The Lights Are On

Self-portrait taken with Instagram.

In the inimitable words of my good friend Ralph:


As soon as I heard a female voice on the other end of the phone on Monday, I knew that it had to be good news. Nurses don’t call to say that you have cancer. The only word I heard the sweet angel of mercy utter was “benign” and all I remember saying back was how badly I wanted to kiss her. When I hung up the phone, it felt like waking up from a nightmare. God bless us, everyone. Attaboy, Clarence. We all need the eggs.

Actually, I felt more like the sprightly old man who’s prematurely thrown on to the rotting body cart in Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

I’m not dead!

I’m getting better!

I feel fine.

I think I’ll go for a walk.

I feel happy.

I feel happy.

Those three little words are right up there with “I love you” and I haven’t said either of those potent phrases in quite some time, but I’m going to say them now:

I feel happy! (That’s me in the photo above.)

I love you!

To all of you who have been slogging through this whiny bullshit everyday, helping me get through this scary patch – I love you! I don’t know what I would’ve done without your sincere kindness, unwavering support and constant stream of dick jokes.

So here are my big questions: How did you all know that I didn’t have the Big C? And how come I was the last to know? Was it just the kind of nice things people say to someone who may or may not have cancer? Did God send you guys a memo? Was it just a lucky guess?

I feel lucky, and you know for me, that’s saying a lot.

And there’s another three-little-word phrase I haven’t said in quite some time. I feel lucky, for so many reasons, and may even push it and buy a Powerball ticket today. Attention ladies: I could be cancer-free and a half-billionaire by the end of the night.

You may have noticed that I haven’t said anything about feeling relieved. That didn’t happen until yesterday morning. I was on the subway going to work and was listening to a playlist of new music on my iPhone. The F train was packed and I was standing just like the other walking dead commuters, except that I wasn’t dead yet, and then that killer Kendrick Lamar song I told you about came on that begins:

When the lights shut off

And it’s my turn to settle down

My main concern

Promise that you will sing about me

Promise that you will sing about me

And I started to cry, just like I had when I woke up from surgery all those years ago. There’s usually no crying in hip-hop, but Zach had turned me on to that song and the thought of him and Rob singing for me when the lights shut off flashed in my mind for the briefest of moments before it was replaced by the overwhelming feeling that the lights are still very much on and that I’m happy, loved, lucky and relieved.

And it’s not my turn to settle down.


What’s Up, Doc?

What a maroon.

Tony sent me an email first thing yesterday morning. All it said was “Call me when you hear from doctor.”

A few minutes later, Caryn called.

“Didja hear anything yet?” she asked.

“I haven’t called,” I said, “but you’ll be the first to know.”

Then my last steady girlfriend texted me:

Hi! Any word on your dick?

I laughed and told her I’d let her know.

My dick doc told me to call his office yesterday morning to get the biopsy results and honestly, I wasn’t in a great hurry to do it. My thinking was, “As long as I don’t hear from him, I don’t have cancer! And if I do have cancer, wouldn’t the schmuck have already called?”

I was pretty much able to compartmentalize my anxiety these past few days, mainly by going to see crappy movies (Lincoln was like choking down history Robitussin and Life of Pi was one of those “beautiful to look at” films) and by eating lots of good bad food (pizza and more pizza). Sunday night, however, the dread took hold and I couldn’t enjoy the Giants/Packers game or The Good Wife or Homeland or even taste the garlic and pepperoni, and finally took an Ambien to put me out of my misery.

And speaking of misery, I’m thinking that because of the long holiday, the doctor’s office is probably calling everyone who has cancer first (“Hello, I hope you had a great Thanksgiving, but don’t make plans to have sex any time soon …”), so the longer I wait to hear from them, the better the news. Maybe I’ll never get around to calling.

If I really want the phone to ring, however, all I have to do is take a shower because that’s the way the universe works with me (and when I say “works,” I mean “fucks.”) Watch! I’ll ignore my iPhone for five minutes, and when I come back, I’ll see a missed call and voicemail message from the doctor. Guaranteed! BRB.

I stayed in there for an extra long time and let the hot water rush over me. Being clean on the outside was my OCD way of feeling that I’ll be clean on the inside and that’s what I kept saying to myself until I dried off, reached for my iPhone and …

… nothing!

Fuck this shit! I’ve had it! I’m going to call right now! Hold on. (I’m sick to my stomach!)

(And please God! Don’t let it be cancer!)

You’re not going to believe what I just heard:

“We’re currently experiencing technical difficulties with our phone system. Please leave a message and we’ll call you back shortly.”

You’re fucking kidding me! This is a cosmic joke, right? I’m being punked. C’mon out, Ashton, I know you’re hiding in my closet. Isn’t this what they did to the prisoners at Abu Ghraib? I swear, you can’t make this shit up. I left a snotty message five minutes ago and …

OMG! The phone’s ringing. BRB.

I DON’T HAVE CANCER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

30 Things Not to Say to Someone Who May Have Cancer (Which Have All Been Said to Me)

#17: “You no have cancer.”

1) Don’t worry! You don’t have cancer!

2) There’s no way you have cancer. Stop being such a tall baby.

3) Hey dickhead! It’s not your time yet, all right. I know this for a fact. So shut the fuck up already.**

4) You don’t have cancer. Yet.

5) You don’t have cancer, but your whining is giving me a headache.

6) I spoke to our dead mom and she said you don’t have cancer.

7) Don’t die please, Dad.

8) Wow Dad! That’s really fucking crazy!

9) If you had cancer, you would know you had cancer.

10) I know you don’t have cancer because I’m never wrong about these things.

11) How do I know that you don’t have cancer? I’m a witch!

12) My father and grandfather both had it. It’s really no big deal.

13) Hey, at least it’s giving you something interesting to write about.

14) Well, if you have to get cancer, at least this is a good one to get.

15) I’m choosing to believe that you don’t have cancer and that you have a fabulous sex life in front of you with stupendous boo-tay.

16) It’s 90% good! Don’t worry! No reason!

17) The Korean girl who does my nails said you don’t have cancer.

18) The good news is that cancer is an even better chick magnet than getting a dog.

19) What’s the worst-case scenario anyway? Um, nevermind.

20) Hey, man, diapers will be a good look for you!

21) Just think ­– this could be one of the last times we’ll ever be able to have sex together.

22) You’ve already had cancer! What are the chances of lightning striking twice?

23) How long is your lease?

24) I had a dream that you didn’t have cancer and that you slept with Penélope Cruz. It’s a sign!

25) It’s like you’re inside a Coen Brothers movie.

26) With global warming, chances are none of us are going to be around in ten years anyway.

27) It’s always You! You! You! What about me?

28) Hey, not having sex will be like when you were married.

29) Don’t worry, babe. You’ll be fine. Everything will be okay.

30) Can I have your iPad?

** (Update: Okay dickhead, so maybe you do have cancer. Happy now?)

You’re a Mean One

Every gland

Down in Carlat-ville

Cancer stinks, stank, stunk.

Liked Larry a lot . . .


But cancer,

Who lived right next to Carlat-ville,

Did NOT!


Cancer hated Larry!

For no rhyme or reason.

With respect to the timing, it’s a holiday lesion.


His prostate may not have been screwed on all that tight.

Or it could be, perhaps, that his dick was too slight.

But I think that the most likely reason of all,

Was that cancer was a total asshole and inexplicably hated Larry’s remaining ball.



Whatever the reason,

His dick or his ball,

Cancer would metaphorically make him feel less tall.

It thought and connived, a black heart filled with hate,

“How can I torture this schmuck? Why, I’ll just make him wait!”


The only thing worse than ending up dead,

Was the pain and the suffering inside his own head.

Cancer knew that this would be it – no ifs ands or buts,

This head trip would surely drive Larry’s ass nuts.


So Larry went and did the biopsy thing,

His ex-wife went with him to salve any sting.

When the doc knocked him out, he began to snooze,

Dreaming of Jann Wenner and Penélope Cruz.

When he awoke, the doc said he had spotted a lesion,

“It’s 90% good! Don’t worry! No reason!”


Larry had heard this same rap so wasn’t relieved.

The Big C was lurking — it was what he believed!


He thought about his string of really bad luck,

And how he might piss his pants and be unable to fuck,

He wouldn’t get results for at least a whole week,

And that was the news that made Larry freak!


“I know just what to do!” Larry cried in his throat.

And he put on his hat and he put on his coat.

And he blubbered and sniffed, “Before I shoot my wad,”

“I’ll go to heaven and talk with stupidhead God.”


When Larry met the Big Man at the pearly gate,

God laughed and said, “It must really suck to wait.”

“You don’t have cancer, Lar. Or maybe you might.”

“But if you stop wasting time, you’re gonna be all right!”


And what happened next?

Well, you know the deal,

Whatever the verdict,

Larry would heal.


When Larry came home, there was snow in the air,

He knew that from cancer there was nothing to fear.

He thought of friends, family and then up above,

And knew these were the people, the people he loved.


Lesions to Be Cheerful, Part 3

jon stewart

A man for all lesions.

So here’s the good news about the bad news: I went for a sonogram yesterday morning and what do you know – there’s a lesion on my prostate! And I don’t know why, but I have such an urge to ask, “Doctor, what’s this lesion doing on my prostate?” (Answer: “Not the backstroke.”)

When you compare lesion to tumor, lesion isn’t such a bad word (it lends itself to many more hilarious puns), but no matter what you call it, that shit needs to be biopsied (because benign and malignant also work with both words) and that’s what happened yesterday. When I woke up from the anesthesia, my doctor was hovering and calmly explained that there’s a 90% chance that the foreign lesion (quick time out to imagine Jon Stewart saying that) is just a remnant from a previous inflammation and very common for men of my lower-middle age, and the rest of my prostate looked all bright and shiny, and this was coming from someone who had seen a bunch of old, not so shiny prostates that morning, so he couldn’t have been any more reassuring. I nodded along in a post-anesthetic haze, not believing a goddamned word he said.

If you recall, I’ve been down this road to nowhere before (see what I did there?). When I awoke from an operation 20 odd years ago, my then-good doctor also reassured me that it didn’t look like cancer, and then what do you know – hello weeks and weeks of intensive radiation treatment! And normally I’d be very happy scoring 90% on any test, except for when it comes to the one to see if I’m going to still be able to get it up; that test I need to ace 100%.

The biggest pain in the ass (and really, what’s funnier than prostate humor?) is that it doesn’t look like I’ll get the biopsy results until after Thanksgiving. So here I go again with the fucking waiting. Knowing this, my friends have all wished me well and have suggested that I focus on the glass filled to 90% because they understand that I’m already grinding the other 10% of the shards into my eyeballs. And of course they’re right.

So I’ll just pretend that I don’t have cancer until I get the phone call saying that I don’t have cancer, but really that’s what I’ll pretend to tell my friends because really I can’t pretend. I suck at pretend.

That’s actually a lie. I’m really pretty good at pretend. You’ve read plenty of my pretend. It’s just that I suck at pretend when I’m scared to death.

Pretend I didn’t say that.

Let’s Get This Good Time Over With


It’s a boy!

I’m finally going for that sonogram today. I actually wrote this post yesterday, so technically, I’m going tomorrow, but it doesn’t make a difference because I’ll be just as scared today as I was yesterday, but hopefully not as much tomorrow.

While you’re reading this with your morning coffee, I’ll be sitting in the waiting room of my doctor’s office with my ex-wife (whose right leg will be shaking uncontrollably), waiting for my name to be called so I can then utter ­my father-in-law’s immortal words (and my favorite sarcastic phrase in the world):

Let’s get this good time over with!

I’ll pretend that this whole nightmare is really no big deal and that I’ll be okay and Caryn will know that I’m really scared shitless and she’ll begin to joke about how I’ve always been such a big baby and then we’ll reminisce about how we went through a similar ordeal more than two decades ago.

And how she asked me right before we went to Thanksgiving dinner not to tell everyone that I had just been diagnosed with testicular cancer because the news didn’t exactly go with mashed potatoes and gravy, but did open the door to one too many giblet jokes. And we’ll both laugh that type of hesitant laugh you laugh when something isn’t really funny.

I’ll be the youngest man in the room and that won’t make me feel any better because all of the older faces here already look pale and stricken like they have cancer and wait a minute, that’s not what I want to look like when I grow up, so fuck all of you incontinent, cancer-encrusted dudes, I don’t have cancer! And that’s what I’m doing here today, I’m here to find out that I don’t have cancer.

“I don’t have cancer,” I’ll say to Caryn softly.

“I know you don’t, babe,” she’ll say.

“How do you know?”

“I just know,” she’ll say. “So shut up about it!”

And then she’ll reach out and hold my hand.

I’d ask you guys to wish me luck, but we all know how that usually turns out.

A Literal Panic Attack

panic attack

Panic not at the disco.

I’m going to get that sonogram a week from today and have been praying to what’s-His-face, usually first thing in the morning and sometimes late at night when I can’t shut off the caffeinated monkey voices in my head. Here’s what I’ve been saying:

Please don’t let me have cancer! Please don’t let me have cancer! Please don’t let me have cancer! Please don’t let me have cancer! Please don’t let me have cancer! Please don’t let me have cancer! Please don’t let me have cancer!

After a few minutes, I start singing it to the tune of the old Animals song “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” It’s become my new mantra and the truth is, I’m not really even asking Him (and not even sure why I keep capitalizing the H either, although I’m told He’s kind of into it), I’m really just trying to convince myself that I’ll be okay.

By simply putting the words out there to the Universe (cap U intended), maybe whoever’s in charge or even some Twilight Zone-looking aliens or, you know, really anyone who is kind enough to listen will listen, and when I go for the sonogram next week, the doctor will tell me that I’m clean and I’ll start crying like a baby, you watch.

I didn’t plan to write this. I was working on another post about beginnings and endings, and as soon as I started to riff about how I’ve always hated all kinds of endings and how I usually handle (read: don’t handle) goodbyes, the “Please don’t let me have cancer” refrain came spewing out, and even as I write this now, I have no idea what’s coming next.

It’s the opposite of writer’s block — a literal panic attack — and the only way I know to calm myself down. I don’t know where it will lead but hope/pray that I arrive at a place where I feel like my old self (sans cancer), and that it’s not my time just yet.

That’s exactly what my friend Ralph said the other day and Ralph is never wrong and right now, that’s good enough for me. 

A Picture of Us

Caryn and Larry

Life is funny.

When you’re worried, particularly about your health, your friends will pretty much say the same things.

Don’t worry. You’ll be fine. Everything will be okay. 

As if they somehow know! Like all of a sudden, they’ve formed their own local chapter of the Psychic Friends Network.

It’s really such a sweet and caring gesture and I’m lucky enough to have great friends who fill my heart with hope and joy, and that’s not so easy when you’re as tall (read: needy) as I am.

Here’s the thing: when they say those kind and reassuring words, I sooooo want to believe them! It takes me out of my own head and places me in their arms and in those moments, I feel loved and protected. My mind will often wander to the times when I’ve had those feelings before — like when I was a little boy. And, now that I think of it, when I first got married.

And also, as it happens, last night with my ex-wife. I keep calling her my ex, but technically, she’s still my wife and non-technically, she’ll always be the mother of my children and the first person who I ever loved.

We had just left the lawyer’s office after finally closing on the sale of our house in Long Island and while Caryn was driving me back to the train station, I shared the news about my cancer scare. She immediately offered to help in any way that she could and I flashed back on her taking such good care of me the first time I had gone through the malignancy mill more than 20 years ago. And just like I had done back then, I began to cry.

I wasn’t even sure what for. Caryn and I had lived together for more than 30 years and have been through all of the fun shit people go through when they’re together for that length of time, and there we were in her car, like old times, and it just hit me how much we had loved each other and I wondered how the hell did it ever get all fucked up and twisted beyond repair? If you look up “Life is funny” in the irony dictionary, you’ll find a picture of us.

Caryn gently wiped away my tears, gave me a hug and in that moment, the world and all of our bullshit went away.

“Don’t worry, babe,” she said. “We’ll be fine. Everything will be okay.”

The Bad News About Bad News

LC and kids from GQ October 1997

Page 281.

I don’t know about you, but when I get a voicemail from a doctor that says, “This by no means means that you have cancer,” I automatically think that I have cancer.

And this is exactly the kind of thing that makes me wish I believed in God. Who am I supposed to pray to now? Ayn Rand? Shouldn’t there be some type of God for atheists during a health scare? I knew I shouldn’t have fucked with Him when I wrote that crap about no longer being scared of getting bad news. What the hell was I thinking?

I recently took one of those old-man PSA tests (which, for you non-old men, screens for prostate cancer), and the result was high so my doctor insisted on another test and the second number was lower, but he still wants me to come in for a sonogram and that’s what the voicemail was about. If the images look fine, that’s that. If they don’t, he’ll do a small needle biopsy, send it to some Dexter pathology dude and I’ll deal with whatever “by no means means.”

You may recall that I’m a bit of a hypochondriac and the word “cancer” to a hypochondriac is like shushing Kanye West. It’s even worse than that for me. I’ve told you about my testicular cancer (great band name there) more than 20 years ago, but I didn’t tell you how I found out about it (and if you’re curious to read more, look up The Nutcracker Suite in the October 1997 issue of GQ with George Clooney on the cover):

After forty-five minutes of what was supposed to be exploratory surgery, I had awakened to my wife Caryn’s gentle touch, and as soon as I saw her face through the last wisps of an anesthetic haze, I knew I was going to be all right. My urologist, Bob Waldbaum, still in his surgical scrubs, walked in a moment later and in his reassuring bear of a voice announced, “Lawrence, my boy, we had to take out the crappy testicle. It was totally dysfunctional, but it doesn’t look cancerous.” And that’s when I pretty much lost it, crying like a baby in Caryn’s arms. Thank God, I was clean.

Or so I thought. My post-op visit was the following week. “Apparently, the biopsy uncovered some cancerous cells,” said Waldbaum.

That’s really all you need to know and other than for déjà vu, I know that I’ll be okay. Really, I do.

And I keep repeating that to myself like a mantra because I don’t really know it at all.

Nothing Else Matters


Calling House.

“As long as you have your health, nothing else matters,” my grandfather, Pop, used to say. And probably your grandfather, too. I guess you need to reach a certain age (read: old) before you can fully appreciate the simple joy of waking up in the morning not feeling like complete and utter shit.

Apparently, I’m not yet at that age. In fact, I’ve been feeling kinda crappy these last few days. My neck and shoulders were aching, my stomach’s been upset and I’ve been generally dragging my ass. So, of course, I just assumed that I was about to have a heart attack.

Maybe it’s because my brother has been on my mind lately (btw, he’s out of the woods and back home, thanks for asking.) Or maybe it’s just that this is the way you’re supposed to feel when you’re in your mid-fifties. I blame WebMD. And fuck you too,!

As you may have already gleaned, I’m a bit of a hypochondriac. When your mom kicks from breast cancer at 51 and your dad drops dead from a heart attack at 58 and you’ve already had testicular cancer, well, it’s kind of easy to connect the dots, la la la and merrily skip along to Pee Wee’s Big Playhouse in the sky.

So when I cough, my expert diagnosis is black lung disease and when I’m out of breath, I’m suffering from ALS and every mosquito bite is a carcinoma. Like most hypochondriacs, I’m quite adept at making myself sick.

In other words, I’ve become a Woody Allen cliché and not even from one of his earlier funny movies. If only House was still on, but since it’s not, I decided to call my sister. Patti isn’t a doctor nor does she play one on TV. When our mom died almost 30 years ago, Pat took on the role of family caretaker and has starred in our wacky sitcom ever since.

“I don’t wanna make you nuts or anything, particularly after Mike,” I began, “but I’ve been feeling like shit for the past couple of days, and thought I’d call you for a consultation before I go to the emergency room.”

“Larry, do you remember a million years ago when you thought you had leukemia?” she reminded me, “because you had a few brown freckles you had never noticed before? You actually looked it up in a medical book!”


“So what’s the matter?” she asked and I ran down all of my symptoms just like I had entered them on WebMD Symptom Checker.

“First of all, stay off the Internet when you think you may be sick. It’ll just drive you crazy,” she said. “And second of all, you’re fine. You’re not having a heart attack.”

“Well, now if I do, I can blame you for not doing anything about it!”

“Fine,” she said. “Blame me!”

“You know, I just wanted to hear you say those words. I’m not even sure why exactly. I just needed to hear you say it, you know?”

“I know,” she said.

“Are you sure, though?”

“I’m sure.”

“Remember what Pop used to say?” I asked.


“Boy, was he right!”

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