Phone Panther: All the greatest bands I never started

Allison Gruber
9 min readAug 22, 2021


Yesterday, my friend Sal, called me a “Phone Panther” after I found myself baffled by how to get onto Zoom from my 1984 iPhone (it was probably manufactured in 2014 or some shit, but it feels old). “You’re the Phone Panther,” she said. “Why would I know this?”

See my friend Sal has about twenty years on me.
She brings this up whenever she can. Both to opt herself in to knowing an answer and to opt herself out of knowing an answer. For example, she’ll say, “Hey! Listen! I’m almost seventy years old . . .” Or sometimes she’ll say, “Why the fuck would I know that? I’m nearly seventy years old.”
Either way she makes me laugh.

Yesterday, she called me “Phone Panther.”
I wrote that one down because it would make a good name
for a great band that I will never start.
Over the years, I’ve collected many names
for the greatest band I will never start.

I once knew how to play the piano.
I once taught myself the basic parts of drumming.
I wish I knew how to play the guitar or
spin records on a turntable. I love music so much that
I’ve always wanted to make it, but these days it feels best when
I just stay in my lane: teaching, writing, taking care of myself.

Today will be day three of my current Ibrance cycle.
I usually don’t start feeling “worn out” until two or three weeks in.
I wish cancer medication was gentler with those of us who choose to take it
so that we might live a little longer. I meet people like this all of the time:
people who feel like absolute shit, and are going on with it because they want to live a little longer with this awful disease they’ve had the dumb fucking luck of acquiring. Even the guy who smoked cigarettes his whole life. Even the woman who drank too much. Even the people who ate, drank, drugged their poor bodies to this dreadful place — even they had “dumb luck” because there’s a lot of fuckers out there who are eating, drinking, and drugging and not needing to swallow pills or take infusions to stay alive past fifty.
I’m just not one of those people. I have to swallow pills, take infusions.
Rather, I choose to because the people I know with any smarts on this matter at all (oncologists) tell me I should do these things so I might be alive longer.

Last week was beautiful and difficult.
Beautiful because every morning I got to start my day greeting children with a fist-bump; children who called me “Groobs” and then waited for me to reply with a shortened version of their name. They laugh so easily. “Hey Groobs!” I hear them calling when I cross the street from the lot where I park my car to the school where I teach.
And difficult because I worry about my kids. Difficult because sometimes I don’t know, right now, where any of this is going, and feel fairly certain that it’s not going anywhere good. Difficult because I feel, some days, like what I’m actually doing is teaching them how to live through the end of their world. Difficult because it is hard to teach in a KN95 mask. Difficult to teach when there are anti-vaxxer/maskers yelling at me, my kids when we try to go to the park for play. Adults yelling at children and the people who are caring for them. For shame. For absolute fucking shame.

And difficult because I also have to think about my life, too, now.
Difficult because I finally am arriving at a place in my life where I appreciate myself and all the things I have survived — usually by the grace of God.
Difficult because — barring a miracle — I’m still a cancer patient who is staring down the barrel of her next PET scan in about ten days and I am breathlessly afraid: not of the scan itself, that’s easy.
I’m afraid of what the scan will show.
Who wouldn’t be?

This morning, as I swallowed my Ibrance in bed, I said aloud “Go get ’em, Ibrance,” and Sarah laughed.
The best I can do right now, as far as the cancer part is concerned, is talk to my Ibrance, and sometimes talk to God.
I do not think I am in my Dying Time yet.
I pray I am not because I have a number of things I still want to get done.
And if I have time left over at the end of my “to do” list, I will start a fucking band. How about that? I know enough young musicians down here in Tucson that I could do it, too. Don’t tempt me.

I’m thinking shoegaze rap.
Or did Tricky already do that?

I’ve been listening to so much Joy Division lately. Ian Curtis speaks to me right now.

Friday night, for my “insomnia viewing” I watched a beautiful film called Arrival. Right now, I’m exploring sci-fi as a genre. In part because my heart can barely take anything that resembles the world I used to know, and in part because I’ve snobbishly distanced myself from sci-fi for so long most of it is totally new to me.

Without spoiling the film, should you, reader, choose to watch it, Arrival is about memory, grief, tenacity, and connection — more specifically, language connections. Also, I like Amy Adams — she always feels very “real” to me in her roles, and in this role she plays an intellectual, a woman who knows what women often know, somewhat intuitively, about forming connections.

Despite the ways in which I rant, with righteous indignation, against The Patriarchy and what it has done to girls and women (a lot of bad), I have to say I have been served well by the piece that taught me how to be quiet, how to listen. While I, like every other adult, struggle sometimes to really “hear” the other adults around me, I can hear children, and most of the time I know how to be with children. And sometimes, if I’m lucky, I can assist them in knowing something new and in doing so gift them with a knowledge that will serve them, somehow, in a life that is — I fear — going to be much more difficult than mine ever has been.

Someone posted this on the Twitter on Friday and it made me laugh. Weekends don’t mean shit anymore. Least not to me. What about you?

It has come to my attention, vis a vis my wife, my friends, some chosen family, that I am incapable of “resting.” The other night, talking to one of my aunts who shares this genetic inability to “chill the fuck out,” we both laughed hard when I said “I thought ‘self care’ was just worrying while in a reclined position.”

I like to worry sitting up. Or better yet, standing.

Friday was 170 days of sobriety for me.
Maybe some would say “no” because I like my evening & recreational cannabis. Maybe some would say “no” because I still take medications for my myriad psychological problems. “No problem will be made better by a drink or a drug” some of my sober friends say. And every day of my life I have to take at least three powerful drugs (the antidepressant being the only “mood altering,” I suppose) in order to stay above ground. My life is not on “life’s terms,” per se, because if it was, I would have been pushin’ daisies circa 1989. Medical technology, medical advancements have saved ME. Maybe not you or you or your grandpa, but they have saved me. For this I am so grateful.
I love being alive.
I love being mentally and spiritually in tact while I am alive.
I love waking up forever and ever without a hangover ever again amen.

The other day, driving home from work (every week in k-12 American education, right now, is an exquisitely brutal week — I do feel like a frontline worker most days which was not the added trauma I was hoping for after the fuckery of the past 19 months in My American Life), I had a passing thought: IF this is the end, as you are so convinced, why not pick up the bottle again?
The question was largely hypothetical. I used to often joke that if I lived long enough I would do all the drugs I was too “cowardly” to try in my life: heroin, crack, LSD . . .
And I know how drinking “helped” me. I mean, drinking was the only thing that could still my thoughts with ease. Slow me down. Unravel me a little. Allow me to relax — or something like it.
IF this is about to get much, much worse — as you are so convinced — why not return to that way?
The question was largely hypothetical. I am reaching a stage in my sobriety where I almost never feel tempted by alcohol.
And when I answered the hypothetical question, I thought of how I used to travel on planes.
Air travel terrifies me. Always has. I understand the mechanics of flight. I understand the statistical “likelihoods.” I understand all of this, and still I am afraid of flying. Or I used to be. I don’t know what I fear anymore other than untimely death. Anyway, when I flew, I never took a drink. I never drank on planes. I never took an anti-anxiety medication on planes. I could have. I would have been far less nervous for the duration of my flight. Able, perhaps, to “relax.” And still I never took a drink or a drug before a flight and here’s why:n 1) I knew the plane would probably land safely. 2) If the plane didn’t land safely, I wanted to have my wits about me enough to TRY to make it out alive. 3) Even though air travel is terrifying, it is also really beautiful and amazing, and I love the window seat and being awake for the tiny world below because when do I ever get that perspective on an average day?

My friend Sal tells me she’s known people who brag about how fat their passports became from travel. I am happy for these people. This is something I would have liked to have done with my life: travel. A lot. See it all, or as much as I could.

God had other plans.

So I don’t know when the Proverbial Plane is going to land.
I don’t know if the Plane will land safely. I do know I am on board the plane.
I might even be a captain, or at the very least the woman pushing your drink cart down the aisle who will also, in a pinch, save your little life.
I don’t even know where this Plane is going exactly.
I am on board.
I want to be awake for the journey. For myself, and for the people who love me and for the hundreds of young people I have availed myself to with my whole heart, my whole soul, my whole life.

Also I would like to not do things that will make my cancer worse or more plentiful. Drinking is really bad for cancer people like me. A lot of people who have cancer are alcoholic like me. If you are one such person reading — got cancer, got alcoholism — I know the shame of having these co-morbid conditions. I used to think “How could you? How could you possibly drink in your condition?” Now I know I was sick with a disease. I can’t drink like most of y’all can drink. And I also have cancer. And freakishly bad eyesight. And . . . I won’t enumerate my “not-entirely-my-fault” conditions because you have your shit, too, reader, and you’re smart enough to know what I mean.

Anyway, if you’re struggling with cancer and alcoholism, simultaneously, I see you. For me, cancer without alcoholism is much more palatable. My life is easier, happier, simpler, and most of all clearer without alcohol. My Serious Problems aren’t gone — not by a long shot — and new ones crop up every week, but I know there’s not a one of them that will be made better for me if I pick up a drink.

That’s all I’ve got this Sunday, reader.
Go in peace.



Allison Gruber

Educator, essayist, feminist, human.