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Mr. Positive is ill

Notebook Recollections

I’ve driven by Carl Bentson‘s St. Clair State Fair House every day for 30 years. Like so many others, I have to. To right-start my day. Triple points if Carl is sitting at his front yard card table and my honk gets a go-ahead wave. A blessing. Today will be OK.

2–29–24, early morning

We heard the news today, oh boy… Day By Day Linda said Day By Day Greg said Carl has stage four cancer of the esophagus.

“It’s bad, sad,” she said. “We neighbors, Carl’s All Stars, will look out for him.”

How bad? Six months to a year without chemo, maybe two years with. Yikes! Not Mr. Positive. It can’t be!

Good friend Bret and I drove straight to Carl’s house and knocked on his door.

“I’m not dying today,” Carl said behind the door before we even saw him.

“Let’s go for a ride,” Bret said. Off we went to Crosby Nature Farm.

“We’re going to the woods?” asked Carl as we headed down Shepherd Road from West 7th.

Indeed we were.

Spring was still early. We could see Pike Island through the trees, the sacred confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi River that the Lakota called the Bdote.

We were in church.

Carl knew this of course. “It’s nice here,” he said.

Then we headed back to Carl’s house. He started coughing. Quite a bit of coughing. I could also see he looked yellow – jaundiced.

“I eat food that is soft now. And I’m going to get medicine at the Regions. I’m going to live 20 or 30 more years,” Carl said.

“That’s good,” I said.

Then Carl told us his new bike was coming. Another movable shrine on three wheels.

2–29–24, afternoon

Home alone now, I called Carl’s best friend Karen Koeppe. I started with a hesitant “Hello.”

“The bad news is true,” Karen said. “He’ll be at Regions Hospital for outpatient treatment.”

Then she was tearful. “And he’s got that new three wheeler coming.

I’m worried about the chemo.”

I said chemo can be good these days. So much better. And give real quality time on earth. (I used to be a family doctor).

“That’s good to hear,” Karen said. “So good to hear.”

3-7-24. Chemo started at Regions

Hospital. Intravenous immune chemotherapy. Carl’s own cells fighting the cancer beast.

Karen said there would be four, 3-4 hour sessions a week apart. “Then we’ll see…”


No Carl sitting at his outside front yard table for the last four days. At chemo.

3–13–24 8 p.m.

Riding down St. Clair Avenue, it’s dark out. Hoping for a Carl sighting, I slow down as I approach his house. He’s out there! At his table, sun umbrella up. Reading automotive car manuals by the light of his head lantern.

I say hello and I’m temporarily blinded by his headlight when he looks my way.

“The first thing we got to do is cut these pills.”

6 medication bottles are splayed out in front of him. Pills leaking across the table.

“Sure,” I say.

“So I can live,” says Carl.

“Yes, good.”

There is a bottle of Metformen for his diabetes. Three blood pressure medications and two stomach potions.

Just then, Carl tries to halve a Metformen and it pulverizes between his fingers.

“I have a knife,” I offered.

It was a nice sharp knife. Perfect to slice Carl’s pills.

The first cut sent a pill out onto St. Clair Avenue and the second almost severed the tip of my left index finger.

“I’m going to the all-night Walgreens on Randolph,” I told Carl. “To get a pill cutter.”

Off I sped.

Carl was then able to perform the miracle of halving pills himself.

“This is good,” says Carl as he scoops up 12 pill halves into his palm, slaps his hand to his mouth and swallows them all. Dry.

“Now I can live.”

Then he asked me if I had a friend with a Tesla. So he could get a “hands off the wheel” ride.

to be continued….

Read more

Mike Hazard shares a short film he made about Bentson and why he is “a community lesson for the whole world.”

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