Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Random 11

It’s one more random than 10!

We met with a realtor this week, a very nice woman who had recently sold a house that had a lot of similarities to ours. We were shooting the breeze when the subject of what we did came up. The Lovely Becky and I told her we were writers (with me adding that I was preserving my amateur status so I could compete in the Olympics). That led to a discussion of what we read.

I don’t mean this as disrespectful at all, because she is very nice, and there’s different strokes for different folks. But she asked us if we liked to read any “inspirational” books. If there’s a word that doesn’t fit TLB and I, the only word that could give “inspirational” a run for its money would be “vegetarian.” We politely said no, we read mostly fiction these days, and she told us about the inspirational book she had recently read. While she was talking about this inspiration, all I could think was: my dear woman, I just wrote a sketch about a flower shop for Satanists. A sketch I conceived while purchasing a flower arrangement for my grandmother’s funeral.

So, again, it’s not you, it’s me that’s going to hell.

I also find myself alone for the next week, as my wife and daughter have left for spring break, engaging in a bit of Girls Gone Mild fun by visiting TLB’s snowbirding parents in their temperate timeshare. What am I doing to fully enjoy my temporary bachelorhood? Painting our old, unfinished basement so that it doesn’t look like the kind of place Ted Bundy would take a girl on a date. Because while I may want to rock and roll all nite and party every day, that’s not conducive to selling one’s house for a reasonable market value.

Perhaps when I’m also working on my novel this week, I’ll add a storyline about an attractive man who is definitely not 40, who decides to spend his week alone by turning his house into a temporary fraternity house (managed by Vince Vaughn), allowing all kinds of wacky hijinks to ensue, until his wife surprises him by coming home a day early. After hearing she needs him to pick her up at the airport, the frat brothers engage in hilarious cleaning montage set to C&C Music Factory, getting the last bit of barf scrubbed away as the Man Who Is Not 40 pulls up in his Volvo station wagon. Everything seems to be going to plan, until two Swedish exchange students ring the bell and ask if this is where the “the sexy guy who is most definitely not old” lives. When the wife turns to look at TMWIN40, he shrugs, as all the closets spill open with the junk the frat guys shoved in them. The credits roll as TMWIN40 cleans the house to a different C&C Music Factory song.

Not that anything like that would ever happen with me.

1) “No One’s Gonna Love You,” Band of Horses. Quite the pretty little ditty. This makes me think of hearing “Maybe I’m Amazed” on the radio this morning on the way back from the “airport.” There’s something to be said for the simple, straightforward love song. The problem with most modern pop love songs is that, while terribly simple, they aren’t straightforward. They heap layers and layers of stuff on top—more vocals, more beats, more junk. This is different. Uncomplicated, yes, but still deep, still heartfelt, still moving. Correction, lest Blue Girl never sleep again: The McCartney song is "Maybe I'm Amazed," not "Baby I'm Amazed," which is what some dope originally wrote. What a moran.

2) “Do It Again (Live),” The Kinks. Heh-heh, he said, “do it.” Why is it that, a good 10-15 years since it was even slightly culturally relevant, I feel the need to make Beavis and Butt-Head references? Just the other day, I said, “Come to Butt-Head” about something (probably some piece of fatty food I was shoving in my gob). I’ve already given up fast food for Lent this year, but I’m contemplating seeing how long I can go without making any pop culture references, and whether such a fast would kill Brando as we know him. BTW, if you love this song like I do, there's a terrific live version on To the Bone. Heh-heh, I said, “bone.”

3) “Dial Up,” Ted Leo & Pharmacists. Some rockin’ hi-hat here in the first couple of stanzas and toward the end. I dig a good rockin’ hi-hat almost as much as a rockin’ cowbell.

4) “Up to My Neck in You,” Mark Kozelek. The best cover from his album of acoustic covers of AC/DC songs. Here’s the original for context (and one of my favorite AC/DC tunes), and Kozelek managed to take a yowling, howling bit of Bon Scott/Young Brothers and turn it into something pretty. And making anything involving Angus Young pretty takes some doing.

5) “All That Jazz,” Echo & the Bunnymen. Just not a fan. I’ve tried, really, and “Lips Like Sugar” won’t necessarily get fast forwarded. I’ve just always felt like they were actors trying to play a new wave band. They’ve got the moves down, but the soul’s not there.

6) “Top,” Live. No, definitely a bottom.

7) “Junkie Man,” Rancid. Fuck and yes. I never, ever, ever, get tired of listening to …And Out Come the Wolves. Countless groups have attempted to ape The Clash, including Rancid, and this is the one album where someone got it completely right. It’s got the spirit, the energy, and most importantly, the craft. Because that’s what separated The Clash from everyone else: they knew how to write songs that went way beyond punk while still being punk (The Jam could do that but not at the same level). Rancid is not quite as complex and daring as The Clash, but still, they crank out 19 killer tracks of punk and ska…the same number of tracks as London Calling. Is it in the same class as London Calling? No, because what could be? But I see it as being like a devout Christian: while you’d most want to meet Jesus, you’d probably still be pretty amazed if you got to hang with St. Peter.

8) “The Plan,” Built to Spill. Every so often when doing the random 11, I have to stop a song about a minute into it so I can rewind it, crank my speakers, and air guitar for a bit. This is one of those moments. Video is from Reverb, the late, great HBO indie rock show.

9) “I Can’t Explain,” The Who. It’s hard for me to have a favorite song by The Who, because there are so many that I love. This one is pretty close. It’s the flipside of “My Generation”: where that captured teenage rebellion, this captured teenage longing by not being able to explain that longing, tied together with a riff so simple yet so monumental. “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” probably tops the list, but when I need two minutes of joy that don’t involve TLB or thoughts of Christina Hendricks, this does the trick.

10) “Flying High Again,” Ozzy Osbourne. iTunes just wants to stack the Marshalls to the ceiling this morning. It must know I’m home alone without a napping child to wake. “Crazy Train” gets all the press and sports-fan pumping attention, but this is the best bit of Randy Rhodes ever recorded. It’s got a bigger, badder riff driving it, while still adding all those crazy solos and fills that make early Ozzy songs fun. Eminently crankable.

11) “How Near, How Far,” …And You Will Know Us by the Ridiculous Band Name. A gym favorite of mine. Gallops out of the gate like it’s being chased by a man from the glue factory, slows down to catch its breath, and then runs even harder.

If you have a stack of Marshalls, you should always end with a windmill while standing on top of them.

Enjoy your weekends.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


At a funeral home, three people gather around a coffin. They all wear black, the coffin is black, and black candles light the room.

It’s such a shame. He was so young and full of evil. No matter how good things were going, he’d always find a bad side. It was inspiring.

I know. I can’t believe he’s gone. We were supposed to go see Slayer next week.

MOUNER #3 (puts his arms around the other two)
I know this is hard for both of you to understand, but he’s in a better place now. He’s with our lord, Satan.

A fourth mourner enters the room carrying a cross made of white roses.

What the hell is that?

Hey, sorry guys, this was all I could get at the flower shop. I thought we could turn it upside down.

Yeah, but white roses?

MOURNER #4 (pulls out can of spray paint and shrugs)
We could paint them black.

A SPOKESMAN appears in a cloud of black smoke. He wears a black cape and has a shaved head with a long, jet-black beard.

Tired of being forced to pick out flowers from some Judeo-Christian florist?

MOURNERS (together)

Than come to Beezebulbs, the only florist dedicated to Satan.

The Spokesman waves his arm and disappears in a cloud of smoke, reappearing at the store. Beezebulbs is lit by black lights and full of dark, twisted, menacing plants. Behind the counter are large black velvet posters of album covers by Black Sabbath, Dio, and Styper, which is turned upside-down. A sign next to the register reads, “Shoplifters will be sacrificed.”

At Beezebulbs, you’ll find flowers and plants for every occasion, helping you deliver an extra bit of darkness to that special Satanist in your life, at prices that kill our competition. Check out this week’s specials….

A puff of smoke explodes as a tiny black cactus plant appears on screen, stuffed in a skull-shaped pot and with a goat’s-head rattle sticking out of it.

SPOKESMAN (voice over)
Celebrate the arrival of a new prince or princess of darkness with our Spawn of Satan package, complete with rattle.

After another puff of smoke, a new plant appears: a mix of bloodroot and nettles, stuffed in a caldron-shaped pot, with an open blank book next to it.

Or commemorate your child’s development with our special Baby’s First Incantation plant, with complimentary spell book and one free vial of human blood for ink!

Another puff of smoke and a large Venus Fly Trap appears, with a Mylar balloon showing a flying devil holding a “Get Well Soon” sign.

Need to spread a little malevolence to a sick friend? Send them our special Sick Mother Venus Fly Trap plant, with attached Lil’ Devil balloon. Watching insects being caught and slowly dissolved will surely cheer them up.

A puff of smoke, and a delivery man materializes, wearing a devil costume and bringing a dozen black roses to a woman at work. He hands them to her, the vase showing a snake curled around an apple tree.

And nothing says, “Happy Anniversary!” like our Black Heart Rose arrangement, with our trademark Original Sin vase. Plus you get free delivery and a free love potion to make your special night a hell of a good time!

The Spokesman appears back at the funeral parlor, carrying a pentagram of roses with a ribbon that says, “Go to Hell, Johnny.”

MOURNER #1 (tearing up)
Now that’s just beautiful.

The store info appears, with a logo showing a bouquet of devil heads.

Beezelbulbs, The Best Damned Flower Shop in the World. Located off I-66 at exit 6, between the cemetery and Starbucks. Open six days a week from sundown to sunrise.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Top Ten Tuesdays: Why are we leaving da U.P., eh?

Three years ago, The Lovely Becky and I arrived in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula like Eddie Albert and Zsa Zsa Gabor (with me in the role of Zsa Zsa). We traded malls and metrosexuality for nature and neverending winter for the sake of greater economic stability. Despite the forbidding climate and remote location, we gave it the old college try.

We came in the summer, and a splendid summer at that. The weather the first few months here was spectacular, rivaling that of Southern California, but without the smog, traffic, and cyborg governors. The beauty also blew me away. The clear blue vastness of Lake Superior was just blocks away, and we were surrounded by pristine forests that didn’t feel like the afterthought of urban planning. Wow, I thought, I could get used to this.

Then winter came and smacked me in the balls with one of the many man-sized icicles hanging from my roof. For five straight months, I dug out and snowblowed and shivered and offered to do anything to make the mercury climb over 32. Even when the temperature did rise above freezing, it still often felt freezing well into June. Just when I felt the last bit of winter chill thaw out of my nuts, the icy cock-punch of winter returned.

It was a classic case of it’s not you, it’s me. For anyone looking for abundant naturally beauty, winter sports, small-town living, and the thrill of tracking, killing, and gutting your dinner, this place is perfect. We concluded, however, that were too soft, too squishy for a remote town founded on iron mining. Even the influence of the local university couldn’t shake the feeling that we lived in an outpost more than a town, a little bubble of urbanity floating in a sea of forest preserves.

We missed our families, too, and with the addition of Libby, those family ties felt even more stretched. We wanted our daughter to be able to see her family without having to make the journey like an expedition from the Arctic. Plus, I’d be lying if didn’t say I missed the malls and metrosexuality.

So we’re packing up the trading post and returning back to the city. TLB got a great job at DePaul University, and by September we’ll be back in Chicago, back to city life, back to family, back to the familiar.

The funny thing is that I feel very much like I did when I left New York City—the Anti-U.P. I also spent three years there, and while the experience was life-changing and fantastic, it never felt like home. It was like studying abroad in a foreign city, full of energy and adventure but also with a time limit. It’s been the same way here. Being able to walk a few blocks and go to the lake shore or to our cozy little downtown, soaking up a sky full of stars, or taking in the fiery bloom of the fall colors…I will definitely miss that. But like New York, this just wasn’t home, and right now, we feel the pull of home.

Of course, there are additional reasons we’re trading the country for the city, so here is today’s list: Why are we leaving the U.P.?

10) Feel more comfortable living where “bear hunting” is a euphemism for bagging hairy gay men.

9) Miss the excitement of random carjackings.

8) Need to live someplace where the annual snowfall amount doesn’t seem like a typo.

7) Camouflage is not our color.

6) Only crack available here is plumber’s.

5) Want to trade the fresh, clean air of nature for the smell coming from the Cinnabon at the strip mall.

4) Simply cannot live somewhere that isn’t showing Avatar in 3D.

3) Couldn’t get used to using the phrase “nice beaver” in non-ironic sense.

2) Prefer our mustaches to be covered in pizza sauce rather than permafrost.

1) Realize we’re more London, England, than London, Jack.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday Random 11

It’s one more random than 10!

I would like to take a moment to profess my love for Lost. I know there are h8rs out there who say the show makes no sense, that the writers may not know what they are doing, that it’s a bigger tease than a Miley Cyrus photo shoot.

Me, I love that there’s a show out there that has no problem flying its sci-fi/fantasy geek flag. Time travel, mysticism, giant wheels that make islands disappear, a monster that seems both supernatural and mechanical, and gratuitous shots of Evangeline Lilly in tight-fitting tops? Sign. Me. Up. I’ll take a heaping helping of savvy WTF plots over Kiefer Sutherland yelling at yet another mole that the CTU HR department failed to screen properly.

In this sixth and final season, Lost seems to have saved its best WTF for last. Parallel timelines, an existential battle between good and evil, resurrection/reanimation, and a bad-ass Asian dude channeling Mr. Miyagi playing a shogun warrior…It’s like I’ve filled my plate at a geek buffet only to find there’s another trough filled with nerd goodies.

It may all fall apart in the end the way Battlestar Galactica did, but I’m enjoying the ride. In fact, I’m kind of hoping they don’t explain a lot, that they keep the tricks up their sleeves, because the debate, the not knowing what’s really happening, is half the fun of the show.

Although if I was writing it, I’d end with Bob Newhart waking up and going, “Wow, that was some crazy dream.”

1) “All or Nothing,” Au Revoir Simone. I don’t know if it’s a case of all the good names being taken or that I am old and out of touch, but lately band names are really bugging me, even those of bands I like. Take this pretty little bit of quiet synth pop. Great vocals, cool keyboards, nice beat. But I really dislike the name because it sounds both pretentious and uncatchy. We Were Promised Jetpacks, Sunset Rubdown, The Gaslight Anthem…just three of quite a few new bands that I like a lot but can’t stand their names. So, indie bands looking to name yourselves, do less.

2) “Electric Feel,” MGMT. A certain pork-snorkeler and his uncanny companion hate MGMT. It’s one of those cases where, even though I completely understand the source of their unending bile for this group and even feel I should agree with them that this is fake hipster doofus indie schlock, I really like this record. It grooves and gets my feet tapping. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

3) “Battery,” Metallica. And now for something completely different…. This is my favorite opening of any Metallica song. I love the little classical guitar beginning that fools you into feeling all warm and tingly and safe, before the electric guitars kick in and smash the opening like John Belushi at a Delta House toga party.

4) “Tonight, Tonight,” Smashing Pumpkins. Tonight, tonight is the start of the U.P. 200, the annual Iditarod (that’s dogsled race for you non-polar types). This dogsled race kicks off just a few blocks from my house, which illustrates my tip of the day: never live someplace where they can kick off a dogsled race a few blocks from your house.

5) “5 Minutes Alone,” Pantera. I’m not nearly tattooed enough for this. Also, regarding the title, TLB would make the joke, “What are we going to do for the other four minutes and thirty seconds?” That’s what’s awesome about being married for a while: you can predict exactly how your spouse will make fun of you.

6) “Masterswarm,” Andrew Bird. Wow, I am all over the place this morning. This is a gentle, mellow, acoustic tune from Andrew Bird. Of course, in my head, the title makes me think of killer bees. Weren’t we all supposed to be stung to death by now? And where have all the killer insect movies gone? It’s all vampires talking about their vampire problems these days. Pfft, give me a fleet of U.S. Army gunships getting brought down by a billion angry insect stings. Or William Shatner fighting spiders. Now that’s a horror film.

7) “Muzzle of Bees,” Wilco. Creepy coincidence…or evidence of the growing self-awareness of my music collection? We have to shut Sky Net down! The calls are coming from inside iTunes!

8) “Louie, Louie,” Black Flag. Man, this takes me back, senior year in high school when I had just gotten into punk. I had this on a tape my friend who got me into punk gave me. Tapes were so much more punk than CDs and mp3s.

9) “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want,” The Smiths. Libby was reaching for her juice the other day, raising her arms up and whining for me to hand it to her, and I started singing this. I should probably start a therapy fund in addition to a college one.

10) “Captain Jack,” Billy Joel. Funny this came up in the same list as Black Flag. The friend who gave me the Black Flag stuff also really dug Billy Joel and let me tape his copy of Greatest Hits Vols 1 & 2. Even funnier: now that I’m soft and old-ish and more domesticated, I would much rather listen to Black Flag. I’m either keeping it real or deluding myself. Oh, who am I kidding? I’m obviously keeping it real.

And wouldn't you know it, somebody made a Lost-themed video to this song. Thank you, Internets.

11) “Tornado of Souls,” Megadeth. Very McBLT playlist today, with the hot side hot and the cool side cool and Billy Joel serving as the slightly melted slice of cheese. I am not a big Megadeth fan, but Rust in Peace is a killer record. Dave Mustaine’s voice rivals early Geddy Lee for love/hate reactions, but the extreme riffage throughout this entire album tickles my inner air guitarist.

May your weekend not involve someone cracking a whip and yelling, "Mush" at you. Unless you both consent to that, in which case, I hope you remember your safe word.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Top Ten Wednesdays: What sports are we proposing for the next Winter Olympics?

Special extended coverage edition!

15) Synchronized Snow Angels

14) Post-Shoveling CPR

13) Men’s Pairs Figure Skating (pending legislative approval)

12) Timed Frozen Pole Tongue Stick

11) Yeti Rodeo

10) Global Warming Denial Sprint

9) Full-Pipe Snowboarding Bong Hits

8) High-Rise Icicle Catch

7) Antarctic Researcher Elimination

6) Mixed Martial Arts Ice Hockey

5) Biathalon Spy Hunt

4) Cross-Country Unplowed Commute

3) Human Interest and Tape Delay Endurance Run

2) Extreme Curling

1) Men’s Freestyle Snow Writing

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Finding the funny

Thank you very much for the condolences about Grandma’s passing. They meant a lot to me. The funeral was very nice. We had a couple of bulletin boards filled with pictures of her, including photos of her as a teenager. It was a wonderful celebration of her life and how much she meant to us, and I’ll consider myself lucky if I’m remembered half as fondly as Grandma.

While the last couple of weeks have been very sad, they didn’t stop the funny from popping up, and I have a few nuggets to share…including a story that will blow Blue Girl and ZRM’s minds (or what’s left of the latter’s).

The comfort of the dick joke

When I travelled to see Grandma before she died, I stayed with my brother Tickle at my cousin Youngblood’s apartment. After the difficult day of seeing Grandma, we needed a release, so we popped open the booze and drank ourselves silly.

Youngblood is a classic Type-A personality. He is a planner and an organizer and keeps a schedule. In his kitchen, he has a 30-day dry-erase calendar that helps him keep him organized and scheduled. His fiancée assured us that the calendar was Very Important to him.

That was the perfect opportunity for Tickle, Youngblood’s younger brother Zoolander, and I—the three of us well fermented—to turn the calendar from Very Important to Very Juvenile. We grabbed the black marker and covered any empty white space with whatever crotch-related humor sprang to mind. When we were done, Youngblood had some new activities added to his calendar. A typical week looked like this:

Monday: Hockey at 8:30
Tuesday: Cum Taco Night
Wednesday: [A picture of big penis]
Thursday: [Actual meeting]
Friday: Finger butt

We were laughing so hard we almost couldn’t write and draw. We continued like this for about 30 minutes, with Youngblood laughing despite being annoyed he’d have to erase the whole calendar and redo it—there was no way he could surgically remove the dick joke residue we left.

My favorite was the last two days on the calendar. The very last day had “Engagement party” written on it—the party for my cousin and his fiancée. The day before, we added another entry: “JERK OFF.”

My cousin, the model, and the Brando family dynamic

I dubbed Youngblood’s younger brother Zoolander because my cousin is a male model, doing some work while he finishes college. We only recently found this out and have used that knowledge to make fun of him as much as possible. At dinner one night, Youngblood circulated a photo on his iPhone showing Zoolander posing with his shirt off. Tickle kept asking a series of increasingly graphic questions about what kind of “modeling” Zoolander did. And, when Zoolander walked into a room full of my noisy relatives and tried to speak, I yelled above the din, “Everyone, quiet down! A male model is about to speak.”

This illustrates exactly how my family operates: we live to make fun of each other. No success is so great that it can’t be used at the expense of the successful person. We probe for a weak spot in the armor and, upon finding it, stab it repeatedly with our sarcasm knives. Someone was actually paying Zoolander money—good money—because they deemed him attractive, and all we wanted to do turn that into joke after joke. He could be in a spread in GQ or Esquire, living in a huge mansion, with women fawning all over him, and Tickle will still be asking him what really happened on that shoot.

God help me if I ever get published, have my book made into a movie, and get a little cameo in it. I’ll return to find my house wallpapered with the film stills of me.

The story that will amaze and severely disappoint Blue Girl and Zombie Rotten McDonald

My Uncle T—Youngblood and Zoolander’s dad—used to be pretty rock and roll back in his younger days, playing music and working as a sound guy for a band for a few years. He cleaned up and went corporate long ago, but still retains that rock spirit in a lot of ways. He told me a story where the two halves of his life met.

Uncle T was on a plane a few years ago, heading to Europe to cycle through the Alps for vacation. He boarded the plane and sat next to someone he thought he recognized. “Pardon me,” he said, “but you look really familiar.”

“I’m a musician,” the man replied. “I used to play in a band called Genesis.”

“Oh my God, you’re Steve Hackett!” Uncle T said.

“Oh, you’ve heard of me?” Steve Hackett asked.

“Heard of you? You’re the reason I bought a set of Moog pedals when I was younger.”

That caught Hackett’s interest, and they talked for a bit, with Hackett asking my uncle what his favorite Genesis album was (The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway). Hackett mentioned that he was en route to Phil Collin’s house to have dinner and discuss a possible Genesis reunion for a benefit concert. He invited my uncle to come with him.

It took Uncle T a moment to process what he heard. Steve Hackett, of Genesis, was inviting him to come to Phil Collin’s house for dinner, primarily because Steve Hackett found it cool that he inspired my uncle to buy a set of Moog pedals.

And my uncle had to decline.

He apologized, saying that he had people picking him up for his cycling tour and that he simply couldn’t cancel. The plane landed and they went their separate ways.

So those are three things that gave me some much-needed levity this past week. I'll be back with a Top 10 tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My soul is shaken but still standing

On Saturday, I drove through the Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin, toward the Twin Cities, toward my Grandma’s death bed. For two hundred miles, I followed twisting two-lane roads through quiet forests sprinkled with lonely houses and tiny towns. It was a beautiful day for a drive, the sun high and golden in the sky, driving away the gray clouds that define winter in the U.P. February here feels like a summit to me, the mountain peak of winter, where the promise of reaching the top gives me the strength to take those last chilly, exhausting steps. With the sun shining down, I felt the promise of spring, even though it’s weeks away. I was able to forget a little about why I was driving and just enjoy the drive.

When I reached the hospital, that pleasant sensation was run over by reality. I saw Grandma in the bed: pale, frail, tubes running into her, a shadow of the person I had just seen over Christmas. My father had told me she was dying, that it would be soon, but that didn’t prepare me for the sight of her. She was asleep when I arrived, and in fact I thought for a second that she was dead, until I saw the gentle rise and fall of her chest, a soft contrast to her labored breathing.

She looked helpless, and that’s the window where the shock entered, because Grandma was not helpless. She was a pillar on wheels, not only raising four children, but caring for a husband left helpless by the bottle, and doing all this while being the breadwinner. No matter what had been heaped on her during her life, she could not only shoulder the burden, but keep moving forward.

And she also still found the time to make cookies.

They sometimes say that an actor was born to play a role. Grandma was born to be a grandma. She may have been a daughter and a sister and a mother first, but Grandma was her Oscar performance. When I went to her house, I would say hello and kiss her, then open the Tupperware that always had cookies in it—chocolate chip, the stereotypical grandma cookie. Her fortitude was internal. On the outside, she was sweetness and charm, worrying over the antics of her children and grandchildren while still laughing at said antics.

There’s a story she would always tell that symbolizes her life. My father was, shall we say, difficult. He was the kind of child who would have made Dr. Spock re-think his anti-spanking approach, and as Dad moved toward his teenage years, he began to resemble a hood from an S.E. Hinton novel—a hood with a heart of gold, to be sure, but a hood nonetheless. In particular, he got into fights frequently. Grandma told me how she knew when he was fighting because of the status of his shirts. “He would come home without buttons on his shirt,” she said. “He was always losing the buttons on his shirt.”

While she would shake her head, she would also laugh, and that was her life in a nutshell. Grandma didn’t have an easy life. The tribulations brought on by my grandfather’s alcoholism would have been enough to break many people, not to mention the difficulties she faced raising her children and holding down a job at the same time. But, in the end, everything worked out. Her children grew up well, becoming good workers and good parents and good people. While she lost her husband, she also got to spend two decades relieved from the burden of caring for him. She was able to live on her own even after she stopped working. And she was not just loved, but revered by her children and grandchildren. There was nothing that couldn’t later be recounted with a head shake and a laugh.

We surrounded her at the hospital, twenty of us in the room. On Saturday, despite her appearance and the barely audible rasp of her voice, she was conscious and interactive. We reminisced with her on things. I told her that I’d found a picture of her and I when I was child, taken at Disney land. I remembered how excited I was to get on a plane and fly, and once in the air, I asked Grandma if she wanted to look in the window. Grandma, though, was glued to her aisle seat, eyes forward, because she was terrified of flying. No, she told me, you go ahead and look. We laughed together at the memory. She made jokes, too. Despite her appearance, I left feeling better than when I’d arrived. Grandma was still there.

Sunday was different. In just one night she’d changed, and it was clear how fast things were moving. She slept most of the day, and when she was awake, she clearly had more pain than the day before. Worse, she seemed scared. That shook me more than anything. Even then, she still managed to make us smile. Because she was having trouble drinking, we had to use a syringe to give her water. My father was trying to get an air bubble out of the syringe, and in the process he squeezed the plunger too much and sent a stream of water into the air and onto Grandma.

“Nice,” she said with a coating of sarcasm that sent us all into a laughing fit.

There was one moment, though, that I will take with me forever. We thought she was having pain and asked her if she was hurting. She shook her head no and said the pain was okay. “God will take care of it,” she whispered. Despite all the pain, all the fear, she kept her faith. She kept her strength.

Sunday night, we all said our goodbyes. I went into her room by myself. She was sleeping, and I didn’t have the heart to wake her because she looked peaceful. I just held her hand and told her how much she meant to me, how I was glad we named Libby after her, and how I hoped Libby would grow up to be as good and kind as Grandma was. I kissed her on the forehead and left, walking past my relatives in the waiting room into the now-vacant hall. I found a bench and let the sobs come. My father came and found me, putting an arm around me. We sat and cried and talked until we found the strength to stand.

I had to return home on Monday, and that morning, February again took control of the sky, sending down snow during my first hour and covering the sun for most of the trip. Everything looked gray and depressing again, like winter would never end. But for a little while, the sun peaked through, shining bright, reminding me that the rebirth of spring was waiting at the end of all this cold and ice.

I checked with my uncle on Monday. He told me Grandma had been asleep all day and that the end was very close. He called a little while later to tell me she had died, quietly and peacefully in her sleep. That comforted me, knowing that she wasn’t facing her fear, that she wasn’t suffering, because she deserved to go peacefully and quietly. God took care of her, and I can only hope that, when my time comes, I’ll smell fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies and find the strength to take those last steps.


Thanks to everyone for all of the wonderful comments, thoughts, prayers, and wishes. That sort of support, from many people who I only know online, is more meaningful than I can convey.

I am very sad to lose Grandma, but happy for her, that she managed to avoid much suffering at the end of her long, good life. She is in a better place now.

Friday, February 05, 2010

No Random 11 today

My father called last night to tell me my grandma is gravely ill and isn't expected to live much longer. Even though she is almost 87 and has been on a downhill course for a couple of years, it was a shock to hear.

She's the last of my grandparents and definitely the one I have been the closest to. Both of my grandfathers were difficult men to know and love, either by personality or addiction, and my other grandmother died when I was eight. Grandma, on the other hand, is a warm, lively, adorable person, a person who was born to be a grandma.

The extra sad part of this is, because of her growing inability to live on her own, she very recently had to move out of her home of fifty years to live with my aunt and uncle in another state. It was the right move--they have the means to take care of her and they both have been nurses, so they have medical training and experience. But had the diagnosis been found just a little sooner, they could have let her stay in the place that was home, not just to her and but to our whole family. At this point, good news would be that she could make the journey back, although that seems unlikely given her dire diagnosis.

I'm leaving tomorrow to go visit her, joining a cavalcade of relatives coming to see her one more time. She'll be surrounded by loved ones and that's all you can ask for at a time like this.

After I got the news, I poured a glass of Scotch and sat down with some photos, finding ones of her with me and my siblings. Her life hasn't been easy, but I think it has been good and filled with more happiness than not. I hope we can give her a little more happiness this weekend.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Congress Rushes to Secure Corporate Branding

Representatives embrace NASCAR sponsorship model; “All offers considered if paying in cash,” promise Senators

Senator David Vitter (R.-Hrny.) displays a few of his corporate sponsors.

WA$HINGTON – In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to allow corporations to freely contribute to political candidates, members of both parties have rushed to not only secure corporate donors, but to allow those donors to sponsor Congressmen and brand their reps accordingly.

“For far too long, our suit coats and blazers have been underutilized, displaying vast swaths of open fabric that could be used for the purposes of raising vital campaign funds,” said Senator James Inhofe (R.-Oil), wearing the green and white British Petroleum sports coat, which also included arm patches from Country Time Lemonade and the National Rifle Association. “Why should we let perfectly good campaign financing lie fallow? That’s why I support the message of ‘Donate, baby, donate.’”

Other Republicans echoed Senator Inhofe’s position. Louisiana’s David Vitter opined, “The Supreme Court has ruled that corporations have the same freedoms as people. Well, people give money to other people in exchange for things, like services. So why should a large, well-endowed organization not be allowed to give me money in exchange for servicing them? That flies in the face of what our Founding Fathers stood for.”

Vitter has been particularly aggressive in soliciting corporate funds, securing a particularly large lump sum from Depend, the adult underwear maker. However, some political watchdog groups fear such unblocked donations will soil the political landscape.

Professor Robert Vious, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University, says, “Previously, the laws against corporate donations protected the democratic process from being tainted by the uncontrollable urges of corporate influence. Now, however, the Supreme Court ruling allows people like Senator Vitter to be openly in the pocket of Big Diaper.

“I don’t see how that won’t leave a large stain on our elections.”

Democrats have generally spoken out against the Supreme Court’s decision. Senator John Kerry, (D.-Zzz.) has proposed a constitutional amendment against corporate speech. “Make no mistake, we will, in no uncertain terms, take this development under an uncompromising review process that will thoroughly examine, to the best of our ability, the possibility that we could, given the opportunity, establish the process for potentially proposing an amendment which, if ratified by the requisite number of states, would prevent this type of corporate influence, assuming said amendment did not suffer from being amended, under the wilting heat of Republican opposition and Glenn Beck’s powerful tears, into a futile gesture that, upon its final tally, accomplishes very little.

“That I promise you!”

Even as Democrats generally opposed the sponsorship, sources say they are entering talks with their own sponsors should their efforts fail. “It just makes good business sense to cover your bases,” said the source, who claimed that Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy had held a secret sponsorship meeting with ice cream makers Beny & Jerry to allow them to advertise their new flavors, “Democratic Waffle Cone” and “Congressional Budget Crunch.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, (D.-Keno), wearing a jacket made of green felt, cautioned against overreacting against such corporate spending. “The odds are that this won’t change the game very much,” Reid said. “We will certainly encourage corporations to donate responsibly and to set limits on their spending, which I’m certain will prevent any problems from arising.

“In the meantime, I encourage Americans to sit back, relax, and not worry about this. In fact, what better place to relax and forget your troubles than beautiful Las Vegas?”

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Top Ten Tuesdays: What other Apple products are we getting excited about?

Special extended hype edition!

11) iCovet (includes neighbor’s wife; neighbor’s ass sold separately)

10) iNoTouch (featuring patented fingerprint magnet)

9) iHump (comes with lubricated docking station and Craigslist app)

8) iMaDouche (includes Apple-branded Skype app)

7) iBono (may induce vertigo)

6) iDunno (with built-in clue phone)

5) iBrrraaaiiinnnssss (3G coverage at all graveyard hotspots)

4) iShiny (warning: may cause blindness if used in sunlight)

3) iSmug (available exclusively at Starbucks)

2) iChing (accurately predicts its own obsolescence within six months)

1) iWipe (waterproof and smudge resistant)