Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Nine month before my third liver-first kidney transplant, I visited my eldest son on the University of Virginia campus at Charlottesville. I was overjoyed to spend time with him, even though this trip had more to do with a costly shopping spree at Ikea than him missing me.

I booked a last minute flight on Jet Blue, the Kmart of the air: a bus that flies, offering cable TV so you don’t focus on how uncomfortable you are. I always choose an isle seat when I fly, because anything other feels slightly claustrophobic, especially on Jet Blue. Luckily, I got my seat. The plane was packed; everything was taken, except for the window and middle seat next to me. I looked up the isle just as the flight attendant announced that the door would close shortly. I couldn’t believe my luck! Only two empty seats on the entire plane, and they were mine!

And then it happened. Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dum (the two fat characters in Alice In Wonderland) came waddling down the isle barely clearing the sitting passengers. They were heading straight for my empty seats. Oh shit! I thought. First the son squeezed in close to the window, shifting his body as best he could. As he sat, his fat spread onto his mother’s seat. I watched in horror, fully aware of what this meant for me. Then the mother shifted and squeezed her way into the middle seat…and mine.

The son couldn’t put down his armrest because he was too fat. The mother couldn’t put down the armrest between us, because well…you get the picture. The woman glared at me as I took what was left of my seat. I managed to accommodate a little over half of my buttocks. The rest of me hung over the isle. The Gargantuan couple beside me dwarfed my one-hundred-and-five-pound build. I felt like Alice In Wonderland, the shrunken one, shadowed by six hundred pounds of Dee and Dum. I strapped myself in, while the flight attendant handed them extenders. I’d never heard of such things until then. It’s for people who can’t fit in a regular seat belt and need an extension.

The flight took off. The woman was unpleasant. She couldn’t put her arm down and held it in a sort of self-embrace position. If she had lowered it, I would’ve fallen into the isle. To put it simply, the sacred distance strangers enjoy, the space we take for granted even on a Jet Blue flight, was gone. She and I rubbed against each other like lovers. Thank goodness for Jeans and long sleeves. I turned towards the isle to create some semblance of private space, only to encounter the gaze of the passengers around me. They all sported the same “Oh, do we feel sorry for you,” look. And I replied with a beaten puppy face. I didn’t know it yet at the time, but I was already quite weak and sick, and had no energy to deal with this situation.

As unfamiliar as I am with the plight of fat people, I’m sure they’re not all as unpleasant as this woman and her son were. She glared at me every time she maneuvered her arm, as if all of this were my fault. Then, the snack cart came by. Suddenly her arm darted straight out with a wobble as she said, “Four barbecue chips and four Doritos.” Her son asked for the same. Once the attendant silently handed them half the snacks on the cart, Fat lady mouthed something under her breath. She couldn’t get drinks because the tray wouldn’t go down and her hands were already full. But her son insisted on a coke. The mother continued to mumble as she struggled to bring the Doritos to her mouth without knocking me over. Leary of this whole state of affairs, I left them both to their junk food feast to go to the bathroom, and to complain. After all, I had paid for a whole seat, and I wanted it.

The flight attendant agreed with me. A few minutes after I had returned to my seat, she came over and told my sticky neighbor, “Ma’m the armrest has to be down. Please lower the armrest. The lady looked at her and replied, “I never heard of such a thing. No one has ever asked me that,” meaning this wasn’t her first flight, nor was it the first time she inconvenienced a passenger. The stewardess grabbed the armrest, and began pulling it down with all her might, claiming with each jolt, “this…has…to…be…down.”

Not exactly what I had wished for. Fat bulged from my neighbor’s torso and rump to compensate for the space taken over by the armrest; and my sitting surface shrank even more; one buttocks cheek, and more personal contact. As soon as the well-meaning flight attendant left, I raised the armrest again, quickly scooting into the space it had just freed. I sat sideways facing the isle, and stared out the opposite window, hoping for…land, please? In the meantime mother and son munched on their fourth bag of barbecue chips. I sipped my water, exhausted, and drained, but did what I do best. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s making an intolerable situation better. I’d done it pretty much my entire life with illness; I certainly could do it with some obnoxious woman invading my physical and air space…in a plane. Mind over matter. I zoned out the fat squad and meditated on seeing my son, meeting his friends, and wondering what we would do besides spend money at Ikea.

We arrived at Dulles. Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dum stayed seated while the rest of the passengers deplaned.
A couple of months later, back at UVa I met a Jet Blue executive whose daughter also went to school there. I told him the story. He suggested I write the airline a letter. So I did. The reply shocked me: ‘we’re very sorry for your inconvenience, but we can’t discriminate against obese people. We hope you’ll understand our position and continue to take advantage of our many destinations all over the country.’ Seriously? And what about the rights of regular folks? I thought. I tore up the letter and never flew Jet Blue again.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


I decided to write this in honor of Troy Davis who was executed after three different stays of execution. The case was flawed from the very beginning. As time passed and his defense team changed, it became clearer that many mistakes had been made by the police, the witnesses and his lawyers.

Troy Davis has been all over the news so here his story in big strokes: Troy’s friend, Redd Coles was arguing with a homeless man over a beer. Redd Coles pistol-whipped the homeless man. A security guard, by night and a police officer by day, Mark McPhail came over to break up the argument. Suddenly, he lay dead from two gunshots. The very next day, Redd Coles and a lawyer arrived at the police department in Savannah, Georgia and accused Troy Davis of murdering the off-duty cop. Here some words in poetry instead of prose.


Die a useless death for those who come after you
Die like a junky, justified with a needle in your arm
Justify his death through eyewitnesses
Witness his demise as if you’ve done no harm

Today the law stands accused
Of killing a man they say killed another
Today power has been abused
For refusing to investigate further

He’s not your man, his lawyer said,
Here, take a look at what we’ve found
Sorry, is what the judge replied,
This case is closed, review denied

How can you throw a man under the axe
When all we want to do is crack
This case and discover the real facts
Which could give him his life back?

He is a murderer, this is a fact
He’s had his day in court way back
Twenty years since then have past
He’s guilty as hell. And that’s that

Twenty years since then have past
And still I swear I’m innocent
Twenty years is time I’ve spent
Breathing sweat from the cement
In this jail, which is my home
I’ve checked out long ago
I’ll never leave but in a box
Even though this debt I don’t owe

I’ve killed no one, not then not now
I’ve done no wrong, of this I swear
Twenty years since then have past
I’ve killed no one, law doesn’t care

Let this man live, the whole world cried
Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter
Millions of people were on his side.
Save his life! Make no martyr!

The judge, the governor, the Supreme Court
Watched as the Board made up of five
Turned a blind eye on Troy’s case
Any more time spent was a waste

This is it, no more appeals
This is it, you’re going to die
They won’t make any more deals
Because the system's gone awry

It’s all good, it’s all okay
I’ve made my peace, I’ll feel no pain
I’ll close my eyes and drift away
But don’t you worry, we’ll meet again

Die a senseless death for those who’ve come and gone
Die like a junky, justified with a needle in your arm
Justify his death through eyewitnesses
Witness his demise as if you’ve done no wrong

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Death doesn’t become me

I spent the next day as I had the previous one, crying and drawing blood as I tore at my feet with a key. Every so often I dozed and awoke, my delusional mind hoping for a miracle. Around nine that evening, Uli called.

“I’m in so much pain,” I cried. “I’m so scared!”
Schatz, Schatz, Ich komme bald.” (Dear, I’m coming soon.)
“Hurry, please come. I can’t stand it anymore!”
Uli heard the panic in my voice. I should have gone with her, shouldn’t have let her fly to Miami by herself, he thought. “Call an ambulance! Go to the hospital right away,” Uli said.  “I’ll call the lobby for you. You must go to the hospital immediately.”
“But Gloria F’s coming. She’s already on the plane. She called and said she’s on her way. I’ll wait for her.”
“Don’t wait! Just go. I’ll call an ambulance.”
“It’s okay, I can catch a taxi in front of the hotel. I’m going.”

Jackson Memorial hospital is in a seedy part of downtown Miami. Crowds of people, mostly Cuban and Haitian, loitered outside the emergency entrance. They smoked and shouted in a cacophony of Cuban Spanish and Patois. I immediately perked up at the sound of foreign languages, but I was too weak to listen to everybody’s conversation the way I usually did. Not this time. Not now.
The emergency room was packed with people slouched in chairs. I’m not waiting. I can’t wait. I walked towards the information desk where a heavy-set African-American lady sat behind a tall counter.

“Where’s hospital admissions please? I’m Dr. Tzakis’ patient,” I said, barely holding it together. My feet didn’t itch anymore. Instead they were on fire.
“What did you say your name was?”
“Gloria Edel.”

A quick glance at the computer screen. The clerk immediately went into action. She looked around and said, “George, come over here with that wheelchair.” She looked back at me. “Someone’ll be right with you,” she said, calmly and emotionless, like someone who’s seen it all.
Within minutes a suited woman wheeled me through a door at the far end of the emergency room. A déjà vu moment. I was checking into Jackson Memorial the same way I had checked myself into Presby almost fifteen years ago. Back then, I was achy and bloated, my ankles were on fire, pretty much the same as now. The suited woman asked me the usual pre-hospitalization questions while handling papers. Tears poured down my cheeks. Someone handed me a tissue, and then discretely placed an entire box in my lap as I sobbed, hiccupped and blew my nose through the Q and A session. The process took longer than expected. The woman often had to repeat herself. I couldn’t always hear her. I felt like I was in a tunnel, far away from her although she sat right across from me. My mind was distracted, sinking into black holes and then re-emerging to hand her my insurance card, or spell out my address. Once formalities were finished, I waited a few minutes, or perhaps it was an hour, I wasn’t sure, for a volunteer to wheel me to a room.

I want to pause for a moment, and talk about luck. Carl Gustav Jung called it ‘synchronicity’ or ‘acausal connection of two or more psycho-physic phenomena.’ He believed that there are no coincidences, no serendipitous moments in life. Relying heavily on his psychoanalyses, Jung concluded that synchronicity begins in the dream state and materializes through the connection in the mind with the outside world. Certain people might find this sacrilegious, but a part of Jung’s theory has been watered down, or perhaps a better word is bastardized, in the book, The Secret. If you think it, it can happen.
On the other end of the spectrum, luck is seen as divine intervention. We say “good luck” when taking leave of someone, as if luck were something that falls from the heavens. Or perhaps it’s a moment in time when the stars, moon, earth, and universe are aligned with your consciousness to conjure up the phenomena called luck. However you perceive it, we know luck or synchronicity to be intangible, unpredictable and only appreciated in hindsight.
I was in a fog, my mind fading and blacking out. In this scariest moment, luck was about to materialize. The volunteer and I left the emergency room and approached the large overhang, shadowing the hospital’s main entrance. Suddenly, I became lucid, as if the tears, dazed state, and blackouts had never existed. Two men standing against a column carrying on a conversation zoomed into focus. One of them held my attention.

 “Andreas!” I called. “What are you doing here?!”
“Gloria! I should be asking you that! When did you arrive?”
“I’m so sick, Andreas! I’m in so much pain I can’t take it any more…the day before yesterday…I just checked into the hospital.” I was sobbing, and took advantage of the box of tissues still on my lap.
“That’s okay,” he said to the volunteer, “I’ll take it from here.”

It was eleven o’clock at night on a Sunday. What were the odds of running into my doctor right at that moment? Less plausible is that I would experience a moment of lucidity just then. He didn’t know I was in Miami, or that I was checking myself into the hospital. Had he known I was in town, I’m certain he wouldn’t have expected to see me on a Sunday night in front of Jackson Memorial. On my way to the emergency room, I had daydreamed about Dr. Tzakis. I had hoped I would run into him, that he miraculously would cross my path. This Jungian ‘synchronicity’ born from my mind and my environment had come to fruition, and it meant more than I could even fathom at the time.
Time was of the essence. I can’t say for sure, but if I had waited until the next day for my doctor to see me, if matters had been delayed just by a couple more hours, there’s a very good chance that I wouldn’t have survived. Dr. Tzakis immediately started the ball rolling. There’s no doubt in my mind, I   was   lucky.
Dr. Tzakis grabbed the handles of the wheelchair and took control of the situation. A waterfall of meaningless words poured out of my mouth while I cried. Dr. Tzakis listened to my senseless gibberish on the way to the room. He knew what this behavior meant. My system was on the verge of shutting down permanently. 
Once I was settled in bed, my mind began to completely fade. I was still coherent at times, but the moments of lucidity were few and far between. No medication could fix my condition; it was the precursor to death. At some point, Gloria F. stood by my bed and rubbed my temples. I suffered from a migraine headache. Most of the time, I was out of it. She spent the night in the room with me. Early the next morning, she left to freshen up at the Doubletree.
Back in Los Angeles, Uli rushed to tie up loose ends with the producers of his next project before catching the red-eye to Miami. He arrived a day later after a grueling trip, and headed straight for Jackson Memorial. He was holding my hand when I regained consciousness.

“They have a liver for her,” Uli whispered.
“How soon are they going to operate?” Gloria F. whispered back.
“Stop whispering. I want to know what you’re talking about,” I called out, the feisty side of me emerging from my confusions. “Uli you better not go with a younger woman. It better be someone older.”
Schatz, open your eyes,” Uli commanded gently as he stood by the bed and stroked my face.
“Don’t ask …I can’t.” 
At that moment, as I uttered those words, Uli became frightened. This seemingly harmless remark took him aback. For the first time since we were married, he finally realized how close to death I really was. A few weeks earlier I had spent hours in the gym. In what state was I, if I didn’t have the strength to perform the simplest of tasks, and open my eyes?

   Later that day, Dr. Tzakis stood at the entrance of my room.
   I gestured for him to approach.
        “I don’t need to get any closer to see how sick you are,” he said.

The last time we had met, I was strong and looked relatively healthy. At that time, I wasn’t convinced I even needed a transplant. He knew better than anyone that I could die before making it to the operating room. In fact, I was going to die if a liver didn’t become available in the next few hours. The irony was, the liver and the papers were in another building of the Jackson Memorial complex. The fax machine on the other end was broken, and took six hours to repair. You would think someone could’ve simply walked over and collected the authorization forms and the organ. However, protocol can’t be breached when it comes to organ donation. Finally, the fax arrived. At five in the evening, Dr. Tzakis ordered the nurses to prep me immediately. I was placed on a gurney. Uli and Gloria F. walked along side. We took the elevator down to the operating room.

“Don’t cry,” I said to Uli “I’m going to do this.” I turned to Dr. Tzakis, “Andreas, could you give me a tummy-tuck while you’re at it?”
Little did I know that those would be my last words for the next two months.

Friday, September 2, 2011


I was intrigued a couple of days ago, watching a Nightline special on transgender kids. Lately, sexuality in the United States, a historically taboo topic, has taken the cow by its implanted testicles and put a face on the many shades of preferences. Well, it’s about time.

I enjoyed the piece about the mother who wrote a children’s book called My Princess Boy in honor of her five-year-old son, who, ever since he was a toddler, loved or rather demanded to wear dresses. This beautiful, brown-skinned child, with big, witty eyes feels much more at ease in a sequenced dress, and playing with Barbie, than in pants…and playing with Barbie. It took just a few words from his not much older brother for his mom to realize her son was going to vogue to his own techno. “Mom,” her older son said, “just let him be happy…” Out of the mouth of babes…

For someone who grew up in Germany, when it comes to sexuality, I’m amazed how the ‘Old World’ (that would be Western Europe) is more understanding than the ‘New World’ (more specifically the United States). In Germany, and in most of Europe, sexuality is a matter of fact. In Holland, gay marriage is a given. Italy, (yes, the country where the pope resides) has more porn channels than regular ones. France always praised and admired their transgender artists. In Germany sexuality isn’t a topic. It just is. A nude body on the cover of Spiegel, (German Times magazine) just is. The popular model/singer/talk show host Romy Hag, a transvestite, just was. Homosexual kids and adults, just are. Totally naked people in the English Gardens, (a park in the middle of the city of Munich) playing frizz bee, just are. The only reason why I bring this up is because we, here in the New World, are supposed to be the open-minded ones.

After all, this is the country that embraces innovation like no other. We make millionaires overnight; we come up with new vocabulary and new expression to match the mood of the moment. We make a family of five girls whose names all begin with ‘K’ famous for…absolutely nothing. We’re a creative, ‘go for it’ people that thrive on new ideas. But when it comes to sexuality, suddenly, it’s all over.

I blame our puritan forefathers for this. As ground-breaking as we are, somehow we can’t shake our, firmly planted in austerity, history. Nudity is nasty, masturbation, the devil’s work. Although these views have evolved (it sure took its damn time!) we aren’t ready to embrace all sexuality. Today, we still grapple with total equality for gay people. Transgender is wrongly considered a choice, just as homosexuality was years ago, and still is in some places. Anything beyond the archaic and prehistoric definition, man is man - woman is woman, man loves woman - woman loves man, is labeled ‘sexual deviancy.’ This expression from our ever-evolving language is supposed to refer to any sexuality other than the archaic definition. However, I’ve decided that sexual deviancy has become synonymous with ‘priest.’ And no, I’m not going there.

The man who feels he’s female, or the woman who ‘s convinced she’s male knows from an early age. Princess Boy, and Kim Petras, knew who they really are. In they’re minds, there’s no gender confusion. They might need some adjustments to make the body and mind match, but there    is    no    doubt.

Kim Petras, the budding teenage pop star from Cologne, is the youngest person to undergo a sex change. I wasn’t at all surprise that Germany is the place where the surgery was performed. The psychologists and doctors evaluating the sixteen-year-old agreed that waiting two more years for her to turn eighteen, thus adult, was unnecessary. Several conversations with Kim, who used to be Tim, convinced them that, although she was only sixteen, she was ready to make the cut. Now, a popular, beautiful and complete young lady, Kim said it best. She wants her fans to know that it’s all right to be who you are. Wise words indeed.

In the meantime, there’s been an outcry in this country because the producers of Dancing With The Stars have invited Chaz Bono to participate in the show. Some have vowed never to watch it again because a man they don’t approve of is in it. Deep-seated fear and the need to point a finger are ingredients for hatred. Princess Boy and Kim Petras have families that encourage their children to become the person they were intended to be. For every transgender child with a positive support system, there are thousands of others who suffer daily. They’re forced to live on the fringe, shunned by society and their family. They often end up selling their bodies to pay for the medication that allows them to maintain their identity.

There is no conclusion to this topic, but I’ll end on a positive note. Never before has there been a generation of young Americans more open and inclusive than now. They don’t care what your sexual orientation is or what you wear. Gay marriage is a right, it    just    is. Fortunately, that right continues to gain ground, and included in this conversation are the rights of transgender people.