Dec 15, 2012

‘I’m going, to Sandy Hook okay?...'

I’m both asking my wife and daughter permission and telling them. Ann knows I have to go. Maitreya, in her own way – knows the same. Its dark out, night’s fallen. Ann holds me in a loving, stern look, says ‘Text us, promise?’, delivered in the concerned tone of someone who knows sadness comes in pairs, and doesn’t want grief’s twin visiting her with news of anothe
r, untimely accident.

But since the tragedy occurred, I’ve been of little use at home. Disengaged, absent. A cardboard cut out, taking up space, incapable of being fully dimensional. Until tonight, laying in bed at 5pm when suddenly I heard myself say ‘Go there’. It was the first thing that’s made sense since sense was lost to the blur of shock. I gather my cell phone, wallet, keys. Kiss the girl’s.

And feel Ann stare after me as I walk out, because she knows two very important things about me: 1. I have a big heart. 2. I have an astoundingly bad sense of direction. We both know she could walk outside in an hour and find me stuck in the driveway, trying to find the road. But thanks to GPS, I escape my own driveway. And I’m on my way.

I stop to buy flowers, not wanting to show up empty handed. I walk the aisles, and the enormity of what’s happened uproots me momentarily. I’m no stranger to grief, sadness or death. And I am well familiar with the country called despair in which they are located.

I also know firsthand, that access to that country is only granted to those willing to have their emotional passport stamped by fear, reluctance and heartbreak. I walk around the grocery store sad. As if, by acknowledging I will visit devastation personally, I may not return. I feel light-headed and look fondly at strangers from the corner of my eye – I may never see people again, and I’m taking in all I can before I depart.

And then I leave. My body. I don’t know if it's a talent, or a curse. And I can’t do it consciously. It seems to happen only when other people are under real duress. It's a kind of parlor trick for the sensitive. Our mind slips out of body like a naughty school kid sheds her jacket on the playground. Maybe the body can’t handle the emotional pain, so we leave – and do our work in the aethers sans flesh.

And probably, it’s why I want to be on the ground where people died. I want to extend the goodness of mind to the children, try and embrace them in kind intent, help guide them at a time when they are truly, lost. The only problem is, I’m still at Stop ‘N Shop. Trying to buy $9 flowers wrapped in plastic while viewing reality from an oblique right angle. Because the downside of consciousness-slipping is I see everything as if I’m lying on my side.

I fumble for my ATM card. But my fingers are like #2 pencils and after a few seconds of stabbing at the hard plastic I mange to spastically fling it across the counter. It falls on the conveyor belt. I make a lame joke about being spaced out. The cashier is from Heaven because she hears me say between the lines ‘I am going to Sandy Hook. My fingers, are pencils’. And without a word, swipes my card while I punch in numbers.

Interstate 95 gives way to the Merritt Parkway, which melts into a dark, single lane road. I ask my protectors to protect and my guides to, well – guide, because I suck at it. I also ask – myself – out loud, ‘what’s the plan?’, as I angrily turn on the radio and Stevie Wonder comes on, reminds me ‘…I hope and pray each day I live, a little more love I’ll have to give, a little more love that’s devoted and true…’ And right on cue I see a house with a huge white sheet draped over the door – the words God Bless Sandy Hook spray-painted in blue. I am here. The town is achingly quaint – single roads, charming stores. And police, media and road blocks everywhere. The road to the school is closed, so I walk the half-mile.

I pass numerous young Japanese couples, giggling and laughing. I pass people crying, a young couple arguing where to go for drinks. I keep my head down, ashamed with my cheap flowers and out of body delusions I can help. And then, I’m there. Or at least, as far as I’m willing to go. A memorial to the children, teachers.

Police are everywhere. I stand numbly, looking at the cards, flickering candles. Angel Wings, hung off the Sandy Hook School sign. But what stands me up straight are the stuffed animals. Plush friends meant to comfort, oddly atop hard concrete in dark of night where no child would ever be. What in god’s name am I doing here.

Media in every language, every country vying for real estate. A pretty woman with an intolerant Brit accent curses the ‘fucking crowd…’ as she pushes her cameraman between people for a live shot. A mother – three kids and husband in tow, walks to the memorial on stiff legs.

She has a bag of stuffed animals. She manages to take one out, lay it down, then collapses in tears. Her husband leads her away. Her teen kids, unsure what to do, leave the bag of teddy bears and quietly, dutifully follow. A grim faced woman shouts at her son, pulls him to the memorial. Where they turn and slap on big smiles while her husband takes a picture.

A young girl next to me sobs out loud, turns, apologies. It is a strange, uncomfortable amalgam of opportunity, grief and non-sense. I walk a few feet, kiss the plastic covering the flowers and lay them down. I am also sucking in breath through my open mouth, because suddenly it is hard to breathe. I no longer want to be here. It's a burial ground and I’ve trespassed. I would give anything to be sideways again, out of body. Unfeeling.

Like Dorothy clicking her heels, I’m now trying to consciously will myself away, ‘There’s no place like home…’. But it doesn’t work that way. Spirit, mind, consciousness, love…knows where you should be, and how you should be there. And right now, I could not be more sober, conscious or aware of exactly where I am.

Walking back to the car I pass people as they head to the school. Someone grabs my arm, a woman in her 50’s, two teen girls by her side. She shouts at me in a language so ancient its carved in stone somewhere. Estonian? Balkan? I don’t know what she’s yelling, but she’s desperate. She is imploring me and I cannot help her. ‘School…? The School…!?’, I ask, scared.

I want to both help her and to tell her ‘Don’t go…there’s nothing we can do’. I find a store, buy beer in a can. Find a dark parking lot, drink. And cry. At home, Ann says ‘How was it?’. And for the first time, I realize – it’s unfinished. You can feel everything there. It’s oddly still, but the air’s full of emotion and energy. Ours. The children’s. Teachers. You can feel them, amid flashing lights and camera’s and sadness.

It is raw and palpable. Bluntly touchable and achingly sad. And – if we are lucky, we’ll never whisk ourselves home. Not if home is unfeeling, uncaring, forgetting. But if true home is the place where we can’t help but hurt, can’t help but feel and cannot turn away from the sadness and need of others, then we are there. And we should never, ever leave.

Nov 8, 2012

Playing Cultural Catch Up...

I've been trying to reconnect to my Latin heritage a bit. Inspired by the continued increase of Latin / Hispanic participation during the last two Presidential cycles and the proliferation of Hispanic Oriented media, I've been delving into the culture via television programming.

Now mind you, I'm not the best representative of my culture. Beyond 'una cerveza más fría por favor', I don't speak Spanish. But - I'm a pretty damn good cook, have a predisposition to wearing khaki pants and gleaming white sneakers in the Summer and, will start dancing in the Dairy section of the grocery store if Tupac comes on my Shuffle when I'm shopping.

Buoyed by that evidence of my Hispanic background, I've spent the last few weeks watching a lot of Spanish Language TV. Again - I have no idea what people are saying. So the insights I've gleaned into the culture over the last few days are based solely on my own intuitive sense of human nature.

Last night I watched the Premiere Radio Awards Show. Or something like that. I saw the words 'Premios De La Radio' and my keen linguistic ability kind of filled in the blanks. Let me first say that you can't really limit what I watched by simply calling it an 'awards show'. It was and is, so much more.

In a word, what I witnessed over 2+ hours (Oh, believe me once you start watching it's physically impossible to turn away), well I'm not exactly sure what it was. As much game show as musical theater with a heavy dollop of vaudeville. Oh, and a spicy side of soft porn. Seriously. Oh yeah, because what says 'Awards Show' more than a buff couple in skin-tight underwear grinding on stage? Nothing, that's what.

Here's a few screen shots of the show I took on my iphone and some observations.

Yes, that is a guy dressed up as a real life Wolfman. He was engaged in a heated conversation with the host. I'm not sure about what, but there's a very good chance he was arguing against the fact the network has Gillette as a key sponsor. The guy in the dark suit and white tie simply stood there staring at the chick co-host.

Okay, this made me feel particularly disconnected from the fashion of Hispanic culture. I'm sorry the pic doesn't do this full justice, but can you see the Cowboy boots? Imagine an Aladdin type, toe-curled boot. With the curled portion fully extended. BOOM. He's singing a ballad here, but the song before, he not only sang but played an accordion.

Again, words fail where poor visuals can't clarify. But, can you see that his left pant leg is shiny? Pleather. Half of his suit was pleather. You can see the diverse inclusion of instruments in his band, including a - well, not really sure but some kind of half-tuba.

Oh, and every musical act included a minimum of 6 back up dancers wearing very little.

Before we continue, let me just say or perhaps warn that, I would not suggest you watch this show in any kind 'altered state'. It's already too bizarre. If one were to not have full command of their senses while viewing, it's entirely possible you could simply disappear into the show itself and wake up somewhere backstage wearing a rubber suit and holding two live chickens about to go onstage and perform your version of Hello, Dolly!. Onward.

Hopefully, a few of you doubted my claim to the inclusion of 'soft porn' at the beginning of this post. This wasn't quite the finale, but pretty close. Please note, the couple was not - how shall I put this, um, 'fully vertical' at all times during their performance.

Also, you can't see (but please believe me) that the male dancer had a very large, Butterfly tattoo on his lower back. At this point of the dance, he was getting her in position for an overhead-lift. Unfortunately, despite the fact he had wings permanently etched onto his lower lumbar, he couldn't get her airborne. They settled for an awkward and clearly, crowd disappointing, 'back hug'.

Well, that wraps up Premios De La Radio. Tonight I'm watching something called Mi Sueno Es Bailar - which I've seen twice before. I think its a kind of American Idol show. Last week they had a woman in a gold, skin tight body suit dancing. With a puppet.

Happy viewing and, hasta la vista.

Jul 4, 2012

What You're Made Of...

...sometimes you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone. See what you're made of. Especially when a mystery bronchial aliment that's apparently undiagnosable by doctors and pharmacists has you sipping breaths like you're trying to drink air through a straw. So after weeks of perennial grumpiness, shortness of breath and a bothersome cough, I said 'enough'. Actually, I said 'Fck this, if I already feel like a paper plate of microwaved crap, might as well work out anyway'. Grabbed my bike. Gloves, helmet, shuffle. My raspy cough.

Wife looked at me with worried apprehension as I made my way past her. Coughing. But like I said, when the going gets tough, the tough grind out a hacking cough like a fossilized barfly at last call. Game plan was start slow, build speed, finish strong. Cut my usual 25 mile ride in half. Knock out a quick 12 miler. By the time I made it to the stop sigh two blocks away I was exhausted. Not figuratively.

A fleeting image: me, laying next to my bike on the street while EMT's strap an oxygen mask over my face. I quickly deleted that image, turned up the volume on my shuffle to mask the loud barking sound that had suddenly replaced my regular breathing pattern.

1/2 hour into the ROD (ride of death) I was still in the game. Actually, feeling pretty good. All things being relative. A phrase that always cracks me up, because like, relative to what? Yes, I felt good relative to oh, a dying person. But relative to my normal state of health against which I was measuring my new lowered standard of expectations, I felt horrible.

But I refused to give up. I was also near hallucinatory and having a hard time remembering where I lived. So I decided to keep pedaling in the hopes maybe the Isley Brothers (who were on my shuffle) might drive by and pick me up. Which are the kind of recalibrated beliefs you entertain in the exhausted state of compromised thought.

Then, a familiar landmark. The Hill. Living up to the obviousness of its name, it is in fact, a hill. Good news is its not far from my house. So I knew the EMT's would probably only charge me for gas when they delivered me to my family. The Hill is maybe 800 yards long. The last of which are about 35 degrees. Uphill. My job at that point other than being grateful my lungs hadn't caved in on themselves, was to turn right. Towards home. And I planned to. Until I saw him.

Guy on a bike. Well, I suppose that described me. A more realistic and accurate description of him would be 'Serious cyclist. On a bad ass bike'. Had the whole matching outfit. And those special shoes that make them walk wobbly on flat ground like they're not meant to be on feet, just pedals. Lapping the less fortunate who must walk. And he just zipped through the four way stop. Past me. Past cars. Right up the first couple hundred yards of the Hill like he was a video game character immune to gravity.

And I envied him. Well, not so much him but the outfit. Very nice. And then, a thought. 'You can take him'. I realize now, I have to get the logic version of 'spellchecker'. If I'd had that, logicchecker would've done the math for me. And returned the sum of my flawed logic in an entirely rational formula: coughing guy on retail chain mountain bike, should not attempt to go up against seasoned cyclist on space bike'.

But probably because iphone and android are going mano y mano these days, no one's created the logicchecker app for me to download. Which explains why I turned left. He was already past the first 400 yds of the Hill, and into and smoothly handling the first 100 yds of the 35 degree pitch.

I shifted gears. Felt my feet suddenly turning in fast circles like a hamster on the wheel. I was 300 yds behind him. And eating up the flat(er) part of the Hill faster than a housewife and a bag of chips the day before a Weight watcher's weigh in. Pedaling fast wasn't a problem. Synchronizing my cough and my feet was another issue altogether. Faster I went, more I coughed. More I coughed, more it interrupted the timing of the foot thing.

But no way I was backing off now. Even though I'd hit the first 100 yds of the uphill part of the Hill and suddenly felt like I was in The Matrix. I was working hard, going nowhere. Cars passed me. Giant SUV's going 10mph passed me. The Wicked Witch in the tornado from The Wizard Of Oz glided past, cackled. Damn. But - I had closed the distance. Dude was only 200 yds ahead of me. If I could lean into it, really push hard, I could erase 100 yds, then go Tour on him and make my move.

Which is when I started wheezing. Imagine the sound of a giant garbage bag filled with air being backed over by a car. Which is also when I realized he actually was on a space bike. Because suddenly, he just disappeared. Looked back, saw me and just - vanished. I got to the top of the hill sometime later that day. Didn't see him anywhere. Turned around, glided back downhill.

Wondered how much those space bike's cost. If they came with like, a starter outfit?. Or was that separate? Enjoyed the ride home, even though I did the last mile or so in the back seat of a Cadillac El Dorado with the Isley Brothers, who by the way are pretty much as cool as one can imagine. We harmonized Who's That Lady? and Ernie Isley gave me a guitar pick to keep.

They dropped me off at home and my wife asked 'Who were you talking to in the driveway?'. But she's not really an Isley Bro's fan, so I was like 'Oh, just checking vm's on my phone'.

Yup, sometimes you have to knuckle down, man up and see what you're made of. I say, go for it. You may start out going one direction, but end up back at home in ways you never imaged.

Jun 16, 2010

(Mis) Adventures In Suburbia...

Been over a year since we fled NYC for the quietude and peace of a beach side town in CT. Really, it’s not all that different than city living.

Fine it’s completely different.

But in little ways. For instance, kids love when I call them ‘lil homey’ as they get off the bus. Their parents love it when I call them ‘Rebecca, Michael, Robert and Lillian’. Parents love being invited over for frozen margaritas. Just not at 11:30am on a Tuesday.

Its all good, I’m getting the hang of it. I even joined the Y. Settled into a sweet 6pm yoga class. Me and the mommies getting our downward dog on. Woof. Felt good, so I joined the Sunday morning yoga-Pilates. Figured if I could learn yoga in one class, adding a hyphen shouldn’t stop me from becoming a Pilates master too.

Quickly discovered Pilates is to Yoga what a Marathon is to say, jogging around the block. Just because you’re good at one, means you probably suck at the other. 10 minutes into class I was half-pretzeled raising one leg behind me in tiny, soul-crushing increments. I was in pain. But the pain resided in muscles I didn’t know existed.

Like the asslegknee. Its a muscle group just below the chestgutrib. And mine felt like someone was crushing it in a vise. So between asslegknee raises I plotted my revenge. Hard to remember all the details but in a nutshell it was basically a Unabomber campaign targeting nationwide Pilates studios. Between coughing fits I remember thinking I’d skip the manifesto writing part and just go for burning shit to the ground.

After class my teacher thanked me for coming. She’s French and has a great accent. We fell into an easy discussion about hip-flexors. Which could’ve been mildly sexy if she’d been in like, fishnet stockings blowing lazy smoke rings from her Gauloise cigarette.

Instead she took my leg and bent it out of sight, showing me ‘all zee relief is here, no?’. I couldn’t have agreed more – no. Before passing out, I made a mental note to make sure my firebombs contained a chemical accelerant so the studios would burn down before the fire trucks could get there.

Then, blackness. I woke up later, at the front desk of the Y. Asking if they had another yoga class. Not instead of, but in addition to. My inner-Deepak Chopra had been activated. I would not give up. No, I would excel at Tuesday night Yoga with Karen. I would rule Sunday morning Yoga-Pilates with Giselle.

And now, just to show they’d pushed me too far – I added another Yoga class. Wednesday nights with Nancy. ‘Revitalize and relieve the day’s stress with stretching / yoga’. Perfect. I showed up five minutes early on Wednesday, popped into the studio with my yoga-mat.

‘Hi, I’m Nancy – are you joining us tonight!’ the single process fifty something blond was perkier then a.m. coffee. ‘Would love to – bring in my mat, right?’.

‘You betcha! And grab a step…’.

Which should’ve been my first warning sign. The north of forty crowd all had long plastic step thingies. They were doing calf raises, so I grabbed one and did a calf raise showing off my new flexibility.

And then Nancy turned on music. They always vibe something kinda new-age-y in the yoga class. Stuff that sounds like a pair of turquoise dolphins with angle wings soaring over a blue ocean knitting Christmas scarves. But this wasn’t new age. It was trance. Trance not like, lulled into a peaceful coma. Trance like drop X and rave all night Trance.

Seemed weird. I mean, you can’t really stretch or do yoga to music that you’d play at a Prague disco while some girl with an eastern bloc accent gives you a blue pill with a tiny dove on it asking if you can get her and her cousin back across the border with you. Sorry, that’s another post.

Anyway, the music was too loud for yoga. Which now made sense because Nancy wasn’t yoga-ing. She was yelling. And dancing. ‘New faces tonight, say hello to – Dana and Gail!’. Nancy was marching in place rapidly like the Energizer Bunny.

I smiled and gave a little wave, not sure what was happening. Then she barked something like ‘…and, cross-step up, back step down, sidestep two three four, repeat…’. While doing some kind of hybrid River Dance, disco-cardio foot weave all up and over the step thingie.

I saw my reflection in the mirror and got confused between my left and right feet. I finally got my left foot onto the step when Nancy got to ‘…and repeat’. I did not hear Nancy say ‘And now, gentle warrior pose. Laying on your back, close your eyes and drift cloud-like into a place of loving peace’.

Which is why I joined yoga. I like being a cloud. Clouds don’t feel like they’re getting their sphincter muscles spanked with a snow shovel. Clouds don’t do Prague dance moves with fifty-year-old women with the energy of teenagers. Clouds float.

Nancy was not floating. Nancy had gone onto ‘…and grapevine walk, count of 10 and 9..and…8…and 7…c’mon, work! And 6…’. I frantically followed Nancy / my mirror reflection across the room laterally. Turns out I rock at grapevine. Its got a kinda Latin vibe – you just walk to the side, moving one foot behind the other while staring at your confused reflection which is trying to figure out if mirror left and real left are the same.

But I did it. And it was only my first three minutes in class. I briefly considered not firebombing Step Class Studios. Pilates joints were toast, but I might spare Step. Feeling revitalized and sexy and all grapevine walk, I threw a little hip into it. You know, work it a little.

‘…and squat to floor, hands up high and football shuffle count of 10, 9, 8, 7…’ Nancy and mommies were shuffling laterally across the room. Shit. I remembered this from H.S. I hated it. And that’s was 30 yrs ago. When I had the body fat of a #2 pencil. And on it went. Grapevine walk lost all its new and shiny fun after doing it like 9 times without stopping combined with football shuffle.

I was sweating like a baseball player on steroids before a Congressional hearing. My eyes were burning. I ran across the gym and grabbed a paper-towel from the dispenser, wiping the sweat from my face. I may have tried to kick someone’s step out from under them. Hard to remember. But yeah, probably.

‘Way to work, Dana!’ I heard Nancy cow-bellow across the room. If by ‘way to work’ she meant ‘Yay for you, that was your spleen falling out of your back!’, then yeah – yay. I could feel my pride hitting the floor in big, wet, salty sweat drops. Then, the big finale.

‘Great! Now grab your body bar, raise it out in front, squats on 8 and 7, and 6…’. Body bars have one purpose in life. They don’t rescues orphans. Or clean wildlife after an oil spill. Body bars want to hurt you. I was squatting. And bar-ing. And wanting to cry. I felt sweat run down my back, but didn’t rule out spinal bleeding.

Then I saw Helen from my Tuesday night Yoga. Helen’s about 104 years old and as thin as a swifter. And there she was, lifting her little body bar away ‘…and six and five and four, three…’. The difference was, Helen was using one of the lightweight bars made for women – it had little pink caps on the end and was way lighter then mine. Which had – pink caps on the end.

Hmmm. I looked again through my sweat-stung eyes – maybe the pink on mine was darker, signaling how much heavier my bar was. No. Same bubblegum pink. I watched as Helen pumped her bar up and down like it was a Q-Tip. Then coming up out of her squat she threw in a little Broadway style, chorus line kick. Essentially I’d been lapped while running by a senior pushing a walker. Awesome. ‘Good for you Helen…’, I thought. You’re gonna need that cardio because I just added senior centers to my firebombing list.

‘Great job, cool down – lay your mat on your step…’. Yoga, finally. Helen may have been old enough to help build the pyramids, but no way she could cloud like me. I was born to cloud. I lay on the mat, closed my eyes and pictured Nancy comforting a weeping Helen ‘Now, now – Dana’s probably been floating like a bunny cloud for years honey, its fine…’.

But Nancy’s yoga, like Nancy’s stretching, was vastly different. In fact, it wasn’t really yoga. It was vertical leg crunches to a 16 count. 4 Sets. I tried to reach my body bar, thinking I could club Nancy a little bit and make her stop. But I couldn’t lift the bar while lying on my back.

And then we were standing, clapping, wooting like we’d all won free pedicures. Class was over. I sat in my car, sucking down buckets of air. I’d done yoga. Pilates. Step. And sure, it was all a little more then I’d planned for, but I’d hung in there. Learned about hip flexors. And body bars. Even silently applauded an old woman’s success. I’d been a good week. There was only one thing left.

I turned up the A.C. in my car, looked at the clouds form lazy, beautiful shapes in the blue sky and pulled up Google on my blackberry. Then I punched in ‘firebombing+accelerants+homemade’. My fingers were nimble, each one a little ballerina dancing on the tiny keys. My mind was clear and extra focused as I navigated link after link ‘Unabomber…firebomb composition…ignitable liquids’.

Say what you want, but apparently nothing helps your concentration like a good Step class.

Oct 10, 2009

What To Watch...

I try and not watch anything on TV that in any way contributes to the culture of misogyny, violence or sexual objectification already so prevalent in our culture.

Not really, but it made me feel morally superior to write that.
Okay, so I love Damages with Glenn Close. Frighteningly, she’s the backstabbing Xerox of a former boss of mine: mean-spirited, her-at-all-costs Narcissist. Glenn Close’s the reason they have acting awards.

So maybe Entourage does appeal to my hidden puerile instinct towards a Peter Pan, stay-young / irresponsible / hide your immaturity behind material objects and chase down twentysomething hotties like you’re a Cheetah on the African plains, live-now-apologize-never lifestyle, wait – I don’t have a counter argument here.

The Shield – try and jump over the bar that series set. Dare you.
Hung. Jury’s still out on this. The tone / characterization feels a bit unbalanced to me. And, its just difficult for dudes to root too fervently for a concept built around the premise of a guy with a huge um, a large uh, well let’s just say when he orders a deli sandwich he doesn’t need the giant pickle.

I have to admit, even by my standards (wtf, I have no standards…)Burn Notice is style over substance, pretty faces trumping characterization and essentially a montage of beautifully lit panning shots of a sun-soaked Miami meant to lull you in to not noticing how implausible most if not every episode really is. My total, absolute fave show on TV. If Fiona showed up at my door with matching Makarovs and some C-4 plastique, my marriage would be in serious trouble.

True Blood. Some weeks I bite, others I don’t. Haven’t watched any of season 2 yet. So no, technically I’m not one of the rabid fang-gang.

And of course, the most morally korrupt, lo-tech reality show in the ignominious history of television – Cheaters. Basically, is what it says – hand-held cameras and a crew of 15 bust cheating spouses / lovers in the act. Best episode so far was when wife+cam crew walk in on hubby – naked, wearing a black leather mask, handcuffed to a cheap hotel bed and getting whip-spanked by a 6 foot, black Transvestite. He freaks, manages to get loose as wifey’s screaming at him, chasing him around the bed in this 10’x10’ Motel Six (maybe they should just go ‘head and change the name to Motel Sex) room trying to hit him, and he actually pleads his case, saying “'I'm doing this for us! She's helping me with intimacy issues!!!”.

To which I say, those are some intimacy issues I never, every want to hear about. Or the episode where a black husband gets cold busted by his wife. He’s total deer in the headlights – silent like a mime, just kind of blinking at the camera lights realizing he has no out. Until he invokes Presidential privilege.

He goes to wife “We can work this out, yes we can”. She’s like, “Are you out of yo black mind? Work this out how?!”. To which he earnestly responds, “Yeah, President worked it out with Hillary, right? We can fix this too”.

But not all episodes are a comic reveal on our collectivly flawed humanity. Last night they had midgets cheating on midgets. Yep, little people acting like big freaks. I was like “Man, even I can't watch this'. Turns out I could. And you know what, I learned a lot about myself, from my tiny friends.

Like you can’t measure what’s in a person’s heart. Passion really can blind a person to the obvious. And if a midget tries to punch you just reach out and put your hand on top of their head. They have big hearts, but short arms.

Aug 20, 2009

Careful What You Wish For...

Once upon a time I dreamed of this life--traveling around the world with a Buddhist master, making a positive meaningful impact on people’s lives. And for the most part, I do. Help others, that is. The problem has become my lack of ability to help myself. I have become the very person I humbly warm others from becoming.

By day I wear a suit and tie, spending countless hours helping an incarnate lama as we travel the world giving talks on compassion, understanding and meaningful living. By night I slink around in any bar I can find drinking until blackout. My life has somehow, unbeknownst to me become so painful that I must anesthetize myself from it.

Before we arrived in Colorado we were in Baltimore, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Before that, Vienna, Amsterdam Germany, Paris and Italy. Then South America. I can order drinks in ten different European cities in five languages. I know what time Happy Hour starts in at least fifteen of the nation’s major airports. I’m now so tired I hallucinate. While I’m awake. I visit a family friend, a doctor. He takes my pulse, my blood pressure, does a Chinese medicine work up of my phlegm, then pronounces me “Exhausted”. “Thanks, Bill--real news flash” I laugh, buttoning up my shirt.

A tall man with intense, caring eyes, Bill takes me by the elbow. Not forcefully, but it gets my attention. “I’m not kidding. You are clinically exhausted”. Doctors can add a stress to syllables in a way that commands respect. He could say “No must take out the gar-bage” and it would take on a new, important significance.

“You can rest for a few days, or I check you in right now and hook you up to an I.V.”. I stop buttoning my shirt. Bill’s words weigh me down with their solemnity. I meet Bill’s penetrating gaze and nod. “I hear you. I do”. Bill purses his lips, blinks his forgiveness. “No stimulants, stay away from spicy food. In three or four days, you should start sleeping through the night again. Dana, you need to rest”. Bill leaves the office and I sit there, his admonition a slap on the face, still stinging.

I leave his office, shaken as much by Bill’s intensity as his diagnosis. I drive along in a daze, not sure what to do. I notice “El Chico’s”, a bar popular with the University set. It’s two o’clock in the afternoon as the cute sandy-haired waitress smiles and sets a cocktail napkin down in front of me on the laminated table. The tables are chest high and I feel like Lily Tomlin in her oversize chair. But already I feel better.

El Chico’s is famous for its margarita’s that come in a laughably industrial size glass big enough to raise trout in. There’s actually a neon sigh above the bar--an oversize glass with a line through it, forbidding anyone from having more than two of their large or three small margaritas. This always makes me laugh, but before i finish my first large, I am happy like a five year old on Christmas and realize that Bill the doctor is simply jealous of me, of my lifestyle.

“Getcha’ another?” the waitress smiles and I grab for my glass, a little too desperate for the last gulp. I fish the plastic straw from the cavernous glass bottom as she lifts it from the table. I can chew on the straw and suck the last of the margarita from its marrow to nurse my buzz until she returns. Somehow, I’ve now been at El Chico’s for four hours. The after work crowd is in full swing as is the first of the college crowd. Van Morrison wails “Brown Eyed Girl” and twice I almost tip over and fall off my stool.

I switched to beer long ago and am on my fifth Dos Equis, acting like I can handle this. The truth is, I am an instant drunk. My mother is diabetic and Navajo. Any kind of alcohol instantly converts to sugar in my system. I can get drunk on literally half a beer. That I’ve had the equivalent of twelve drinks means I’m dangerously inebriated. Being this drunk now means, I must have sex. And if I must have sex, I must drive my car to wherever the sex is. People tend to forget how easy alcohol makes problem solving.

Suddenly I remember I haven’t checked in with the secretary of the day. Essentially, I’m a traveling Joint Chiefs Of Staff. So whenever we arrive at our next city, I have to constantly ensure that the daily schedule is adhered to. The daily schedule is a Wooly Mammoth of meetings, interviews, conferences with local directors and public talks. The daily schedule is a massive, ambling Dinosaur that crushes me with every step. No matter how fast I run, I cannot escape the lumbering daily schedule.

I look at my watch, squinting to stop the hour hand from spinning. I left for my doctor’s appointment six hours ago. By now the staff is dealing with the fact I’m not there – I justify my absence as a much-needed break. What’s six hours away from the grind for a guy that travels over 250,000 miles a year, right?. Again, alcohol enables me to really cut through the bullshit and get to the heart of things.

Besides, I am invincible. I travel with a Buddhist lama, so even deeply intoxicated I tell myself I’m blessed and can do no wrong. I exhale deeply and for the first time all day cannot feel the Wooly Mammoth’s huge foot crushing my chest. I smile to myself and stretch my arms. I am not exhausted. I am fine. Bill is wrong. I am still stretching my arms, which must be incredibly long because they are going up and up and up. I feel free, airborne. And then my head hits the floor solidly with a hollow “thunk”.

People are pulling me up. A twentysomething kid with a Van Halen t-shirt high fives me and hands me his beer. I drink it as a bouncer leads me outside. He hails a cab. We drive for one block before I am curbside, emptying out my body of liquids and solids. Cabbies hate pukers. My ride is free. I wake up later, behind the wheel of a friend’s car.

I’m on the Interstate leading into Denver. Within an hour I’ll be downtown. The windows are open and the radio is playing Cool And The Gang. I am Cool And The Gang. I haven’t slept a full night since we left Amsterdam. That was eight cities, three weeks and many time zones ago. The gas pedal feels like a marshmallow under my foot – it gives way easily, all the way to the floor. I’m flying again, soaring past the cars next to me.

I close my eyes, cold air rushes through the windows. I remember the cold air off the coast of Portugal. An exotic, old-world mix of orange, red and yellow buildings spired and tiled. Cobble stone streets disappearing up alleys so narrow, cars have to flip back their side-view mirrors to navigate through.

When I open my eyes, I see the ruby red of taillights ahead, and wonder who put a parking lot on the Interstate. And then I realize the cars ahead aren’t parked, they’re stopped. I’m going 85 MPH, waking up too late in the left lane. And now I wonder if its true – am I really invincible? Because unless I click my heels together and manage to Oz myself out of this dream, chances are very good I’m going to miss our Thursday flight to London.

Aug 19, 2009

The Cool Warmth Of Family

We are gathered together, family both immediate and extended, a clutch of close friends. My mother is in a casket, of sorts. It’s actually an industrial strength cardboard box. She’s been transferred to the box and lay inside, surrounded by dry ice. She’s frozen. Solid. She’s a momsickle. And we’re here to cremate her body, finally. Its been a draining, exhausting seven weeks, no one more exhausted than my mother, who finally gave up the struggle to lung cancer four nights ago.

Since then, its been a bizarre, disorienting emotional roller-coaster as those who loved her have laughed, cried, anguished and some of us, visited awake in the predawn hours by my mother’s spirit. Her latest visitation “from over there” my uncle likes to say with a wry smile and nod-up of the head, was to inform a woman who never met her to gather family and friends for a wake of sorts.

The woman tells my father this at six-thirty a.m. on a cool, bright Colorado morning. Estranged for thirty years, my mother apparently felt compelled to have her former husband see to a few last minute details for her. That’s mom--always including everyone. The woman is both apologetic and dumbfounded. She never met my mother, but worked in the same building. While the soap slid off her body in wet slimy sheets during her morning shower, she said her head was suddenly “filled with a movie--narrated by Louisa”.

The “message” says to bring Bushmill’s whisky (my dad’s favorite for some time, who says time doesn’t heal all?) and red roses. Lots of red roses. Her brother, a frail, dark-haired Spanish wizard of a man laughs when he hears this. “I told her the Navajo put flowers in the grave--so their relations would walk on petals in the afterlife--she always loved that story”. He laughs again, a high, thin laugh that shakes his whole body. His face lights up and we all laugh.

Now, two days after our “wake” we are here to say a final goodbye to the husk, which housed her for sixty-six years. We’ve prayed, done Buddhist ceremonies and cried. Cried so much that if anyone else wants to shed a tear we’ll have to get some Fed Ex’d to us – we’re all cried out. There are no more prayers. Louisa’s spirit has stopped making house calls. We can say goodbye.

But the morticians aren’t moving. They’re whispering in too-loud voices. Something’s wrong. “Problem?”. I ask. They exchange worried glances--a tacit, morticians “rock-paper-scissors”. The loser, a mid-forties death-clerk takes a breath, coughs nervously. “Her jewelry--state law prohibits us from cremating her with her jewelry on”.

Nobody says a word. We kind of decked mom out in her favorite rings and bangles thinking they’d make the trip with her. “We’ll have to remove them--unless you’d like to...”. I glance around the room--no one in my family would like to apparently. I can’t blame them. We’ve spent four days with my mother’s decomposing body, the sweet heavy smell of death now coating our every cell. Everyone’s gone just about as far as they can on this voyage--time to head for home. But since we’ve come this far...

I nod to the mortician who actually seems relieved. I’m about to find out why. I reach down alongside my mother’s frozen body and find her arm. It feels like a branch in the winter, stiff and lifeless, hands balled up and still. I feel her fingers, they are tiny, thin, preserved. I cup her wrist in my hand and pull it towards me--her whole body moves to the side a bit. She is of course, hard and cold as a rain-soaked sidewalk. And now I see the dilemma. In order to remover the rings and bangles, I’ll have to force her cold, frozen fingers free.

As I move her arm back and her body is once again horizontal a wisp of knowing moves through the room. Now they get it, too. And now, with complete certainly, no one would like to be involved. My personal macabre meter reached “tilt” long ago and though this is a new high, or low on my all-time weird list, grief has long given way to a kind of giddy, humorous disbelief. I mean, really--how much more fucked up can it get? I bite the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing. Then I wrench my mother’s cold arm-stick up in one quick motion. It gives way somewhere at the shoulder and rises from dry-ice mist in to view.

In a way, this is awesomely bizarre beyond words--I would so dare anyone in the Addams family to top this. I firmly take my mother’s preserved fingers and force them straight, sliding off each ring. By now, I’m in to the rhythm of it and am satisfied at my own handiwork. The last ring is pulled over her hard, small finger-knuckle and I raise the gold like some deep-sea diver hoisting up the final nugget of booty surrendered by the deep.

My family looks on in awe, shock and final, silent confirmation. Despite the mood, the circumstance and the sheer madness of it all, the moment is just too perfect and I cannot resist. I look around the room slowly and with confidence as I remove the latex gloves, snapping them off professionally “I’m afraid that’s all I can do for her”. My brother shakes his head and suppress a giggle. My girlfriend who will someday be my wife and mother to our precious daughter, nods and smiles--she’s loves that I am both freak and saint, sinner and devil cursed with all, but blessed with innate, perfect unpracticed comic timing.

As we leave the mortuary, we look up to the chimney which coughs thick, curling dark clouds up and in to the inverted-ocean blue sky. Louisa. “Oh no” I say, “Now she’s everywhere”. We go to breakfast and cannot figure out what to say as the perky waitress asks “what’s everyone up to this morning?”. Between bouts of quasi-hysterical laughter, we manage to order a table full of pancakes, omelets, bacon and endless rivers of coffee.

We laugh and eat like lumberjacks. I eat and eat and eat knowing the empty feeling will never be gone, not now. I eat anyway. After twenty minutes I sit up, take a deep breath and look out the window. Endless Colorado sky blue to the edge of nowhere. Except for a few dozen cloud-puffs. I look again. They float buoyantly and I cannot help but notice about a dozen of them resemble small rose petals. Laid out across the sky so perfectly you could walk on them.