Thomas Wictor

Gratitude will get you through

Gratitude will get you through

Last night I went to meet my brother Eric and his girlfriend at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). They had a long layover, so Tim and I picked them up, took them to their hotel, had dinner with them, and then came home. It’s the longest trip I’ve made in four years. I’ve changed completely since October 7, 2011, the day I was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease. But it’s not a big deal. I feel a lot of gratitude for everything that isn’t horrible.

Meniere’s disease causes rotational vertigo attacks. It feels like you’re spinning at high speed, while a heavy sandbag compresses your chest and a powerful maniac presses down on the top of your head with both hands, trying to cram you into the floor. The spinning can be so violent that you suddenly projectile vomit. Meniere’s is incurable. I take diuretics and Valium to manage the illness, but stress brings on the dizziness and nausea.

Last night was the busiest that I’ve ever seen LAX. It took Tim and me half an hour of driving through the parking structure before we found a place. After we met Eric and his girlfriend (I’ll call her “Jane” because she doesn’t like social media; neither does Eric), Tim went back to get the car. Jane is a triathlete who’d brought her bike. They wouldn’t let her check it through from Sweden to Hawaii, so we had to take it with us to the hotel. Foolishly, Tim and I hadn’t noted which of the four identical parking structures held our car. Tim wandered for an hour before he found it, and then it was another thirty minutes before he could reach us in front of the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

This is the nightmarish sculpture of the late mayor. We stood in front of it for 90 minutes, waiting.


Do you know anything about Spanish bullfighting? Before the bull enters the ring, they put it in a lightless, soundproof paddock. Then they throw open the gates, hitting the bull with glaring sunshine and a wall of thunderous noise.


This is to disorient the animal and give the evil, sadistic bullfighter another of the many advantages he has.

I’ve spent four years in my one-bedroom house. Last night I was like the bull entering the ring. The crowds! The lights! The noise! It brought on a slight rotational vertigo attack.

Before going on, let me just say that below is how real men do bullfighting: French Course Landaise, a “Festival of Art and Courage.”

The only ones injured are the humans. Nobody disorients or mutilates the bull to protect the dodgers (écarteurs) and leapers (sauteurs). Instead, the bullfighters go into the ring with the animal and take their chances. I think it’s magnificent.

Since I hate Spanish bullfighting so much, I’m tempted to post photos of Spaniards getting gored under the chin, the horn coming out their mouths. They seem to get horns up the butt a lot too. But I’ll spare you. The funny thing is, when a Spanish bullfighter is injured—after they’ve confused the animal, distracted it, and cut up its shoulder muscles so that it can’t defend itself—the crowd still screams in shocked disbelief.


It doesn’t happen often enough.

Back to LAX.

I realized last night that the Meniere’s disease has changed me. Now, I actually enjoy my solitary, indoor lifestyle. Eric and Jane are world travelers who’ve gone biking in Cambodia and Africa. Eric is in the yellow shirt, and Jane is on the right, somewhere in the savanna.


Before I got sick, I traveled a lot. In 2000 and 2002, I drove across the country by myself. At 2:00 a.m. in the west Texas desert, the starlight was so bright that I could read a book by it. The silence made me wonder if I’d stepped off the earth onto the surface of an alien planet with no atmosphere.

Pumpernickel!” I shouted as loudly as I could. My voice sounded puny and shrill, like that of a toddler.

When I was in college, I drove from Portland, Oregon, to Los Angeles and back three times a year.


Everybody should drive past Mount Shasta at night. There’s nothing like it. Even though you’re on a freeway, there’s something primordial about the place. You expect mastodons to loom out of the darkness, trumpeting.

I took the train and was driven all over western Europe and East Asia, and I’ve been everywhere in South and Central America. All the traveling is over. I miss it. But on the other hand, a much-simplified life has its advantages. Everyone at the airport was totally stressed out. Back in 1970, when Tim took this photo inside a National Airlines Boeing 747, flying was glamorous.


Creole Petroleum Corporation gave us tickets in first class, and as you can see, the airliner was mostly empty. The spiral staircase in the background went to the lounge. It was a truly amazing era of optimism and fearlessness. Nobody even knew what cholesterol was.

Eric and Jane told me last night that they were packed into their jet like commuters on a subway car. Gone are the days of half-empty airliners.

I still do a lot of traveling. On my computer and in my head. I prefer it that way. After Tim and I said goodbye to Eric and Jane, we took the hotel elevator down to the sixth parking level underground. It was boiling hot because the garage serves as the exhaust for the air-conditioning system. I’m sure that there’s some stupid law in California prohibiting hot air from being blown into the atmosphere and adding to nonexistent anthropogenic climate change.

On the hour-long freeway ride back home, people were racing each other like in those Vin Diesel movies. It was 12:00 a.m., Saturday morning, so everyone was drunk. We had about twenty near misses, including one car that rocketed past at twice our speed, so close that I could’ve reached out and touched it. When we finally pulled into Tim’s driveway, I almost ran inside. Then I realized that I’d forgotten to get cat food. The local drugstore was open; after I went and bought three bags for my two piggy felines, I was finally able to close my door for the night.

I don’t envy people who can physically travel. When the director Billy Wilder was given a lifetime achievement award, he told a joke instead of giving a speech.

A man goes to the doctor.

“What’s wrong?” asks the doctor.

“I can’t pee,” says the man.

“How old are you?”

“I’m ninety-one years old.”

“Well, you’ve peed enough.”

I’ve peed enough. Nobody’s dropping bombs on my head or firing tank rounds through my walls. I have a good life, for which I’m very grateful.


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