The theme was, “Rock out!,” so it was appropriate that my old friend John Fogerty was playing, which is why I went to the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation benefit dinner at Cipriani Wall Street a couple weeks ago. And rock out I did, which would have been hard not to do, considering John’s one of the greatest rockers in history and hasn’t slowed down a whit at 70.
But I didn’t follow the second command of the theme—”Invest in cancer.” I’m not sure what it meant exactly, but I am sure I’ve invested plenty enough already. Too much for my own good, it turned out, earlier in the week, when I saw that cancer PSA again on MSNBC, the one where all the cancer patients or survivors or living-with-cancers look at the camera and whine about what cancer has taken from them.
“Cancer,” I tweeted, “if you return everything you took I won’t press charges.”
I thought it was funny. I think everything I tweet is funny. Not everyone else does. Clearly.
Although 17 friends did hit “like,” not everybody got the joke. From a friend in India, “Sending wishes, light and gratitude to the divine for your recovery.” As I told her, trying neither to reveal nor hide the truth, “Sweet of you, Isheeta, but health aside, I was goofing on a cancer public service announcement on US TV.” From my cousin Shayna, who knew, “Jim, this is a heartbreakingly funny comment. I hope you are ok. I am sending much love!”
“Know exactly how you feel Jim,” wrote another, and while I didn’t respond, let me say right here, I most certainly hope not! Then again, since this Cancer Funnies series is the only thing I publish that I don’t promote, how could she, that is, know what I’m talking about other than the PSA?
But one friend I hadn’t seen in probably 20 years completely missed it. First she came back with a heart emoticon. Then “How are you Jim! It has been years, but yet no time at all!”—this with a smile emoticon.
Then I unintentionally opened the floodgates with “If you only knew, Rhonda, if you only knew”—though I at least had an inkling.
Rhonda, by the way, is not her real name. She’ll never read this, of course. Then again, maybe she will….
“I hope everyone knows I was responding to the TV PSA….,” I wrote, hastily, trying to avert the not so secret truth getting out without anyone subscribing to jimbessman.com and donating to my cause.
“I get it!” said Rhonda, though she could only really have gotten less than the half of it, especially since she followed with the dreaded, “Hope you are well!” followed by “I am here if you want to chat!”
Goddammit! I don’t want to chat with anyone! And especially not about cancer!
“Very sweet…” was the best I could do.
“You are part of The Tapestry Of My Life!” she wrote. That being the case, I said to myself, said tapestry is due for a thorough cleaning.
“We all helped shape each other,” she continued. “You did a much better job than I did!” I said, hoping to absolve her of all blame.
“REALLY?” This was starting to enter dangerous waters, so I tried to reel it all back in with, “Thank you. You’ve been a wonderful audience…” If I was on Twitter I would have laughed out loud.
One friend bought it, I guess: “Love yourself, and we will add more love to the mix!” But I wasn’t sure, so I returned to the beginning with, “I won’t press charges!”—earning another friend’s “best status ever” proclamation.
Then, from a rare friend who knew the truth: “You had me worried.”
I was really hoping it had run its course, now, and it had, except for Rhonda. She was now taking issue with my “you did a much better job” response, and was now messaging me privately, thank God.
“Why do you say that? I remember our hallway talks like it was yesterday, we all built that sturdy foundation together. Thank God we had each other in a safe and sacred space and were never alone. Bert Padell brought so many of us together. He is truly one of my mentors. You OK?”
She was referring to the fabled Seventh Floor at 1775 Broadway, where I rented a tiny room from “accountant to the stars” Bert Padell. Everyone from Madonna to The Ramones did business there, and Rhonda worked for a top producer who also rented office space.
“Hey one last question did or do you have cancer?”
She had missed the joke, and I couldn’t lie.
“I was joking on the cancer PSA, but yes, in fact, I do have prostate cancer. Am destitute and have lost everything.”
“You have cancer! Why are you destitute and why have you lost everything?”
I really didn’t want to go into it.
“I really don’t mean to pry!”
“Come on. you have a tribe of loved ones to help you!!!!!!!!”
Yeah. That and 10 cents will buy me a good cigar.
“I have nothing and no one.”
“Jim you can be an asshole, but we still love you! And I do mean a mean asshole, at times. I am here for you let me know what you need please.”
Now I appreciated the affirmation, here, but when was I mean to you, dear? I thought, but didn’t write.
“Please talk to me. If I did not have a husband and a family I would be on the street right now! I mean that!”
Honestly, as much as I could have done without this exchange, I wasn’t avoiding it. It was past 10 p.m., and I’d fallen asleep.
“COME ON JIM! Please don”t leave me!”
“Please let me sleep tonight/I will hunt you down tomorrow!”
“JIM REALLY! I NEED TO SLEEP!”
“You have a phone and FACEBOOK!”
“GOOD NIGHT! GOD SPEED, I AM HERE! LETTING YOU GO!”
“Don’t make me call the authorities, I will.”
“I am calling! unless you tell me not to!”
“I am calling!”
“PLEASE call me”
She left her phone number.
“COME ON JIM!”
“Do I need to check on you?”
I woke up at 4:16 a.m.
“Hey! Fell asleep. Just woke up at 4:16….”
Rhonda returned at 9:01.
“You brought out the Mother in me. I was concerned and I have a tendency to over react. The word destitute really got me. What do you need? I may be able to help. I would really like to do that!”
I didn’t know how to respond.
“Hey it is me! I really need you to be honest with me about what is truly going on and what your needs are. I will keep it private but would love to help you get whatever help you need. YOU ARE LOVED JIM, most of the time we don’t feel it but please know it! You are Blessed weather you like it or not to be a part of a community that still cares about one another. Please reach back to me. I will not preach to the choir! Just want the absolute best for you!”
This seemed appropriate: “You’re very sweet Rhonda. I’m drinking myself into oblivion now. If I don’t call you tomorrow remind me.”
She came back with “me too!”
But she couldn’t wait.
“please call me now,”she said, leaving her number.
Except that I actually was drinking myself into oblivion.
“Believe it or not I’m at a cancer foundation dinner. If the cancer don’t kill me, at least the cirrhosis will.” Again, I would have laughed out loud had I tweeted this.
“I am sweet, too sweet, but you are worth it!!!!
“Hardly.” Two bourbons followed by one Canadian was starting to kick in.
“So you are an asshole! Godspeed!”
Some how I felt better. It was time to Rock out!, so to speak.
The PR gal who invited me–why, I’ll never know–had been unusually helpful in getting my message to Bob Fogerty that I was there and was hoping to say hi to him, his brother and sister-in-law Julie. Hadn’t seen them in two years almost to the day, when John smoked the Beacon with a set including the entire Cosmo’s Factory and Bayou Country albums along with most of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s other big hits, as well as his own solo classics.
I did get a few minutes with John and Julie before they did a VIP meet-and-greet–during which one of his signature flannel shirts was auctioned off for $10,000–and then a full, dynamite 90-minute show with his full, dynamite band. I didn’t wonder how he does it, since I knew from the video presentation at the Beacon that he not only practices guitar four hours a day, he jogs six miles daily.
I came back down to my table in time to hear emcee Chris Wragge, co-anchor of CBS 2 News’ early “happy talk” “news” show This Morning, try to lead everyone in a “Cancer sucks!” cheer while pretty young female things went around the tables passing out “Cancer sucks!” temp tatts.
I was introduced to a major philanthropist/socialite who wanted to introduce me to Samuel Waxman, who was only a table over. “He saved my dad from lymphoma!” she said
Sam was in the middle of a mouthful, but swallowed politely.
“You guys in the press do such a great job for us!” he said appreciatively–underscoring the fact that this was no music business function. I really wanted to slap him on the back like we were old frat brothers and say, “Oh, yeah. I got prostate cancer, you old coot!”
But I thought back to my thread and returned to my seat.