Category Archives: Certain Immutable Facts

Rest In Peace, General Organa Solo

We here at Vote Simpson/Hemstead have been rather heartbroken at the loss of Carrie Fisher.  She was more than just a princess and a general, she embodied a number of concepts that we would carry with us through our formative years and into our adulthood.  She first stepped into our minds at about 3 years old.  For me personally, Star Wars is my first and strongest memory.  And like so many of my contemporaries, that is how we first came to know Carrie, but we didn’t realize the ways she would impact our lives.

 

As (Princess) General Leia Organa Solo:

She was our first crush.

She was the first strong female character we encountered in movies.

She stood fearlessly against giants, and not only held her own but often made them back down.  

She was relentless and determined.  

The villainous could subjugate her, but never break her.  And in the end, they’d pay.

As her character aged she became wistful, and a little reticent of some poor choices she might have made, but would not stop fighting for what she believed in.

As I got older, and became a fan of Carrie as a humorist, author, and script doctor I found that Carrie as a human being was all those same qualities I loved about her most iconic character.  It’s easy to separate Carrie and Leia, but I’ve found in preparing this that I’ve had a hard time separating what I loved most about these two icons, the fictional and real, because as I knew her, Carrie embodied what I love about Leia, and Leia was only a woman I love because of Carrie.

She will be missed.

A Call to Disarm, America

We are deeply saddened for the families of those who have lost a loved one to gun violence this week, and every week. But we are even more deeply concerned with the escalating spiral of rage and finger-pointing that are nurturing more opportunities for such violence. Once again we implore you to abstain from feeding these online dialogues that only further entrench those whose opinions would differ from yours behind their own walls of social media righteousness.

It’s foolish to say to a group of adults that the desires of the nation aren’t just black and white.  That’s obvious to anyone capable of even the most rudimentary measure of critical thought.  We know that the nation, and humanity lives in the nebulous grey gradient between those poles.

We each live behind our own fog of war, and believe me, we have allowed ourselves to escalate this conversation into a war. This fog rolls in thick from behind our heads, condensed from the ether by our own social positions and opinions. We reject opinions contrary to ours with our own personal violences: We name call, we unfriend, we bait, we battle strangers in comment threads. We don’t listen. We wait for our turn to tell others how the world should change to better reflect our opinions. Sometimes we don’t even wait.

Each and every one of these exchanges feeds a national online dialogue that increasingly polarizes the population. Each of us adds little pressures to massive, groaning fault line between us all.

And each time we do, we thicken the fog around ourselves, and push those whose opinions would differ from ours deeper into the murky distance.  We do this so much so that we even seek it out in our political candidates.  Every political cycle they become more and more just… caricatures.

And we retreat a little further back into the polarized battlefield, nourishing our opinions on memes and like-minded media outlets, always believing our side to be white, and those whose opinions would differ from ours to be black.

And the faces of acquaintances whose opinions would differ from ours become caricatures.   Less human, and whose opinions do not matter as much as ours.  And who are incapable of seeing the grey that our nation lives in.

The grey we used to see so well.

The grey that is indecipherable behind our fog of war, so far back in our entrenched lines.

The grey that has become a no man’s land.

The grey that does nothing more than catch innocence within the crossfire of our best intentions.

This is the grey we are supposed to live in, but we are willing it into abandonment.

So I stand here, a murky silhouette in the middle of an abandoned American ideal, waving a flag of truce and begging my brothers and sisters in this great experiment called America to stand up from their trenches and throw down their arms.

This has nothing to do with gun control.  I’m asking you to throw down the armaments you use to defend your opinions with extreme prejudice and step out into the no man’s land to have a listen.

No, not to me, and not your media outlets, your memes, or the voices from back in your polarized entrenchment.  Listen to each other, stripped from the offensive weapons we use to berate and belittle each other.  And listen to how we are afraid.  Standing alone together in the grey of no man’s land, the artillery of agendas hissing past our heads and hear the fears of those whose opinions would differ from yours.

And remember what you already know:  We all want the same things.

Safety.

The safety that can only be provided by a government.

Safety from the government abusing the gift of our trust.

Safety to be with our friends and neighbors.

Safety from our friends and neighbors.

Safety to have an opinion.

Safety to have that opinion respected.

These safeties to extend to our families and all those we hold dear.

The safety that those we hold dear would never need to fear the loss of these safeties.

Maybe if enough of us listen rather than tell, we can thin this fog of war back enough to see one another again.

How many more people need to die before we realize the fact that we are all responsible for the environment we have created.  We’ve willed it into cold reality through the self-righteousness of our own opinions, and our impassioned willingness to instruct others on the right way to think.   If you don’t believe me play the following thought experiment with yourself.

When you read the title of this post, “A Call to Disarm, America,” your gut instinct immediately made you think “gun control.”  Before even digesting the first sentence of the post, your brain had already filtered the concept of gun control through your opinions and you had a feral, emotional response toward the word “Disarm” and how you feel about the concept of sweeping gun legislation.  That emotional response entrenched you with, or against the post emotionally, and you started your praise or rebuttals.

Did you have a reaction?  Positive or negative?  Did you bristle or nod quietly to yourself before you read the post?  Did it color the way you read the post?

If so it might be time to accept your part.  Disarm yourself of your opinions, your memes, your like-minded media outlets, and the fear-mongering braying mules who seek fame at the cost of dividing our nation.  Step out from your fog and join me in the no man’s land with ears open. Because a war is coming, and we are escalating it.  Each and every one of us.  Every single day.

I’ll be there, waiting.  On the groaning fault line in the grey.   Afraid.  I hope you join me.  One nation, indivisible.  With liberty, justice, and safety for all.

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“It is only a fool who claims to know what is right from his fixed position atop his own feet.”

 

Post Script: To those of you who would argue that a conversation can never stop a war I would say this in response:  In October of 1963, a conversation was had that implored leaders of nations to listen to the fears of those whose opinions would differ from their own.  That conversation peeled back a fog of war so thick that the only “rational” response the day before was nuclear war.  Conversation won’t get us all the way there, but it will go much further for the health of our freedoms than rhetoric and violence.

 

 

10 Days of 10 Years Later – Day 10

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Well, here we are.  Day 10.  I’m so glad this is over and at the same time I’m sad that once again Dad and I are at “The end.”  I’m posting this from Dad’s gravesite right now, at the exact minute of the 10th anniversary of Dad’s death.

It seemed appropriate to let Adam32 wrap this up, since he’s the one who picked the site where Dad is buried, and he delivered Dad’s eulogy.  He knew without question what Dad sounded like, and he’s the one who sat in Dad’s apartment with his body, feeling his chest go slowly cold and just touching his face and hands and chest, and marveling at how different he felt without those little imperceptible twitches of living skin.

Here’s the eulogy Adam32 delivered at Dad’s funeral, and Adam42 would deliver today.

I’ve had 14 years to prepare for today. 14 years ago Dad went in for a cancer surgery that he told me he very well might not survive. That was all I knew. I didn’t know what kind of cancer it was, I didn’t know what his prognosis was other than dad telling me it was very rare and thereby less survivable. 14 years and countless surgeries, ailments and ding dong ditches at death’s door later and I can tell you with no uncertainty; 14 years of near misses doesn’t prepare a person for a phone call saying “I think he’s gone.”

I’ve felt I knew my father well. I’ve spent nearly half of my life helping care for him in one capacity or another, and learned all the ins and outs of the way he thought. I could predict dad’s reaction to every situation, and provided him things before he vocalized that he even wanted them. Yeah, I knew dad probably better than any other person on the planet.

And then he died. Tari and I found pictures we’d never seen. I read letters I’d never read, and I’ve heard stories from so many people detailing my father’s life away from me.  Before me. This was a man I’d never met. He was full of life and laughter. He was the person everyone unanimously said could be counted on at any hour of the day or night to help a friend out. Lose your job and sitting at a bar at midnight drinking your lonely sorrow into oblivion? Call Bob. Not only would he come buy you a drink and sit until sunrise listening to you vent, but he’d drive you home, put in a good word for you for a new job, and still make it to work himself by seven. These sort of compassions I’ve heard over and over again. Need a ride? Car broken? In jail? Call Bob, he’ll fix it. A man who laughed and smiled and wasn’t crippled with disease or crushing fear.

I knew dad would give anything for Tari or me, but I never got to see my father strong enough for that selflessness to extend to anyone he called “friend.” For me, if I was asked to describe in a single image the visage of my father when I was growing up, the painting would be of a paunchy, bald silhouette slouched back in a sturdy wooden chair shrouded in a dense cloud of dirty orange, nicotine-soaked smoke glowing in the afternoon sun; a half-finished suitcase of beer holstered on the floor beneath his left arm, a half-dozen cans spread across the table, and the nasal, shrieking voice of Tom Leykis thundering loudly enough to drown out any attempt at conversation. That was the dad I knew growing up. His advice ranged from the practical, “be careful on the roads when it starts raining. We don’t get a lot of rain down here, and the drainage is bad on these streets, so that top layer of oil on the road starts floating and it’ll make the road slicker’n snot.” To the seemingly clinically paranoid, “Don’t wear shoes with white on them, because people in LA will stab you at any hour of the day for shoes with white on them.” Dad’s twilight years became a cautionary tale, a game of worst case scenario against the outside world, hermited in a dark condo next to the flood control. A condo that Tari and I spent countless hours trying to convince him SHOULD NOT be redecorated with chocolate brown carpet and burnt orange paint.

But the truth is, that wasn’t my father. Dad was a carefree, slightly thuggish boy, convincing his brother to swallow a life saver on a string so they could yank it back out and repeat ad nauseum. My father was a serviceman, fixing radios and playing practical jokes in the Air Force. He was an ambulance driver, rushing the helpless, and an occasional loaf of bread he’d mistaken for a severed head to the hospital. He was a beautician, full of charisma and charm and really great at an updo. He smiled all the time and made the ladies giggle. He was a garage door repair man, and so good at his job that even twenty years after he retired from the business, we’d still get phone calls asking if dad could come fix their doors. He was a postman, walking or driving the streets of the city he’d called home since the 50’s, and so loved by those people he served with, that today’s congregation is almost as thick with his friends from the post office as it is with family.

When I think about it… I could see who he was, if I had just looked. Every career he’s carried had one thing in common; he helped the helpless, even if it was in a small way. He kept pilots communicating, he carried the weak to help, he made you feel beautiful and special, he made the simple task of parking your car easier and more secure, and he finished off his career doing the same thing he started with, he kept people connected. 

Dad’s most tragic sin was the distance he kept from the people he loved. I think everyone here has a story they could tell about dad’s isolationist tendencies. Some moment they’ve bumped up against that thick headed and stubborn wall dad erected around himself. To my sister and I, the dad we came to know these last fifteen years was something of a paradox; at once hungry for affection, and fighting it at every turn. He was so afraid of dying in a convalescent hospital alone that the two months he was in one following his hip surgery I don’t think he got a good moment of rest. 

But dad, you didn’t die alone, and you weren’t in a convalescent hospital. You were home, in your bright and sunny apartment, able to keep an eye on the city you’d called home for half a century through windows that ran the whole of the wall and looked over the valley. And the people who made sure that everything you needed was tended to. Willy and Christian, two men of such compassion that they refused to sleep anywhere other than on the floor beside your bed so that you would never be alone and that anything you wanted, you would have immediately. 

The Sunday night before he passed away dad had a great night. He was lucid and he could speak well enough for us to understand him. He made jokes and laughed. We listened to Ray Charles and told stories for hours. The man who lived the last 30 years in such fear and trying to figure out how you were going to screw him was gone. I thought he was really loopy from the medication. He was so full of unabashed laughter. But now, after hearing this last week of stories, I don’t think it was the medication. I think, for that three hours, I got to meet my father for the first time. I will always see those three hours as the last and greatest gift he gave me.

At the end of the night he finally asked for something I think he wanted to ask for his whole life. He he said, “Do you know what would be really great? If someone could just hold me.” So I did. And for about fifteen minutes dad just patted the back of my head and cried softly until he fell asleep. Dad passed away on a Sunday morning. After the divorce, Sundays were the days that Dad, Tari and I would do something together. He’d always have us call him at 8 in the morning to make the plan for the day. Dad passed away at 8:15. We would usually meet at 11 to do…. whatever our plan was, almost without fail. The mortician arrived for dad at 10:50. Dad had one last Sunday adventure for me. He left us at at time when he wasn’t alone, but wasn’t surrounded by his family or the people who had come to care for him, it was the only way he could protect us.

So what have I learned from the lessons of my father’s life and his death? Well, I don’t think dad’s done teaching me, but so far I think I’ve learned as much from dad’s mistakes and shortcomings as I have from his strengths and soul. Here’s what I’ve learned, I hope I got them right

• Live life without fear. Fear steals your life quicker than any death.
• Love without compunction
• Experience everything you can in life.
• Tell all your stories, or better yet, write them all down. The narrative of you is a book someone will want to read later on.
• Listen to all your parent’s stories, no matter how many times they’ve told them or how bored with them you might be.
• Always be available for a friend, the best things to be remembered for are being that dependable rock of a person and being a great listener.
• Laugh unabashedly. Laugh at everything. No matter how sad a situation is, there’s something funny in it. Find that funny, it’s so much better than being sad.
• And perhaps most importantly, be careful on the roads when it starts raining. We don’t get a lot of rain down here, and the drainage is bad on these streets, so that top layer of oil on the road starts floating and it’ll make the road slicker’n snot.”

I miss you dad.
I love you
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It’s quiet out here today, dad. The calls of various morning birds fill in the emptiness of the deep background, while a persistent and nagging dove coos incessantly from a nearby tree.
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As we approach 815, the sun is starting to reveal your headstone from the shadows. That’s a nice touch, old man.
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I miss you too, Dad.  And I love you too.  Happy Anniversary.  Today I’m going to play extreme croquet with the guys who came to your funeral, and then I’m going to my very first quinceanera.  And then I’ll be having a really cheap beer and a cigar with you in the back yard.  We’ll watch a little Laurel & Hardy, and we’ll listen to some Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra.  And then, before I go to bed, I’ll finish up with perhaps the most trite and overplayed father/son song in history: Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s In the Cradle.”

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10 Days of 10 Years Later – Day 07

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I’ve always loved that lyric.  It was coincidentally the quote I chose for this day a few days ago, but becomes more timely since the passing of George Martin, the longtime producer of The Beatles.  Also coincidentally he produced a tribute album several years ago with celebrities singing Beatles’ tunes, and they’re mostly somewhat lackluster, but for this song he had Sean Connery do a dramatic reading.  And it was quite powerful for me.  It might have something to do with the fact that Dad was often compared to Sean Connery later in life, or perhaps that he is the one and only James Bond and I was raised with his voice in my head.

All these posts have been done in one way basically, I would think of a quote, or get lead to a quote that interested me, and write on that subject completely by the seat of my pants.  But as I’ve said, today was different.  I had today planned out from the beginning.  Or at least I had the bones of today planned out.  I’ve been talking a lot about the guy on the left side of that photo, and also quite a bit about the fella writing these posts.  But today I knew  I wanted to talk about the pretty blonde girl on the right of frame.  That’s my mother.

And today is the 10th anniversary of when she was diagnosed as “cancer free.”

That’s right, three days before we lost Dad, we were celebrating that we weren’t going to lose her anytime soon.  And that seemed to be Dad’s button on a running joke.

He had a penchant for inadvertently stealing her thunder.  She’d get diagnosed with cancer, he’d go into the hospital a couple of days later.  She’d finish radiation treatment and he’d get put on hospice.  She’d be given a clean bill of health, he’d die immediately after.  As my mother and I were sitting with my father’s body in his apartment, waiting for the funeral home to come pick him up she said through some tears, “You couldn’t give me a week, huh Bob?”

I’ve talked a lot about mom, and she wouldn’t want me to rehash the way I have been with Dad, but I urge you to read this to find out more about her.

As it turns out she’s been reading these posts, so I guess I was WAY WRONG when I said she doesn’t internet very well.  I found out this morning when she sent me an email talking about Dad and me and my sister.  It was beautiful and heart-wrenching.  I’d love to share it, but it’s not mine to share and would require too many annotations to make sense. But I don’t have the words to compete with what she wrote this morning.  And I’m not going to try to.

She’s an amazing woman, and I’m damned lucky to have her in my life.  So PLEASE, click on the link posted above and honor her on this day.  Share it.  Celebrate those that not only lived, but who do so with grace and style.  If you know her, drop her a line of congratulations.  She’ll probably be mad at me later for embarrassing her, but suck it, ma.  I love you and I’m so damned happy you are around.

As for you Dad, I’ll get back to you tomorrow.  Today’s about Mom.  You owe her that and a thousand percent more, so shut your trap about it.

Besides, you’ll get to steal her thunder again tomorrow.

10 Days of 10 Years Later – Day 06

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“Let me ponder this simple question, am I a good friend.”

That’s the question I was left off with last night in my mind.  Am I a good friend?  On paper I would probably say no.  In reality I would say, “to some.” There are at least as many out there who hate me as who love me.  The number those two opposites share, and even the sum between them, is nothing compared to the number of those I’ve met regularly who hold me with zero regard.  When I was Adam32‘s age, that realization would have devastated me.   To Adam42 it’s simply a matter of fact, and needless to change.  I do wish I was a better friend still, that’s a trait we share, but the taxation of life’s responsibilities, and the toll of age and experience has left me on a budget of spirit.

Adam42 has to look back at Adam32 tonight and try to glean in the most unbiased way possible whether they could be friends if they met today.

I’m playing my own version of Looper, but instead of going back in time to kill myself, I’m going back in time to see if I’d want to strangle myself.  And I’ll try to make this brief, because yesterday went on quite a bit.

Adam32 and Adam42 share a sense of humor.  Adam32‘s is maybe a bit more carefree and enthusiastic than Adam42‘s, but they’re still fundamentally the same.  I think they’d feed off each other in that way.  But it’s also possible they’d hate each other for stealing each other’s jokes and making each of them feel like they’re not funny.  Then they’d get self-conscious, and then they’d just have to leave.

Either is possible, honestly.

This question is one I thought a lot about after I finished last night, and throughout today, and it’s something I don’t know if I have an answer to give to you.

I’m sorry, that’s a lie.  I do have an answer to give to you, but I’d like to avoid it as long as possible.

Adam42 takes issue with Adam32.

Adam32 was tired of being at the beck and call of his father.  Adam32 wanted to be free from all this so he could pursue his life.  Dad was hard to deal with.  We got into some absolutely furious arguments over the course of his illnesses.  Especially when he started getting some paranoid dementia.  Adam32 was ready for this to be over.

Adam42 wants to slap him in the mouth.

Adam32 would avoid seeing his father sometimes because it would just be so depressing.  Adam32 would screen phone calls from his father later in life.  Adam32 found excuses to not go see his father after he moved to L.A. because he hated seeing how much Dad would degrade from visit to visit, year after year.

Adam42 wants to punch him in the nose.

Adam32 is the person  who mentally drafted a version of his father’s eulogy that was all about how crummy his Dad was.  Adam32 is the person who pissed away countless hours that he could have spent with his father.  Adam32 is the person who decided to put Dad on hospice.

Adam42, or at least some part of Adam42‘s lizard brain, has a hard time forgiving him for that.

Don’t get me wrong, it was the right decision.  Adam32 was absolutely correct to put his father on hospice, and Adam42 agrees with the decision.  Adam42 harbors more resentment over the hours Adam32 wasted not seeing his father that Adam42 would nearly kill for. And the worst part is that Adam32 didn’t even get it.  He was selfish and immature.  He was focused on the short term and was blind to the long term.  If he knew then what Adam42 knows now…

Adam32 was focused on escapism.  He didn’t have a solid job, was behind in his career, was overweight, and felt he wasn’t worth much in general.  He wanted to chase girls, play with his friends, and feel like a grown up.  It was a feeling he didn’t have much.  He’d lived a good deal of his 20’s at his mom’s house, picking up odd jobs where he could, but generally being unemployed.  He watched all his friends get jobs, apartments, relationships, CHILDREN, and still he was in a bit of a vacuum.  Dad was increasingly becoming the antithesis of escapism.  Adam32 had periods of resentment.  Not long, but real.

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These are three of the friends who showed up to Dad’s funeral by surprise.  (No this isn’t from the funeral, I’m not THAT white trash – but I did wear one of Dad’s Hawaiian shirts to the funeral)  I’m beyond happy to say I’ve reconnected with all three.

I understand everything Adam32 went through and did, and I understand his reasoning.  I just wish he had been a little more prescient.  I would love to have had the time he tried so hard to shed. We come at this picture from such opposite corners, I don’t know if we could find common ground.

The quote at the top of this post says that the author is stitched by the thread of absence, threaded through the needle of himself.  I’m equally stitched by the thread of absence, but the needle is isn’t me, it’s Adam32.  The scars I carry from the puncture wounds of his stitching, pressed through my flesh by way of his short-sightedness, I will carry the rest of my life.

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Not pictured: Metaphysical stitches.

I don’t hate him.  I understand him.  But I don’t know how well I could tolerate him.  I would want to grab him and shake him.  I’d slap him hard across his cherubic cheek and say, “I know this is hard, but I need for you to pull your head clean out of your ass and look at the long game here.  I need you to not take this for granted.”

I also know he wouldn’t listen.  He’d take it to heart, but he ultimately wouldn’t listen.  And I can’t change that.

The absence of Dad is the thread, and Adam32 is the needle, however, maybe I can look at this a different way.  A thread and needle are used to stitch up a larger wound.  Perhaps the larger wound was my immaturity.  Maybe the last painful throes of an evolution partly delayed by the unrelenting ravages of cancer.  Maybe I should be glad I have those scars.

Maybe, just maybe, I’d react in an altogether different way to Adam32.

Oh, I’d still slap him in the chops, and I’d shake him angrily because he needs it.  But maybe I’d also grab him and hold him.  Maybe I’d tell him this fucking sucks all the way around.  Maybe I’d give him permission to cry into my shoulder the way he cried the last time he saw Dad alive and his dad said in an almost unintelligible voice, “I hate this.”  And he answered back, “I do too.”  Maybe I’d tell him I forgive him for the time he wasted, but I’d love to have taken a day or two off his hands.  I don’t know if we would have ultimately been friends, but I think we would have taken each other’s calls.

 

Or at least called back reasonably soon after having screened one another to voicemail.

My Ultimate Form

Here’s a thing about me:

I pee a lot when I’m stressed.
I pee a lot when I drink coffee.
I drink a lot of coffee when I’m stressed.

One very bad day, these traits will reach a singularity, my conscious mind will go in stasis, and I’ll become an entity that only exists as an uncontrollable and constant urea vector.

That should be a fun day.

The Multiverse and How It Relates To Top Gun

Let me recount a conversation with the first lady during breakfast this morning.  Pandora was playing the hits of the 80’s and Kenny Loggin’s “Playing With the Boys” starts playing.  She looks up after about half of the song and then this conversation happens.

First Lady: I don’t know that I’ve seen Top Gun all the way through.

Vote Simpson/Hemstead: What do you mean you don’t know if you’ve seen Top Gun all the way through?

FL: I thought I’ve seen Top Gun before, but I’ve never heard this song.

VSH: This song is kind of attached to a memorable scene for women.  It’s pretty much the scene every girl remembers from the movie.

FL: Yeah, I don’t think I’ve seen the movie all the way through.

VSH: All the way through?  That scene happens like 35 minutes into the movie. (Edit: it’s 46 minutes)

FL:  Maybe I think I’ve seen little bits of the movie maybe online or in pictures so I feel like I’ve seen it.

VSH: (vehemently) Yeah, but It’s the scene where all the pilots are shirtless and oiled up playing volleyball at the beach.

FL: (Casually) Not ringing a bell.

As someone who was raised on a strict diet of pop culture not knowing if one has seen a movie or not is something I can’t wrap my head around.  She wasn’t and is often confused by the depth of my pop culture trivia knowledge, and subsequently confused as to why I can do that, but not math.

I personally love these conversations, they are those great moments where it seems like you are living in two tangental universes that are brushing up against each other, allowing us to communicate.  https://screen.yahoo.com/census-taker-000000855.html?format=embed” target=”_blank”>This video is the best analog I have for the experience.

Except each one of us is Christopher Walken, and each one of us is Tim Meadows.

Anyway, we’re watching Top Gun tonight, so at least my universe will know that she’s watched it all the way through the next time her universe forgets.

Slider is ready. I hope she is.

Slider is ready. I hope she is.

VSH-PSA: Parking Brake

Don't make our mistakes.  The empire you save, just might be your own.

Don’t make our mistakes. The empire you save, just might be your own.

Shit just got real: my brain aneurysm

Shit just got real: my brain aneurysm.

Good friend of Simpson/Hemstead finds herself fighting with her body and her own mind when she discovers she has an aneurysm in a tricky place.

As you know, Hemstead has suffered from, and rallied back against a stroke in recent years, so this looming fear of WhatIf is close to our hearts.  A good read, from a good woman.

Father’s Day 2014

EDIT:  This was supposed to have posted yesterday, but apparently I’ve turned the corner in my life where I can no longer adequately operate technology so today it is.  Dad loathed tardiness, so I suppose it’s one more bit of grist for his cosmic mill.

It’s Father’s Day and I’m laid up on the couch nursing a sore back I inherited from the old man.  My dad passed away 8 years ago this year, in some ways it still hurts like he just passed away, but in most ways the pain and sadness have been blunted by the callous of time and put in to perspective through reflection of his life, my life, and how the two affected one another.  Since Dad’s passing I normally tend to just ignore the frivolity of Father’s Day, and use the day to laugh to myself at the moments I choose to remember and ignore those I have no need to recall.  But this year my own version of the genetically frail lower back that I watched lay dad out on the couch for days at a time when I was a boy has put me into a position of deeper introspection.

So here I lay, the smell of warm vinyl from a heating pad beneath my tailbone swirling through the air, mingling with the sound of Sean Connery’s contemptuously veiled Scottish brogue as he chews through the deliciously misogynistic dialogue of a 1960’s James Bond romp heightening my euphoric sense of nostalgia while deepening the small abyss in my heart since dad left.

As a result, I’ve found myself reading the eulogy I gave at his funeral, and looking at old I.M. conversations I had back then.  It feels alien, though the people are familiar and loved.  I apologize for the numerous grammatical errors, for even though I had 14 years to prepare this eulogy, I wrote it the morning of his funeral, a full month after he died, in roughly 45 minutes.  It’s a first and final draft, honest and without polish.  As I’ve aged I’ve found the list of advice to be more and more true throughout the years, and the sentiment at the end of his eulogy is the same today as the day he died.  I miss you dad.  I love you.

 

2006

I’ve had 14 years to prepare for today. 14 years ago Dad went in for a cancer surgery that he told me he very well might not survive. That was all I knew. I didn’t know what kind of cancer it was, I didn’t know what his prognosis was other than dad telling me it was very rare and thereby less survivable. 14 years and countless surgeries, ailments and ding dong ditches at death’s door later and I can tell you with no uncertainty; 14 years of near misses doesn’t prepare a person for a phone call saying “I think he’s gone.”

I’ve felt I knew my father well. I’ve spent nearly half of my life helping care for him in one capacity or another, and learned all the ins and outs of the way he thought. I could predict dad’s reaction to every situation, and provided him things before he vocalized that he even wanted them. Yeah, I knew dad probably better than any other person on the planet.

And then he died. Tari and I found pictures we’d never seen. I read letters I’d never read, and I’ve heard stories from so many people detailing my father’s life away from me.  Before me. This was a man I’d never met. He was full of life and laughter. He was the person everyone unanimously said could be counted on at any hour of the day or night to help a friend out. Lose your job and sitting at a bar at midnight drinking your lonely sorrow into oblivion? Call Bob. Not only would he come buy you a drink and sit until sunrise listening to you vent, but he’d drive you home, put in a good word for you for a new job, and still make it to work himself by seven. These sort of compassions I’ve heard over and over again. Need a ride? Car broken? In jail? Call Bob, he’ll fix it. A man who laughed and smiled and wasn’t crippled with disease or crushing fear.

I knew dad would give anything for Tari or me, but I never got to see my father strong enough for that selflessness to extend to anyone he called “friend.” For me, if I was asked to describe in a single image the visage of my father when I was growing up, the painting would be of a paunchy, bald silhouette slouched back in a sturdy wooden chair shrouded in a dense cloud of dirty orange, nicotine-soaked smoke glowing in the afternoon sun; a half-finished suitcase of beer holstered on the floor beneath his left arm, a half-dozen cans spread across the table, and the nasal, shrieking voice of Tom Leykis thundering loudly enough to drown out any attempt at conversation. That was the dad I knew growing up. His advice ranged from the practical, “be careful on the roads when it starts raining. We don’t get a lot of rain down here, and the drainage is bad on these streets, so that top layer of oil on the road starts floating and it’ll make the road slicker’n snot.” To the seemingly clinically paranoid, “Don’t wear shoes with white on them, because people in LA will stab you at any hour of the day for shoes with white on them.” Dad’s twilight years became a cautionary tale, a game of worst case scenario against the outside world, hermited in a dark condo next to the flood control. A condo that Tari and I spent countless hours trying to convince him SHOULD NOT be redecorated with chocolate brown carpet and burnt orange paint.

But the truth is, that wasn’t my father. Dad was a carefree, slightly thuggish boy, convincing his brother to swallow a life saver on a string so they could yank it back out and repeat ad nauseum. My father was a serviceman, fixing radios and playing practical jokes in the Air Force. He was an ambulance driver, rushing the helpless, and an occasional loaf of bread he’d mistaken for a severed head to the hospital. He was a beautician, full of charisma and charm and really great at an updo. He smiled all the time and made the ladies giggle. He was a garage door repair man, and so good at his job that even twenty years after he retired from the business, we’d still get phone calls asking if dad could come fix their doors. He was a postman, walking or driving the streets of the city he’d called home since the 50’s, and so loved by those people he served with, that today’s congregation is almost as thick with his friends from the post office as it is with family.

When I think about it… I could see who he was, if I had just looked. Every career he’s carried had one thing in common; he helped the helpless, even if it was in a small way. He kept pilots communicating, he carried the weak to help, he made you feel beautiful and special, he made the simple task of parking your car easier and more secure, and he finished off his career doing the same thing he started with, he kept people connected. 

Dad’s most tragic sin was the distance he kept from the people he loved. I think everyone here has a story they could tell about dad’s isolationist tendencies. Some moment they’ve bumped up against that thick headed and stubborn wall dad erected around himself. To my sister and I, the dad we came to know these last fifteen years was something of a paradox; at once hungry for affection, and fighting it at every turn. He was so afraid of dying in a convalescent hospital alone that the two months he was in one following his hip surgery I don’t think he got a good moment of rest. 

But dad, you didn’t die alone, and you weren’t in a convalescent hospital. You were home, in your bright and sunny apartment, able to keep an eye on the city you’d called home for half a century through windows that ran the whole of the wall and looked over the valley. And the people who made sure that everything you needed was tended to. Willy and Christian, two men of such compassion that they refused to sleep anywhere other than on the floor beside your bed so that you would never be alone and that anything you wanted, you would have immediately. 

The Sunday night before he passed away dad had a great night. He was lucid and he could speak well enough for us to understand him. He made jokes and laughed. We listened to Ray Charles and told stories for hours. The man who lived the last 30 years in such fear and trying to figure out how you were going to screw him was gone. I thought he was really loopy from the medication. He was so full of unabashed laughter. But now, after hearing this last week of stories, I don’t think it was the medication. I think, for that three hours, I got to meet my father for the first time. I will always see those three hours as the last and greatest gift he gave me.

At the end of the night he finally asked for something I think he wanted to ask for his whole life. He he said, “Do you know what would be really great? If someone could just hold me.” So I did. And for about fifteen minutes dad just patted the back of my head and cried softly until he fell asleep. Dad passed away on a Sunday morning. After the divorce, Sundays were the days that Dad, Tari and I would do something together. He’d always have us call him at 8 in the morning to make the plan for the day. Dad passed away at 8:15. We would usually meet at 11 to do…. whatever our plan was, almost without fail. The mortician arrived for dad at 10:50. Dad had one last Sunday adventure for me. He left us at at time when he wasn’t alone, but wasn’t surrounded by his family or the people who had come to care for him, it was the only way he could protect us.

So what have I learned from the lessons of my father’s life and his death? Well, I don’t think dad’s done teaching me, but so far I think I’ve learned as much from dad’s mistakes and shortcomings as I have from his strengths and soul. Here’s what I’ve learned, I hope I got them right

• Live life without fear. Fear steals your life quicker than any death.
• Love without compunction
• Experience everything you can in life.
• Tell all your stories, or better yet, write them all down. The narrative of you is a book someone will want to read later on.
• Listen to all your parent’s stories, no matter how many times they’ve told them or how bored with them you might be.
• Always be available for a friend, the best things to be remembered for are being that dependable rock of a person and being a great listener.
• Laugh unabashedly. Laugh at everything. No matter how sad a situation is, there’s something funny in it. Find that funny, it’s so much better than being sad.
• And perhaps most importantly, be careful on the roads when it starts raining. We don’t get a lot of rain down here, and the drainage is bad on these streets, so that top layer of oil on the road starts floating and it’ll make the road slicker’n snot.”

I miss you dad.
I love you

 

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