Reno News & Review

Confessions of an eBay Opium Addict

Columbus Day almost killed me.

I woke up avalanched under a junkyard of pain, my body a trap of torn nerves and trashed organs. An oily rash of sweat had soaked through my pillow and into the mattress. I was coughing, confused and crazy with anger. A throbbing, deep-pink chemical sunburn covered my face; my bowels were spitting hot mercury. I slid out of bed and dropped to the floor, the weight of a snarling mountain gorilla bearing down on me. I saw myself in the mirror as I fell. I looked puffy.

Outside, the sun was terrifying, while the hiss from a neighbor's dancing sprinkler got in my head and pissed me off so much, it felt as though my blood had become flammable and would ignite at the next insult. I made it to the car and somehow drove one block down to the mailbox, expecting the Priority Mail package from my eBay dealer to save me.


I hobbled into the car and drove back to the house, used the bathroom and looked on the computer. The U.S. Postal Service web site tracker verified that my box of poppies had been delivered to Reno at exactly 10:32 a.m. Well, where the hell was it? I typed a threatening e-mail to my supplier but didn't send it.

Then I got back into the car, reeling and jumpy, went back and opened the mailbox.


I closed it. Locked it. Waited a second and then stuck the key in and opened it back up.

Still not there.

I got back in the car and decided to wait it out. My head whirled with psychic errata--miscalculations in the synapses. As though faced with gravity for the very first time, I struggled to hold the horizon line, like an infant with an iron skull. I wanted to ram my head straight into the dashboard but feared the airbag might blow and deliver the knockout punch. Or, worse, I'd miss and hit the damn horn.

Everything hurt, but the pain came in slow motion and actually seemed to stop to register with each and every nerve. My pulse rattled, and my heart seemed to sizzle.

Maybe my package had been intercepted by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Good, I thought. Maybe they'll be able to get me off this stupid homemade junk.

I sat there for less than a minute. Maybe I sat there for an hour, I don't know. But something had to be done. I stuck some Klonopin under my tongue and drove over to the post office, expecting to turn myself in. Give up. Take the 15 years, if they would just give me the fix. But the door was stuck. I pushed, pulled. It wouldn't budge. No, it was locked. Closed for Columbus Day.

Columbus Day. No wonder everyone hated him. That tabard-wearing bastard had been dead for 500 years and was still causing trouble.

I took a dozen allergy pills to make me drowsy but couldn't sleep. I lay awake in bed for the next two days before the shipment finally arrived. The postman had decided to make a long weekend out of the cheap-ass holiday.

I should've stayed in bed and ridden it out. I had put a price on my head in the form of a box-a-day addiction but already had endured the worst part of the withdrawal: the first 48 hours. But then the box arrived, and I was a helpless slave. I ripped it open by its pull string and dumped a dozen poppy pods onto the bed, trying to eat one whole. I then made a quick, crude tea, drank it and started to feel a rabid glow of health return in seconds.

What had all the fuss been about?

In better days, I used to crack the dried poppy pods over the blender like eggs, little rivulets of blue-black seeds rushing out as I shattered the crowned pods. Sometimes I'd commandeer the kitchen and make a big production out of the whole thing, as though I was hosting some kind of lowbrow cooking show, doing stupid cockney accents while explaining the preparation process to the viewers.

Start with a clean, chemical-free stock of dried poppy pods. Pulverize in a blender and scald with water. Don't boil. Don't burn. Don't vaporize. Just scald. Blend on low for about a minute and then add a dash of lemon juice to taste. Add a cup of fine, aged brandy and then strain through an old T-shirt to remove lingering lumps.

Not only did the brandy serve to recreate that loose-laudanum effect, but also a swig baby-sat the senses while I waited the few minutes for the infernal teapot to boil. I had a whole list of fuel additives I'd researched on the internet to intensify the tea experience: tyrosine, ascorbic acid, allergy medicine. After downing a few bowls of tea, I'd lie down on the bed and watch the ceiling fan spin until my body felt etherized and free again. Ready for the imminent rapture.

But that was the first phase. And it didn't last very long.

On a field trip to Washington , D.C., Nancy Reagan promised us third-graders that there were people in the world who actually wanted nothing more than to give us drugs--for free! Free crack. Free cigarettes and beer. Free grass. Free coke. Free PCP and LSD. At the time, I remember thinking this notion carried the vague backing of Mr. T.

Back at school, they showed us a video of the circumstances and places these drugs might be obtained: playgrounds, especially while playing kickball; from ice-cream trucks; in restrooms at parties.

I played lots of kickball, but no goon in a trench coat ever trapped the ball under his foot and asked me if I wanted to fly. I bought ice pops and Fat Frogs from every Good Humor truck around but never got anything but chubby. I obviously was hanging out with the wrong crowd--something I distinctly remember the first lady warning us about. My friends couldn't score a Jolt cola, let alone a bump of nose candy. It was probably for the best. Had someone handed me a rock of crack, I think I would've put it in my mouth and eaten it. I couldn't even get a beer. And New Year's was coming up.

The only other place to get free stuff was the library. My mother dropped me off like it was daycare. Me and the damn bums. I looked for books with naked people. I read through investment magazines. Finally, I found the fiction section and a book called Beowulf. I liked it. The Vikings drank this stuff called "mead." It was an alcoholic drink made from honey. I looked in the card catalog and found a book on mead. It even showed how to make it. I was 12. The librarian had her hair full keeping the bums from falling asleep on the newspapers. She stamped my books and sent me away.

The recipe seemed simple enough. I rode my bike to the supermarket and bought a bear-shaped jar of honey and some Fleischmann's yeast.

I kept my mead in a pair of empty plastic Coke bottles. Every day I'd have to twist the cap off and release the carbon dioxide, or the stuff would explode. On New Year's Eve I poured my first glass. It was warm, almost hot. It wasn't sweet at all--it tasted like some kind of milky lard. I couldn't drink it at first, but I made myself chug the stuff. I'm not sure what happened, but all of a sudden it was dark outside, I thought I heard Dick Clark talking about his balls, and I couldn't stand up.

Because my neighborhood had failed me with its lack of blight, I began to see the supermarket and drugstore as potential drug dealers. I drank bottles of cough syrup before I knew what dextromethorphan (DXM) was. I ate catnip and didn't feel anything. I ate nutmeg and felt everything. There was no internet to guide me and nothing in the library about morning glory seeds. My mother just happened to have some Heavenly Blues in the junk drawer. I had never seen the carpet move like that before. I tried everything in the medicine aisle and everything in the bulk food hoppers. I became a Spiceisle junkie. McCormick was my dealer.

I got my first pain pills from my friend's dead grandmother. I liked them. I liked them so much I started hanging out with my own grandmother. Just checking in on her every now and then.

By the time I was driving, I still hadn't found out where to get anything stronger than pot on the street. But they had just opened a whole-foods store about 20 miles away. Also, there was this damn new thing called the World Wide Web. There were whole pages on "legal highs."

Go to kola, don quai, couch grass, cramp bark, slippery elm, saw palmetto. They sounded like mind benders, but the online "trip reports" confirmed they were no good. But I ate that San Pedro cactus in the living room planter. I bought psilocybin mushroom spores and grew them in mason jars. Other sites led me to strange legal chemicals like 2CT7. I found recipes for crystal meth using children's cough medicine. There were chemicals out there, but I was an opiate man.

At the health food store I looked at the huge bins of sesame seeds and fennel seeds and poppy seeds. The page on legal highs had said that trying to extract opium from poppy seeds was ridiculous. You needed pounds of the stuff.

I bought pounds of the stuff. I had them back-ordered and front-ordered at 97 cents a pound.

Per instructions, I boiled some water and slurred the mix around until it poured out in a pale yellow oil. I added some lemon and forced it down. Thirty minutes later, I was a poppy plant floating in the vase of my own body. It felt like I had a headache that didn't hurt, just these pleasant vexations. Later, I remembered this feeling, this innocent password to paradise. In college, after a few semesters of spiking needles in my arms and toes before class, my friend Lukas never came back from spring break with the heroin he had promised. The way they described it, his heart had exploded. They called it an allergic reaction.

I didn't know what to think except that the greedy bastard had copped my share. I remember needing a fix but was too scared to shoot up. The shrink had me on Klonopin for anxiety attacks. I drank until drinking didn't work. I tried every drug I could find. I stole Vicodin from medicine cabinets and kept an open ear for those with upcoming dental work, but the stuff was getting harder and harder to score. It had become trendy and seemed to peak when that guy that wasn't Ross and wasn't the kind-of-fat Italian "Friend" wrecked his car and went into rehab.

There were online pharmacies on the internet. I ordered Tramadol from Mexico and Nurofen Plus with the legal max 12.8 milligrams of codeine per tablet from New Zealand. Then that got tougher.

Finally, I found eBay. I had been looking for old motel stationery and fake Jackson Pollock drip paintings. They sold everything--why not drugs?

I typed "poppy pods" into the search bar.

Like anyone trolling the internet at 4 a.m., I had been looking for some kind of temporary drug fix. I found it on eBay under Crafts>Floral Supplies>Flowers, Foliage>Dried.

Crafting. Sure. I liked art.

A query turned up all sizes and quantities of poppies. Some, called gigantheums, were as big as tennis balls. A special of "600 XXL-sized gigantheums" was selling for $399. Fortunately, for crafting projects requiring so many poppy plants, financing was available for $17 per month. For all of us hard-core flower arrangers, of course.

The recipe was simple enough. Hot water and crushed poppies. A blender and a strainer or an old T-shirt to squeeze out the pulp. I ordered a few dozen dried flowers from a seller with more than 3,000 positive-feedback points and a clever handle that was a clear double-entendre on horticulture and getting high.

At first, the plants came double-boxed, rubber-banded by the dozen with the stems intact. But after a few more orders, the seller seemed to cut out the pretense that I might actually be using the poppies for floral arrangements and just sent the pods themselves.

The first taste gave off a steamy insult. Even after being filtered twice, the manna was as putrid as a bowl of warm pus. It seemed completely undrinkable. Its fermented, earthy taste--a little like a liquid squeezed from gym socks--had to be chased with something sweet. The dark grinds of crushed seed and sediment formed a repulsive grit in a half-ring around the bottom of the bowl.

As I poured the slosh into what would become my ceremonial chalice--a plastic child's cereal bowl with a built-in silly straw on the side--I learned how to drink it. Rather, it seemed to teach me how. Its nauseating properties demanded that it be downed fast at first, and then titrated for the rest of the session.

Fifteen minutes after downing my first bowl of poppy-pod tea, I entered "Flanders Fields," from the John McCrae poem: Where the poppies blow between the crosses, row on row.

Death was a possibility, I knew.

Immediately, I felt redeemed. The raw reel of life became distant, pleasant. My head was an overstuffed pillow that could softly implode any minute, and it didn't matter. Nothing could. A pleasant pressure settled on the back of my neck. I was snacky. I wanted sweets. I felt the promise of a divine massage as the pressure spread through my shoulders and opened my ribs like wings. My thoughts slowed down until just about everything seemed to fold neatly inside everything else.

I became happily over-focused in the comfortable mud of abstraction and triumph; immortality bobbed around me like fat peaches in a hot tub.

It was far from the predictable recklessness of alcohol or the silly buzz of marijuana. I didn't have the lubricated jaws of a chatty coke fiend or the mystical misconceptions of a psychedelic spaceman.

It was quiet up there.

For a while.

Poppy tea seemed to inspire creativity, from conception to actual completion, without any of those time-consuming frat-boy impulses. It effectively killed the sex drive for the night. As such, much writing could be done. A good dose could keep me up all night without that toothless amphetamine tic. By morning, things tended to irritate me, and the return of the sun seemed an impossibly horrifying affront. I covered the windows with blankets.

As the original confessional opium-eater, Thomas DeQuincey, put it way back in the September 1821 edition of London Magazine, "Booze is an acute pleasure while opium is a chronic one. It introduces among the faculties the most exquisite order, legislation, and harmony. Wine robs a man of his self-possession, opium greatly invigorates it."

Another thing opium tea slows down is the bowels. As an experienced pod-head, I learned to carry a Fleet two-pack before any major binge. (Those are the enemas in the green box.) Opium bunged things up the way eating a beach towel might. When things did finally make their exit, they felt like pine cones being forced through a tiny hole in a dry brick.

There was also the cottonmouth. It was once so bad that it was physically impossible for me to eat a sandwich.

Poppy tea was an extreme beverage for sure, but no more foul than that goofy green yuppie-goo: wheat grass.

I swallowed the tea a few times. Then a few more. By a month, I was drinking the juice of upward of 60 crushed pods per day--swallowing gallons of liquid and pissing out about $300 a week worth of tea matter. Bowl after bowl of blissful narcotic bloat that I sucked down with a silly straw.

Often, late into a session, I'd get that uncontrollable opiate itch. Raking my skin with a giant plastic comb seemed to help. Occasionally, I'd bleed or accidentally scrape a piece of a mole right off.

The thing is, heroin gets you addicted to heroin. But opium is 40 to 50 different alkaloids, meaning 40 to 50 different drugs I was becoming addicted to.

Some nights on the tea, I'd just lie in bed, content, even cheerful and impossibly satisfied enough to watch my wife read a copy of Lucky magazine, helping her put those little stickers on items she wanted.

Admittedly, slugging down bowl after bowl of plant slop through a silly straw lacked the romance of an opium den or the skinny-tie-and-suit jet-setting of the French Connection; it didn't have the instant appeal of the smoky red-light pleasures--the real ensemble pieces of the imagination--the ones where curly white smoke swirls in slow motion until it takes on the figure of an overly gracious geisha girl in fine red silk.

It didn't even have the Hollywood appeal of those experienced by heroin nightmare-narrative scribes, like former "Alf" writer/junkie Jerry Stahl's and his Permanent Midnight. The sick yellow desperation of the cotton-ball-and-spoon crowd, those icons that made filmmakers swoon in the late '90s. Cut to the tourniquet in the toothless addict's mouth or cut to the buffoon drinking grime out of a children's cereal bowl? I could feel the late William S. Burroughs cackling at me. I was living somewhere between his book Junkie and Budget Living magazine. But the habit was my own. It was DIY. Screw those Hollywood creeps, anyway--enough had been written about heroin addiction by the time of Aleister Crowley's Diary of a Drug Fiend in 1922--Hollywood had just been sluicing the depths ever since.

Poppy tea didn't leave me fashionably thin, either. In fact, after four months of constant use, I had never been so freaking fat in my life. I swelled from a size 30 to a 38 in jeans. I gained 65 pounds, almost exclusively in the middle, from the constipating bloat and junk-food chasers. While hard drugs collapsed on the user like a broken elevator when they wore off, poppy tea seemed to fade into the next day like a down escalator.

At first.

The chronicles of the opium trade zigzag through early civilizations from Mesopotamia to China and eventually wander to Neolithic southwestern Europe, where groups of early open-minded dump dwellers found the opium poppy plant, papaver somniferum, growing like a weed among piles of refuse. They soon discovered that not only would the plant seemingly thrive almost anywhere, but, also, when eaten or brewed into a primitive tea, it even took the edge off of living in a dump.

During the 1800s, when the strong painkilling alkaloid morphine was first isolated from the poppy and used in everything from battlefield amputations to snake oils and suspect tonics with names like Mister Jim's Special Relief for Facial Neuralgia or Calmer's Baby Tonic for Calmer Babies, the poppy's use as a tea fell out of practice. Purified morphine was cheaper than liquor, and a mix of the two, called laudanum, was sold as a kind of cure-all by greedy, apple-cheeked pharmacists everywhere. Once morphine was processed into brand-name heroin, the use of poppy tea just about came to an end, at least until eBay came onto the scene.

As a modern world-bazaar or world-sized museum of bizarre junk, eBay reconnected well-worn trade routes electronically that had disappeared and grassed over centuries ago. Pfaltzgraff table settings with minor chips, black wedding dresses, a plaster mold of Billy Ray Cyrus' "Achy Breaky" ass--millions of pieces of crap and treasure moved through the mail every day because of the auction site. Half-empty boxes of Band-Aids were bought and sold. Eight "gently used" 40DD bras closed with one bid at $6.50.

While becoming a worldwide garage sale, global swap meet and anthropologist's curio shop, eBay also quite naturally had become the official opium gray market to at least some of the masses.

But it didn't also sell the cure.

It was sometime before sunrise, and I was sitting in a motel in Carson City, Nevada. My wife didn't kick me out. She didn't even tell me to stop drinking the tea. There was no ultimatum. I just packed three huge boxes of poppies in the car with the blender and left. I didn't tell her where I was going. I didn't really know. But that seemed to be where you were likely to end up--at a cheap motel in Carson City. There was some equation there.

I walked a few miles to a grocery store for some lemon juice, Coke and junk food for the binge.

I tried to get the motel tap water running to a boil, but the closest I could get was to put the hand-crushed poppies in the ice bucket and run the shower until steamy water filled it to the brim. I drank it down in hideous gulps.

The reverie, the calm of my ocean, a measured but strong divine state for silent natural trances. I was back in the folds of the plant. I realized I had left because I didn't want to share this experience with anyone. I reached into the grocery bag and ripped open a three-pack of yellow Easter Peeps.

This was living.

DeQuincey noted that some nights he seemed to live for 70 to 100 years. This was going to be one of those nights. As long as I didn't die, at least.

I took a poppy pod out of the box and looked it over. It was regal, like a birch-colored rose wearing a halo; a poet could sit and be effusive for days meditating over its near-beauty.

Insulated by the opium and the sumptuousness of a secured motel room, I lay down with hopes of the state between consciousness and sleep. Suddenly, everything got blurry. The lights stayed put while my eyes moved. It was as though they were riding on oily ball joints. Or were the lights on ball joints? My lips shrank, and I couldn't talk. My heart drummed fiercely. I needed to calm down.

I panicked. The fear was intense. My toes wiggled around and got stuck in a cigarette hole in the bottom sheet of the motel bed. Did I drink too much? This was the high-water mark. I scratched my itches. Chasing. Always chasing. But this time I wasn't catching anything. I was caught. I made more tea. Used more pods than ever before. I was trying to blast off somewhere.

A few hours later, I had drunk the salt of 200 pods but only felt a kind of necessary doom. I got out of bed and looked in the mirror to make sure I was still there. I looked like that mug shot of Nick Nolte, my hair up in the air, pasted in place by sweat and spilled drink. Tiny poppy seeds were stuck to my shirt. They were everywhere. In the bed. Under my feet. On the floor.

I turned on the TV. The news. Some jackass was trying to sell a body part on eBay, and it had made the headlines.

I needed more of something, less of something else. I just couldn't put it straight.

I felt like I was trapped in an aviary of evil eye-pecking birds. The threats were soaring overhead, then dive-bombing beak-first into the pores in my aching skull. I screamed. The writhing, palpitating torment; the shattering headache; and the enormous irritability and agitation of the world all fit into the grit in my teeth.

I needed something. Some kind of painkiller, or I was going to die. I didn't know any old people who might have medicine cabinets stocked with Norco. I needed help. I thought about the stairwell. I thought maybe I could push myself down the stairwell and break something and go to the emergency room and get some pain meds.

I hurried down the hall and stood over the top, but I couldn't throw myself off. It was carpeted. I might just bruise, not break. I couldn't jump. My eyes fogged over with tears that didn't stream. I never knew how serious it had gotten until it had gotten serious. I had left my wife. I had blown through our savings. But I couldn't make myself take the final fall and literally hit bottom.

I went back into my room and found the Bible. I promised to God I'd quit. I tried to read some passages, but my eyes kept closing. I knew if I fell asleep, I wouldn't wake up. I found a section called "Leviticus." It was awful. Something about an "unclean creeping carcass." I had to get out of there. By "there," I meant my body.

But I was stuck.

I've been off opium tea for almost two weeks. Twelve days of nonstop low-grade flu and restless thoughts of maybe sawing off my head with a bowie knife. I've also considered a homemade lobotomy with a knitting needle. I can't live on this plane of plain sobriety.

When I can sleep, I wake up after a couple of hours, shivering, as though I've been sleeping in the steerage of some Alaskan fishing boat. Everything hurts. I've tried jogging to build up that natural high, but my brain's capacity to make natural painkillers has been so dimmed by the opium that it feels like my knee joints are ripping with every stride.

The thing about it is I realize that I'm going to order more poppies. It's not a question of "if." I know where I can get them. It's only a matter of time before I do this all over again. As long as someone sells the pods, and nobody cares to stop them, my recidivism is all but assured.

Poppies have shown me a better place. An occasional oasis of emotional stability. It's medicine for life. I doubt it will ever kill me. Perhaps make me into a 400-pound shut-in. Whatever--as long as I can get to the mailbox.

Digging Deep

On May 10, 1872, U.S. Sen. William Stewart of Nevada, a mining lawyer and mine owner, got something called the General Mining Law enacted by Congress. The law was a product of the corrupt Congresses that marked what Charles Warner and Mark Twain called the Gilded Age.

This law still governs mining on the public's land in the United States, which makes it central to the economy of Nevada's small counties. A mention of it to anyone who knows about mining will produce strong reactions. The mining industry regards it as Holy Scripture. Critics like former U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers of Arkansas call it a license to steal.

John Kerry and George Bush stand in similar opposing postures.

The law allows the industry to claim and mine minerals on the public's land at rock-bottom rates. A patenting provision transfers the land itself for the 1872 price – $2.50 to $5 an acre. No royalties are required on the ore mined, which can include (in Nevada) copper, silver, and gold and (in other states) platinum.

During the Clinton administration, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt broke his pick trying to change the law. Each year, he announced a particularly egregious example of the law's workings. In 1995, for instance, it was mineral deposits valued at nearly $3 billion that cost ASARCO Inc. $1,745 to obtain with no royalties to the public. The copper and silver deposits were located on 347 acres in the Coronado National Forest.

Authors Mark Zepezauer and Arthur Naiman wrote in 1996, "A Canadian mining company called American Barrick is in the process of extracting more than $10 billion in gold – $8.75 billion so far – from land in Nevada it paid $5,190 for. The Chevron and Manville corporations hope to lay their hands on about $4 billion worth of platinum and palladium; to patent the Montana acre where the minerals are found, they'll pay about $10,000."

Proponents of the law like to portray it as helping the traditional bewhiskered miner with a burro and a pick – but they also oppose efforts to limit the benefits of the law to small independent miners.

Nevada Mining Association Director Russ Fields says, "The General Mining Law of 1872 has served the nation well as a means for miners to gain access to public lands for the purpose of developing minerals. It has been amended many times over the years as new requirements for developing minerals were identified by Congress."

Fields says the mining law has allowed the creation of thousands of mining jobs, and while the mining industry agrees that some change might be good, it's not entirely the industry's fault it hasn't happened.

"Over many years, decades, in fact, the Congress has worked on various approaches to changing the mining law – called reform," he said. "The mining industry agrees there are issues that should be reformed or added, including addressing the patenting process, a form of royalty, and funding for mitigating historic abandoned mine sites, to name a few. While changes including the foregoing have nearly occurred more than once, the law itself has not changed much during these years due to significant differences of opinion in what constitutes responsible reform. Meanwhile regulations, including holding fees and those governing environmental protection, have changed and continue to change."

Fields also says the 1872 act is a mining law, not an environmental law, and the two should not be confused.

The "patent" provisions have been under a moratorium since 1994, so the transfer of land from public to private hands has been slowed.

In Nevada, the General Mining Law of 1872 was considered sacrosanct in the days when the state's population was small and the mining industry dominated. Today, the state is one of the nation's most urban (more than 90 percent live in two metropolitan areas), and there are many who consider the law sacrilegious. In Nevada today, there are groups like Great Basin Mine Watch that support reform of the law, something that would have been unheard of in the old days. And for taxpayer groups, changes in the law represent a rich lode of royalties.

During Kerry's Senate career, he has repeatedly voted for changes in the law, and as a presidential candidate he has said he wants the changes in order to raise money to pay for national parks. In fact, he does not call it mining law reform; he calls it a parks plan: "Instead of allowing the archaic 1872 Mining Law to continue to distort the minerals market and cause environmental destruction of public lands, a Kerry-Edwards administration will modernize the sale of mineral rights and use the revenue generated to increase the operations budget of our national parks."

Kerry made that pledge a centerpiece of his photo-op at the Grand Canyon on Aug. 9.

Bush launched an effort in 2002 to change the old law, but it came to little, and it didn't represent dramatic change in the law's provisions. In other ways, he has been supportive of the mining industry's stance of using the law – including one case very familiar to residents of the Truckee Meadows.

Local residents who organized a grassroots campaign against a cat litter plant northeast of Reno and were making headway in winning the support of local officials were jolted when the Bush administration stepped in, telling county officials they had no authority to deny permits for the plant because the 1872 law prevents local communities from stopping mining. That dispute was later cited by U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, sponsor of changes in the law, in remarks on the House floor last year.

In another dispute, the Clinton administration had delayed an open-pit gold mine proposal by a Canadian corporation in Imperial County, Calif., because it was located in a delicate environmental site that was also a center of religious, cultural and historical resources for the Quechan tribe. The Bush administration reversed that finding.

Tracey Schmitt, a western regional spokesperson for candidate Bush, says, "President Bush opposes John Kerry's job-killing tax on America's mining industry. Kerry's policy would have a devastating impact on Nevada's economy and is one more reason he is wrong for the state."

A Silver Lining for the Greens?

Make no mistake. If you're a progressive, the Green Party's David Cobb wants your vote for president. He doesn't agree that a vote for anyone but Democrat John Kerry is a vote for BushCo. At least, not exactly.

The Green presidential nominee describes both Bush and Kerry as "corporatists" and "militarists." Both candidates, Cobb said, are part of a deep-rooted system that opposes change and forces people into voting against their own interests.

Yes, the Green Party – accused by some of chipping away enough of the progressive vote last election to put Bush in office – is still whistling the same decade-old tune: "Vote your hopes and not your fears."

But this election cycle, the party faces a serious challenge. With consumer advocate and former Green presidential nominee Ralph Nader running on his own, can the Greens even garner the 6,000 votes needed in Nevada to remain on the state's ballot in future elections?

When nominated, Cobb was sort of expected to, well, not campaign in battleground states like Nevada. In an RN&R interview last spring, when he was running for the nomination, Cobb said, "I am advocating for what I call a strategic, smart-growth strategy that focuses the majority of our resources on those Electoral College states that are not particularly in play." Progressive magazine called Cobb the "champion of the 'safe state' strategy."

Yet there Cobb was in Reno last Thursday. Cobb urged a couple dozen Northern Nevadans to vote for him as the only candidate who would bring troops home from Iraq now, pursue universal health care, and reverse the decision to send high-level radioactive waste to Yucca Mountain on day one of his presidency.

"You gotta be willing to vote for what you want," Cobb said.

After taping a show at Sierra Nevada Community Access Television, Cobb spoke to supporters at Rainshadow Community Charter School in Reno. Cobb later spoke at the University of Nevada, Reno, then attended a Carson City anti-death-penalty vigil during the execution of Terry Jess Dennis. The Green Party opposes the death penalty.

The party's platform also calls for an end to corporate welfare, though it supports tax incentives for "corporations [that] act responsibly and include the interests of their community and employees" in their policies. It calls for an end to corporate intervention in public schools, free post-secondary education, an end to the "war on drugs," decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, fewer prisons, more alternative sentencing, publicly funded elections and a military budget cut by 50 percent over the next decade.

If you see anything you like, Cobb said, vote Green.

If the party gets fewer than 6,000 votes, Greens must hit the streets with petitions to restore ballot access.

UNR student Stacy Kennedy, the 18-year-old secretary for the Green Party in northern Nevada, said she'll be voting for Cobb. She said she understands why people are afraid that a vote for Cobb would be a vote for Bush. It's an idea perpetuated by the Democrats in order to get people to vote for their man, she said.

"I think people should vote how they feel," she said. "If everyone voted how they felt, we wouldn't have a ballot access problem."

Does Cobb, a progressive's progressive, really see no significant difference between Bush and Kerry?

He has answered this question before. The 41-year-old, dressed in a sharp black suit and bright blue shirt, leaned back in a chair at Rainshadow and carefully delivered his answer.

He reiterated the line about Kerry as "militarist" and "corporatist."

"Kerry voted for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He voted for the Patriot Act. He voted for NAFTA. He voted for No Child Left Behind."

Then Cobb leaned forward.

"But, as bad as Kerry is, Bush is qualitatively worse. He's declared war on the rest of the world, war on the environment. The neocon cabal that surrounds him is dangerous to the planet."

So what does this mean on Nov. 2?

Cobb said he "has a suspicion that the wheels are about to come off [the Bush] campaign.

"If it comes down to the wire that Nevada ends up truly, on Election Day, being a battleground state, then Bush is going down in flames."

Right, but –

"People say, 'Aren't we just spoilers?' " Cobb said. "What others call spoiling, we call participating. The solution is not to try to squelch the Green vote."

Then, he talked about a new concept in voting, "instant-runoff voting," in which a voter ranks candidates by preference, assigning positions of first, second, third, etc. Similar systems are used in voting for Academy Awards and by the Utah Republican Party. It has been approved in San Francisco but because of problems in the voter registrar's office it hasn't actually been implemented, though it is supposed to be used in November.

With such a ranking system – which Cobb calls "simple" – a voter could give her favorite candidate the highest ranking but choose a second place for the candidate who's "better than that guy." If nobody gets a majority on the first vote count, an instant runoff between the top two vote-getters would take place that included the second-place votes of those voters whose favorites had been eliminated.

Cobb, who grew up in an impoverished Texas shrimping village – in a home with no flush toilets – became a lawyer because of Ralph Nader's influence, he said. Nader ran as the Green Party nominee for president in 1996 and 2000.

"Nader has had more influence on me than any individual who's not related to me," Cobb said. "I'm always thankful for all the good work he's done over the years."

But now that Nader has left the Green Party to run an independent campaign, Cobb's responses to questions about his role model are guarded.

"In 2004, Ralph is making a terrible and tragic mistake," Cobb said. "He grew the party. Now Ralph is not building up the Green Party, and many of his comments are not helpful."

Nader's 2004 campaign has received large donations from some of the same donors who contribute to the Bush/Cheney campaign. In Nevada, conservative Republicans led by conservative political consultant Steve Wark provided funds to get Nader on the ballot.

In 2000, Nader received 15,008 votes in Nevada. Bush carried the state with 301,575. Gore received 279,978, and thus would not have carried the state's popular vote even with all of the Nader votes.

That said, Cobb favors voting for the Green dream. But for those dead-set on voting for Kerry as the lesser of two evils, Cobb suggested a plan. He theorized that Bush will be "in free-fall" by the time Nevada's returns start coming in on Election Day.

"Why not wait until Nov. 2 and see if I'm right?" he suggested. If Bush is already going down, "don't waste your vote."

Democracy Run Amok?

Nevada Senate Republican floor leader William Raggio says he hopes all initiative petitions – those sponsored by liberals and those sponsored by conservatives – are defeated by the voters.

And, in a surprising move, the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) has withheld support for an initiative petition that seeks increased education funding in the state.

Raggio's comments before the Reno Downtown Rotary came in a wide-ranging speech on political affairs in which he was critical of both parties.

"I'm disappointed in this national election because I think it's the most disharmonious, acrimonious election I've ever seen in the history of this country. It shouldn't be. I think a lot of this rhetoric can be toned down. And I see some of that on our local level as well. We've got a lot of initiative petitions flying around. Certainly it's a constitutional privilege, and everybody has a right to do that, but I stand back and hope that all of them don't pass because, I'll tell you, we will have some real problems."

Raggio said he was not endorsing or opposing any of the ballot measures, but he discussed the complications they can create when legislators are trying to put together a budget. Sweeping initiatives can cost money voters never dreamed of or gum up the works of public programs in ways they wouldn't have approved if they had understood the implications, he explained.

One measure could cost both the taxpayers and private businesses money, he said.

"You know, I don't want to take sides on them. That isn't my purpose here today. But raising the minimum wage – that may qualify [for the ballot]. Both public and private [payrolls] could be costly."

Discussing an initiative petition requiring that education be funded ahead of other needs, Raggio said that, like other lawmakers, he is not certain how it would work in the real budget process.

In one scenario, he said later, the lawmakers could be forced to fund education before receiving revenue estimates from the Nevada Economic Forum, which lawmakers are required to use but which don't arrive until May, three months into the legislative session. If that happened, it could well mean that education would be harmed because legislators would be building a budget without knowing how much money was available. Acting in the dark, Raggio said, legislators would be super-cautious in appropriating money and so would cut back school funding.

"If we had to pass the education budget before we got the final figures from the Economic Forum, then I think it would cost the schools some money," he said.

In another scenario, the lawmakers could build the budget as they always have but keep the formal votes until the end and hold all votes at once, with the education vote first. That would technically satisfy the requirements of the initiative but would also render it meaningless.

"You've got one [initiative] on education first, funding education first. Sounds good, you know, but what does it mean? It means that we'll divide the budget up, and when the education budget is ready, we'll pass that and five minutes later or ten minutes later we'll pass the next one."

In comments after his speech, Raggio made clear he was not condemning the initiative and referendum process, but that he thinks it is overused and often does not produce good law. In some cases, he pointed out, a public vote on a law locks it into the law books so it can't be changed without another vote of the public.

"Over experience of time, we know we should modify, favorably for the taxpayer, [Nevada's sales tax law], but you can't do it because it needs a vote of the people." The sales tax law was placed on the ballot by referendum petition in 1956 and approved, so any changes to it must also be voted on by the public. (This applies to the statutory provisions creating the sales tax, not the level at which it is set.)

AFL/CIO state director Danny Thompson, himself a former state legislator, says he agrees with Raggio that legislation by referendum is not always the best way to go, but his group is being forced to action on minimum wage.

"I just left the growth task force meeting, and people aren't just being forced out of the housing market, they're being forced out of the apartment market or even made homeless... I don't see the legislature introducing any bills to change that, which has led us to the initiative process."

In the case of the education funding initiative, the coalition of organizations that make up the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada met and chose to take no position on the initiative petition sponsored by the state teachers group, the Nevada State Education Association.

This was even more surprising because NSEA is a member of PLAN. However, many of the board members, such as PLAN Director Bob Fulkerson and Nevada Legal Services Director Jon Sasser, believed that if the initiative requiring that Nevada fund schools at the national average were approved by voters, the money for it would come out of other human services such as Medicaid.

PLAN official Jan Gilbert said the initiative does not designate a funding source to pay for bringing Nevada to the national average.

"Most of the people in our group support the concept. It was how the money was raised that concerned people. If that money had to be taken from other parts of the human resources budget, that's no gain for anyone."

No representatives of the teachers attended the meeting at which PLAN decided its stance on the initiative, but American Civil Liberties Union representative Richard Siegel spoke in favor of the initiative, saying he thinks it is "a sad day" when progressives fail to support education.

"A progressive coalition has a choice – seeing things as a zero-sum game or moving forward in both areas. ..." Siegel said. "They may be right that the money will come out of the hide of Nevada Medicaid. But I would rather see it pass and have us fight for human services and hope that human services maintains its share and perhaps a percent or two more or gain in the natural growth of revenues. I'm an optimist, and I bet on the come and I bet we can grow human services together with education."

My Summer Craniotomy

Meningioma. Men-in-GEE-oh-ma.

Before the night of May 12, 2001, I'd never heard that word. Or if I had, it hadn't stuck in my head. But I would soon have intimate knowledge of this strange word -- because a meningioma was literally stuck in my head.

Even as I type these words now, there is something unfathomable about what I've gone through. Yet I've gone through it.

It all began on the night of Jan. 26, 2001, in San Francisco. Along with a bunch of co-workers at a conference.

I went to graduate school in San Francisco, so no matter where I live, The City will always be my second home. Reveling in nostalgia, I ventured into Tommy's Joint on Van Ness Avenue for a hot plate of pork loin and mashed potatoes for dinner, while my colleagues headed to Benihana. After a sumptuous, hearty meal, I headed north on Van Ness carrying nothing but some money and my room key. The eight-lane divided street was calm for a Friday night, and I felt safe, secure and completely at home.

I turned west on Union Street and watched stylish folks going into trendy, here-today, gone-tomorrow ristorantes, bistros and pubs. I turned north on Fillmore Street and stopped to wonder which establishments were new places, how long they'd last, and so on.

A natural foods store with a huge cement entrance stopped me in my tracks. "How odd," I thought, as I peered through the windows to see two guys sweeping up. "Why would a business waste all this space with an inordinately large cement entryway?"

You must understand that I am in constant conversation with myself. The way it works is: One part of my brain asks, and the other responds. But this time, the question was asked, but the answer was stuck.

I was answering myself in French with "On ne sait pas," or as I translate that phrase, "One never knows." I felt a weird sensation on my paralyzed tongue. Though I wasn't speaking out loud, the phrase was stuck somewhere between my brain and my mouth. I kept walking. I felt like I was about to lose my balance and veer to the left. My right hand felt numb.

My first thought: "Oh my god, don't have a seizure." In retrospect, now armed with a book-load of medical knowledge, I know I was having a seizure.

Meanwhile, I was alone on the streets of San Francisco, and the two parts of my brain were not communicating. One part was yelling for my frozen tongue and mouth to say anything. I tried my name, but I couldn't muster the first hard "C" of Catherine. My tongue convulsed like the throat does before heaving, as if choking. I kept walking, desperately trying to say my name.

I approached busy Lombard Street. Never did I ever think I would have to ask for help. I just kept trying and trying to speak.

Finally, I said it -- partially at first, then completely. I said my full name a couple of times. Relieved, I said my boyfriend's name: Michael. I kept repeating our names as I stood waiting for the light to turn green.

When it did, I crossed the street, paying attention to my surroundings, but all the while, the conscious part of my brain was screaming: WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT? I finally told myself not to think about it now. It was late; I was alone; I was at least 16 blocks from the hotel. "Dwell on it when you get back," I thought. And I did just that.

I wrote the following in my journal upon my return to my room: "My brain was completely missing a beat. This has happened twice before. One night I was sitting on my bed, and it was the exact same thing: getting stuck on a French phrase. It happened the very next morning while I was on the treadmill at the gym."

Remembering that it had happened two previous times made it OK. As scary as it had been, nothing in my 32-year-old life had changed. I kept working at both my office job during the day, while teaching two English classes at the community college at night. I kept spending time with Michael. I flew back to Michigan for my nephew's birthday, and so on. As for my scary periodic inability to talk, I figured it was something that happens when I'm overloaded with thoughts -- and especially when I try to speak French to myself in such a state.

It didn't happen again until March 20, while I was running outside. I was, as usual, thinking a million thoughts. "Here it comes," I thought, as I felt the weird sensation on my tongue. I kept running. I didn't lose my balance. "It will end just as quickly as it came," I told myself. Within about 45 seconds, my brain activity returned to normal.

That was confirmation: This was something that happened occasionally when I overloaded my brain. It passed as quickly as it started. I could live with that.

Except I couldn't.

On the evening of May 12, Michael and I were at a video store, searching the shelves for something to rent, when again I felt the sensation on my tongue, the signal that my brain would momentarily act like a broken record. I turned to Michael to say, "It's happening again," though I knew I wouldn't be able to speak for about 45 seconds -- but something was different this time. My entire face below my eyes felt distorted, as if I were moving my top lip and bottom lip as far apart as possible.

Michael turned to me, a look of terror on his face. He grabbed my arm. "What's wrong?"

I woke up in an ambulance. I saw Michael through the back window, driving my car with a stoic, worried look on his face. I had no idea what was going on. As the paramedic strapped the plastic oxygen tube on my face, he asked me if I knew what day it was.

We arrived at the hospital, Michael parked and joined the paramedics and me, and I was rolled into a room with two other emergency room patients -- a curtain separated us.

I don't remember getting a CT scan -- apparently standard operating procedure for someone brought in for having a seizure with no history of seizures. I just lay on the gurney talking with Michael, a sense of what the hell are we doing here? encircling us.

As Michael matter-of-factly explained the details of what he'd witnessed, I cried at the horror of the whole ordeal reflecting in his eyes.

After the CT scan, the ER neurologist on call that night came and told us the results.

There are some moments in life that are surreal, and you remember them as if you saw them from outside your body. For example, in 1990, when I called my sister in New York City to tell her that our father had died that morning.

And this night, when the doctor said the CT scan revealed a mass in my meninges, the lining of my brain. Tumors are named for the cells from which they originate; I had a meningioma. The tumor was on the left side of my brain, but the abnormal electrical activity it caused had crossed over to the right, causing my body to convulse and causing me to black out in the video store.

And by the way, he added, the frozen-mouth incident in San Francisco and the other times were seizures, too, only the electrical activity stayed on the left side. That's why my right hand felt numb in San Francisco.

I was immediately put on anti-convulsants; I was told that my seizure would be reported to the Department of Motor Vehicles and that I would lose my license for at least 90 days; that my tumor was slow-growing; that meningioma are almost always benign; that I might not want to have it removed; that I would be getting an MRI in the morning. The surreal dream continued.

After the MRI, which takes pictures of slices of the body and is much more thorough than a CT scan, a neurosurgeon came in and further named my tumor: parasagittal meningioma, which meant it was next to my superior sagittal sinus vein (the big one) in my brain. The MRI showed the tumor dangerously close to this very important vein. It wasn't until I saw my MRI films that the reality and the gravity of predicament hit me. This was not a bad dream I would wake up from.

The dye-enhanced film showed a white circle, as big as my eyeballs, on top of my head. It stuck out like a smaller third eye. From another angle, the swelling was visible without dye enhancement.

Since two pieces of matter can't occupy the same space, and space inside the cranium is limited, the dense tumor displaces the soft, gray brain matter. As this displacement occurs slowly, the brain is accommodating -- up to a point. Like too many bodies on a crowded subway car, everything's fine until someone gets a toe stepped on or an elbow in the ribs. Well, my tumor was pressing on a blood vessel, causing swelling, and the blood vessel was getting impaired, getting bullied.

And I'd learn later that the meningioma wasn't just bullying that blood vessel -- it was beginning to bully my brain.

I left the hospital that day with a prescription for the anti-convulsant drug Dilantin. I began a fact-finding mission about seizures, Dilantin, meningiomas, tumor resection and so on.

Later, Michael called my mother in Detroit, and in a calm, serious voice told her he had a lot of information to give her.

She interrupted with, "Where's Catherine?"

"Right here," he said. Then he told her all that had happened in the last 24 hours.

My paradigm had shifted.

The next day, I walked to work and told my co-workers that I'd stopped driving because I wanted to walk to work, which was true -- but they didn't know I didn't have a choice. I didn't want to tell anyone at the office about the meningioma yet, because I was barely dealing with the situation myself, and I didn't want to deal with the advice and pity that would come from telling others.

It was hard to conceive that I'd felt fine prior to May 12, yet now, I had a time bomb in my head -- a time bomb that no one could guess how long it'd been ticking, nor when it was set to explode.

Meningiomas are slow-growing, so mine could have started when I was a kid. I didn't want to be hasty in deciding to have surgery. The ER neurologist didn't say it had to come out right away, but the neurosurgeon said he'd make time in the next few weeks to remove it. I decided to get a third opinion.

In the days before the appointment, I was taking 300 mg per day of the generic version of Dilantin. I grew progressively drowsy and started taking the bus to work, because the 25-minute walk was too much for me. I was asleep by 9 p.m. And I was getting anxious. My droopy eyes and my wobbly stance told this doctor that I was overmedicated. He tested my reflexes to confirm this. He re-prescribed Dilantin and told me not to take the generic version. Michael and I told him what had happened, and I told him about the other seizures. He recommended testing my brain waves by have an electroencephalograph (EEG).

"Watch and wait," he recommended regarding surgery. Get another MRI in three months and see if the tumor has changed any. That was his official advice.

So I had the EEG, which revealed abnormal electrical activity around the spot where the MRI and CT scan revealed the tumor. But this doctor did not want to see my films. He held his stance: Watch and wait.

I wondered if I could stand three months with this 2.5-centimeter, more-than-likely-benign growth in my head. It'd be like walking around with a scorpion on your neck for three months, waiting to see if it stung you.

I decided to get a fourth opinion. Carrying my MRI films with me, I met Hilari Fleming, M.D., Ph.D., who put it as bluntly as possible.

She told me the three reasons to remove the tumor sooner rather than later: It was so close to that major vein (the superior sagittal sinus) and its potential attachment to the wall of the vein (making removal risky); the swelling it was causing was not going to go away as long as it was in my head; the jagged edge of the tumor was against my brain -- and this indicated to her that it may be stealing blood from the next layer down.

"I love tumors," she told me.

Immediately, I knew I wanted her to remove my tumor. I could relate to her unexpected passion, for it reminded me of myself when I tell my English composition students that I love grammar.

Still, I wasn't ready to schedule the surgery. Despite my affinity for this neurosurgeon, I noticed a trend: Neurologists (whose job it is to monitor) are conservative, while neurosurgeons (whose job it is to cut) are more aggressive.

I got a fifth opinion. This neurologist was very friendly, but her recommendation didn't help: "You can have surgery now or wait to have surgery."

The sixth and final opinion came 18 days after the seizure: Charles Quaglieri, M.D., was as straightforward as Dr. Fleming had been. To sum up his recommendation: "It's not doing anybody any good in there."

He said normally a meningioma is like a walnut, but the edge of mine wasn't as smooth as he'd like to see it. This corresponded with what Dr. Fleming had said about its jagged edge: It may be growing into the next layer of the meninges.

Eighteen days had passed, and I had worked myself into quite a frightened flux, but, at long last, I'd come to terms with it. But as great as it felt to figuratively exhale, I was still affected by how blue I'd turned holding my breath, wondering: What next?

After the appointment, I took the bus back to work, and within an hour, my right arm felt numb. My greatest fear all 18 days had been having another seizure. Although countless doctors assured me I wouldn't die from having a seizure, I could hurt myself badly if I fell 5 feet, 3 inches to the ground. So I'd been staving off all odd sensations and gritting my teeth and keeping the two parts of my brain communicating for 18 days. As if I had any control over it!

The scariest thing about having a second seizure would be making the decision to lie down and let it happen. If I were alone with Michael, whose compassion was ceaseless, he'd know what was happening, but elsewhere -- at the bus station or at work -- I was afraid I wouldn't be able to trust those around me not to freak out. Of course, if I blacked out, I wouldn't have any choice. I desperately did not want that to happen.

At work, my heart raced, my right arm tingled, and I was fully panicked. Do I close the door, lie down on the floor and have a seizure? My co-workers at this point didn't know about any of this.

I popped my head into a co-worker's office and asked if she was busy. She shook her head.

"Would you mind driving me to the emergency room?"

She jumped to her feet while I called out to the others in the office, "Adrienne's taking me to the emergency room."

On the way over, I told her what was going on. She was shocked. As I spoke, I kept thinking, "As long as I'm talking, I'm not having a seizure."

When I checked in at the emergency room, my blood pressure was the highest I've ever known it to be. I had to force myself to breathe. I kept bursting into tears.

Once in the safe arms of the hospital, my limbs felt fine, and I slowly stopped panicking. My Dilantin level was checked. It was five points higher than the highest it should be.

I left the emergency room feeling angry. I had been walking around in limbo ever since the seizure. I'd gathered enough information to write a small book, yet the one thing I didn't know was how I'd be after the surgery. What I knew with great certainty was that the quality of my life with the tumor was declining rapidly. If being in an emergency room was what it took it quell my fears about having a seizure, then I needed to spend some time in an operating room -- and soon.

I got home and scheduled the surgery for June 12 with Dr. Fleming.

I began to relax. I showed my co-workers my MRIs the next day. I told my friends. I made sure everyone knew that it was a meningioma, a tumor in the lining of my meninges, and not a brain tumor. (One doctor told me that if I had a tumor this size in my brain, I would have had less than five years to live.)

Support and love poured at me from everywhere. Since I'd reduced my dosage of Dilantin, I wasn't nearly falling into walls anymore. My sister, mother and 3 1/2-year-old nephew bought plane tickets.

I prepared to be away from work for three or four weeks. I had all the pre-operative blood work. By that point, I could watch them put the needle in my vein and not even flinch. I had a bleeding test, where two people cut me, and then timed the clotting of my blood. I had a chest X-ray. I peed into a cup. I had my blood pressure taken innumerable times, my pulse taken just as many. I never felt more ready for something.

My family arrived and accompanied Michael and me to the hospital at 5:30 a.m. the day of the surgery. My sister kept asking me why I was so strong. I knew it was because I was equipped with as much information as possible, and given the way I'd felt during the decision-making process, this was the right thing to do.

I was aware of all the risks involved with this surgery: death from the anesthesia, stroke or seizure during surgery. There was also some chance that I'd have transitive, mild weakness on my right side once the tumor was removed. In that case, I'd have to have physical therapy. I promised myself that if I woke up from surgery to discover that I was numb or had any deficiency, I would not let myself be afraid that it was permanent. The doctors said it would take four to six weeks to feel normal, but that the healing would go on for many more months.

I didn't have any last-minute panic attacks, and I was smiling the morning of surgery until the last minute -- when the anesthesiologist began to give me the drugs that would make me unconscious for the next five hours.

I woke up in the recovery room in a dream state (because of the anesthesia, and because I am very near-sighted and wasn't wearing my glasses). The nurses talked to me. Dr. Fleming told me beforehand that she would come in and give me some tests, but I wouldn't remember.

I woke up in recovery knowing I was alive. The recovery nurses were fussing over and all around me, and then Dr. Fleming came to test that I hadn't lost any of my motor functions.

I remember that as well -- it's burned on my memory:

"Hi, Catherine," she said.

I nodded.

She put her index and middle fingers in my respective hands and told me to squeeze.

I felt myself squeezing.

"Good. Now wriggle your toes."

I wriggled my toes.

And I knew without a doubt I had no transitive, mild weakness. But my body realized that I was loaded up with drugs, and I began to gag. One of the nurses gave me a chip of ice about an inch square and an eighth of an inch thick. I let the frozen water melt on my hot tongue. Nothing ever tasted so good.

I was moved into the ICU. My left arm hurt from all the equipment on it; the catheter, once I became aware of it, was uncomfortable.

You know what, though? I was having these thoughts, and I had a big old turban on my head (my hair lay in a clear plastic bag at the foot of my bed) with a drainage tube coming out the front. I was aware of every sensation. I didn't have a headache. I wasn't dizzy. I could move -- I squeezed my hands into fists and wriggled my toes just to make myself smile. I could think. I could see. I could feel. I was alive, and that tumor that lived in my meninges for an indeterminable number of years was frozen in a jar on its way to pathology.

That was the final frontier: the pathology.

I was like a casino, and the tumor like the poor sucker with the quarter at a slot machine. The odds were in my favor -- big time.

I got a call in my hospital room two days after surgery and learned that the cells of the tumor were benign. I was amongst the majority.

My family and Michael came in to see me. The day of June 12 remains as square one for my life, post-tumor.

Now I realize each day is a celebration that I'm OK. Life is soooo good.