Saturday, October 31, 2009

Taking it to the Grave

My grandma died ten years ago. Actually, ten years ago last February. She smoked for most of her 85 years and died a slow, horrendous nicotine-induced death. Towards the end she started to hallucinate.

Or did she?

One day, I was standing at the foot of the bed in her hospice and she started convulsing and repeating my father's name over and over again. I don't know if she saw me as my father's doppelganger but she was frightened by his presence.

My dad died twenty-six years ago and there was bad blood between them.

My grandma, whom I worshiped when I was younger, had a mean streak that I never saw until I was much older. Blame it on her Slovenian-Catholic upbringing, but she was at times very loving and, conversely, could be spiteful and hold a grudge til the day she died.

Which she did, literally.

In 1982 I was sixteen years old. My parents put me in charge of my fourteen year old sister and drove to my grandma's house for dinner. Between the drive time, dinner, and banter it should have been a three or four hour affair. Enough time for me to get into some mischief. Much to my disappointment my parents were home within ninety minutes.

"What happened?" I asked.

No response.

I guessed that something horrible happened. I found out later that my dad did something, probably minute, that offended my grandma and she railed and kicked my parents out of her house.

For the next fifteen years my mom tried unsuccessfully to make contact with her mother. Birthday cards and Christmas presents were all marked "Return to Sender." I saw the pain my mom was in; when my dad died in 1983 my grandma came, out of obligation, to the funeral. It was uncomfortable and added a layer of tension that no one needed on that day.

In late 1997 my mom and grandma, without much ceremony, started talking again. I saw the look on my mother's face as she was overjoyed that she was able to reconnect with her ailing mother.

They spent many happy hours together prior to her death in 1999.

But how much of my grandmother had changed? Did she lose her mean streak as she got closer to Death's Door?

I don't think so...How much regret did my grandma carry to the grave? When she saw me at the foot of her bed she looked truly disturbed. Did she think my dad had come back to haunt her? I think her own guilt at years, or decades, of needless suffering had caught up with her.

It taught me something that day; she looked horrified as she muttered my dad's name over and over again.

Don't take anything to the grave. Swallow your pride sometimes and say I'm sorry when it needs to be said. Make sure your time is well-spent here while you're here.

When I think back to the many memories I have of my grandma all the wonderful times as a child have been trumped by one moment that springs into my mind:

Her years of regret expressed in one convulsive, wide-eyed moment of terror in a nursing home.


Friday, October 30, 2009

Love Stinks

No hyperbole, no irony, or even an attempt at wit in this post...just what it is.

In March I met a woman who dazzled me. She radiated warmth, she was undeniably, empirically beautiful and her smile was amazing. We spent a crazy, intoxicating, and frustrating seven months together. She was hot and then cold, up and then down, It was a bigger ride than anything Cedar Point has to offer. Or a barrel over Niagara Falls...

We broke up, got back together...then broke up again. Then...

Well, you get the idea.

I haven't seen her in three weeks. Twenty-one days. It's been okay, but I miss the best parts of us. I miss talking with her about nothing.

Her midnight "goodnight" texts.

Her early morning good-morning calls.

A lot of little things that made me smile when I thought about her or someone would utter her name to me.

I know that we aren't meant to be. I know she's not good for me.

We fell in love so quickly. A few weeks. Why does it take so much more time to forget about her?
To fall out of love?

I wish I could be done with her by Thanksgiving. Purge her out of my mind. That's my goal; get rid of that smile burnt into my brain because it hurts too much to hold on to that image.

I suppose, like everything else, time will remove the tendrils that have linked us together. "Sunshine" will soon have an altogether different, generic meaning. And the idea of lollipops as wedding garnishes will fade away as well.

I hope.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Virginia is for (History) Lovers

I spent a wonderful extended weekend with the offspring in Virginia recently and came back with some good photos, a close encounter with a male black bear, and, what else?, a series of thoughts running through my head.

Virginia is an amazing amalgam of historic sites that give history nut jobs like me serious wood. If you want to see any period of our country's history represented just visit the old Dominion and you're in for a treat. Pre-Colonial? No prob. American Revolution, Civil it all.

We initially went to Shenandoah National Park to unwind and relax with no agenda. We got there early Friday morning and were greeted with blinding fog and cold rain. We went into the park and saw what we could see..about ten feet of visibility.

We left, went to Luray and glimpsed at the visitor center for the overpriced and underwhelming Luray Caverns. $21.00 a person seemed a little steep for the caverns that surely would pale to Mammoth Cave and Carlsbad Caverns. F that...we departed for New Market and saw the battlefield. My son loved (I think!) the stories about the Virginia Military Institute and how the cadets marched north to repel the Union advance into the Shenandoah Valley. Cool stuff.

Saturday saw more of the same. Fog, rain, and a little encounter with a male black bear that was the highlight of the morning. My second time in this park with a black bear, camera ready, and not a shot to brag about. Heart pounding as he ambled over the ridge, twenty feet away, saw me, and ran off in the other direction...

We left for Jamestown on a whim and came face-to-face with the origins of our country. Good stuff...

Anyway, my point is this: There are thousands of names in Virginia, and elsewhere in this country, that meant something at some time. Historical importance. Names of long-dead chieftains, early Americans, and battlefields that have lost their meaning to our culture. "Ocracroake," "Roanoke," and "Powhatan" are just a few. I know Powhatan from the Disney version of "Pocohantas" but several hundred years ago his name instilled fear in the English colonists struggling to survive; other warring tribes were scared shitless from that name as well. Now it's merely a name for a road I drove my HHR down returning from the peninsula that Jamestown lies on. I think it may be a name for a county down there too.

The next day we had lunch in D.C. at a Chinese restaurant. It was an older building in Washington's Chinatown. Between my won-ton soup and sushimi I whipped out my camera, started shooting a few pictures and was asked why I was taking pictures of a Chinese restaurant by a tourist.

I came to this specific place for a reason. This little Asian bistro used to be owned by Mary Surrat, 143 years ago. Who's she, you might ask? She was the first woman hanged by the Federal government for her role in the Lincoln assassination.

And the restaurant? It was her boarding house and tavern where John Wilkes Booth met with her to plan their plot.

Now they serve sweet and sour chicken.

Anyway, the greater question here is do these names and places really have any real meaning anymore? I mean, ultimately, who cares? Does knowing about the past give us a real clue about the present or future?

The Holocaust Museum in D.C. is amazing. It takes us on a tour of Hitler's annihilation of Europe's Jews and tasks us to "never forget." Have we forgotten? What has it taught us?


Look at Rwanda. Or Bosnia. Or China.

We've learned nothing.

We elected a Black president. I think that's amazing. But, once again, what's the big deal? We keep looking back to prepare our children for the future. We teach them about slavery. About segregation. What have we learned?

Why do we think that it's incredible that a minority can hold that office? Because history tells us that the Black man has always been inferior in this country and treated like a slave...even though that institution ended almost 150 years ago.

I say we need to look forward. Let's not use yesterday as a template because all it does is reinforce what we're used to seeing. Or hearing. Or, worse yet, feeling.

I love history. But I think I just realized why I like it. Or why I like movies.

I like a good story, especially one that's well told or has an epic feel to it. But I think we need to put history in its place and elect more men like Obama because of what King said.

It should be all about the content of his character and not the color of his skin.

And our shared past should move us forward without coloring our perception of people and places.

And that sushi was damn good.


Deja View

I've had a million thoughts vying for space in my little cranium lately. I haven't felt the urge to write lately, so I've put off any musings from my darkened man cave for awhile.

However, I parked my car in a familiar parking lot and walked towards my favorite second hand bookstore yesterday and a thought flashed into my head. A deja vu that took on the immediacy of a right hook to my unsuspecting lower jaw. Why now? Why at that moment? I've been to that store a hundred times over the last few years but haven't thought of this memory in a long time.

Roxanne has been dead for two months now. I'm still processing that. My heart sinks every time I say those words. They're surreal and painful to utter.

She and I went to the movie theater right down the strip from the book store many times over the years. The last time we were there was about three years ago to see "Crash." I remember that it was a good flick, but nothing else really stands out from that night. Just that we had a good time seeing the movie and having dinner somewhere afterward...

Why did that pop into my head? What set it off? Is there something deep within us that brings half-remembered events screaming back into the conscious mind?

It made me realize how much I miss her. Out of all the women in my life over the years she was the most consistent. She knew me very well; I knew her well. She hated everyone I ever dated...except one.

Maybe the reason Rox and I were such good friends is because we never dated. We never kissed, not once. We respected each other's space and we knew when to back off. We knew when to give our opinions to each...that's not true. I knew when to shut the hell up but she was my proverbial two-by-four: she always told me how it was even when it hurt like crazy.

I miss her honesty. Her wit. And her laugh.

And I hate getting sabotaged by my own subconscious walking through a parking lot when I'm feeling good.

That was her job.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Rainy Day Romp

Most sales jobs require the inevitable cold-calling from door to door, business to business ("B2B") hell. Some days, I really enjoy banging on doors, ignoring the "No Soliciting" sign ceremoniously plastered on the tinted office window and charming the unsuspecting receptionist (or "Gatekeeper") behind her little blonde-maple desk.

Most of the time I smile, get a smile in return and am able to get some useful information out of her. Sometimes I get a stone-cold golem who knows her job is to shoot guys like me down. Flat. And make me leave with my tail firmly tucked between my ass cheeks.

I mostly pity the people like that; they've got a little bit of power and yield it as if they had Thor's Hammer in their little hands. Yesterday I came across the queen bitch of the universe, or at least the QB of her polyester cubicle, muzak-listening domain.

I shook it off and left her non-descript office with a smile on my face and a meager "fuck you" under my breath.

I walked to my car and I saw a sight that erased the QB encounter almost instantly.

Ya know, from time to time you see something, an event as simple as a grandpa buying his granddaughter an ice cream cone, or a guy helping an older woman walk across the street with her groceries that makes you stop, think, and reconsider what kind of day you're having.

I saw a guy, probably in his early thirties, sitting haphazardly on a picnic table waiting for his beloved to get out of work. He was there to pick her up; his car sat idling next to the drenched picnic table. He saw her walk out of the building, popped off that table like he had springs in his tennies and beamed with a smile that could be seen from the moon.

I glanced in the direction that he was looking, and saw a very plain-Jane type, probably the same age, tired-looking with her hair mopped up to the left side of her head, beaming back right at him.

They approached each other and he didn't do what I expected. I waited for a full-on deep kiss, maybe some tongue...

They simply hugged like they hadn't seen each other in a hundred years, looked at each other and shared a simple, five-or-so second kiss. They talked and smiled the whole time and then he opened the very ragged, rusty door of his car for her to step in out of the rain.

Were they married? Had they just started dating recently? No idea.

I'd like to think they have been together for years and this is their greeting every day when he comes to pick her up. Warm, familiar, and a routine studied, formed, and solidified over time.

Whatever the case, they looked happy. and it gave me a smile and a warm respite on such an overcast, gray, and otherwise miserable day.

My thoughts turned to the QB and thought she needs a moment or two like that, just to thaw some of that antifreeze she calls blood.