A tough string


Last week I had a tough string of days.

The first was a very bad Wednesday of pool.  I started out well enough, strutting to the table and running a couple of racks, but somehow I lost it. I started missing and sank into a funk.  I was really indulging in feeling sorry for myself.   Wallowing in it and for the better part of an hour never managed to string more than a couple of balls together.  I was angry, just seething, and had no idea why.  I was angry at everyone making noise..  I was angry at everyone walking by..  Finding excuses in every tiny distraction. (meanwhile, when I’m shooting well, the two guys at the next table could climb up on top of it and start having sex, and I wouldn’t even notice).  I had a realization that one of the few things that’s making me really happy these days is to be AT the table shooting well.  It is a meditation for me.  I can get lost in it.  But only when I’m playing well.  When I’m playing badly, it is the worse sort of torture.

Jeremiah felt so bad for me at the end of the day that he payed for the table (we were playing at his pool hall.. not mine).  I stayed on to see if I could work out the kinks.  The dysfunctional older couple at the table next to me, (Him trying to give her lessons on how to shoot pool..  like an EMU or some other flightless bird trying to teach a pig how to fly), had been replaced by a young Chinese guy.

“are you playing straight pool?”
“why don’t you come over here and join me..”

It turned out that he hadn’t been playing straight pool..  didn’t know what it was..   But I taught him the rules and beat the hell out of him for 45 minutes or so just to get the bad taste out of my mouth.  (He turned out to be a nice guy.)

“What do you do,” he asked.
“Well..  I’m retired.  I used to build custom bicycles.”
“You’re retired!?”
“Um..  You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I’m terminally ill.  So I’ve decided to retire.”

He was a little stunned.  Where did I live?  Could he please give me a ride home?  Did I mind talking about it?  How did I know I was sick?

A few minutes later I found myself in the passenger seat of a Maserati doing 65 miles an hour between red lights.
“Let me ask you something..   Do you know God?”


The next day James Swan came and picked me and Matthew up to take us to visit J.P.Weigle in his shop up in Connecticut.  Peter is one of the old guard of American bike building.  He and Richie Sachs went over to England and learned the trade when they were kids back in the 1900s.  Peter’s shop is wonderful.  It is the accumulation of 40 years of building bikes.  Bits and pieces of bicycle history and ephemera lying all over the place.  Shelves and drawers full of items that would make most bike geeks weak in the knees.  More importantly, though, it is a shop with windows, and a wood stove..  like the wood shop that I grew up in.  It’s the kind of shop that I’ve always dreamed of ending up in.  I’m so attached to NYC that I think mine would be in the city, not the country. Maybe on the second floor so that I could do some good people watching but maintain a level of privacy.  I had a warehouse space in the Bronx lined up at one point.  A wall of factory windows and 18 foot ceilings.  I was going to build an open storage loft in the back third of the space..  and a slightly raised office area where I could sit and survey the shop.  That was before the FIRST recurrence.  I spent much of my second year of treatment scheming and planning..  Figuring out how to make my basement space work better for me, realizing that with the looming threat of recurrence, I really couldn’t afford to take on overhead.. a lease that would continue to need to be payed even if I stopped being able to show up for work.  What I’ve ended up with is a very nice shop.  But I don’t have windows..  or a wood stove.  Visiting Peter’s shop, I was reminded that I never will.

It was a melancholy visit.  Peter recently got a beautiful Linley jig borer.   A gorgeous old machine just like one that I was about to buy before this recent recurrence and prognosis.   The excitement of a new machine.  I wandered around his shop taking pictures, and thinking about how I won’t be getting any new machines..  Instead I’ll be deciding what happens to the machines I already have after I’m dead.  Fuck.  Depressing.


On Friday I went mountain biking.  I thought I’d test out the knee before a weekend of riding with my brother and Todd and Amy and Sam.  St. George picked me up from the train and we went up to Blue.  We started out nice and slow, but it was pretty clear to me that the knee was problematic.  Click click, grind grind.  I was so nervous about falling to the left and having to catch myself on the bad leg, that I ended up doing a lot of preemptive falling to the right.  A lot more falling in general than I’m used to.  Eventually I fell neither left nor right, but directly forward.. and hard.   The bike landed on my head.  My head broke the bike..  The ride was over.  FUCK FUCK.  It’s nothing that I won’t be able to fix.  A few broken spokes.  But it’s pretty clear that my knee isn’t ready to be out riding.  I’ve been through this plenty.  This same knee has already had an ACL replacement and TWO subsequent surgeries to clean up torn meniscus.   So I know what it all feels like.  I’m afraid that on top of the newly torn ACL, there might be some meniscus damage as well.  An ACL replacement is not a surgery that is worth doing..  If I can be frankly dark about it, I wouldn’t be likely to fully recover from the surgery before I DIE.  No point.  A little scope to clean up an irritating flap of meniscus might be worth while, though.  BUT it means waiting for an appointment with an orthopedic doc.  Getting an MRI scheduled and waiting for the results.  Getting a surgery scheduled and waiting for that.  A lot of waiting.  (I don’t have time for this shit..  it’s like a mantra..)


That’s a depressing post.  It was a rough patch leading into a weekend of friends and relatives in town for Easter (and a voice recital by my cousin Gracie..  My GOD what a voice).  I’m really tired in the evenings these days.  Having a hard time finding the energy to cook dinner (something that I’ve always been able to do on auto pilot), and an even harder time sitting through the meal once it’s on the table.  Clearly something isn’t right.  I am counting on this process being a roller coaster ride and not just a steady decline.  If it’s a steady decline, I’m in trouble.

Here’s what I’m going to do about it.  Today.

I’m going to head in to the pool hall and see if I can put my head down and focus.  Block out the rest and just run some balls.  Maybe I can play some decent pool and trigger an upswing here!

I’m going to be in touch with my doc and see if there’s a way to streamline the MRI process so that I can go to an orthopedist already armed with the films.

I’m going to order up the bits and pieces that I need to fix up that rear wheel, AND to get the back up wheels from Bobby Earle up and running so that if it happens again it won’t mean any down time.

Finally.  I’m going to get a hair cut.  Even if nothing else works, THAT should change everything.


33 Replies to “A tough string”

  1. Oh my dear friend-i’ll-never-meet… I’m thinking about you today as you get yourself back behind the cue ball and give it a good backspin.

  2. I wish I could do something to make it better for you. You definitely deserve a roller coaster ride – a fun one, too, not a scary one. And I’m not surprised that you’re angry. You have a right to be. It sounds like a cliche, but I’d like to know if there’s anything at all that I could do that would make things better. I realize you don’t even know me, but – I would if I could. Keep reaching out, and take care.

  3. Ezra – this all stinks. We’ve never met but we have overlapping circles of friends and I always expected we would cross paths someday – everyone’s bucket lists are getting screwed up here! I’m still hopeful you will decide on a whirlwind dash through Austin; if you did I’d give you my bed and my (wood) shop and my kitchen and all the fuzzy affection my pet cat can muster (it’s not very much, to be honest) for however long you cared to stay. Absent that, I hope either the pool or the haircut works. I’m going to try that reset button myself tomorrow.

  4. dear ezra

    i know you don’t know me and it’s none of my business and you may think me a pain in the ass kook, but there is help out there. Dr Nicholas Gonzales in the east 30’s, Corinne Furnari in the west 40’s

    there are things you can do that will not be debilitating (chemo, surgery, radiation) that will positively affect the quality and perhaps even the quantity of your life

    the world needs to have more of you- not less

  5. Thank you. Thank you for your courage.
    I hope the universe will provide you with better days and not keep you wedged into the place you find yourself lately. If all of the readers are like me then we are here for you in spirit and root for you in whatever way we can.

  6. Man, I’m sitting here killing time before heading off to the physio AGAIN trying to build up my left leg after a meniscus tear I waited too long to have an arthroscopy on. Forget the MRI, you know what’s up. My knee man didn’t even bother with an x-ray. After the first consult he just said, ‘yup yup yup, let’s get in there and slice ‘n dice’ or words to that effect. Spot on AND he gave me the off-cut in a jar to keep for my very own. Going to make a snow globe out of it.

    Keep a steady cue Fastboy…

  7. Dear friend I’ve never met, I’m sending so much heartfelt good mojo from Southern California, you can’t even imagine it. Tons of love, Ezra. Take care —

  8. Mohawk +1!!

    I know everyone’s different and all, but in my experience it’s very much a roller coaster, not a steady decline. And I know you know this, but it’s worth saying out loud that the amount of stress you’re under can do astounding things to a body – in particular your energy level – which is the opposite of saying “it’s all in your head.” It’s more real than the rest of it. So get the damn meniscus cleaned up please because I flinched just READING about you trying not to fall left. Let’s get you back on a bike. Tho I do hate pulling you away from the pool hall because cocky/competitive Ezra is perhaps my second favorite Ezra. The picture painted by flightless birds teaching pigs to fly… I could legit listen to that sh*t all day he hee. Go beat the hell out of some unsuspecting tourists! I hope you play for money…

  9. Man, I know what you mean about having an off day on the table. That shit kills me. But when you’re runnin’ the table, not much compares to that feeling. Chalk that stick and have another go at that mothafucker.

  10. Big Love from the Big Mountains in Northern Nevada! I just finished up chemo and would LOVE to have some hair to cut. Your writing and your courage and your beautiful bike building skills really got me through some tough times. You. Are. Amazing. I hope today is AWESOME. XOXOXO

  11. Big love from Paris, France. You inspire me, even though I can’t imagine you’d ever set out to be seen that way. Thank you for all that you do.

  12. Its entirely naturally to be pissed off and/or depressed. In fact I have sometimes thought that you seemed to accepting, which isn’t to suggest you should not accept it, for you should, but in the process of doing so, comes anger and depression. And no doubt, fear.

    Perhaps that is what you are experiencing now. My uneducated guess as I am not in the medical field but have spent quite a bit of time in chemo wards with loved ones I have nursed through the process is that what you are fearing now to be a steady decline, is likely just a down spike on the roller coaster ride one with a bit of fear, anger, and depression thrown in just to make you even feel worse than you already do!

    One point I must argue….I keep seeing comments from one person or another, claiming you have good karma which is why someone has sent you money, or another a trip to Europe and others, parts to bikes from various manufacturers.

    No, I don’t believe that is karma but I do believe it is generosity for a man with a one hell of a talent who many have come to know through his work and words and who is loved by many.
    Ive never believed in Karma.
    My life has shown me that the good die young and the evil prosper.
    Its not good Karma bringing you these gifts for good karma would never allowed you to have become ill in the first place.

    I think it is damn fucking shitty whats happening to you!
    Not right and certainly not fair!
    Theres nothing good in your having to go through this and there are so many other people I would rather wish this happened to, than you.

    From what I have seen, for what its worth, you have no reason to fear. But fear of the unknown is natural.
    But don’t let anyone tell you you cant be angry, or depressed.

    You be whoever you wish to be, and however you need to feel, whenever you are feeling either, although happiness is also on its way to you and on those days you will relish in the beauty around you……..but just be whoever u wish and be around those that cherish you and who you equally cherish and who let u feel whatever you need to feel………..

  13. Just wondering whether an orthopedic knee brace would be sufficient to get you back on your bike? Love from another friend you’ve never met.

  14. Ezra, I know by now you’ve probably been told and adviced all kinds of things, many of which are totally outlandish. I’m sure you could write a hilarious post just about that.

    But if I may, I would just like to suggest that you try meditation, just a bit every day. Half an hour should do. It does wonder to settle your mind and redirect the flow of energy wherever it needs to go. Also, if I may respectfully say so, as you approach the end of your life cycle, meditating is a good way to strengthen your spirit and achieve serenity. No religious implications here, but the realm of the mind in itself is a whole universe. 🙂

    Much love.

  15. Ahoy from the redwoods of northern california. My husband recently sent me your blog and I was touched by your words. You have a beautiful spirit, Ezra. I know you’re in a tough spot. It’s ok to feel bad, we all spend too much energy trying not to feel bad. Roll with the punches, buddy, have compassion for yourself, for whatever feelings come and go in a day. It’s all beautiful, it’s all you :). Here’s a little inspirational quote (seems like you need a dose):
    “Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.”
    ― Louise Erdrich
    You, my friend, Ezra, seem like you’ve tasted quite a few very sweet apples. Yes, for sure, not all… (no dream shop or new machines), but many many of those apples have been yours. So many people got the love for you and your very heartfelt work (your bikes make people foam at the mouth, really, they’re THAT amazing). Hang in there, don’t be hard on yourself and keep on riding, brotha… keep on riding <3

  16. Dear brilliant writer feeler builder Ezra, thank you for sharing your world. Sending nothing but good pool playing mojo, bike love, warmth and comfort your way from Chicago.

  17. Ezra:

    You have a small, quiet, but deeply rooting community of support out here in the west coast hinterlands of Victoria, BC, Canada. When one of my dear friends, part of this – your – community, asked me the other day, simply, “Have you read Ezra?” with a note of sadness in her eyes, I knew I’d been remiss in staying by your side through these posts and that what I’d missed wasn’t good.

    For what it’s worth, I’m giving the universe the middle on your behalf, screaming at the ocean for the waves of adversity with which it keeps hitting you, most recently compromising your ability to exorcise through exercise, the needed benefits of which so many of us know.

    For my own reasons, I reflect often on the nature of life and death. I’ve “known” you for years, but reading January’s Photographic Journal profile of you reminded me of the remarkable nature of your life and the extent to which you have sucked the marrow from it. I was reminded of a Montaigne quote:

    “Wherever your life ends, it is all there. The utility of living consists not in the length of days, but in the use of time; a man may have lived long, and yet lived but a little. Make use of time while it is present with you. It depends upon your will, and not upon the number of days, to have a sufficient length of life.”

    …and then, yesterday, one from Roger Ebert:

    “I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. … We must try to contribute joy to the world.”

    …the two of which leave me compelled to say thank you. Thank you for the joy you have and continue to contribute to my world and to the world at large, the majority of the recipients of which you will never know, much less meet. But we’re out here, and we’re better off for having been introduced to you and your life, which you live with great will and as such provide an inspiration to us to do likewise, to “make [the best] use of time while it is present with [us].”

    And so, again, thank you.


    (Related, with an inclusion of one of my all-time favourite photos (I hope you don’t mind): http://bit.ly/10DsIUt)

  18. Hi Ezra, I found your blog searching for some colostomy thing or another…it looks like we are in a similar situation. I was diagnosed with (terminal) stage 4 colon cancer last October just before my 31st birthday. I woke up from the emergency surgery with a surprise bag in my belly and, turns out, about two years left. (Maybe more, who knows?) Before this I was a fitness fanatic, sometimes-model and cautiously adventurous. Now I’m learning to live again with so many horrifying changes and time limits and just trying to get through chemo every other week. I’ll bookmark your blog, it looks like a good one. Although I could never be happy a decent human being is in our situation, it’s kind of nice to find someone out there who is. Take care, DD

  19. Ezra, just over a year ago, my husband Ben read your blog and it inspired him to write his own – he’d just been diagnosed with stage 4 malignant melanoma. To his (and everyone else’s to be honest) surprise. it turned out he was a brilliant writer – the blog got loads of followers and Ben experienced the pleasure and pride of having created something really good at a time when his life was shrinking and generally turning to shit. It was also good therapy – a way of thinking through his feelings about what was hapening to him. So thank you Ezra for sharing your experiences and so inspiring Ben to do the same.

    I think your blog is amazing – so beautifully written and illustrated. I read it all through from the beginning with Ben back in March last year. Ben kept up with you regularly but I’ve been out of the loop since he died in January. I’ve just been catching up and I’m really sorry to read where you’re at now. I’m a stranger so don’t feel qualified to say much, just that you really mattered to Ben, and really matter to me too – I’ll be thinking of you, sending you strong and happy vibes and following the blog. Take care.

    Ben’s blog – http://www.meandmyunwelcomevisitors.com

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