Something needs to explode

I’ve had a lot of conversations lately about some complex emotions.

A friend whose marriage may be on the rocks, who thinks her husband is cheating on her.

A friend who’s dealing with an immense array of traumas from childhood, from adulthood, from disabilities and ailments.

A friend who’s commemorating two lost parents in the last five years.

A friend who recently suffered a devastating loss of a pet, who is struggling to deal with a pain unlike any she’s felt.

A couple of men my age who are dealing with mental illnesses, in ways none of us have typically felt able to discuss.

A young adult who’s trying to turn their life around, who’s been (so far) unable to take advantage of all the tools therapeutic practice has to offer.

It’s not news, I think, that mental illness is yet another side effect of pandemic, of trumpian fascist politics, of a world in which hate and ignorance has some our from under it’s pointy hood.

We’re not well, broadly speaking.

Yesterday at a small gathering, two separate (beautiful) friends hugged me with a sweet, desperate affection. Neither they, or I, wanted to let go, holding a platonic hug far, far longer than would have been the norm not long ago.

Ok,  I admit it, it’s never completely platonic with me. I’m aware of every inch of flesh that’s touching, and am damn pleased with it. Wait, i’m distracting myself now.

Maybe it’s the age group; maybe it’s that we’ve all had to confront things we’ve never dealt with in our white, middle aged, middle class, able lifestyles.  I do not recall any time where so many of my close and intimate friends seemed so desperate.

I find myself in a cycle of needing both to comfort, and to be comforted, in ways i’ve never experienced. Not that this is worse; it’s not. But there’s a constant, traumatic sense of need that feels like it’ll never end, as we go into another winter of surge, waiting for something, good or bad, but something.

Wound’t it be easier if we could all drop acid and get in a naked, sweaty pile? God knows we’d all be better for it. Or taking turns with the whip, turns on the wall in cuffs.

I need to feel something stronger than boredom and dread, which describes most of my last three years. And I need to elicit responses.

I think that’s what made me go revisit my novella, because it reprensets both. It represents my own intensity of some 20 years ago. It represents a period in my life where everything I felt was dialed all the way up; when I felt everything, and engendered similarly strong responses in others.

I can’t be back there; it’s been an incredibly long 20 years. But I can visit that place, that time. Re-writing, and then sharing, are about that intensity of feeling in a way I can control. It’s about that sense of directed chaos. It’s the feeling of making someone else feel, in a profound and visceral way.

I’ve had a taste of it again; three or four friends who’ve read my work, in the last month, who’d gotten hard, or wet, who have reacted mentally, emotionally, physically, to my words, my voice.

It’s powerful, but it’s goddamn ephemeral. You can’t have a first time more than once, and so I find myself needing more first time feeling.

I want to extend that intensity to loved ones, friends, to the women I hugged yesterday.

I can make you feel, I want to say, I can touch you everywhere, without touching you, and you, then, can repay in kind just by letting me know how it felt.

Something needs to explode; I wish it could be all of us.

Rabbit in the Moon

“The Rabbit in the Moon” – a pendant made by my father. I just found this one while cleaning up my office. I still need to polish it up, but here it is as I found it.

Dad made a lot of things like this; it’s one of the things I miss about him; his abstract logician’s mind turned concrete in silver.

He made these out of old silver coins (a 1940’s Australian florin in this case). He said he learned the skill in the army; he was in the south pacific in WWII, and spent long, tedious hours on troop ships. Jewelry was one of the ways he passed the time, sitting on deck to catch cooling breezes, working with small hand drills and files to shape bits of silver coin (in the days when coins were still made of silver).

The image is of the Rabbit, pushing a wheelbarrow down a hill; my father used to say the wheelbarrow contains “books with pale blue covers, about the goodness of life”.

Miss you, Dad.

rabbit_moon

easter beast

I have a particular problem with easter. Oh, long time readers will know I have problems with several holiday. One might take this all to mean I’m just a sort of joyless, curmudgeonly bastard. And I guess that’s a little right. But generally my objections have more to do with the general pointlessness of american […]

I have a particular problem with easter.

Oh, long time readers will know I have problems with several holiday. One might take this all to mean I’m just a sort of joyless, curmudgeonly bastard.

And I guess that’s a little right.

But generally my objections have more to do with the general pointlessness of american holidays than they do with the idea of holidays in general.

BUt my problem with easter is a bit different than my issue with, say, st patrick’s day (a day for those who aren’t irish to celebrate irishness), or valentines day (a day where love is celebrated by those who have no idea what love is about).

My feelins about easter have less to do with meaning than with lack therof.

MY family were, like me, staunch atheists. We profoundly and strongly believed in a purely physical universe, one without gods or demons. For us, holidays were meaningful only in that they were cultural events, and celebrations were enjoyable for the simple pleasure of ritual.

When I was a child, waking on easter morning to find a carefully composed basket filled with chocolate eggs and minor toys was more about the break from routine than in was about deeper meaning. Once I was old enough to have figured out there was no mystical egg-laying bunny, the pleasures had more to do with my parent’s inventiveness in basket composition than it had to do magical wonder or reverence. I had absolutely no idea, when I was a child, that easter had anything to do with jesus; at that age, I don’t think I even had a clear idea of who jesus was, other than that it had something to do with god.

Unfortunately, once the basket-bringer stopped being mysterious, the holiday degenerated into a simple opportunity for aquisition. It was about getting something. Which is when my p[arents stopped it.

It wasn’t a big deal; the sort of gifts we got were on the order of mouse-sized plus animals, inexpensive chinese teacups, pocket-knives, or small plastic animals. So when we started to ask for things, presenting easter wish lists, my parents rightly decided we’d outgrown the whole thing.

Once I was beyond childhood – and i mean childhood in the sense of, too young to really grasp things in the universe, not in the modern sense of ‘under 18 – I was too old for easter baskets and bunnies.

My the time my age was in double digits, easter was a day when everything seemed to be closed, and when my brother and father crammed themselves with sees buttercream eggs until they were nautious.

The day was meaningless.

Later, when I had the puzzling realization that people, commonly, actually believed in god, jesus and various things saintly, it occurred to me that easter could possibly have some meaning beyond eggs and rabbits and baskets full of minor toys.

IT’s been odd, however, watching as my kids grow up, and my frineds

Gangster Grandparents

Chuck and Cookie Dillingham, circa 1927. My grandparents on my mother’s side. (click to embiggen) He was from southern Oklahoma. She was a daddy’s girl from Sherman Texas; her name was Hazel, though I never once heard her called anything but Cookie. They were drinkers, card players. She was a flapper with temper – he […]

Chuck and Cookie Dillingham, circa 1927.

My grandparents on my mother’s side.

ChuckAndCookieSepia.jpg

(click to embiggen)

He was from southern Oklahoma. She was a daddy’s girl from Sherman Texas; her name was Hazel, though I never once heard her called anything but Cookie. They were drinkers, card players. She was a flapper with temper – he was an inveterate ladies man, a baseball fanatic, a guy who liked to dance. He was ten years her senior, a dashing, masculine figure who loved fast cars and what she called ‘dirty blonds’.

He worked for the merchant marine in the years after WWI, then later, after they married and had their one daughter, they ran a diner in Long Beach (Chuck ‘n Cookie’s Diner). Later, they lived in Reno where he made a living playing poker (often as a shill for casinos, one of those guys paid to play on the house’s dollar, to dither people to the tables).

Cookie named her daughter Greta, after Greta Garbo. She loved movies and elegance, and felt deep shame over her own working class background. Low-class, she’d say, her favorite adjective for anything she didn’t like. There was nothing more loathsome to her.

The list of things I don’t know about them is far too long; things I should have asked my mother to write down. I have only a handful of photos, and an old photo-diary of Cookie’s. I don’t know when or where or how they met – I don’t know if it was at some bonfire my lake Texoma, or at some wild jazz dancehall, or if they met in Long Beach where he worked in the ship yards.

When I knew them, they were a retired couple. He smelled like tobacco and smoke, from the pipe he always had in his mouth or his hand. She smelled of gin and butter mints, and always had a jar full of cookies (which as a child I found ironic – gramma Cookie gave us cookies). When I knew them, they lived in an odd, incredibly tidy upstairs apartment in Long Beach. We saw them rarely – we lived in mostly in norther californis, they in southern. A couple if visits a year at most, apart from the one year we spent in east north-east LA when my father worked at at Cal State).

Later, her drinking got away from her. She’d struggled, my mother told me later, for most of her life. She was the vodka-for-lunch type of drinker, the flask in the purse type. She was also, most likely, bi-polar or something similar; the mood swings were worse when she drank. One day she had what people used to call a ‘nervous breakdown wandered away, and no one saw or heard from her for a week.

My grandfather faded after that; Cookie was in and out of a home, never really the same. As his health failed, we moved him north. He lived with us for a couple of years, before his heart finally gave out. he was near 85, and still fierce and proud, listening to sports on the radio and smoking his pipe.

Cookie held on longer. Her mind trickled away slowly, and each visit was harder for my mother, as Cookie asked who are you and what have they done with my daughter.

I never knew them, not in any real way. My mother’s relationship with her mother was strange, hostile and bitter, and I Cookie only as a plump little story-book gramma who cooked and handed out snacks.

What I have of them, the image that for me most defines them, is the picture above. That picture sat on our mantle from the time Chuck moved into our house; I saw it every day when I lived at home, every time I visited my mother after I moved out.

Who knows what story lives behind that picture; honeymoon? Road trip south, for the wild border-land fun of 1927 mexico? My mother was born in late 1928, so cookie would soon lose her flapper’s figure to pregnancy (she never regained it.)

In my head though, they are Bonnie and Clyde. There’s a shotgun under the seat in the car, maybe a tommy gun in the rumble seat (hidden in a violin case, of course.) He’s got a .45 under that jacket, and a straight razor in his pocket. She’s got a little pearl-handle .25 in her bag, and has used it more than once.

The money they’ve been spending, on a romantic trip to Tijuana, is ill-got and quickly gone.

And whose shadow is it in the foreground? She took that picture? It’s ominous, somehow, and all the more when we imagine them wheeling away in a hail of bullets, maybe minutes after this picture is taken.

My grandparents never were gangsters. He was an average guy, who worked average jobs. They didn’t own weapons, or have a secret past. But that’s how I know them; the wild and dangerous young couple on the back of a model-T ford. She’s the very image of a moll, and there’s something about his shadowed eyes and the un-easy set of his hands that says potential for violence.

I love these people – these grandparents who never existed. I want to meet them, and hear the stories they’d tell. I want to visit Cookie in jail, bring her cigarettes, and ask her about the day the road ran out for them, and how it ended.

They have a story to tell, those two. I just don’t know what it is, yet.

RIP, one year later

One year ago tonight, my mother died. It feels like many times longer than that; the only reason I’m certain it was only a year is by checking the death certificate. This last year has been so absolutely brim full of business that I feel like I haven’t caught my breath but once or twice […]

One year ago tonight, my mother died.

It feels like many times longer than that; the only reason I’m certain it was only a year is by checking the death certificate.

This last year has been so absolutely brim full of business that I feel like I haven’t caught my breath but once or twice since she passed away.

365 days ago at this moment, I was sitting in a dark room, watching a heart monitor slow; waiting.

THe lead up to that night was an un-believable up curve of stress, as I watched my mother decline. I spent those last few weeks fighting with Kaiser to have them take her condition seriously, and tryinb to figure out how the fuck to get my mother into a nursing home without wiping out her small savings.

As it turned out, when a doctor at Kaiser finally took the time to look, that my mother was barely hanging on. Her lungs where shot to hell by a lifetime of smoking, and everything in her was only weeks away from shutdown, starving for oxygen, poisoned by the C02 she couldn’t fully exhale.

When we took her off CPAP machines are artificial respiration, and dialed the morphine up, it was the first time in three years that she didn’t look afraid.

“I’m so happy,” she said, almost her last words, as a high dose of morphine freed her from pain or care.

I watched her breathing slow, and resolved to stay til the end. But I didn’t make it.

She died around 6am Sunday, NOvember 9. 2008.

I don’t really know, even now, how I dealt with it. People kept tilling me it would hit me; but it didn’t, not in any huge way. There were tears, and sadness. But there was massive relief, a pressure and worry I’d carried for years, alone.

It’s only in the last few weeks I’ve been able to miss her; only as the last few items of estate business have gotten resolved that I’ve been able to think of my mother, the person, rather than my mother, the burden.

Missing her feels better than worrying; I welcome it.

worst october since last october

So here’s how it’s been the last month or so.

First, about a month ago, Barb had to go in for abdominal surgery – a long story, which maybe I’ll tell much later. The short version is that the surgery was more complicated than planned, lasted twice as long as planned, and had a much longer recovery than planned.

The week before surgery, one of my kids brought home some ailment, the primary symptoms of which were dizziness and fatigue. Barb came down with it the evening she came out of surgery. Which means that in addition to pain and wooziness and nausea from surgery, she had spectacularly bad bed spins for the better part of a week.

At this same time (the actual day oo surgery), my eleven year old daughter Ruby sprained her ankle so badly we all thought it was broken (clearly she inherited my feline grace; she did it by trying to walk while her foot was asleep). She wound up on crutches, barely able to move; her whole foot wine purple and her ankle swollen up like a grapefruit.

Also around this time, we took one of Olivia’s favorite pet rats (Eddie, which is short for Edgar Allen Poe) in to the vet to have a cyst on his foot looked at. The conclusion was that it wouldn’t heal, and the choices were looking like euthanasia, or amputation. Now, normally I’m opposed to major intervention of any kind with pets that don’t live more than a couple of years; but I think we all transferred a bit of worry about the rest of the members of the family onto this big gray lump of a rat; we made a choice that’s opposed to my rules, and had him de-legged.

Since that time, Barb has caught every ailment that goes around. She’s had two or three different cold-like viruses (one of which might have been swine flu, her doctor says, though he can’t tell for sure). The last round developed into – in order – a sinus infection, then bronchitis, and then into full-blown pneumonia, with a lovely case of pleurisy (just take a look at the famous cases for a fabulous list of people who died of pleurisy.). She was very close to needing to go back into the hospital. She’s been fighting that – with an array of meds that makes me very, very glad I have good health coverage) – for well over ten days, and is still unable to do much of anything.

So it’s been a bit of a rough patch.

Last week, Eddie (legless ed, eddie the tripod, eddie three legs) took a turn for the worse. He’d been healing well; he was moving around like a tiny fuzzy elephant seal, eating like a champ, and seemed happy to get picked up twice a day for his medications. We figured he was out of the woods. And then infection set it.

I again had to make that hard choice; follow my rules and euthanize, or spend more damned money. I broke my own rules again. The vet had to remove a hunk of infected muscle the size of a sugar cube, and then stapled him closed again and sent us home with a double dose of antibiotics.

We though we were losing him; he pulled out his staples and left behind something like you’d see on a battlefield. And then, suddenly, the wound started to fill over with granulation tissue, stopped weeping, and Eddie started to come out of his little house to greet us when we come to get him out. He’s back to moving loping like an elephant seal, pathetically clumsy and yet fully able to get around his cage. He’s not, as they say, out of the woods yet. But we’re starting to hope.

Eddie and Barb and Ruby all seem to be on the same schedule; Ruby just got put of her cast, Barb’s ailment is slowly receding, and Eddie the Gimp is looking better. So (I almost want to knock wood here) maybe we’re past the end of one of the worst octobers in memory (at least the worst since last October, but more on that later.

Amazingly, Olivia and I have gotten through all this without ever getting sick, despite stress and severe lack of sleep. I’ve missed way too much work due to my nurse-and-single-parent role this last month, and I’ve been at no better than half capacity when I’m there; but I haven’t picked up a case of the flu, haven’t come down with a sinus infection, didn’t pick up the swine flu.

Either there’s a crash coming, or it’s my immune system doing that hyperdrive thing it does when I’m under extreme stress. We’ll wait and see how that plays out this next week or two.

the things we do

This is what happens when you drink with videographers. You get your beach house weekend turned into a music video. [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xp_QvObmulo&hl=en&fs=1&] This was a long weekend in Dillion Beach, CA; four couples, three children, seven cameras, 20 bottles of wine, fifty oysters, many cases of beer, and no internet connection of cell phones. It […]

This is what happens when you drink with videographers. You get your beach house weekend turned into a music video.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xp_QvObmulo&hl=en&fs=1&]

This was a long weekend in Dillion Beach, CA; four couples, three children, seven cameras, 20 bottles of wine, fifty oysters, many cases of beer, and no internet connection of cell phones.

It was over too soon, but now thanks to film maker Dave Manzo, we won’t be able to forget it.

my father’s voice

My relationship with my father was deeply immature. By that I do not mean that either one of us individually was immature; though in fact we were, both of us. I moved out, for all intents and purposes, when I was sixteen; living most of the time at a girlfriend’s house. When I was home, […]

My relationship with my father was deeply immature.

By that I do not mean that either one of us individually was immature; though in fact we were, both of us.

I moved out, for all intents and purposes, when I was sixteen; living most of the time at a girlfriend’s house. When I was home, it was mostly to party with my brothers’s friends, or with my cousins who lived with my family at that time.

When I turned 18 I took a night job, sleeping all day and working til after midnight. We saw each other rarely, and I moved out officially not long after.

So when I describe our relationship as immature, what I mean is, the development of our relationship ended when I was still a teenager.

Once I was out of the house, my life went off it’s own way. I developed a career, a social life. I grew up. I made that glacial crawl from boy to man, with every mistake and triumph, every lesson in love, finance, job, every mistake with the law.

My father, though, never saw me group up. He knew me as that son who left, the one who’d visit on holidays. And I never got to know my father, the man. I only knew him as my father, the father.

My father, I know now, was a deeply cerebral man. A deep thinker. He taught himself mathematical systems; he studied statistics, semiotics, symbolic logic. He transcribed music into different keys for fun; not to play it (he had only a rudimentary ability as a musician, and no real appreciation for music in it’s own right); he did it because the intellection exercise of the system was, for him, relaxing.

When I was 19, I knew little of that, and understood none. I knew my father as an emotionally distant man, a man who was uncomfortable with teenagers. A sensitive man whose feelings were easily hurt. I knew him as a man who backed down too easily when his kids challenged him, and who never stopped thinking of them as babies.

It wasn’t an easy relationship for me; I am aggressive, argumentative, dominant, intolerant of weakness. Everything about me challenged my father. I had no respect for him; I had no idea there was anything to respect. In my brash teenage arrogance, I felt I already knew everything there was to know about the man.

There would have come a time, I think, when we’d have ‘met’ each other; when we’d gradually have found common ground and begun to listen, more than talk. We shared interests in science, semantics, logic. We shared interested in engineering and problem solving, in sports, in art, in jewelry, in language.

My brother Ian’s illness interrupted us.

It wasn’t simply that my brother was there, living with my parents for the last several years of his life. It was that my brother utterly dominated my parents life. It’s hard to say exactly why; something was fundamentally broken in the relationship. Certainly, the injury he suffered as a infant was the root of all this; my mother never in her life forgave herself for it. But more, it was the system they built around him. One in which his needs must be met, his well-being insured. In which all else was secondary to his care.

My parents were obsessive people. It’s why my father was so good at what he did; why he overcame his handicap (dyslexia) to become an expert is his field. It’s why my mother was so incredibly clever with language; she studied it every day of her life. They were incredibly organized, with filing systems I can’t even imagine building and maintaining. When they committed themselves to something, they would not let go of it. Once they accepted that my brother was broken and needed care beyond what a child normally needs, they never let go of that commitment.

Typically, when one has children of one’s own, the playing field levels somewhat. Parents relax into the easy role of grandparents; they witness their children as peers and parents. For some, this becomes a battleground, but for us, it would have been the opposite. MY mother, certainly, only got to know me as I am now after my father and brother were both gone.

Timing can be a bitch though. Ian’s decline began around the same time my first daughter was born. And my parents, with typical single-minded commitment to the role of caretaker, pushed the lesser task of grandparent aside. Later, they seemed to say; when Ian’s better and we have time.

We never had time. My brother’s care went on and on; he never got better. My father’s heart, weakened by a life of too much food, too much drink, and too much smoke, gave out under the stress. He died one morning, while I was in europe with own family.

He died without ever getting to know the grand child who was so much like him, and without he and I ever having a chance to know each other as men.

Today, I was clearing out files in what was once my father’s office, digging through decades of incomprehensible tests and papers, still in perfect, obsessive order. And I found words of my father’s, neatly filed.

I found business correspondence; letters between faculty members at San Jose State and Cal State LA. I found scholarly papers and cover letters to journals requesting consideration for publication.

I found letters to the editors of various newspapers, and a fan letter to Phil Frank, the writer of the comic strip ‘Farley’.

I found a poem or two, a number of essays, and even several short pieces of fiction.

I found my father’s voice in all this. I could hear him in my head; but not as he spoke to me. I heard him as he would have spoken to his colleagues. As he must have spoken to my mother when they were dating. I heard a strong, confident writer’s voice. A man who knows that his greatest gift is with language.

I felt as if I’d found a window into time, and could see the man – not the father, but the man that I never knew. Yet it was one-way; like a recording. I could hear this sliver of who he was, and I wanted to say, look, dad, that’s me too. You never met the man I am; you never heard my writer’s voice. You never saw me as I am with my peers, my friends, my co workers. YOU never saw me parent my children. You were gone too damned soon.

I sat on a dusty floor in the room that was once my pernets, with old type-written, hand corrected paper around me, and struggled to understand what my father did for a living; his words and obscure symbols as foreign to me as the code I write is to my children. But it didn’t matter that I couldn’t make sense of some point, debated in memos between my father and his his friend Lou. What mattered to me was the profound intellectual respect in the dialog. The confidence.

My father rarely showed his creativity and brilliance to his children. Once we’d passed the age where he could tell us bedtime stories, he seemed to lose track of who we were, and we of him. While our house held his paintings, I never saw him paint, and had no idea he could write.

There is so much there; drawer after drawer. I’ve only begun to delve into it, in all the dusty work of clearing out the fragments of my parents lives. But I look forward to something I never was able to do while he lived; getting to know my father, the man.

mouse time

It’s not the three-weeks-on-a-tropical-island I need. Or the live-on-a-sailboat-with-a-beautiful-girl I keep dreaming about. But it’s better than being at work. Tomorrow I’m taking the family down to visit the mouse, braving bone-chilling (for SO Cal) temperatures and holiday crowds. Early December is one of the best times of the year to visit Disneyland; the park […]

It’s not the three-weeks-on-a-tropical-island I need. Or the live-on-a-sailboat-with-a-beautiful-girl I keep dreaming about.

But it’s better than being at work.

Tomorrow I’m taking the family down to visit the mouse, braving bone-chilling (for SO Cal) temperatures and holiday crowds.

Early December is one of the best times of the year to visit Disneyland; the park is decked out for xmas, teh Haunted Mansion is overlaid with ‘Nightmare Before Xmas’, and Small World is re-done with enough holiday twinkle to defrost even my scroogian heart. We’ve missed the perfect window, last week; but I’m hoping poor weather and terrible economy make for less crowding.

I need a whole lot more vacation than this though. Three days off work and then I’m back home. I’m hoping for a lot of recharging in a short period, which means I need extra sugar and plenty of Pirates and Haunted Mansion.