Something I wrote for The Nature Conservancy’s Cool Green Science Blog


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March ’09. The best month ever.

To understate it, I had a few setbacks this month, some were thesis related, and others were health related. To explain, I have put together a timeline explaining how March ’09 was the greatest month ever.

February 28 – I get a mole removed from back of my right calf by Dr. Franco at Dr. Shultz’ office in Oak Park, IL.

March 2 – I turn in the first draft of my thesis.

March 3 – I send out a mass email, telling everyone I will be graduating. Much joy is shared.

March 5 – Get first draft back. Have some revisions to make, but seemingly, not many.

March 6 (9:05am) – I wake up to the sun shining, 65+ degree weather, and the knowledge that I have a week of no classes, students, or obligations of any kind to look forward to.  Just my own thesis work.

March 6 (9:55am) –  I am talking to a friend on how she needs to stay positive, using myself as an example I say, “My IPOD went missing, I think it was stolen by an 8th grader, these things tend to work themselves out. Something good is going to come my way.”

March 6 (9:58am) – My phone rings. I don’t know the number. She says answer it. It’s Dr. Shultz’ office. They tell me they have good news and bad news.” The good news is we think we caught it early. The bad news is the mole is melanoma.  You have skin cancer.”

March 6 (10:00am) – I remove my foot from my mouth.

March 6 (2:45pm) – Despite the bad news received in the morning, I realize just how funny the timing of my “stay positive” speech and the phone call was.

March 9 (10AM-10PM) – I spend 12 hours in my office working on my thesis, schedule surgery with Dr. Franco for Friday March 13 to have skin on calf excised, and buy a whole mess of train tickets not knowing when I will be traveling where or for what. I submit a second draft of my thesis before I leave.

March 10 – I receive a phone call from a nurse asking the basic pre-op questions: allergies, previous surgeries, habits, etc. She asks how often I smoke cigarettes and I hesitate. I want to say “Only when I binge drink” but think better of it.

March 11 – I take the 7am train home.

March 11 (2:00pm) – Get blood work done at West Suburban. In mid-sentence of yelling at her kid for eating junk food the nurse exclaims “You got a big vein!”

March 11 (11:45pm) – I am at the bar with Chris, Rolly, and Cory. It’s Rolly’s birthday, I had forgotten it. I tell them what is going on with me. Chris already knew, Cory says “Damn dude, that sucks,” and  Rolly says “Wait…so you didn’t come home for my birthday?!”

March 12 – I become even more familiar with the taste of my foot when I comment to Mom and Laura that whole grain is better for your skin which is one of the reasons I only buy whole grain. They look at me like I’m a moron.

March 13 (11:45am) – I have surgery scheduled for “sometime in the afternoon.” I haven’t drunk water since midnight, my veins have disappeared. My resting heart rate is 48, the machines beep like something is wrong at anything under 50, it quickly becomes very annoying.  Tatiana,my nurse, fails to get the IV in and I almost pass out. “We’ll let the anesthesiologist do it” she says.

March 13 (3:00pm) – The pre-op nurse attempts to get an IV in. She misses, guaranteeing a painful junkie-look-a-like left arm. “We’ll let the anesthesiologist do it” she says.

March 13 (3:15pm) – Dr. Franco comes in, draws a circle on my leg where he is removing my skin and says, “It ain’t gonna be pretty but hey, at least it’s not on your face, right?”

March 13 (3:30pm) – The anesthesiologist comes to get me. I tell him I don’t have an IV yet. He says, in a pleasant, cocky sort of way, “Well we’ll see if I can’t find one” I get strapped to a heated table in a Jesus pose, he finds a vein, and I go under listening to a jazzy version of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight”

March 13 (?:??pm) – Surgery. I have the skin removed from my calf. I have a skin graft taken from my right butt cheek (there wasn’t enough skin on my lower abdomen) and placed on my calf forever earning me the nickname “Asscalf”. During surgery Dr. Franco saw a mole on the sole of my right foot and since moles on palms and soles are bad to have he decides to remove it.

March 13 – March 16 – I keep myself heavily medicated. The pain in the bottom of my foot is the worst but overall the pain really isn’t bad but since I’m mostly confined to a bed and have a lot of vicoden I take it almost recreationally, daytime television becomes more bearable. At some point Mom asks me if the sun is bothering me and I make a Superman reference alluding to getting my power from the sun. I am starting to like the taste of my foot.

March 16 (12:00ish) – (Sorry about this one mom) My mom calls and starts talking about all the health issues I have had recently: mono, waking up sweaty, various little skin issues. She thinks it’s correlated with the cancer. I spend the next two days thinking I am going to die, it really wasn’t that bad, I have lived a good life.

March 18 – I get my bandages removed. I can tell from my mom’s face it’s bad. It has to be, I’ve done a lot of stupid things and my mom has been there for all of it. I look at it and am terrified, and then I think that it looks like a zombie bite and feel a little better. Dr. Franco removes the staples, re-bandages it and tells me how my Sural nerve got beat up during surgery and my foot will feel bad for some time. But there is good news. The mole on my foot was benign, and everything from my calf comes back negative. The Mayo clinic report says there is no sign of vertical movement. As of now, as far as we know, I am cancer free. At Mary’s later, in response showing them the calf, Joe very accurately tells me, “Justin! It looks like your leg got hit by a mini meteor!”

March 19 (10:00am) – I start working again on school stuff and look at the edits on my second draft. Somehow I have 10 times more work to do than after the first draft. I am confined to crutches, my brain feels like mush, my foot hurts and I need to change the bandage on the back of my leg daily. I take my first shower without having to keep my leg dry. I get my first real good look at my calf and finally break down. I sit on the edge of the tub and cry. Life was a lot simpler when I thought I was going to die.

March 19 (11:20am) – I get a physical from my regular doctor. He asks the basic questions. He asks if I smoke cigarettes. Ready for it this time, I answer, “Depends.” He looks at me and says, “Depends? On what?” I say, “How pretty the girl is.” We share a good laugh, then he tells me to turn my head and cough.

March 20 – I return to Carbondale, my mom drives me down. I see my doctor here to get transit tickets to get rides to and from class. She does my laundry, takes me shopping, makes my bed, brings me Dairy Queen and pretty much earns the “Mom of the Year” award in a day. She falls asleep on my couch while we watch a movie. I don’t blame her.

March 21 – Mom departs. My friend Kevin comes over and we are drinking a few beers. My high school vault coach, G, calls. I tell him about the ordeal. He is concerned with my calf muscle; he claims to have built it. He tells me he is going to get checked out and that his wife has been bugging him for years to have his moles looked at. I tell him about the bottom of my foot. He responds, “Aw man, I got two on the bottom of my foot.”  He then tells me about Morton’s conference meet. He lost the vault for the first time in 17 years. I am dumbstruck. I say, “That’s the worst news I’ve heard all month, and I got cancer this month.” Kevin immediately Facebooks the quote.

March 25 – I get the stitches taken out of my foot. This is also my last day on crutches. My doctor tells me, “Of course it’s gonna hurt so stop being a big sissy. Using your leg will only promote healing…just don’t be an idiot.” I like her.

March 26-28 – I realize the April 10 thesis deadline is not going to happen. I have too much work to do, not enough time, and my foot being perpetually asleep and on fire makes me snappy and, in short, hate the way I act around others. Teaching and tutoring are the high points of my days. I call G so that he can tell me to stop feeling sorry for myself. It works.

March 30 – To end March on a high note, I drop my phone while talking on it; the screen breaks, I can only read the left half of text messages…I’m an idiot.

March 31 – I don’t leave my bed. Nothing happens all day, and it was good.

Here are some pictures showing the “healing” process.

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Snow days, guns, and discount puppies

I was going to write about snow days ( since I just had two of them) and reminisce. The good ones and the bad one.

The best was the two days the University of Illinois closed my senior year. There were no cars on the road, the whole place looked beautiful and everyone was happy because I think they all felt like little kids again. I spent my afternoon doing  homework stress free, my evening sitting in the WPGU DJ booth choosing songs for an all-punk hour and watching spontaneous snowball fights break out on Green St. with  the Red Baron, and my night  at a bar with the happiest people imaginable.

The worst snow day was in seventh grade, when I had zero-hour Spanish. I walked to school through a foot of snow, had class, was assigned about two hours of homework due the next day (an unusual amount and not an exaggeration), and then told school was cancelled for the rest of the day. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a good day, but I will never get those two hours back.

…well I seem to have done what I said I wasn’t going to do, sorry.

The real reason I sat down and started writing was because of a commercial I just saw. I have been living in Carbondale for about a year and a half now and I notice a lot of things that would never happen in Chicago or the suburbs. For example:

– the two snow days we just had, which would have been laughed at in Chicago. I realize they don’t have the resources to deal with it down here but it still seemed like a gift.

– receiving an advertisement and coupons in the mail for a gun sale. Page 1: Rifles and shotguns, Page 2: Semi-automatics, Page 3: Hand guns, Page 4 Accessories.  I didn’t know many people who hunted and the majority of the time I heard about guns were instances where I realize the second amendment was written in a time before major urban centers.

– Seeing a commercial for an Italian restaurant in which “Italian” was pronounced “eye-talian.” I just laughed, shook my head, and called my mom who had just visited and was humored my a good many of the local commercials.

All these things I know are simply regional differences. The winters are usually more mild, there is great hunting down here done by people who respect the second amendment for the freedom it gives them, and I can’t even begin to think of a reason to explain the third example.

The commercial I saw today, however, would seem strange no matter where I happened to see it. It was a commercial for Carbondale AddSheets, which has a jingle that is only slightly more annoying than Subways Five Dollar Foot-Long jingle. The coupon was for $25 off the purchase of..

…a puppy! I was stopped cold, right in the middle of spooning soup into my mouth. My brain went in several directions at once.

One untrodden path my brain followed was simply the idea of a puppy as a marketed good. “Looking at the stock market today, puppies are up 4 points!”

The next question in my head concerned PETA and what their stance would be.The basic idea behind PETA is noble and good, animal cruelty should be stopped, but they say and do some really wacky stuff (i.e. Sea kittens). Would they approve about discounting the price of puppies to make them more affordable and get more of them into better homes? Or would they lash out because buying a puppy now sounds a lot like buying car tires?

Third, I thought about being at a pet store and debating whether or not to buy the one I like, or buying the one that is $25 off. A little kid running around, “Mom! Can we get this one? He’s half price!”

Finally, I thought: $25 dollars off! What a deal! Someone get my credit card, I’m getting that pathetic little bugger that looks like he got his face punched in and naming him Tim.

…I didn’t really think that last one. I don’t have a credit card.


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Oh, the places you’ll go!

May 27 – Fly into Belfast with my sister Laura

July 31 – Return to Chicago via London

We have no plans between those two dates and I am more than a little excited about it. I do want to join the old guy dressed as the devil, his name is Didi Senft, who chases the Tour de France riders up a mountain while imagining Phil Liggit’s voice saying, as he does every year since I started watching it: “…and there’s the devil.”  If its all right with the old guy I’ll wear a devil costume of my own. Laura wants to wear a banana costume.

Number one on my list of things that sound redundant but aren’t: Asshole Proctologist

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Becoming the town drunk…cause you gotta have goals

Dear Family and Friends,

With population increases, unchecked urban sprawl and the homogenization of neighborhoods this great country is seeing the decline of one of our most precious resources: the town drunk. Now it seems to me that a position of such status and importance should not go quietly by the wayside, to whom else will we look to feel a little bit better about our own plights? Therefore, with the impending completion of my studies I have decided to take on the unenviable task of re-establishing the Town Drunk position by assuming the role myself. This position is not a job, it isn’t just a role that one plays in public and upon returning home turns back into the proverbial Joe the Everydayman, it’s a lifestyle choice and requires dedication, commitment, and above all, a love for those three greatest devices. I’m talking, of course, about water, barley, and hops (malt is optional).

So I plan on embarking on my mission to become the town drunk through the same institution that all great town drunks of the past have been molded, the family. I will most definitely be at the Christmas party but I won’t “start the…festivities” with you. As per my newly adopted role, my festivities should begin no later than mid-morning on December 22. I will arrive either just after food is served looking like I just woke up (because I have) and smelling like a bar or I will arrive inappropriately early at the crack of noon still wondering when the jukebox is going to play my song and in sore need of a shower and sleep, of which i will take neither (it’s just not in the job description). Either way, I will make awkward comments, ribald jokes, and lob superfluous insults at any who will listen, all while passing out for a few minutes at a time to “refuel the tanks.”

I ask for your support in this lifestyle choice and will see you soon. Please keep the house stocked with Christmas cheer (i.e. beer) and disappointed looking family members. Remember, I cannot do this without you help and support. Approval is not required and is probably downright irresponsible.


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