begins. “What’s the difference between a hospital gown and a graduation gown? One has a bare ass sticking out of the back, and one has a smart ass sticking out of the top.”
One of my favorite get-well messages came from Howard Thies of Smithville, who included a letter that explains a way for police to detain people without beating them up. He suggests a cast net.
“I sent this idea to eight police chiefs in the state of Texas with no response,” he wrote. Imagine that.
Thies came with the idea while stationed at Fort Cronkhite, 5 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge, during the Korean War. The soldiers favored a nearby beer joint in Sausalito. Apparently the bar had a nautical theme.
The action started with the guy playing the violin, but not very well. This wasn’t Itzhak Perlman. “A drunk got up from the bar, walked around behind our musician, and pulled a fish net off a window,” Thies wrote. “While the musician was playing one of his favorites — that we could hardly hear for the noise — the drunk threw the fish net over him, his violin, and the chair. Our violinist went bananas and the place went crazy. … It took at least five minutes to get the chair and the fish net off of him, and when we did, he didn’t say thanks or go to hell. He hit the door and we never saw him again.”
Some people just can’t take a joke.