Houston

aquairium
Waiting area, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center imaging department, 9 p.m.

One hundred and four degrees. Thunderheads building. Alien that I am, I study the geometry of center-pivot irrigation and oil and gas fields all the way here, trying to read tea leaves, wondering about meanings, even though it’s only alfalfa, soybeans and service roads.

Short stories by T.C. Boyle sparkle and crack and require less craning of the neck, the page easier to see than the sprawl of Texas through the tight aperture of the airplane window. I read Modern Love, Greasy Lake and Sorry Fugu as we approach the fourth largest city in the U.S. If I were a millionaire, I would fly around more to take iPhone photos of road cuts and subdivision plats from the air, showcasing our dusty quilt of utility and greed. I am in awe of how much T.C. Boyle has written — and how well — in less than one more year of life than I.ctscan

George H.W. Bush and Barbara live here, when they’re not in Maine, I recall. I stay at a hotel connected by a “skybridge” with the MD Anderson Cancer Center, but I can feel the throbbing economic pulse of this all-business city, with 20,000 alone working at MD Anderson, with its 28,000 admissions last year. In the Texas way, Houston for sure, everything is big. Wikipedia calls it a global city with a most diverse population, a giant port and a gamut of Fortune 500 companies second only to New York. I see the Minute Maid baseball stadium as I near downtown.

I was last here in 1984, traveling with the Walter Mondale presidential campaign because New Mexico Gov. Toney Anaya was giving him a hand for the Hispanic vote. I was thoroughly in the bubble: campaign planes and buses, overnight at the Four Seasons; telephone in the bathroom with Texas-thick towels.

I am here now for cancer treatment. I  hope I fare better than Mondale in ’84. I get good news on Wednesday but see later on Twitter that kindly old Jimmy Carter is being treated for cancer east of me, in Atlanta.

Thunder booms more deeply and broadly here than in New Mexico. I think it is the aural  effect of the humidity. It wakes me at 5 a.m., storm rolling in from the gulf. The picture window in my hotel room shakes. I, a boy from one-story, flat-roofed New Mexico, am already intimidated by the thunderous water pressure 10 floors up in this near tropical city.

whitecoats
Skybridge to MD Anderson Cancer Center

I drink orange juice at a table on the skybridge as hundreds of MD Anderson staff stream through in the morning to jobs in the “main building.” Many wear white coats and most of the white coats look down at their phones as they walk. Thinking of the old chewing gum saying, I think this probably is a good sign of medical dexterity, too.

The hotel is finely geared for cancer patients. You overhear people talking about melanoma and pills and scans as you pass in the halls. One man sighs at the dinner table and says, “Lots of developments,” when the waiter asks how his day has gone. Most of the cancer-battlers I see, however, are polite and intentionally cheery. I get good wishes wherever I go. You can tell in the restaurant that the place is full of careful eaters. The staff seems to be instructed that their customers might not be feeling well.

I see all kinds of people, all ages, many degrees of sickness, hurting and wrapped in blankets to tanned and taking two steps at a time. I probably do not see the sickest, including children, but I fear the guant-faced, silent families camped out in waiting rooms, trying to sleep on chairs, are theirs.

I imagine we share a password in our battles against errant cells. I guess the password is hope.

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