I’ve been decluttering.

My Closest Companion has wisely taken the opportunity of my recovery from open-heart surgery to start plowing through the landfill that is my home office. It started with a box from the near-avalanche that was my desk. Then another, and another.

I’ve been sorting things into trash, stuff that needs to be shredded, CDs, books, photographs, notebooks (used and unused), stuff to save and stuff we don’t know what to do with.

As always, when I start trying to get rid of stuff, I wind up feeling overwhelmed by piles of junk that seem to multiply in front of my very eyes.

This time, though, my Closest Companion is engineering all this and she insists we are seeing major progress. I have peeked inside my office a couple of times, and, frankly, it does appear much less, well, less full.

What is daunting, though, is the boxes and bins surrounding my chair in the living room. They just keep filling up.  And there seem to be more and more of them every time I look.

There have been some treasures unearthed. Cards from the very first  National Columnists’ Day I created in 1988. Columns from 1985. Photos of my folks from before I was born. Photos of me looking cute — and at least one of me that I find hideous.

I have a box that contains nothing by wires, cables, chargers and power cords. Finding whether any of them are still any good will be quite a chore, I’m afraid.

Shredding everything that needs to be shredded will also be a Herculean task. Yikes!

I’ve found a couple of books I’d like to read again. But there’s also a huge pile of books I’d be happy to give away.

One treasure I was ecstatic to find was a deed that shows I own a square inch of the Yukon. I got it when I was maybe 8 years old —I think I got it by sending away a box top from cereal, but my memory is hazy about that. I researched this once and, sure enough, I do own a square inch of the Yukon – can’t DO anything with it because it’s so small, but I do own it. Pretty cool, huh?

Anyway, my body aches today from hunching over the boxes. I have a long way to go before we’re finished, though.

Who knows what other treasures I might find?


I played music full time for about 11 years. It was a weird and wild time.

Actually, I was regularly going to a University City bar to listen to another guy sing and play. He and I became friends, but this did not stop me from realizing that I was a better singer than he was.

“If he’s getting paid to do this, I should be able to get paid to do it, as well,” I thought. For years I told this guy, and then his girlfriend after he died, that it was because of him that I started to play professionally.

Of course, he did have a lot to do with it. He was playing twice a week at a bar called The Arches, on Sansom Street, but decided it was time to make a trek to Nashville. I’d been singing some songs during his sets at The Arches, so the owner knew me and what I could do, so when my friend left, I was hired to play Wednesdays and Fridays (there was Greek music on Thursdays and Saturdays.)

This was the start of my professional music career in 1973.

There were times I played just one night a week. Other times, I worked seven nights a week and sometimes had afternoon and evening gigs. I was often the first performer to play at a Philadelphia bar, opening the venue for other artists in the future.

I played an expensive Martin D-35 acoustic guitar and took it everywhere. I never left it in a car. It came into bars and restaurants with me. I took it to parties (but I never pulled it out of its case and played it without being asked.)

Toward the end of my musical career, I was no longer a solo artist. I led a six-piece country band. The Martin D-35 was always on stage with me,  but I mostly played a hollow-body electric Gretsch guitar in those days.

Perhaps the last time the band played together was for some special event at the Whitemarsh Country Club in Pennsylvania. I had pretty much decided to give up music altogether.

The special guest speaker at the Whitemarsh event was legendary country songwriter Tom T. Hall. We had to almost force him to sing one song, playing my Martin D-35. Then I forced him to scratch his autograph across the front of my otherwise pristine guitar. I don’t know, maybe I thought if it was good enough for Willie Nelson to have signatures etched into his old classical Martin, it would be cool for me to have at least one famous autograph.

I quit my band. I felt the need to sell all my music equipment to emphasize my break with music. I sold off sound gear, the electric guitar and eventually sold my Martin D-35 to a music store in New York City, where the old man looked at the name scrawled into the finish of the guitar and asked, “Hall and Oates?”

I sold the guitar for cheap. I told myself for years that it didn’t matter, that the guitar had been just a tool.

It wasn’t until many years later that I admitted to myself and others that my Martin D-35 was a spectacular guitar, much more than “just a tool,” that it had an incredibly unique sound and that I had been a fool to part with it.

I often wonder where that guitar ended up.

You — hopefully — don’t get many surprises like this one.

I was having tightness in my chest now and then when I exerted myself, things like walking. The tightness was;t pain and it disappeared quickly when I sat down and rested.

I mentioned it to my oncologist and she insisted I see my cardiologist. (Lord, I have so many different doctors these days. For years I had not even one.)

The cardiologist insisted I have a cardiac catheterization to see what was what. He mentioned that, if they found something and needed to put a stent in my heart, for instance, and keep me overnight.


I had the cardiac cath Tuesday Dec. 8. They found at least four blocked arteries around my heart. They’d have to do a quadruple bypass. It was Tuesday — they’d check me into the hospital (Lourdes Medical Center in Camden) until, at least, the following Wednesday.

Talk about being scared to death. Wow!

I knew I was in what is considered by many to be the best area hospital for heart care. I had great doctors and nurses. I had my Closest Companion always by my side — she spent the night before my open-heat surgery sleeping in a recliner next to my hospital bed, close enough that we held hands for much of that night.

One interesting thing, for me, is that, as I was coming out of open-heart surgery, down the street at Cooper University Hospital, my niece was being rolled into the delivery room to give birth to my beautiful great niece.

Now it’s all recovery. My heart is in great shape, they tell me. All this pain and discomfort results from the broken bone — my sternum, which is wired together and hurts like crazy.

But it hurts like crazy less and less each day. I’m a week and a half out of my quadruple bypass surgery and I’m getting up and down off the sofa better. I’m walking more and more. I’m healing.

At some point, I will probably notice a deeper, overall feeling of being healthier because my heart will be — is — working so much better.

So maybe I’ll get to meet that new great-niece before Christmas. I’ll see much of the family for Christmas.

And each day, I get better and better.

What better gift could I have this Christmas?

I hope your holiday is as good and happy as mine!


When I was a kid, I avoided fights as much as possible. I cried when I got in a fight, even when I was winning, which was very rare. It was just some weird emotional response, for the tears to flow no matter how the fight was going.

I’ve worn glasses since I was 2, and my mom drove home the notion that I had to protect my glasses over all else, so that was one reason I didn’t do well in fights. Believe it or not, it’s also why I can’t catch. (You can’t keep your eye on the ball when you’re looking away to protect your glasses.)

I got into a fight one evening and was getting beaten pretty bad, as I backed away, protecting my glasses instead of fighting back. Then my dad showed up. I ran over, handed him my glasses, and returned to the fight. I won that fight, big time.

In my adult life, image has trumped reality when it comes to toughness.

Back in the 1970s, I was in a bar with friends one night when one friend, a self-professed Kung Fu expert, grabbed me from behind and urged another friend to hit me. Yeah, I don’t know why.

I reached up behind me and flipped that guy over my head, through the air. Not wanting to really hurt him, I dropped to one knee so he had a shorter distance to fall when he hit the floor on his back.

Everyone at the bar, including an off-duty state trooper, rushed to my side to make sure I was OK, indicating they all believed I was the victim in the incident and that they thought I was one tough son of a gun.

In the early 1990s, I was covering some self-defense training at the Gloucester County Police Academy when some cops and I started talking about self defense. I explained that because I can’t really fight, I have my own approach to self defense, an approach that included some extremely unorthodox moves I won’t describe here. The cops’ eyes got wide and they all said what a tough guy I was. Once again, image trumped reality.

But then it got to be the spring of 2015. I was diagnosed with a fistula that would require the removal of about 12 inches of my colon and six inches of my small intestine. Oh, and it was discovered that I also have bladder cancer.

So in June I had stomach surgery. Then in August, I started chemotherapy. And started preparing for cancer surgery that would remove a non-functioning kidney, my bladder, my prostate and lymph nodes and create a stoma, which would allow me to urinate into a small bag attached to the side of my stomach.

But, before that could happen, doctors learned I had four arteries that were seriously blocked. So last month, I had open-heart surgery to bypass those blocked arteries.

That surgery postponed the cancer surgery. So shortly after I start cardiac rehab, I will be meeting with my cancer surgeon so we can set a new date for this major cancer surgery.

People have pointed out how tough I am to be going through all this.

So I have decided that, yes, I am tough after all. Tougher, way tougher, than I thought.

The thing is, I don’t think I really have any choice in the matter. It’s be tough or go home.

My great-grandfather, Martin Six, left Alsace-Lorraine and made his way to the port of Hamburg.

He boarded the steamship Western Metropolis, traversed the Atlantic Ocean and landed in New York City in June, 1868, long before Ellis Island was established as the main port of entry there.

He wound up settling in Philadelphia.

A nephew of ours married a woman from a former Soviet Union country. They were separated for several long months while going through a monumental mountain of red tape before she was permitted to emigrate here.

Another relative adopted three sons from Siberia. Travel, lodging, stays in Russia, lots of paperwork went into each adoption.

None of what I described above was easy.

Now? It seems much less difficult for illegal immigrants to cross our borders and be embraced by states and a country offering free educations, health care, and drivers’ licenses.

Cubans attempting to escape the Castro regime for years had but to get their feet on US soil to be considered for legal entry. If they were caught while still on the water, they were sent back.

Now this country is welcoming Syrian refugees who may or may not count among their numbers potential or already dyed-in-the wool terrorists bent on the destruction of  our Western way of life.

Obviously, I have nothing against immigrants, having descended from at least one. But ol’ Martin Six didn’t swim the Rio Grande or come smuggled in some other way. He did it legally.

Remember the Kosovars who came here during the Balkan wars? They were all over the news — many came to the Fort Dix area, including one woman who gave birth immediately after her arrival and naming her kid America. Those particular Kosovars were given just about everything when they got here — until we found jobs for them. Suddenly, they weren’t so crazy about our way of life now that it involved working for a living.

Many of them went back home, in fact.

Still, the Kosovars were not out to commit acts of terrorism, as far as I knew.

Today, I’m not so sure. There are rumors of women and children being put aside to make room among the ranks of the refugees for able-bodied males who look remarkably like soldiers — or terrorists, perhaps.

What are we to believe?  I believe we should have a common standard. If my nephew’s wife had to struggle through several months of separation and red tape before being allowed to enter this country, refugees should face the same struggle.

And tens of thousands of refugees? If we have resources to handle them, why aren’t we first addressing the needs of homeless veterans, who sacrificed to serve in uniform and now need the help of the country they defended.

Before we extend a helping hand to so-called refugees, I think, we should extend it to our own.


So, now that the holidays are over — they are over, right? — it’s time for us to, well, what?

Christmas and New Year’s Day involve so much intense focus for most of us that the actual new year, at least for me, is anticlimactic. It’s over. Some of the Christmas decorations are down (not all of them. They took such effort and time to put up, so what’s the big rush in taking them down? Right? The stockings are no longer hung with care on the mantelpiece. But, for us, the tree is still twinkling brightly.)

I know what I have to focus on — doctors’ appointments. Lots and lots of doctors’ appointments. Primary care physician. Cardiologist. Heart surgeon. Oncologist. Cancer surgeon. Sheesh.

Then there’s cardiac rehab, where I fully expect the rehab-ologists to kick my butt in order to get my heart healthy. I think the big     question will be how we fit cardiac rehab into whatever plans my cancer surgeon now has for my near future. The sooner I can have the cancer surgery, the better.

(I say that, but inside I tremble at the thought of yet more major surgery and the awful immediate recovery after surgery. I’m not recuperated from my open-heart surgery yet, for goodness sake.)

So, here we are, with the holidays all over and a brand new year stretching out in front of us full of incredible potential. Oh, what possibilities! A new, healthy heart! A cancer-free future!

But for right now, it’s one day at a time. That means one doctor after another, one heartbeat after another, one breath after another.


Well, this is going to be a rather busy month for me.

(I apologize for missing last week — I was pretty sick. I don’t know whether it was caused by my last chemo infusion, or if I caught a stomach bug, but I feel much better now.)

This Tuesday, I’m having a cardiac catheterization, an investigative measure because I was experiencing some tightness in my chest when I walked. My cardiologist, Dave Lawrence, wants to see if there’s anything serious going on.

I have passed an unwanted milestone. I now carry a tiny bottle of Nitro, like so many, ahem, older people. I will endeavor, you may be sure, to never have to use it. But it’s comforting to know it’s there if I need it.

Dr. Lawrence explained that, if necessary, a stent will be inserted during the cardiac cath and I’ll have to stay overnight. If not, they’ll keep me only long enough for the incision to heal, then send me home.

(UPDATE: My platelet count was too low to do the cardiac cath. We'll give it a try again next Tuesday, if my blood count improves.)

During the remainder of December, I’ll be seeing my oncologist, Marjan Koch,  my surgeon, Jeff Tomaszewski, and Lawrence again. I’ll be having pre-admission testing at Cooper University Hospital, and then, if all goes as scheduled, I’ll have cancer surgery on Dec. 28.

Oh, and, of course, Christmas is in there, as well.

I have steadfastly demonstrated by defiance is the face of my cancer diagnosis and that has not changed. But as surgery gets closer, I must admit — if I haven’t done so already — that I am scared to death.

The notion of at least eight hours of surgery and the resulting pain and recuperation, is quite frightening.

In the end, though, it’s less frightening than having cancer, so it will all work out just fine. When surgery is finished and I am cancer-free, all the fear and fighting will have been worth it.

And then comes the new year.


I’m afraid it’s the end of an era.

For many years there has always been just one place I could turn to for information about emergency medical services, emergency radio and weather.

I’m sure there are many others who can provide this kind of information, but I’m talking about my personal experience, my times collecting what used to be called Firelog for the Gloucester County Times.

As part of my job, I would travel around Gloucester County most every day, stopping into police stations and writing down information from police reports. Some reports yielded actual news stories. Most were much less important and wound up in Crimelog.

Yes, it was quite time consuming, going through police reports and taking notes. It usually took me all day to do Crimelog.

One of my stops, though, was not a police station, it was the 9-1-1 Center in Clayton. In the beginning, the 9-1-1 center did only fire calls. These days, of course, it handles police calls, as well.

Getting into police stations every day led me to long conversations with police officers and their bosses. This is how I started building relationships with police officers that continue now, 30-some years later.

In those days, the alarm room was one room. Several dispatchers handled calls there. I’d drop in, chat with Kathy and Diane in the front office, maybe one or two of the radio techs, maybe the director or the head dispatcher, then spend some time in the alarm room. It was mostly just conversation, but often, I’d be present when all hell broke loose and I was all rapt attention.

Many of that generation of dispatchers are now gone, retired. Now it’s Ken Lansdowne’s turn.

Ken was there before I was. He was an incredible guy, great resource and became — like many in those days — an actual friend.

Ken knew everything about radio frequencies. Along with Lou Iocona, Ken helped me set up my police radio scanner back in the day and he seemed to have a list of frequencies that was inexhaustible, from local police departments to the drive-through at fast-food joints.

He also was exceedingly knowledgeable on emergency medicine, of course, but then, he was the biggest weather nerd I’d ever meet. He was not only an amateur weatherman, he was a weather archivist. I bet if you asked Ken right now what the weather was on a specific date in the past, he could quickly look it up and tell you.

This part of Ken’s character is where he got the nickname “Lightning.” I mean, we had Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz as a TV weatherman, so I decided we should have Ken “Lightning” Lansdowne right here in Gloucester County.

Now, after 40 years behind the microphone, Ken will dispatch for the last time on Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve day.

I hope Ken has a happy and healthy retirement. You never know where he might turn up now, but his career has been exceptional and unique — we all know Lightning strikes only once.


During the past month or so, I have occasionally experienced some tightness in my chest when walking. It goes away when I rest.

I mentioned it to my oncologist last Tuesday and she sent me to see my cardiologist, postponing Tuesday’s chemotherapy for a couple of days.

My cardiologist then conferred with my oncologist and they decided I would finish chemo — had second-to-last session last Thursday and am scheduled for my final chemo this Thursday.

What’s new is that Dec. 1 I am scheduled for a cardiac catheterization in Our Lady of Lourdes, to see what’s what with my heart.

I’m hoping this will not interfere too much with my further schedule; so far, I am still set for cancer surgery on Dec. 28 in Cooper.

Oh, and I almost forgot: Because my chemo has caused me to suffer anemia, I had to have a blood transfusion last Friday.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d chuckle whenever my oncologist mentioned a transfusion because I always figured sick people got transfusions. Besides, one of the early victims in old vampire movies always got a transfusion. It all seemed weird to me.

Well, it wasn’t weird. I was told I might feel an energy boost following my transfusion. A nurse there even said I  might feel better after the first of the two units of blood.

Frankly, I didn’t notice any difference, except for having more color in my cheeks.

Sunday, I slept on and off all day and all through the night, too. So much for an energy boost.

I have become increasingly busy, fighting my bladder cancer. New tests, preparing for the cardiac cath, then surgery. Yikes!

I realize my surgery may get pushed back a bit. I’m not crazy about that notion, but as long as it’s not postponed by too much, I suppose I can deal with it.

I just want this to be over.