Marijuana and Mortality

Boomers should look kindly on the medical marijuana measure

I imagine my mother-in-law in Salt Lake with Laake's book, Secret Ceremonies, smoking a joint and laughing out loud with members of a book club. What would have been the harm? It didn't happen, but it's what I like to imagine.

Deborah beat breast cancer, but, a few short years afterward, succumbed to depression and committed suicide. At the memorial service, a law professor regaled the mourners with a wonderfully picaresque tale of driving around the streets of Phoenix, in low-income neighborhoods, trying to score pot for Deborah during the chemo phase of her cancer.

Leave it to Laake. Half the people at the memorial service could have brought her all the pot she would have needed, but, instead, she asks the innocent law professor to try to score for her. Some friendships are more complicated, and funnier, than others. And, despite the professor's stumbling, Laake had some very strong grass during her convalescence.

Tom Fitzpatrick
Tom Fitzpatrick

Since that first cancer call from Laake, I've known a number of men with prostate cancer. The good news is that they detect it early these days. The bad news is that a successful surgery often mangles your sex life. Under these circumstances, the love of a good mate cannot be replaced by any drug, even one as soothingly supple as marijuana. But if two men have renewed a friendship with a road journey, or eaten a fish caught by the cancer survivor, gone out onto the deep ocean together under sail, what does law enforcement have to do with those men and a joint?

The phone again: "Mike, we've been estranged too long. Let's talk. Give me a call."

The voice behind these sweet words belonged to retired newspaper columnist Tom Fitzpatrick.

Quick to recognize a heart larger than my own, I phoned back, and Tom, who'd never had the cigarette addiction, told me he had lung cancer.

"It's from all those years of hanging around in smoky bars with assholes like you," he explained.

Who could argue?

Unlike prostate cancer, news of lung tumors never has a good ending.

"I've lost all my weight, all my hair and all my muscle tone," said Tom, "but I'm alive."

I drove to Tom's home and we talked. Some days we only gossiped. Fitzpatrick loved to gossip and often ended conversations once he'd run out of dish. He described a former daily journalist's ongoing scams and frauds upon hospitals, insurance companies, car rental agencies and, apparently, anyone and everyone the ex-reporter came into contact with. Fitz still had the eye for detail. You could see why he'd won a Pulitzer.

Tom asked about my boys, which wasn't like him. He wondered if the oldest son had ever read the copy of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island that Fitz had given him. He talked about his own children, proud of their achievements but shamed by his absence from their early lives.

"But kids forgive you," he said.

We attempted lunch a couple of times at Avanti, a charming place where Tom was still befuddled by the menu.

We convinced ourselves that he would write a story for us about the man who car-bombed journalist Don Bolles. Tom said the killing was the reason he'd wanted to come to Arizona in the first place. The murderer, John Harvey Adamson, had served his sentence and Tom had stayed in touch with the killer and his girlfriend.

After one lunch, Tom had me drive him into the Phoenix Country Club and gave me directions to the home under construction for the owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Phoenix Suns, Jerry Colangelo. Fitzpatrick did not approve. The stone work was not to his taste. Colangelo was not to his taste.

Damn near dead, Tom was still capable of a slap in the teeth.

Tom called one night laughing out loud and told my wife that he had a picture of John Harvey Adamson wearing an Osama bin Laden tee shirt.

"Isn't that wonderful?" asked Tom.

Tom said the killer and his girlfriend reminded him of Rodya Raskolnikov and Sonia Semyonovna in Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment.

Whenever I stopped by, Fitzpatrick made sure to have a legal pad out and a pencil as if my arrival was detaining him from making a phone call to advance his article. He doled out pictures of Adamson, one or two each time, as if I might not come back without the promise of another print.

Years earlier, journalism between us was loud enough to end in silence and separation. Now we padded around his tale of a killer like dogs circling before lying down for the night in front of banked embers.

I'd been married in this man's backyard and now I was stepping around oxygen tanks on my way out of his living room.

John Harvey Adamson died.

Then Tom Fitzpatrick died.

I'm not going to tell you what Tom went through. He'd have written that down if he wanted you to know.

But I do want you to think about how it ends with cancer.

Abba Kovner, a fabled Jewish resistance fighter who led the Vilna ghetto uprising against the Nazis in World War II, wrote about his own fatal cancer in the recently published Sloan-Kettering.

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