July 11, 2010

Have you ever noticed that the clock seems to tick faster when you are in a happy place (literally and figuratively), so that it is impossible to completely savor each nanosecond to its fullest extent? And then the opposite is true too: when things are not so good every “tick tock” sounds as if it is being played on 16RPM. A second feels like an hour. I guess this is one of life’s great ironies, right?

Tick tock. Tick tock. Eventually things will be back on 33 or 45, or dare I hope, even 78, lol. Meanwhile, I am not in chemo and as far as I know, I am healthy. I will savor today as best I can because it will never come again.

Wishing everyone a day to be fully relished.



April 14, 2016

My father looks the same basically as he always did; he is just an older version of the same man who raised me and has been such a major figure in my life all these years. Inside, though, he has vastly changed. Dementia has been gradually eating away all remnants of the man I know and love so well. The man who at 4AM woke me wielding a baseball bat at the open front door and hollering at nonexistent intruders is a stranger to me. I do not know this fragile, elderly figure who looks at me with a blank gaze and clearly does not know me either. This (nevertheless) dear man asks incessantly where my mother is, when the man he used to be would remember that he took her to the ER yesterday and that she spent last night in the hospital. This dear, bewildered man has been lost without his wife of 67 years. He has been wandering the house blindly, calling her name and asking me where she is. I tell him each time, but five minutes later each time he asks again. This professor of music education, who played in big bands and semi-professional baseball as a youth, awakened me last night pounding on my door asking where my mother is. I am trying to reconcile this man with the father I have always known and loved. I know I need to get to know this version of my beloved Pip, and the versions that will likely follow. At this point he still has lucid moments, thankfully, when his eyes fix on me with recognition and he calls me by my name. But for the past 24 hours, he has been trapped in the dream he keeps repeating, the one in which he sees Mom walking down a street at twilight and he approaches her from the other direction. This dream is reality for my father. It breaks my heart, but I apply a figurative Band-Aid and keep listening to him, holding his hand and sitting tough.

Mom may be released from the hospital today after a thankfully successful procedure. We both hope that her return will soothe Dad’s troubled mind and spirits. But we also know it will not last.

Meanwhile, my dad is smiling as he watches a cardinal take flight from the dogwood tree outside the kitchen window. I kiss his cheek and finish folding the last piece of laundry for the day. Done.

Wielkanoc (Easter)

April 24, 2011

Easter Sunday 2011. Sunlight and shadows do a gentle tango behind me as I drink my first coffee and wish for a chocolate bunny. I remember Easters past: various egg hunts, colorful baskets filled with Peeps and other goodies, dyeing eggs with friends in Grand Rapids as a tornado watch hovered, church services with my family in which I was inevitably wearing an itchy petticoat under my new dress and was not allowed to scratch in public….the regal bells chiming over the crowds on The Royal Mile. And of course, a timeless Patti Smith album. Rejoice, resound, renew, reflect, remind, rebirth.

Today I will get out from behind my iMac and go meet my life again. I will stop waiting for it to come to me. I will shake hands with a stranger, drink a Diet Coke downtown, tell a serviceperson thanks, greet the new cat in the neighborhood, dance to the first good song I hear, drive fast in the country with the windows down and sing whatever comes to mind, act like a happy idiot and see if anyone notices. And if I don’t do any of these things, then I will do others. I will wing it! I will celebrate just because. And I will try to remember to do this every day even if only for a few minutes, just because.

Today I am rising from the depressed and depressing mire I have allowed to become my life. I have carpéd my diem, y’all… it is so liberating!

And somewhere out there is a chocolate bunny with my name on it.

Happy Easter.

Four cardinals

March 7, 2010

Four cardinals
beat as one
grace knotty limbs behind me
no song forthcoming yet.

But today smells like change:
sniff April in the muddy grass
push past one last soiled snowpatch
that four cardinals ignore.

Four cardinals.
Thunder growls.
An eastern breeze.
A bloody footprint.

Winter’s hurt will soon fade
in the light of a new season
and four cardinals
pray as one.

Enough (a fiction romance)

January 31, 2010

Macy’s receipts and postcards,
dim snapshots and bar fliers,
torn train stubs and bad poems:
tangible remnants
of the intangible.
The never was, the never will be.
Promises never made need never be kept.

What kind of fool am I?


A fork stuck in the road

December 27, 2009

So here it is another Sunday, the first one after Christmas, and here I am again with my coffee and Green Day resounding through my ear pods. I guess this is going to end up being my “year-end” journal, for better or worse.

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel as if a lot has changed in the mere two days since Yuletide. Thanks to another extremist willing to die along with (in this case) hundreds of civilians, airports have now had to further tighten their security screening criteria and add even longer wait times to harried, tired travelers. Of course, that’s only the inconvenient, annoying side of it. I’ve been reading comments here and there from those dismissing this incident as simply some yutz failing to set himself on fire (actually, he did accomplish this and setting the plane wall ablaze as well) and how could this bring down a jumbo jet, yada yada yada. Maybe I am getting old, or maybe I am overly sensitive to this issue, but I believe this type of thinking is naïve and dangerous. This guy may not have succeeded in blowing up Flight 253 over Detroit soil, but his intent was clearly there. Sadly, the terror tactic has worked once more and now the rest of us are paying for it, anxiously and fearfully, with the aforementioned stricter measures. And it still may not be enough.

All of this makes me wonder how safe we ultimately really are and my conclusion is that nobody is ever completely safe because we are mortal. So perhaps it might be wise to keep that in the back of our minds in our approach to life and try to enjoy things as much as possible during our allotted time here, take as much care of ourselves and each other as we can and try to do the best we can every day.

This season is tailor made for this sort of thinking, though, isn’t it? Lol.

On a positive note, people like Susan Boyle and the 94 year old artist Carmen Herrera (who sold her first painting 5 years ago and is now, finally, basking in success) are greatly inspiring me to keep plugging away at my scribbling. It’s nice to see this reminder that we are never too old to have our dreams come true, isn’t it?

This coming year, I will make at least one change in my life that has been long overdue. I’ll do the best I can with the hand I have been dealt and try to quit whining over not having better cards. This has been a not great twelve months for many of us; here’s hoping 2010 is a vast improvement for everyone.

Happy New Year.

Cold Sweat

December 27, 2009

I like to collect random stories of Surreal Celebrity Encounters. (Technically I mean that the encounters should be surreal, but oftentimes the celebrity involved is as well, and that’s fine. Even better in some cases, in fact.) To date, my favorite anecdotes include one friend who got drunk with Frank Gorshin (aka The Riddler on the ‘60s TV version of Batman), an acquaintance who chatted briefly with Jimmy Stewart while both were awaiting their cars to be serviced at a Los Angeles garage, and another comrade who danced with Bob Hope at a golf tournament dinner in Alabama. I myself am blessed to have had one such unreal experience in that I once got to shake a figurative leg or two with the legendary James Brown.

This rare opportunity presented itself one bitterly cold January 1987 night in Detroit. The concert was comprised of Mr. Brown and five all-star musical guests, and was being filmed for airing on Cinemax later that year. Unfortunately for me, when I dressed for the evening I did not consider the presence of all the lights utilized for the filming, which, added to the heat generated by the capacity crowd, rendered Club Tabu a virtual furnace. Thus, I found myself in the very first row before the stage clad in gold and black leggings and a heavy black sweater that felt like a woolen sauna after just two songs, but could not be removed lest I give the event an instant R rating. Still, the atmosphere was so exciting and the tuneage so invigorating that I had little trouble bopping around and generally showing much enthusiasm as the director requested of us up in the front. I don’t recall clearly many details of this show, though. All I really remember of The Big Moment that night is this: during the instrumental break of “I Got You (I Feel Good)”, an amazing duet with the late, great Robert Palmer, Mr. Brown suddenly descended the stage steps, approached me and we began to dance. I was so stunned that all I could do was grin stupidly while staring at his teeth. After about 15-20 seconds, he kissed me on the cheek and was off to dance with someone else less dazed, less starstruck and basically less dorky. But I didn’t mind; I had my 20 seconds in the literal spotlight with someone I had seen on TV and in The T.A.M.I. Show and whose records I had been playing with my older brother since childhood. It was worth all the cold sweat, indeed!

Months later when Cinemax aired this show, I taped it and for decades this aging video was the sole memento of my personal Surreal Celebrity Encounter. But recently my significant other found and bought me a DVD copy of “James Brown and Friends”, and last night I finally decided to check it out. This was even more surreal, I think, than actually doing that quick, modified jitterbug with Mr. Brown: getting to see the younger me from my current perspective, the younger, living, breathing, laughing, dancing and, yes, perspiring me. I guess for people with home movies, this is not necessarily such an epiphany, but it was for me. For one thing, if I had it to do over again, I would never have bleached my hair so platinum it was just plain white…nor would I have worn it in that scary hair metal style (I confess to having gone through a thankfully brief such phase during this period). I also would never have owned a pair of metallic gold and black leggings that surely glowed in the dark, lol, much less a heavy black sweater that kept riding up embarrassingly at the most inopportune moments. I imagine that at the time I thought I looked smashing, but now when I see this footage, I kind of wince in pain. I look like a frightening cross between a redneck Wafflehouse waitress and a low-rent Whitesnake groupie, ha. I also stand out like a sore thumb in a crowdful of much more muted-attired fans, but I guess that’s how I managed to catch Mr. Brown’s attention in the first place? As for the Big Moment, it played out against the giant lights so really you can only see our silhouettes, and afterward he apparently didn’t dance with anyone else at all but instead bounded right back onstage to rejoin Robert Palmer. (Either my memory is even worse than I thought or else the other woman wound up on the cutting room floor.) But hey, it happened and now, thanks to L, I have the hard proof, as it were. And the music is every bit as fabulous as it was that January Detroit night.

Now, if I can only get over the trauma of that white Bon Jovi ‘do I so happily sported…ha.

Sullied (a non-fiction)

November 15, 2009

This is a true account of one night in my past. I post it as a warning to other naive young women who may read this: be careful when you are out clubbing or partying, and never let your drink out of your sight for a second.

It was cold that night because it was January but was it snowing? I don’t think so. It was Tuesday or maybe a Wednesday and I shouldn’t have gone out because I had early work the next day. But I was young and we went out almost every night anyway. So Ivy and I went to the Ritz…don’t know who was playing…I met you when I went to the bar for a vodka tonic. I always liked the vodka tonics there; the barkeep had a gift for mixing the alcohol and tonic precisely right, so the flavors blended perfectly and in fact seemed to stem from the very same river source.

You were cute in a non-prepossessing way and seemed friendly. I sensed no danger signals from you and so we chatted blandly through my first drink. I had just ordered my second when Ivy appeared, wanting to leave. Did she have a headache or was she tired or just bored? I don’t recall…but she left without me, with my permission.

Soon after is when the drug must have begun to take effect. All of a sudden I began to feel as if I had had a dozen vodka tonics rather than just one and a half. Suddenly my visuals began to ebb in and out and everything became a scene from The Trip or Psych-Out. Did I still hear the music? Did I still have feeling in my outer extremities? It’s all a blur now.

What my very hazy memory does tell me in brief bites is that you escorted me from the Ritz at some point…we were in a cab and the driver was joking with you in that sexist manly way that your gender sometimes adopts…he was saying something about how easy I looked, how you were in for some kind of wild night for sure…then nothing…nothing..nothing…till I see you naked and sweating moving fast and hard above me inside me..I am naked too, how did that happen? I try to pull away from you but you push me down hard…ow my head hurts…you keep ramming into me and mercifully I fade away again….more nothing nothing nothing…

I wake up with the sun hot on my face in my own bed late for work. I hurt all over and I can’t remember how I got here, how I could possibly have gotten here unless Scotty beamed me up or something. Maybe it was just a nightmare I think groggily as I turn over and wince as I lie on my bruised arm….but no. Torn panties and your record on the floor say otherwise.


September 26, 2009

I have ridden this train before. I have taken the Lake Shore Limited many times
from Toledo to New York City. Usually I have had to ride coach all the way, trying to
sleep sitting up with my jacket rolled up as a pillow beneath my head and my back
turned to whoever is sitting beside me. If I am lucky, I have both seats to myself and am
able to curl up with my knees against the adjoining back cushion, my feet occasionally
slipping off onto the floor as deeper slumber claims my consciousness.

Every once in a blue moon, though, I am flush enough to have my own tiny
sleeper compartment for the duration of the journey. This is one of those times.

I am enjoying the solitude of my mobile cocoon as we pull into the Erie station.
I am well familiar with the drill by now; this is where the engine will be serviced before
our travel continues. In general we remain primarily immobile in Erie for anywhere
from half an hour to about fifty minutes, depending on the locomotive’s condition. But
throughout the course of the maintenance, the train will be activated and halted again,
moving forward a few feet, a few yards, to monitor its progress. This is the part of the
stay that interests me the most, but as I am in a sleeper in one of the last cars, it will be
a while until I need to look out the window. So for the time being I return my full
attention to Jane Austen and the travails of the Dashwood sisters as Secrets of the
unfold in my ears.

In the meantime, the train has shuddered to a start and stop several times.
Finally, I look up to see that we have cleared the station and it is time for me to pay
heed to my outer surroundings again. Every time I have traveled this route, I have
been fascinated by this same scene. It is a neighborhood of small wooden frame
houses of varying colors, mostly faded from the elements, at least this is so for
those in my line of sight. I have always wondered about the inhabitants of these
homes, how they manage to live so near to the tracks and the almost constant noise
of the trains, the way the motion must surely shake the diminutive structures to
their foundations. I imagine a person grows accustomed to this with time and
necessity. I have grown used to my own figurative Amtraks for the same reasons.
It’s amazing, the length and limits of what a human being may be forced to bear,
isn’t it?

Suddenly a movement from the second closest house catches my eye.
This is the first time I have ever seen a sign of life emanating from this little cluster
of buildings; I am curious to see who calls this particular, tannish edifice “home”.
Even though the music does not affect my vision, still I remove my earphones and
press my face against the window.

A woman with blonde-streaked brown hair pulled back into a ponytail
apparently more for convenience than fashion has stepped out onto her back stoop.
I can’t see too clearly, but from my less than ideal vantage point, she looks to be
early thirtiesish, a slender figure clad in a white t-shirt and jeans. She lights up
a cigarette and sits down on the stoop. Now I really have to crane my neck to keep
her in my perspective.

After a minute or two, during which she occasionally smokes and seems
otherwise lost in thought, the screen door behind her opens and a little boy comes
bounding out. He is sandy-haired, about four I guess, and dressed identically to the
woman. He races out into the yard (your basic generic yard except for an empty
clothesline and what I assume must be a tool shed of sorts), bursting with the kind of
energy you can only have at that age, when everything in life still is so fresh and feels
like an adventure. I remember that feeling, I think. The woman (his mother?) seems
to remember too; she smiles as she inhales on her cigarette (Camel? Marlboro?). I can’t
see very well, but I imagine that her eyes indicate she has entered a different mental
scenario altogether. What is she thinking? Is she recalling a happy childhood memory
or a more recent encounter with a loved one? Or is she simply ruminating on a favorite
television program, or plans to lunch with a special friend later in the week? It can be
anything, I suppose, but whatever it is must be pleasing. She is smiling and smoking as
the boy bounces tirelessly around in the yard. From my point of view it appears as if he
is pretending to be a horse. I used to do that too.

Just then the gears shift on the train and we jerk forward once again, but now
the engine remains running and I sense we are about to depart. At the exact same
moment, the boy has headed towards the tracks; he is still what looks like a safe
distance away when the engine’s racket snaps the woman out of her reverie and she
focuses on the straying child. Quickly she stands up and shouts something to him that
I cannot hear, but I have an idea what it must be. Inside my compartment, I too am
telling the boy to retreat to the refuge of the yard; it is a big scary world once you reach
the tracks and he needs to stay sheltered for now. There will be plenty of time for him
to cross the tracks later. Of course my words go unheard, even by myself.

The boy obediently turns back towards the house. The woman drops her
cigarette and crushed it on the stoop with her sneakered foot. Then she looks up again
as she holds the door open for the child and I could swear our eyes meet for just an
instant. But in fact the sunlight reflecting on my window glass is likely what has caught
her attention. She turns and follows the boy inside the house, closing the door to their
world behind them.

Meanwhile, the train beings to move ahead slowly and gradually picks up speed
as the station and the cluster of slightly weathered homes remain fixed behind. For
a few minutes I continue to sit with my face pressed against the glass, the passing
scenery escaping my notice as I ponder what the woman and boy may be doing at this
moment. Possibly she is fixing them both lunch as he sits in front of the TV with his
Matchbox cars: peanut butter and jelly on white, no crusts, for him and a carton of
blueberry yogurt for herself. Or maybe she is having PBJ as well? In the end it doesn’t
matter, not to me anyway.

Clouds are beginning to form in the temporal sky outside and the residents of the
second house near the Erie tracks are fading from my mind as rapidly as the fleeting
miles below us. I put my earphones back on and David Sylvian’s voice fills my head as
I open the book on my lap again and pick up where I left off a short while ago. Soon
thoughts of Manhattan will be consuming me, but for now all is as it should be.

January 14, 2007. A friend lent me her DVD about Gram Parsons (I think it’s called Gram Parsons Fallen Angel) so I watched it last night, not expecting too much as I am not exactly a fan of that sort of music. It turned out to be quite engrossing, though, mainly due to Gram himself. He was so pretty and charismatic and you could see immediately that he was destined to be a Tragic Figure. I didn’t know this before, but his biological father committed suicide when Gram was very young, and then a man named Bob Parsons married Gram’s mother and adopted him and his sister. Both step-dad and mom were serious alcoholics, which is where I guess Gram got his gene for overindulgence himself. He was also a trust-fund baby (his mother’s family were wealthy as hell) so later, when he moved to LA to become a musician, he never had to worry about the paying gigs the way some of his bandmates did. He was able to drink and do lots of drugs and go to London at the drop of a hat to hang with his close friend Keith Richards. It’s as if Gram never had to grow up in a way, despite the fact that by now he was a father himself. There’s a lot more to the story, but in the end he died at a motel at the Joshua Tree Monument in California, a victim of his own overindulgence at age 26, and in the presence of three friends. (One of them was interviewed for the film; she still seems understandably affected by the fact that her friend died right in front of her. I don’t expect a person could ever get over something like that.) Then there was a fight between Gram’s estranged step-dad and Gram’s friends over his body, which led to his friends literally stealing his casket from the airport before it could be flown to New Orleans and his family. His two very stoned friends took his body to Joshua Tree, opened the casket, poured gasoline on him and set him on fire in some sort of ritual cremation. This was apparently what Gram had wanted, though he probably would have appreciated it if they had been sober enough to finish the job properly. His half-burned casket and remains were found shortly afterward by the side of the road and eventually were flown to New Orleans after all, where he now hopefully rests in peace. I don’t know what it says that I think Gram Parsons as a person was much more interesting than his music. I suppose I am just naturally drawn to Tragic Figures, as are many of us….you know, there but for the grace of God and lack of a trust fund and so on.

September 19, 1009. I’ve grown to be just as interested on Gram’s music as I am in him as a person since I scribbled the above thoughts 2+ years ago. It didn’t take me long to realize for myself what a true pioneer Gram was and how bands like Wilco and the Jayhawks and so many others would not ever have existed if not for him. Everyone says that, I know, but it’s true. I wonder what he might have been had he lived, but I guess a lot of people wonder the same, though maybe our conclusions differ.

I don’t know, but “Return of the Grievous Angel” sounds like a little piece of heaven to me today. Thanks for that and everything else, Gram.