The culmination of Steven Saylor’s Gordianus, the Finder series

I finished the 14th and probably final Steven Saylor Roma Sub Rosa novel narrated by Gordianus, the Finder, Throne of Caesar, saddened (for myself, not for Gordianus) by his retirement after this (unpaid-for) case as a proto-privatee detective. That Saylor could build a mystery around the most famous murder in history is amazing. Unlike the historical figures, the reader knows whodunit, where, when, and their rationalizations of breaking their oaths to the dictator who had not only spared many of them but raised them to high offices. I can understand Saylor’s reluctance to take on the assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar, including swerving back to writing three prequels to the series before proceeding to the famed “main event.”


(Vatican Museum bust of Julius Caesar)

In a book that begins five days before the 44 BC, Saylor shows how Caesar loomed over the world (the West, that is), as well as frailties (there are no epileptic seizures, but some mania and some fatigue). Cicero continues his prickly relationship with Gordianus. Though unhappy at his marginalization, Cicero is the last patrician still standing at the end. Gordianus’s Egyptian wife, Bethesda (turned from slave to Roman matron), and daughter, Diana, play little part until after the assassination, which then focuses on women, including Fulvia, the brains of Marc Antony’s rise to great wealth and power.Throne_of_Caesar_Cover_480wide.png

(cover with part of the 1864 painting byKarl  von Ponti)

The mystery(ies) center on the poet Cinna, whom Julius Caesar much admired as the greatest living Roman poet (Catullus had been dead a decade). Gordianus and Cinna (and one of those who would plunge a dagger into him in the Senate the next day) were at Caesar’s last dinner, at which Cinna read his just completed, after a decade’s work, “Orpheus and Pentheus.” Both title characters were dismembered while still living and trying to sing or speak. The horrifying ends of the two are foreshadowing. There is a lot about the Bachantes and Fulvia’s leadership in several conspiracies, including the one that cleared her husband’s path to ultimate power.

Very little of Cinna’s once vaunted work has survived. Saylor has an explanation of this in the last part of Throne. The book is a reminder that Roman male citizens owned the bodies of women in their households, including wives and daughters (even if Antony was not so foolish as to lord it over Fulvia!). And the outlet of their ”mystery cult, with annual collective frenzies. Gordianus even manages to watch a rehearsal (in his own house, after he and all other males have been ejected) for the Bacchanalian Liberalia festival (17 March).


©2018, Stephen O. Murray







Getting to chemotherapy and even starting it

My experience of being lied to between long waits and gratuitous hair-pullings continued at UCSF. First ,an hour in the very cold waiting room with a tv that no one looked at. Then I was stored a hallway in a line of gurneys for five and a half hours. The major difference is that I eventually was admitted and placed in   a very nice room with a bit of a view and much better food — with choices! Not like high school cafeteria food like at SFGH. (Weren’t there at least alternative entrées wtih them?)

I had more problems with Filipino night nurses, this time a man-hating lesbian Fiipina. She was one of those who violated my doctor’s order to shave anywhere tape would be applied. (I complained after failiing to deter her with  reference to the doctor’s order.)

The real drama began when my condom catheter fell off my shriveled penis. The mess was mechanical (fallen-off condom), not me knowing I was peeing. I had come to take direct drainage for granted.

I was absorbed in watching what I thought was the last half hour, but turned out to be the last hour  of the 1958 “A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” She was annoyed that I had not called her, although I was the one in a wet gown in a wet bed, and chose to finish the movie rather than get into the chaos of changing bed and gowns. I don’t remember what she said that led me to remark that I could still urinate for an hour and preferred being wet to distracting from the fist thing on IV I watched. .

Anyway, she unleashed a tirade about my being sarcastic though she and everyone else was working to make my  hospital stay as good as it could be, to which I only returned sarcasm. I will stipulate to being sarcastic, though most people here and in general understand and appreciate my  wry sense of humor.

She overplayed by claiming that everyone had been kind, not hurtful ,to me. The first bow in my quiver was her not bothering to shave before taping (about which I complained at the time). Even leaving aside the rage at SFGH malpractice (the blood thinner when a biopsy had been postponed and another one scheduled), there were all the lies told to me in the ER corridor, and more that I have mercifully forgotten). I said that I appreciated that staff were trying to help with my cancer and said that I would try to hold in my rage that was fired to a considerable degree by events preceding my arrival on the 11th floor of Long Hospital. ( know that what is visible is only the tip of the iceberg of my rage.)

BTW, my “man-hater” characterizaion is mostly based on her very visible repugnance at having to handle a penis (or at least my shriveled one). It is definitely difficult to put  a hard-shell condom on a shrunken penis. She repeatedly asked me to do it, though I couldn’t see what I was trying to do.

Finally, she got it on, and then  when she was upbraiding me for not calling for immediately  (which would have involvedcalling down the distracting chaos of changing my gowns and making up the room during the only thing I watched on tv), the crusader against sarcasm asked if I wanted her to take it off, when I said I could pee for the duration of the rest of the movie. I was the one with a damp gown and sheets,  and the urine was not yet toxic with chemotherapy drugs. The secondary gain of the not having to get up during the night was definitely positive enough to make up for the suffering of getting it on four separate times, so I definitely did not want what had been put on with considerable effort and discomfort removed.

BTW, my next night nurse (CHeryl?)was also Filipina, as well as being amiable and helpful — and seemed to enjoy my sense of humor.

I really like my oncologist, Ted Martin, and my day nurse, Craig. Both have been patient in explaining things to me (and those visiting me in the hospital),

By the time I started chemo 6PM Thursday), I felt tired and that I could take a nap.

The new condom catheter worked, and the dosage of sleeping pills worked, too, so on chemo I had the best night’s sleep in months, not having to wake up to piss every hour. Alas, there was a “watcher” chatting on his cellphone who woke me up). Today I have been peeing in the plastic urinal. I am not supposed to get out of bed without an attendant, but I can sit up and learned how to piss lying down at SFGH.


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(St. Stephen of Paranassus Heights with infusion bags).

Though I have (so far) felt good, with lessened back pain (a separate track!), my glucose soared, pulse and blood pressure increased (the former from having steroids pumped into my blood). The master line (peripherally inserted central catheter), which is infusing me with eight drugs (including an anti-nausea one, is now the only one after a day and a half of saline, and infusions of magnesium.)

A cardiologist resident came to talk to me this afternoon then returned with the cardiologist. He had no strong guesses about the causes of my passing out. He said that if I had another one he hoped it would be in the hospital, quacking reacting to my facial response “If you have another one”). Then he rhetorically said he didn’t know anything. I fired back to disprove that with the two questions I am asked many times a day: “What is your full name? What is your date of birth?” I delivered the results of the test, which had showed he knows some things, including to the answers to the most frequent questions here. (I doubt he encounters the questions off and not in the imperious medical personnel tone.)

He was a bit flummoxed and the resident said she thought she had introduced him to me, which she had. I made that clear. The cardiologist by then understanding the unusual (mini-) interrogation said that it was the best thing that he had experienced that day.

I was more a breaching exercise than sarcasm, though it reminded me that satire is frequently not recognized (or not recognized immediately).

Then I had a very nice shower, doing my calf-stretching exercises while hot water was massaging my back. Craig was off looking for my razor and shaving gel. I had dried my top half but got back in the shower for the shaving. When I got out again, dried off and with great difficulty getting into drawstring pants that I cannot get to stay tight, so they fall down before a single stop with considerable difficulty. I should have asked for help. The disaster was not me falling again (which I didn’t even dancing into the pants), but the line dripping toxic chemo treatments falling as I started to maneuver the pole out of the bathroom.

It was dripping the toxic chemicals that are going into me, which led to a major masked and gowned cleanup, a new pole, and temporarily interfered with Craig’s good mood, though he assured me it was not my fault that the line fell out, but I should call immediately if it happened again. I think that by the end of regowning me and supervising the clean up his natural ebullience had risen over his annoyance.


(between hospitalizations, 13 days from diagnosis to treatment  of “aggressive canser” commencing—muscles shrunken, protease paunch still there).

Monday I also got the bone-marrotw biopsy (with no advance notice that one was going to be done; given its bad rap that was probably good. The onlt pain was the local anesthetic though I felt the often reported twinge down the calf during the procedure). She was able to get a goods sample both of bone and marow, though the bone was vary hard, digging the bone hard, which except for bone marrow biopsies is good.

And I am getting a carbohydrate menu, having had the regular and cardiac one.s I think I’ll have more choices, but a ceiling of 81 carbs.

My account of my previous adventure is here.

©2018, Stephen O. Murray

Add me to the ranks of writer/diretor Greta Geriwg’s “Lady Bird” (2017)

As have many others, I liked Greta Gerwig’s 2017 “Lady Bird,” set around 2002. I was especially surprised to like Tracy Letts as the father who was laid off and couldn’t get another job. Saoirse Ronan has deservedly been much praised as the rebellious title character (né Christine). Laurie Metcalf’s character is very rough, but she is remarkable.

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As usual, I adore Lois Smith, who herein plays the wise principal of a Catholic school in Sacramento. I am glad for Lady Bird that Sister Sarah Jones is there to protect her, even though LB is expelled (which was a certainty) after popping off against a long-winded anti-abortion speaker who has invoked her mother’s decision not to abort her as regrettable: words to the effect that then the assembly would not have to sit through her speech. The line is great, but the speaker’s look of total shock is the high point of the movie for me.


Timothée Chalaméet is pensive and accedes to LB’s need to be seen as having a boyfriend and for a prom date. I don’t understand why she is so bent out of shape to learn that he was not a virgin before she deflowered herself on him. Nor am I sure why her best friend , Julie (Beanie Fedstein), gets so annoyed with her, but there is a lovely prom night reconciliation (Kyle ends up not going to the prom after picking up LB, honking from the street to her father’s unhappiness of such treatment). Her earlier castmate/boyfriend (Merrily We Roll), Danny O’Neill is gawky as a boy not sure how to come out of the closet (after LB finds him kissing another boy in a bathroom stall).

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I also don’t understand how Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues) is her brother. Must have been adopted, though Marion is having trouble supporting her husband and daughter). He is quite easy on the eyes though.

I like Jon Brion’s musical score, Dave Mathews’s song “Crash Into Me,” the complex relationships, especially the hard-pressed mother and restive daughter one (both of them brittle and outspoken), and the shots of Sacramento, a city I don’t know very well, though I have been to its museum twice, and Tamar’s wedding. As in “Riverdale,” class is a major focus, and I know why Marion wonders with dismay how she raised such a snob as a daughter (though I was more like her, or maybe like Kyle, or like LB’s father, than like the other characters).


©2018, Stephen O. Murray

pre-code enforcement grab-bag from Paramount

Other than high society oblivious to the Depression and lots of lingerie and production by Paramount there is little in common among the six 1931-mid-1934 movies on three discs of “Pre-Code Hollywood Collection.” There is also a brief overview of Hollywood censorship that would be helpful for those unfamiliar with the Hayes Office and what went before in the way of an unenforced code.


I have a very dim view of small-town small mindedness, but even I was shocked by William Seiter’s (1932) “Hot Saturday, in which Nancy Caroll’s attempt to avoid rape by Edward Wood lead to her being maligned or shunned. I the end Cary Grant is driving off to New York with her but after horribly false gossip that even her childhood sweetheart (Randolph Scott) wavers in disbelieving her. She also has a very censorious and greedy mother, played by the usually benign Jane Darwell.

Seiter also directed Astaire and Rogers in one of their best movies (Roberta, 1935) and Astaire with a divine Rita Hayworth in “You Were Never Lovelier” from 1942. Plus the hilarious Marx brothers’ “Room Service” (1938) and the ludicrous but amusing “One Touch of Venus” (1948) with Robert Walker and a divine and funny Ava Gardner. I guess he was something of a “women’s director.” Nancy Carroll (Shopworn Angel) was affecting and lovely as Ruth Brock. Cary Grant, in a much bigger role than in “Merrily We Go to Hell,” wore a lot of obvious makeup and s fey kimono, while Scott was all butch, all stiff. For me, this is the standout of the collection.



The searing but not sleazy 1932 “Merrily, We go hell”, directed by Dorothy Arzner, with a dipsomaniac Frederic March, and the love of Sylvie Sydney, who some reason in in luck with him, though he is always drunk and often cruel. I like her stand-by father (George Irving) as she makes stupid, self- harming decisions, and Sydney registers pain March’s character is too drunk to notice. Cary Grant appeared for part of a nightclub scene (the high life scenes from 1930s movie continue to amaze me. Depression, what Depression?) March really put the ”maniac” in dipsomaniac in a remarkable performance.


“The Cheat” was the oldest of the four Tallulah Bankhead movies I’ve seen (1931, directed by George Abbott). It was over the top with Bankhead playing a woman desperate to cover her gambling dead and Irving Pichel as a collector of Japanese art desperate to have her. The flat-chested Bankhead acted up a storm of desperation first about the gambling debt, when about her husband taking the blame for her shooting Pichel.


Re “Torch Singer” (1933:) I can’t decide which is more preposterous, Claudette Colbert as a chorus girl who zooms to being Manhattan’s premier chanteuse or the plot in which she bears and has to give up a child while the father, not knowing she was pregnant, is in China. The movie is notable for being one in which Ricardo Cortez is not shot by a outraged woman. Colbert could sing, but could not sell a song like Marlene Dietrich playing a nightclub singer and desperate mother in “Blond Venus,” made the previous year.

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Finished and released just before enforcement of the Hollywood Production Code in 1934, “Search for Beauty” has some male rear nudity (a locker-room scene) but no sex. I’d say it had some violence, rather sadistic treatment by Aryan athletes suggested by Buster Crabbe (a 1932 Olympic gold medal-winner who plays Don Jackson, who becomes the editor of a fitness and exercise magazine) of sleazy older men and women. The models of fitness quickly turn into fascist squads enforcing a schedule of mandatory exercise that begins at 6:30 AM. Rarely has “body fascism” been so fascist. Leni Riefenstahl included black bodies, Paramount only white ones and more credibly portrayed athleticism as well as smooth-skinned models of Aryan perfection (from North America and the British Empire, including Ireland).

In addition to an often-shirtless Crabbe, clad only in swimming trunks, it starred an unrecognizable (voice or face) Ida Lupino (in her film debut), and a recognizable James Gleason in an unusually dull as an echo of Robert Armstrong, the wheeler-dealer who want to publish little-clad people and have sexy stories under the guise of promoting exercise. The physician on its board of directors say that it has “just enough moral to sneak them through the mails,” It objectifies men (especially Crabbe) as much as it does women. As the upholder of truth and righteousness, Crabbe is scenic but off-putting. As much as the magazine, the movie is smut posing as moralism.


An even more peculiar 1934 (getting in under the wire of the Production Code) is “Murder at the Vanities,” directed by rising director Mitchell Leisen. It includes an inept murder investigation by oafish police lieutenant Victor McLaglen, who is more interested at ogling chorus girls than solving the case of two murders in and above the opening of a musical by fast-talking impresario Jack Oakie. Carl Brisson was tall, but had no talent acting, singing of dancing. Kitty Carlisle had little do other than stand supportively by and go on with the show even after two attempts to murder her occur between her dressing room and the stage. (There are three consummated murders of women as well within the movie, one of them onstage.)

The music is mostly operetta with a very bizarre invasion by Duke Ellington and his orchestra (notable for having an early mixed-race production number. It also has a lot of skimpily dressed women onstage and backstage (and some passing black female nudity). Even Carlisle has a number in which she is close to being naked. And another in which she sings in praise of “sweet marijuana.” The numbers of a stage set musical as not as delirious as Busby Berkeley ones, more stage-confined.


©2018, Stephen O. Murray


Walking and passing out

A blank month would be better than the April I’ve had. Going back to the hit and run of Deby’s Lexus and my Avalon by a speeding, crazy driver of a silver Mercedes shearing off my right side mirror and scratching her left rear while changing lanes where there was not to make, speeding off.—a double hi-and-rung.

I took the car into the garage and was walking home on 24th Street (past Alabama). The next thing I knew, I was being loaded in to an ambulance to SFGH (which was not only the closest and a trauma center but judged the best hospital for someone taking blood thinners). Two people had made 911 calls. They must have seen my fall, since people lying in the street is a common sight, even bleeding ones.

Because I threw out my back the previous Thursday, I could not sit up or get out of bed on my own. And I was pissing 6+ times a night. I was prepared (no food or drink for 10-18 times— while being admonished to drink as much as I could) for a biopsy five times, including Friday night, despite everyone knowing that biopsies are not done over the weekend. My head was also chained to the wall with a heavy box that had no support except hanging from my head or lying on the bed from which it fell to the floor.

The lies began in the emergency room, where no one bothered to wipe off the blood. The doctor who sewed my upper lip promised to check back on her work, but never did.

The arrogant Filipino night nurse J__ told me the neuroimaging gizmos would be removed after 8 hours, at midnight, and that the would call the doctor at 11 to remind him to order the removal. Come morning Jonathan puzzled where I had gotten the idea that the test was going to end at midnight. Come midnight the night doctor said there was no one awake to order the removal, but that doctors came in early. They may have, but the next excuse was that the machine’s technician had to do it and no one knew when he would be around. At 11 Isaac said that if no hospital personnel did, he was going to remove the turban and bundle of cables at noon. Just before noon, the angel of the 7th floor nurses, Yvette, removed it. The technician drifted in as I was going out for a walk to the roof garden, passing some painting by Beth Koseff(?) that I like.

The roof garden, where I walked around many time, was a plus, as was my large single room. I did not want to lose it OR go through readmission, so the hospital bilked me some more o revenue on Saturday and Sunday.

I had two surveillance nurses coughing and coughing and coughing without masks, though my room was labeled an isolation room, requiring masks for all who entered.

A major hospital scam is refusing to let patients take their own medications and billing each pill as if it were the whole bottle. Instead of getting my information from my online records (including UCSF) they asked Keelung for the dosages. He photographed my drug shelf, which includes a 2010 glyburide prescription, which was added to what the hospital bundled with my real prescriptions (I made sure Triumeq was there, albeit in nighttime bundles). They dropped my prophylactic valacyclovir with predictable results (a flare-up). The other iriatrogenc malpractice was giving me blood thinner on Wednesday, the evening after my first canceled biopsy. When the surgical team learned of this hospital induced blood thinner, which was after I was on the gurney with my back shaved and the point of entry marked, was a reason to proposed the procedure again to Monday, keeping my incarcerated for the weekend, maximizing insurance revenue.

Twice I stared to piss into my plastic urinal with its cap on (during the night) and dribbled many times. Once the floor was covered with urine and once I (passively) aggressively urinated in my bed.

Because of my tight back I can’t sit up or stand up on my own. (Once upright can walk). I I successfully used the plastic urinal without sitting up many times, getting my penis inside jar’s lip with the jar on its side… and me on my side.

I was constipated for six days starting before admission and four days spanning two in the hospital and two out. I had four CAT scans and an MRI, as well as the 18 hour brain scan (no results of which has been communicated to me).

They are still staining biopsy results to determine what kind of kidney cancer I have, I am looking at Monday surgery (it’s Thursday, so I could spend another week hospitalized at UCSH Mission Bay and waiting. No thanks!

SFGH has added several more lies that they would report results of various tests, including the brain imaging for which I suffered so much.

©2018, Stephen O. Murray